I was a teacher for a long time. The Socratic principle of inviting students to consider a scenario, provide them with few facts , solutions or explanations, instead eliciting these by questioning encourages a response from them which actively allows them to learn. There is a significant difference between expecting a teacher to explain something and requiring them to promote it. Teachers are expected to explain the world as it is in a way which is appropriate to the age, stage and level of understanding of pupils. This includes explaining some things of which they do not necessarily approve, such as divorce, abortion and, perhaps, same sex marriage. Teachers also are supposed to have ‘pedagogical superiority’, in other words, they know what the words mean. I no longer now know what the word ‘marriage’ actually means, thus am no longer competent to teach about it. Same-sex marriage is not legal in the United Kingdom, at least until tomorrow and marriage laws vary in the four countries of the United Kingdom, most holding that there is a legal impediment to marriage if both parties are of the same sex. Since 2005, same-sex couples are allowed to enter into civil partnerships, a separate union which provides the legal consequences of marriage but perceived as being inferior in status. In 2006, the High Court rejected a legal bid by a British lesbian couple who had married in Canada to have their union recognised as a marriage in the UK and not as a civil partnership, the Government seeking a large sum in costs which a punitive High Court ordered them to pay.
Baroness Warsi, Minister for Faith has broken ranks on the issue of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and asks, as I do, how will we ensure that the legislation will protect religious freedom and what legal protection will churches and other places of worship be afforded from challenges if they refuse to undertake same-sex marriage? The new Archbishop of Canterbury is to make a speech in which he is widely tipped to resist the legislation on behalf of the Church of England, indeed, in defence of Canon Law. Catholics and Methodists feel likewise, whereas liberal Judaism and Quakers are in support. Muslims are, of course, strongly opposed.
I have three questions. First, is it just? The answer is, of course, yes, but civil partnerships are equally so. Second, is it consistent with the proposition that marriage is a God-given institution generationally held to be between a man and a woman one of whose purposes is to provide a genetic causeway and stable role modeling? Clearly, no, and it is interesting to note that heterosexual marriages can be annulled on the basis of non-consummation, whereas homosexual marriages will not. Third, will the benefits of such legislation have long-term effects on the way society views the everyday business of living together as most still wish to do, in some form or another. This is the imponderable. Will a change in the law have a deep and visceral ripple effect on our morality and consequent future behaviour in the way we view ourselves and the way other nations perceive us? I think it will. And the consequences will not be felt for some time, by which time this little piece of legislation enacted at the beginning of 2013 may well have been buried under an avalanche of challenge and obfuscation. Feelings are running high in both camps. I, as a male of a particular age, not quite an ‘old fogey’ but moving inexorably in that direction, am toeing my own party line in that the issue has to some extent become generational. I think this also has to do with the fact that older people, perhaps more conscious of their own mortality, are more ‘religious’ in the old-fashioned sense and additionally resent the fact that the usual consultative process has been disgracefully steamrollered as the voices for change become more strident. The Prime Minister perhaps might imagine that he is ‘being just’. I doubt it, however, as all politicans are, he is a gambler who has staked a lot on a weak hand and thinks he knows ‘when to hold-em’ in the hope that he will survive the inevitable loss of votes in Middle England that his support of the Bill will cost him. I can’t help hoping he will lose.