Is the wedding industry about to wake up to equal marriage?

On Thursday the 15th of March the government began a consultation into equal civil marriage in England and Wales. It intends to change the current law so that same sex civil marriage on non-religious premises will become legal from 2015. David Cameron beamed and announced, “I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative”. Oh shut up. (But more on that later…)

Reaction in the media has been variously welcoming, critical and outraged. Religious organisations have lashed out. Equal rights campaigners are asking for more. But the wedding industry has been uncomfortably quiet on the subject. Political discussion doesn’t seem to impact on our day-to-day conversation. Why?

The voice of our industry has always been print media: the monthly and bi-monthly wedding magazines. With the huge popularity of wedding blogs, we’re no longer restricted by print lead times: we can discuss the politics affecting marriage as they tangle around us – and by having a conversation, we can make a difference.

It’s time for the wedding industry to talk about equality

Wedding magazines have always run to print schedules: planned months in advance, editorial finalised with a handful of weeks to go; printing and then distribution over several weeks. It’s made topical debate impossible – by the time the mags land on the high street the important discussions have been and gone.

Wedding blogs are instant. They have multiple times the readership of the print magazines. No lead times means no barriers to topical discussion: when something as big as the consultation on equal civil marriage hits the headlines wedding bloggers can join the debate.

The wedding bloggers are now the most influential and respected voices in the industry. If we talk about this, others will follow – and the generation for whom the debate on equal marriage is most important will listen.

So why all the uproar about gay marriage last week?

  1. The government plans to change the law so that same sex couples can legally have a civil marriage. This means gay couples can be married in any English or Welsh wedding venue which holds a licence for civil ceremonies. The key difference is the terminology: marriage is an emotionally loaded word. Previously civil partnerships weren’t enough for many who simply wanted to be legally recognised as a married couple.
  2. Same sex marriage on religious premises will still be illegal. Current law permits civil partnerships on religious premises but not same sex religious marriage. This won’t change. Gay couples won’t have the choice to be married in church; churches won’t have the option of marrying gay couples on their premises. (And yet the Church of England and Roman Catholic churches have stormed into this debate like raging toddlers.)
  3. Heterosexual couples still won’t be allowed civil partnerships. It seems like a lesser issue, but this only highlights the discrimination we’re facing. One rule for everyone regardless of sexual orientation would be true equality, would it not? In the Netherlands straight couples can opt for a civil partnership and since the law there was changed, two thirds of couples do. This is all about choice – and our government aren’t willing to yield to us the freedom to choose.

Why this proposal won’t bring true equality

Marriage is about two people in love. “We’re married!” speaks of deep love and commitment, of a wider celebration of a loving relationship within circles of friends and family, and of recognition within the wider community.

The proposals to legalise same sex marriage have been welcomed by equal rights campaigners – but the changes just don’t go far enough. We’ll still be in a situation where gay couples are allowed to do one thing and straight couples are allowed another. It’s not fair, and it’s pointlessly confusing as well.

Why not one law for all? Any couple should be allowed to choose between a civil marriage or a civil partnership. The government has complete power over this – the only barrier is the law.

By proclaiming his support of gay marriage David Cameron gives the impression he supports same sex religious marriage, but this is not true. The government is firmly set against religious marriage for gay couples. Perhaps it fails to see the discrimination or homophobia in this stance or perhaps it doesn’t have the guts to make this change to the law.

Some religious organisations support gay marriage in church. The Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism [source] would all welcome gay couples who wanted to get married in their churches – if our government would only change the law so this wasn’t illegal. Within the major church organisations there are plenty who would support gay marriage in church – but their leaders say no.

If our government was really so forward-thinking and so welcoming to same sex marriage, then they’d have to change the discriminatory law against religious gay marriage.

Why same sex religious marriage isn’t even being considered

In a country where religion is rapidly losing its grip on the populace it strikes me as strange  that the government won’t address the fact that same sex marriage in church is illegal. No one is suggesting the law should force priests to marry gay couples. But to deny churches and couples alike the option is shortsighted, old fashioned and homophobic.

