Peter Smith

Opinion

What happens when we redefine marriage?

Peter Smith

October 10, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - Back in January I set out David Cameron’s proposals for creating same-sex marriage, which he announced at the British Conservative Party’s annual Conference in October 2011, alongside some arguments against those plans.

A year later, the controversy has moved on. There are now two parallel movements for same-sex marriage in the UK, a result of the devolution of powers to the Scottish Government. A consultation in Scotland ended in December 2011 and its results were snuck out shortly before Olympic fever dominated the Isles.

It is notable how divisive same-sex marriage has been north of Hadrian’s Wall: an ‘unprecedented’ 77,508 responses were received in the ‘largest consultation exercise of its type ever held in Scotland’. Over 33,000 responses were submitted via forms amended by organisations with an interest in the two core proposals of same-sex civil marriage and religious civil partnerships. Opponents of same-sex marriage pipped supporters 52:48, but more than two thirds opposed religious civil partnerships. Nonetheless, the Scottish Government intends on continuing to legalise both relationships, and the Catholic Church – numerically and financially the largest single supporter of traditional marriage – has since ceased dialogue with Edinburgh on the matter.

Down south, we are a step behind. The Home Office has also consulted on its plans to create such relationships in England and Wales, but they are effectively limited to same-sex marriages and not religious civil partnerships. After months of campaigning, two umbrella organisations broadly covered the diverse faiths, standpoints and interest groups in the opposing camps. In favour of same-sex marriage stands the Coalition for Equal Marriage, and its slick media campaign, Out4Marriage.org, which publishes clips of well-known proponents of gay marriage such as Boris Johnson and Hugh Grant ‘coming out’ in support of the move. Against liberalisation is the Coalition for Marriage, based out of the Christian Institute’s offices in Newcastle, which has mobilised tens of thousands of Christians to sign petitions and dominate the postbags of Members of Parliament.

The Home Office consultation ended in June, and the results are unlikely to be known this calendar year. It is safe to say that there have been a considerable number of responses from both sides (although, as in Scotland, many will be standard pro-forma that campaign groups have handed out and emailed to supporters). Polls favouring both positions have been published. If, following the publication of the consultation document, the Government in Westminster puts legislation before Parliament in the new year, it is likely to be passed by the second anniversary of Cameron’s speech in 2013. But will that legislation be tabled?

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Opening Pandora’s box

The best hope for opponents of same-sex marriage in England is for the Government to conclude it is too difficult to pass coherent and stable legislation that creates such marriages in the narrow circumstances so far envisaged. Social conservatives should not be too hopeful that such sense will prevail: Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, gave a glimpse of the liberal class’s mindset when his staff trailed a speech in which he described supporters of traditional marriage as “bigots” – a slur he was rapidly forced to retract.

As an example of the radical legal consequences of redefining marriage, the Coalition for Marriage has recently released a précis of a legal opinion by Aidan O’Neil QC, an expert in equality and discrimination law who practises from the same barristers’ chambers as Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth. O’Neil was instructed to consider the implications for religious conscience and religious liberty arising from redefining marriage in England and Wales, and he considers the interplay between the Equality Act 2010 (including the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSEQ)), the European Convention on Human Rights, and case law on point. The PSEQ compels public authorities – including state schools, councils and the National Health Service – to “have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited…” when exercising their public functions. This includes the obligation to “tackle prejudice” and “promote understanding” between homosexual and heterosexual people.

It is a far-reaching obligation on an enormous range of bodies and organisations, and it reduces substantially the lawful opportunities for supporters of traditional marriage to explain – let alone mention – their views. The Coalition for Marriage asked O’Neil to consider some hypothetical situations where religiously-minded people could find themselves in difficulties – and potentially fired from their jobs. Here are elaborations of some of his examples (the précis contains more), which focus on practical positions that readers of MercatorNet might find themselves in, should the prohibition on same-sex marriage be removed. (For brevity, the precise legal reasoning is omitted. What follows is a characterisation of the legal positions, which are necessarily latent or untested propositions.)

The chaplain

A hospital chaplain is also a local Church of England vicar. Suppose he preaches, at a private wedding service in his church, that marriage is between only one man and one woman. If his hospital employers were to hear of this action, they could take into account his conduct outside of the workplace when determining whether the chaplain was acting in accordance with the requirements of his hospital work and the ethos of the hospital. This is true for any chaplain employed with the public sector (e.g. within a university or the Armed Forces) who, in all likelihood, would have a duty to accept only that marriage could be between two people of the same sex, and that any contrary restrictive view would lead to their lawful dismissal as this view would be ‘un-ethical’, ie, against the prevailing ethos.

