Dear Miss Leutgeb
Thank you for contacting me about the Government’s proposals for same sex marriage. You will obviously be aware that the Government has now responded to the recent public consultation and has said that it will bring forward legislation in the New Year. I recognise the strength of feeling on this issue – particularly in respecting freedom of religious belief.
I believe that marriage is a hugely powerful institution underlining love, commitment and faithfulness. I also believe that a fundamental distinction should be drawn between civil marriage set out in law and statute and religious marriage forming part of a tenet of faith and religious observance. Provided this separation is properly observed, I struggle to see why the state should seek to exclude adults who are prepared to make vows of life-long fidelity and commitment simply because their partner is of the same sex. If we believe marriage is a good thing – which I do – then I believe that it will be strengthened, not weakened, by making it inclusive.
The Government has reflected carefully on the submissions it received during the public consultation and has made clear that in bringing proposals forward:
• The legislation will state explicitly that no religious organisation, or individual minister can be compelled to marry same sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises;
• The Equality Act will be amended to ensure that no discrimination claims can be brought for refusing to marry a same-sex couple;
• It will be unlawful for religious organisations to marry same-sex couples unless they have expressly opted to do so and it will be clear that no law requires any religious organisation to opt-in; and
• It will be illegal for the Church of England to marry same sex couples or to opt-in to doing so. Only though a change to both Canon Law and further primary legislation could the Church of England conduct same sex marriages.
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and recent case law underlines that same sex marriage is a matter for individual member states which are under no obligation to allow same-sex couples to marry. The proposals will not lead to any change in the way in which children are taught. The syllabus will not change nor will procedures for resolving conflicts with personal beliefs.
On the basis of these safeguards, I support the proposals for same sex civil marriage. I believe that it would promote a more tolerant, fairer and more inclusive society more at ease with itself and more genuinely focussed on equality of opportunity – something which I believe to be profoundly Conservative.
That said, I fully respect the legitimate and sincerely held belief that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. There are differences of view – indeed there are differences of view within individual Christian denominations. Faith is personal and the product of an individual religious journey. Whilst we may not agree on this issue, I hope you will equally respect my own personal views and my own Christian faith in supporting this change.
James Brokenshire MP
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