And yet critics have suggested that the government is cowed by outspoken religious leaders – the likes of Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams and the leaders of the Church of England – whose discriminatory views on same sex religious marriage are embraced by the Daily Mail and peddled to the general public like 1p Butlins holiday offers. It’s because of the perceived influence of religious leaders that our government doesn’t dare change the law prohibiting same sex marriage in church. So let’s look at the church’s response over the last few days.

The church on civil marriage for same sex couples

The church shouldn’t interfere in this consultation process. The government is proposing legal civil marriage for same sex couples. It doesn’t even affect the church! Their ‘moral’ argument that marriage – whether religious or civil – should not be allowed for gay couples is homophobic. The church is shining its own very unpleasant light onto the discussion about gay marriage.

On Sunday the 11th of March two top bishops issued a letter to be read to congregations in all Catholic churches, telling parishioners that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and “intended for the procreation and education of children”. They described the proposals for same sex civil marriage as “radical” – and they didn’t even try to make it clear that the government’s proposals only cover civil marriage.

In the Huffington Post equal rights campaigner Peter Tatchell explained,

As a consequence, many Catholics left church last Sunday believing that the government was going to compel priests to marry lesbian and gay couples.”

“I know this because after Sunday Mass I interviewed people coming out of London’s premier Catholic church, Westminster Cathedral. Three quarters of the people I spoke to were under the impression that the archbishops were talking about same-sex marriages in churches. They thought the government was going to force unwilling religious institutions to marry same-sex couples.”

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has criticised church leaders’ reactions, saying,

It adds nothing to the debate. It inflames. On these issues, we have a responsibility in leadership positions to make sure we don’t fan the flames of homophobia. I totally respect all of the religious views and understand they are strong and genuinely felt. But to use such inflammatory language does not help the debate and does not help their cause.”

When the Archbishop of York claimed the government couldn’t change the law on marriage without the approval of religious leaders her reply was simply, “My understanding is that Parliament can legislate to do what it wishes.”

I’m not alone in thinking the church should stop interfering so negatively in an issue which is none of their damn business.

The church on religious marriage for same sex couples

The government messed up by not addressing religious gay marriage in this proposal. Church leaders are shouting at us anyway. “Marriage is for a man and a woman!“… “We invented it, for God’s sake!” the priests cry. Well no, you didn’t. You don’t own the concept of marriage. If you want to start an argument, let’s discuss same sex marriage on your premises while we’re here, shall we? (Civil partnerships on religious premises are already legal, after all.)

Church leaders have loud voices – but are we really listening?

It’s no secret that the average age of both priests and congregations is heading skyward (no pun intended). Statistics predict the percentage of UK churchgoers will be below 5% by the year 2020. Churchgoers may listen to their priests’ views on gay marriage in church – most may agree. But they’re a shrinking minority. (Consider the ‘official estimate’ from this Whitehall source: 6% of the UK population are gay.)

The media listen to outspoken church leaders because controversy sells papers. Archbishops are no strangers to soundbites and they know how to court media attention. Daily Mail readers may not flinch as priests use words like “grotesque” in their retaliation against these proposals – but debate on the Independent, Telegraph and Guardian websites tells a far more enlightened story.

Perhaps it’s entertaining to see the men in funny hats cry out against equality in marriage. From a nation beguiled by bad X Factor auditions, the fact we’re giving blinkered bishops newspaper space doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with their point of view.

In much the same way as Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude pointed out the Conservative party would be “unelectable” if it stuck to “backwards-looking social attitudes”, I believe the Church should think carefully about alienating a younger congregation through bigotry and homophobia.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, John Bingham said, “The Church of England hinted that the proposals could undermine its position as the established Church“. This is an important point which flips neatly around: in my opinion if the Church of England won’t let go of its antiquated prejudices then its position as far as our generation is concerned will become precarious indeed.

Whose fault is it that inequality in marriage is still rife?

The government is certainly at fault – it has taken steps towards equality with civil partnerships and now civil marriage narrowing the gap between the rights of hetero- and homosexual couples. But politicians are too scared of angering the major religious groups to lift the ban on same sex marriage in church.

It’s our fault too: the wedding industry, the general public: we leave the equal rights campaigners and the politicians to it. This shouldn’t be a debate just for the gay community and the House of Commons – it should be a conversation we all contribute to.