The teacher

A teacher is told by her head that she must use in class a book recommended by the local council and a gay advocacy charity. This book is about a man who falls in love with a prince and marries him. If the teacher asked to opt out of using the book on the grounds of conscientious objection, she would be refusing to obey the otherwise lawful instructions of her employers, thus constituting grounds for her dismissal. Moreover, it would make no difference if the school was a faith school or any type of school with a religious ethos or none.

The child

A child says in a school assembly that he thinks marriage is only between a man and a woman, on religious grounds. The assembly theme is on marriage and same-sex marriage is discussed. The child is subsequently bullied but the school takes no action. Because the school is under a duty to teach about marriage, and because marriage would mean same-sex marriage, a school which taught marriage equality (same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are the same) would not be discriminating against the child’s religious views. Furthermore, the school is potentially under a duty to ensure that the curriculum it teaches is delivered in a way that discourages and even eliminates the attitudes held by its pupils that involve sexual orientation. This potentially implies that it may brook no dissent from the redefinition.

The parents

Concerned parents learn that their school is planning a gay and lesbian history month, including lessons on ‘the campaign for marriage equality’. The parents insist that they have the right to withdraw their child from these history lessons. In fact, even if the school were a faith school teaching a subject in a manner contrary to the orthodox teachings of that faith, the parents would be completely unable to withdraw their child from these lessons, and the European Convention would not facilitate it.

The foster couple

Couples who apply to become foster carers and, during the interview process, let it be known that they could not support same-sex marriage, could be barred by a local authority or council from continuing with their application. The local authority is under an obligation to investigate the views of potential foster parents, and to consider the extent to which those views might influence and affect the behaviour and treatment of a child in their care. As a public authority, the council is under an obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children and this could be construed to include the prevention of exposure to an environment that is potentially exclusive of same-sex marriage.

The crucial lesson of civil partnerships

It is worth noting again the analogy between same-sex marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales. When the Civil Partnerships Act was winding its way through Parliament in 2003 and 2004, Tony Blair promised that no religions would be compelled to carry out partnerships. In fact, religious readings, music or symbols were prohibited from the partnership ceremony. However, with only cursory scrutiny by Parliament, this ban was lifted in December 2011. This substantial change in civil partnership policy demonstrates that religious leaders should be very wary of accepting any ‘red line’ promises from ministers (even the Prime Minister) as a way of ameliorating opposition to the current proposals.

In the current proposals, there will be a blanket ban on religious ceremonies in England and Wales. This is effectively a religious exemption and means that churches and ministers cannot host or celebrate same-sex marriages. However, the O’Neill opinion suggests there would be a strong case that a blanket ban would be overturned by European human rights law. The material provision is Article 12 of the European Convention, which establishes a right for two individuals to marry: “men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family…”

O’Neil raises the spectre of a fundamental reinterpretation of this Article, from the right of one man and one woman to marry, to same-sex couples, if redefinition occurs in English law. The consequence of this would be to open up other legal avenues, like human rights law, to support same-sex marriage. This could spell the end of the religious exemption.

Even if churches were allowed to conduct same-sex marriages, it would be mistaken to think that a happy settlement could be reached whereby those vicars who accepted it would be free to do so, whilst supporters of traditional marriage would be free not to. Because of the established identity of the Church of England, granting the Church a unique and privileged place amongst religions in England, once any vicar allows same-sex marriages it becomes untenable in law for the whole Church not to participate. Thus O’Neil concludes:

“Churches might indeed better protect themselves against the possibility of any such litigation by deciding not to provide marriage services at all, since there could be no complaint then of discrimination in their provision of services as between same sex and opposite sex couples.

“And, in principle, the Church of England might be better protected under any such claim if it were disestablished in the sense that its clergy were no longer placed under formal legal obligations by the general law to solemnise the marriages of all and any person otherwise eligible to marry under the general law…”

It isn’t too late, Mr Cameron

Already, MPs are queuing up to remove the hypothetical ban on same-sex marriages in religious places, and Ed Milliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, appears to have outflanked Cameron in the latter’s rush to social liberalism.

If same-sex marriage legislation is pushed into the House of Commons, David Cameron will likely see a back-bench rebellion from his own MPs on the right of the Party, who are vociferously opposed to the measures. He knows that many Tory MPs hold seats where the UK Independence Party and the Liberal Democrats cannot oust the incumbent Conservatives in a fair fight, but they can succeed if the Tory vote is split (over Europe, for instance) or because Conservative voters simply absent themselves on election day because they are angry or disappointed at the Party leadership. Gay marriage is such an issue.

