A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Matt Baume on the excellent Prop 8 Trial Tracker Blog recently looked back at 2012 through the (US) prism of marriage equality and transformative legal change. As I look to the year ahead, I can’t help thinking that we are simply entering the year of the sequel. Not just for The Hobbit or Star Trek, but also for the question of marriage.
In the US, the Supreme Court will now seek to resolve the two questions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the ongoing Perry/Proposition 8 legal action. Both will have significant ramifications for marriage equality across the United States, and the outcome of those cases is far from clear. Expectations and nerves are equally in evidence.
In the UK, the Christmas period saw the question of same-sex marriage continuing to dominate the media. The Catholic Church (who you might have thought would have had other things on their minds at Christmas) seem to have a pre-occupation with homosexuality which verges on the obsessive. First, Britain’s most senior Catholic, the Archbishop of Westminster, took another brave step into irrelevance, using his Christmas Eve mass to declare the government had no mandate for legal change (likening David Cameron to the Nazis and Communists), described the plans for legal reform as a ‘shambles’, and also declared that most people were against the reforms.
Now now, I hear you say, you’re just singling out one man and he’s not representative of the whole Catholic Church (even though he leads it in England). Well, it seems the Archbishop of Birmingham (for it is he) agrees with you. Not wanting the Catholic Church to be painted as led by an unrepresentative bigot, he made sure that such bigoted views are representative of the Church as a whole. He decided to spend Christmas writing a letter to churches and chapels in his diocese (and to be read to worshippers on New Years Eve), telling them:
‘Government policy cannot foresee the full consequences, for the children involved or for wider society, of being brought up by two mothers without a father’s influence or by two fathers without a mother’s influence. ‘We first learn about diversity and acquire a respect for difference through the complementarity of our parents.’ He describes the ‘complementary love of father and mother’ as a ‘precious gift that we should wish for every child’.
So, the Government do look likely to have a bit more of a hoo-ha over their same-sex marriage plans. Although the Archbishop of Westminster is wrong in describing the plans as ‘shambolic’, it would be fair to describe them as not yet fully thought through. The Government do need resolve the issues of consummation and the issue of the status of Civil Partnerships far better than the sticking plasters on offer in their current formal response.
Perhaps feeling left out, High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge decided to embroil the judiciary in the mess of same-sex marriage. According to the Telegraph:
Sir Paul Coleridge questioned the decision to concentrate on an issue that affects “0.1%” of the population at a time when break-ups were leaving millions of children caught up in the family justice system. The comments by the judge – who started a charity to try to stem the “destructive scourge” of divorce – come after plans for gay marriage were criticised by the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales as undemocratic and totalitarian. Sir Paul said that his charity, the Marriage Foundation, did not take a stance on same-sex marriage. But he told a newspaper: “So much energy and time has been put into this debate for 0.1 per cent of the population, when we have a crisis of family breakdown. “It’s gratifying that marriage in any context is centre stage… but it [gay marriage] is a minority issue. We need a much more focused position by the Government on the importance of marriage.”
Daniel Isenberg noted on the excellent UK Human Rights Blog, that Sir Paul had recently agreed to take a lower profile in his Marriage Foundation. Indeed, the Office for Judicial Complaints concluded in November of 2012 that:
“The OJC has concluded its investigation into the conduct of the Honourable Mr Justice Coleridge in relation to the judge’s participation in the Marriage Foundation. Having considered all of the facts the Lord Chancellor and the President of the Queen’s Bench Division (on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice) do not consider Mr Justice Coleridge’s involvement with the Marriage Foundation to be incompatible with his judicial responsibilities and therefore does not amount to judicial misconduct. Mr Justice Coleridge has agreed that a lower profile role within the organisation would be more appropriate for a serving judicial office holder.”
I’m not sure that agreement is going entirely to plan. Where does this leave us? Well, for those wondering where the radical law and sexuality agenda will lead next, it seems determinedly stuck the conservative groove of marriage for now. 2013, the year of the sequel.