In the first detailed examination of the pros and cons of same sex marriage, the authors of a paper published by leading think tank Policy Exchange argue that the balance of argument favours equal marriage.
The report – What’s In A Name? Is there a case for equal marriage? – looks at the social, historic and legal arguments for and against gay marriage.
Examining the arguments for, the report finds that:
- Marriage is a beneficial institution. Married couples are more faithful, make more money and are generally healthier than cohabitees or single people. Unmarried men between 25 and 35 are more likely to engage in high risk activities and violence. Marriage encourages commitment and fidelity and has a “pacifying effect” on young men
- Gay and bisexual men are more likely to commit suicide and self harm than heterosexual men, often as a result of feeling of alienation from wider society. They are also more likely than heterosexual men to indulge in high risk behaviour, such as drug and alcohol abuse or promiscuous behaviour. Marriage could be a particularly powerful institution for many young gay people – encouraging fidelity and commitment, providing role models and a strong support structure
- Children benefit from being raised in a married household. Only 8% of children born into a married household sees their parents split up before the age of 5 compare to 52% born into a cohabiting household. As gay people have the right, and several thousand gay couples have already adopted children, allowing gay people to marry would provide their children with a more stable upbringing
- The State has intervened on a number of occasions to alter the nature of marriage; by introducing civil marriages; by allowing Jews, Quakers and Catholics to marry under their own faith; by introducing divorce laws. Extending marriage to include gay and lesbian people would be consistent with the history of marriage
Examining the arguments against, the report finds that:
- Countries which have introduced equal marriage have not seen changes in the stability of heterosexual marriage. In Holland, Belgium, Canada and South Africa the number of divorces decreased. In Spain there was a slight rise, but this is more likely to be attributable to the “express divorce bill” passed in the same year
- None of the countries that have already introduced same sex marriage have forced religious bodies to perform gay marriages. However, legal safeguards need to be introduced to prevent judicial activism from forcing religious organisations to marry gay couples. On the other hand religious organisations which do want to perform same sex marriages, such as Quakers or Liberal Jews’ should be allowed to ‘opt in’ as the Protestant Church in Sweden and the Netherlands has already decreed
- “Slippery slope” arguments do not present an insuperable obstacle to equal marriage. While a majority of people support equal marriage, they do not support polygamous marriage. Equal marriage is consistent with the Western tradition of marriage with emphasis on commitment and fidelity between two partners. And there are good arguments against polygamy which do not apply to equal marriage e.g. domestic abuse of women, only the wife should remain faithful, the lack of love and attention given to the children of multiple wives
- It is not the case that only the “metropolitan elite” is in favour of equal marriage. The highest levels of support are in the North East of England (81%), Yorkshire (70%), the West Midlands and London (69%)
- A civil partnership may have many of the legal features of marriage but it is a “halfway house”. Unlike a civil marriage, a civil partnership can happen without an exchange of vows. Civil partnerships do not have the same social recognition as marriage which means they do not provide the same benefits that marriage provides
The report recommends:
- Same sex couples should be allowed to marry and given the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples
- Religious bodies or institutions should not be forced to carry out same sex marriages on their premises
- Religious bodies or institutions should be allowed to ‘opt in’ if they wish to carry out a same sex marriage on their premises
- A fast track should be provided for existing civil partners who wish to transfer to full marriage
- Once equal marriage has been introduced, no new civil partnerships should be create
David Skelton, co-author of the paper, “Marriage brings with it hundreds of years of history and a long record of providing stability. It is understandable that some religious bodies do not want to marry same sex couples and the state should respect their choice. Likewise, other religious bodies might wish to carry out gay marriage ceremonies on their premises and they should be able to opt in if they so wish.
“Gay people do not want to change the nature of marriage as some have argued. They just want to be part of an institution that transcends communities, promotes commitment and fidelity, as well as providing stability and a valuable social support structure.”
For further information contact Nick Faith on 07960 996 233 or at