In any event, Cameron will be left in the embarrassing position of relying on Liberal Democrat and Labour support for a majority to be secured (particularly as he is likely to give a free vote), and he will see the Parliamentary Conservative Party split cleanly on this social issue, conservative/liberal, when unity is needed to push through controversial healthcare reforms.

Given the political difficulties of creating same-sex marriage and the legal consequences of doing so, it would suit him well to put the plans back on the shelf and move on to getting Britain out of its slump and recession.

Peter Smith is a lawyer living and working in London. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License from Mercatornet.com



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Pro-life group asks: Pray for abortionists who sell baby body parts

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February 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - This Lent, a pro-life group would like you to pray for an abortionist - specifically, an abortionist who facilitates the sale of unborn babies' body parts.

The Pro-Life Action League is asking for people to pray for three people in particular throughout the 40 days of Lent. All three were caught on video by the Center for Medical Progress.

Dr. Deborah Nucatola appeared in the first video released last July, sipping red wine and stabbing her salad as she discussed the dismemberment of aborted children, including where to “crush” their bodies for a "less crunchy" technique.

The second is Dr. Mary Gatter, who appeared in the second undercover video, haggling over the prices Planned Parenthood expected to receive for the aborted children's organs and tissue. At one point, she joked that she wants the revenue to pay for “a Lamborghini.”

And the third is Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, who was also caught in the first video praising Dr. Nucatola.

Despite the shocking evidence uncovered by CMP, Richards has insisted her organization did not receive any profit for what she dubs its "fetal tissue donation program." She apologized only for Dr. Nucatola's "tone." She has since said that Planned Parenthood will not receive any remuneration for babies' body parts.

"These three architects of Planned Parenthood’s baby parts scheme have devoted their lives to the destruction and exploitation of human life in the name of ‘choice,’" said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. "If we won’t pray for them, who will?”

He asked Christians to pray for these three abortion industry profiteers - and for Richards, who is a post-abortive woman - in order to fulfill Jesus Christ's commandment in the Bible, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (St. Matthew 5:44).

“In God’s eyes, what abortion has done to these three women may be worse than what they’ve done to unborn children, who now rest in our Lord’s loving arms," Scheidler said.

For most Catholics, Lent began yesterday on Ash Wednesday, and lasts 40 days.



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Texas AG faces ethics probe for saying clerks can refuse to issue gay ‘marriage’ licenses

Lisa Bourne

AUSTIN, Texas, February 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The attorney general of the state of Texas is facing an ethics investigation for having affirmed the constitutional religious freedom of state workers to decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Attorney General Ken Paxton took steps to address the issue of conscience protection in his state before and after last June's Supreme Court's Obergefell decision imposing same-sex "marriage" on all 50 states, first issuing a statement the day prior clarifying that Texas law recognizes the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and recommending that state officials wait for direction from his office should the High Court move to redefine marriage.

Paxton then issued a statement two days after the ruling, his office allowing county clerks and their employees to retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and said as well that justices of the peace and judges would similarly retain religious freedoms.

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A month later, a group of some 200 attorneys filed a complaint asserting that Paxton's position encouraged officials to violate the U.S. Constitution and break their oaths of office, according to ABC News.

The complaint was dismissed at first by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas, but it was reinstated February 2 by a state Supreme Court-appointed appeals board, which contended that the complaint alleges a "possible violation" of professional conduct rules.

The appeals board decision to reinstate the case does not mean Paxton violated professional ethics, according to the ABC report, but does require him to respond to the complaint in conjunction with the investigation.

"The complaint has always lacked merit," said Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer, "and we are confident the legal process for resolving these complaints will bear that out."

Paxton was among several state officials across the U.S. who moved to ensure conscience protection in the immediate aftermath the Obergefell ruling, at times garnering the ire of homosexual activists.

Last July, South Dakota's attorney general granted permission to county clerks with conscientious objections to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as long as another clerk in the office would issue the license. 

Rowan County, KY clerk Kim Davis was jailed last fall for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it violated her religious values.

In a highly contentious case, Davis had asked for a religious accommodation allowing her office to issue altered licenses to homosexuals without her name on them, which was eventually granted by Kentucky's Governor Matt Bevin. However, the ACLU sued, seeking to force Davis to issue the old forms with her full name on them. A federal judge rejected the suit earlier this week.

Last year, homosexual activists sent harassing messages, including threats of violence, to Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk and his family after the Republican legislator sponsored a bill that would have given the state's business owners the freedom to follow their religious convictions in regard to homosexual "marriage."

Paxton faces penalties varying between a reprimand and disbarment resulting from the ethics complaint. The Texas attorney general is also facing securities fraud charges.



