Lynne Featherstone: Religious leaders shouldn’t try and stop others from holding same-sex marriages

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, now an International Development Minister, but previously the Minister for Equalities argues that religious leaders need to have more faith in their own beliefs and stop trying to force others to live by their anti-equal rights views.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols and The Rt Rev Mark Davies of Shrewsbury are both quoted today as using part of their Christmas messages to oppose the government’s proposals on equal marriage.

I profoundly believe and fight for freedom of speech and I defend their right to say what they have said. So I pen this not in anger – but in sorrow.

Of course you can disagree with equal marriage. You can believe that it can only be between a man and a woman. You can ultimately resist getting married to someone of the same sex if you don’t want to when this becomes law. What you surely cannot do is simply rail against the fact that not everyone subscribes to your point of view and try and stop others living life in a different way than your religion dictates.

And it is quite shameful to argue against equal marriage on the grounds that religions will be forced to conduct such marriages. The Government’s intention to make it possible for those religions that wish to conduct such services to have the freedom to so do – and the Government is bending over backwards (some would say too far) to ensure any fears of religions being forced to conduct such marriages are unwarranted.

It is even more shameful when that argument is lost to simply shift to the next argument as being the most important – that there is no mandate (The Rt Rev Mark Davies’ Christmas message). Good grief! Not only did all three leaders at the time of the election and since make clear that they all supported equal marriage; not only is it in the Conservative Equality commitment document; not only is it Liberal Democrat Party policy; not only do all polls show the majority in favour of equal marriage; not only did the largest response to a consultation by government in all history also show a majority in favour – but since when did any government do only that which was in a manifesto? A manifesto is a prospectus of what a government will do – not a prospectus of all it will do. The Coalition agreement is a compromise of the two manifestos. That does not preclude – and never has – the bringing forward of further proposals which are then democratically decided by a vote in the Houses of Parliament.

The other argument brought forth and paraded is that of ‘redefining’ marriage. Well – that depends on your definition. Mine is exactly what the Archbishop of Westminster decries in his statement – that where there is love and commitment between two people that is all you need for marriage. He also argues that these matters have not been given much thought. Oh please! This issue has probably had more thought and discussion than any other issue of the day!

It is very disappointing that religious leaders who object so forcefully to equal marriage seem to have so little faith in their own beliefs. If their religious beliefs are that marriage can only be between a man and a woman – they should have the confidence in their flocks to believe that too. And if it is their own flocks’ potential for disagreeing with them that is their real fear – then that is a matter for religious leaders and their congregations to sort out.

This is all about love actually!

This post was first published on Lynne’s blog