On Monday 1 October the Assembly debated a motion calling for the legalisation of marriage between people of the same sex. The Democratic Unionist Party had invoked a Petition of Concern so the motion required a majority of both Nationalists and Unionist, counted separately, before it could be adopted. In the end it was defeated by 50 votes to 45.
The debate revealed the extent to which radical notions of equality have become dominant in political thought. Even to the point that the opinions of the electorate no longer count. It also made clear that many politicians have only a superficial understanding that the family based on marriage is the fundamental unit of society.
Speaker after speaker claimed the proposal would end discrimination and grant equal rights to homosexual couples. When asked to specify exactly which rights marriage provided that civil partnership did not, Stephen Agnew (Green Party) could only mention the right to adopt children.
Earlier in the debate Roy Beggs (Ulster Unionist Party, pictured) reminded the Assembly that the conflict between religious liberty and the homosexual agenda resulted in the closure of the Catholic adoption services in England & Wales. That would undoubtedly happen in Northern Ireland if homosexual marriage was legalised. It was, therefore, extraordinary that not one Catholic member of the Assembly spoke against the motion.
In English law discrimination is not considered illegal unless it is unjust. Nor does true equality mean treating everyone and everything as the same. These principles have been upheld by the European Court of Human Rights which has ruled that is not unjust discrimination to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The role of marriage in society
The family, based on marriage, is the basic unit of society and is recognised as such in international law* and is entitled to protection.
Social science has shown that children do better when raised by their biological parents in a permanent marriage than in any other type of home life. Marriage (that is real marriage) demands particular support from the State because it is both the natural unit on which society is founded, and the institution in which children do best. The redefinition of marriage therefore puts the interests of some adults before the right of children to be raised by a father and mother.
It would also break the natural link between marriage and parenthood and reduce children the status of an optional extra rather than central to marriage. While not all marriages can generate children, all children are conceived by a father and mother.
As has been repeatedly pointed out, the issue of same-sex unions is not really about equality since civil partnerships already grant virtually all the benefits and rights of marriage. It is about changing the way people think about marriage. If marriage is redefined it will effect how all marriages are treated, in government bureaucracy, in teaching in schools and threatens to fundamentally change the idea of marriage in society. The legalisation of same-sex marriage has led in some jurisdictions to unions involving more than two people.
The evidence that marriage is the safest relationship in which children can be conceived and born is overwhelming. While children conceived outside marriage have the same human rights they are much more likely to have their lives ended by abortion.
In our society marriage is already seriously undermined by a damaging culture of birth control, promiscuity, co-habitation and divorce. It this culture which is antithetical to family life which has made abortion the norm across much of the globe. We cannot, therefore, afford to stand by while the very nature of marriage is redefined. That is why SPUC has prepared a paper setting out the its position on this issue. It is available at the Society’s website together with a detail briefing demonstrating how the defence of marriage is fundamentally a pro-life concern.
*Article 16. (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.... (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.