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This pro-abortion billionaire may run for president

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NEW YORK, February 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - He's an upwardly mobile, socially liberal billionaire whose political affiliation has changed numerous times over the years. He's teased numerous presidential campaigns in the past, but this time he's talking like he's serious. And no, he's not who you think he is.

Michael Bloomberg, who served three terms as mayor of New York City, has confirmed to media sources that he is considering running for president as an independent in 2016.

Bloomberg told told the Financial Times this week that he finds American political "discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," and that he's “looking at all the options."

The 73-year-old tycoon was a registered Democrat before switching parties to run in the less contested Republican primary in 2001. He became a registered independent in 2007.

As mayor, Bloomberg governed as a social liberal who strongly supported abortion and the LGBT political agenda.

In 2011, Bloomberg signed a controversial gag order directed at crisis pregnancy centers. A year later, he endorsed Barack Obama's re-election, saying that abortion-on-demand is part of "the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there."

After leaving office, he received Planned Parenthood's Global Citizen Award at its annual gala on March 27, 2014.

That's the same year Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million undertaking to expand "reproductive health," including a major partnership with Planned Parenthood-Global to overturn pro-life laws in four nations: Nicaragua, Sengal, Uganda, and Burkina Faso.

Jeb Bush sat on the board of the philanthropy, which also strongly supports Common Core educational standards, at the time.

Mayor Bloomberg played a pivotal role redefining marriage in New York state, giving the four Republican state senators who voted for New York’s same-sex “marriage” bill the maximum campaign contribution allowed by law. One retired and a second lost his primary fight.

His strong emphasis on health regulations, such as attempting to ban soft drinks larger than 16 ounces, did little to enhance his popularity and were deftly parodied by Sarah Palin. (A state court struck down the proposed regulation.)

His $50 million gun control crusade dissipated after his cause failed in state after state.

The financial heft he could bring into the race, as well as his quirky politics, has tempted Bloomberg to enter presidential politics in the past. He considered a presidential run in 2008 and thought more strongly about a third party bid in 2012, after hosting the inaugural convention of the “No Labels” movement in New York City in 2010, but he backed off each time after not seeing a viable path to victory.

With an estimated fortune of $39 billion, he has said he would be willing to spend more than $1 billion on his campaign in 2016 - but he would only enter the race if the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, and the Democratic Party nominates Bernie Sanders.

He called Jeb and Hillary Clinton "two quality” candidates and "the only two who know how to make the trains run." Jeb reciprocated last month, telling CNN that Bloomberg is "a good person, and he’s a patriot and wants the best for the country.”

At least one of his competitors is eager to see Mike run. "I hope he gets into the race," Donald Trump told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Wednesday night. "I'd love to compete against him...I would love to see Michael in the race."

That is likely because polling shows Bloomberg would draw most of his support from the Democratic candidate. "Although he is characterized as the New York counterpunch to Trump, Mayor Mike Bloomberg is more the nemesis of Bernie than he is of Donald," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Bernie Sanders would defeat both Trump and Cruz in a head-to-head match, according to Quinnipiac. But if Bloomberg entered the race, he would win 15 percent of the vote largely from Sanders, giving Trump a one-point victory in the popular vote (and narrowing Cruz's loss to one point).

However, he could throw a major wrench in the Democrats' electoral college total, according to columnist Pat Buchanan.

"Not only would Bloomberg lose the Big Apple, his statewide vote would come mostly from the Democratic nominee, giving Republicans the best opportunity to carry the Empire State since Ronald Reagan coasted to re-election in 1984," wrote Buchanan, who served as White House communications director during Reagan's second term.

“It’s not beyond imagining that he could get in and have an effect on the race,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, told The Hill.

Perhaps sensing this, numerous Democrats - including Senators Claire McCaskill and Jeanne Shaheen - have thrown cold water on a Bloomberg presidential run.

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, said this week that an independent Bloomberg candidacy "won't be necessary" - because the Democrats already represent social liberals.

"I really think when he takes a good hard look, he will conclude that the issues that are important to him...[have] a natural home among our Democratic candidates," she said. "And so, I think Michael Bloomberg's agenda is well cared-for and advanced among our Democratic candidates, and his candidacy, I think he will find, won't be necessary.""

His entrance into the race would be a true injection of "New York values" - making him the third or fourth New Yorker in the race - alongside fellow billionaire Trump from Queens, the Brooklyn-born Sanders, and onetime New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Annie Linskey, a reporter for the Boston Globe who once worked for Bloomberg, told Fox News on Monday that there is "about a four" percent chance that Bloomberg will run.



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