Within the wedding industry we are blinkered. Despite seeing almost 43,000 civil partnerships in five years we really don’t talk about same sex marriage or civil partnerships, and we don’t tend to wade into political debate. Considering the audience demographic of wedding blogs – thousands of young couples who are interacting with churches, registrars and wedding suppliers – it’s time wedding bloggers at the very least joined the conversation.

While the government is making steps towards change in a positive way, and the wedding industry I’m sure will welcome gay civil marriage, this whole debate is being held back by religious organisations. Despite being on the fringes of all of this – while we only focus on civil marriage and the law – their vocal leaders are effectively preaching homophobia. The church is trying to stop progress, to discriminate and to overrule the rest of us in what could turn out to be a twisted popularity contest.

We really need to support equal marriage – now

The wedding industry needs to recognise and participate in important issues. Equality in marriage is something I’m confident we’ll support as an industry. Our wedding press, wedding blogs and wedding business blogs are a platform we should be using to promote equality and change.

Beginning a discussion within the wedding industry could drive significant support for the Equal Love Campaign, which is pressing the government to end the twin bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships, and to allow religious organisations that support same-sex marriages to conduct them.

This is a discussion being held between politicians, equal rights campaigners and the clergy.  The impact of legal changes in 2015 will be felt by the very people we in the wedding industry can reach: millions of couples in their twenties and thirties. So let’s push for equality now, join the debate and let our voices be heard.

What can we do to help

Most of all I’d love to see everyone involved with marriage and weddings in England and Wales supporting the move towards true equality: keeping this conversation alive is important.

Further reading on equal marriage for same sex couples

Other related information sources

  Equal Love

Comments

comments

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  • http://knotsandkisses.co.uk Nikki Ward @ KnotsandKisses

    I find incredible that like you say the law doesn’t change so any couple is allowed the right by law to get married or have a civil partnership, whether in a wedding venue or in a religious insititution.
    As you say the church are just going over the top with the whole thing and not looking at the facts … making it legal to do so doesn’t necessarily mean they will be obliged to accept it in their particular churches from what I can gather … it just means the option is there for same sex couples if they want it.

    • http://www.english-wedding.com Claire

      Thanks for your comment Nikki – and I agree with you completely. The government are halfway there (or will be by 2015) so one teeny little change to their plans, to at least lift the illegality on same sex religious marriage, wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference to all the debate going on already.
      Thanks for your comment – support the Equal Love Campaign & sign the petition if you can (click their logo above), and if you can share this message with your wedding blog readers and friends please do :)
      Claire xx

  • http://www.blightybooks.co.uk Karl @ Blighty Books

    I, like Claire and Nikki, think it is crazy that same sex couples can’t get legally married yet. As some one who has been producing wedding albums and been involved in the planning of ceremonies and weddings of gay and straight couples, I can’t believe that we are still dictated to by people with stuff old fashioned values.

  • http://www.vickerstaffphotography.co.uk Jamie

    I am behind equal marriage in every sense and believe everyone has the right to express that love and companionship by marrying their true love. They deserve the legal right and acceptance which to me in this modern, scientifical and free thinking age outweighs the religious right. I photographed a lesbian wedding a few years ago in the Manchester Town Hall and during the signing of the register asked one of the brides whose last name would be on the license “both” she told me and I backed away in my ignorance and we continued to have a fantastic day.

    I get confused when same sex couples follow a religion that quite openly and for a better term religiously believes that the gay/lesbian life is against god and described as grotesque, and if you follow their bible, is worthy of the death penalty. The Western Christian belief has changed in the modern age to allow more followers through the door or the death of the church was imminent but the belief of same sex couples is against the foundation of their religion. Adam and Eve are the parents of the world (despite the hugely and obvious findings of evolution), and I respect the religions for keeping their faith to that end and maintaining the ban on same sex marriage.

    I respect their level of ‘keeping the faith’; I don’t agree with it, and never will but we’re asking them to change their religious beliefs which is a huge ask. I grew up as a Jehovahs Witness and suppressed to the most narrow minded and ignorant views so subsequently left and followed the life I believe true and right. Those couples should surely be seeking the same life and wanting the laws and the acceptance of those close to them and as less and less go to church the acceptance of their fellow county men/women. Change the law to show same sex marriage deserve the same rights as everyone else and to marry where they want, with regards to religion, follow a religion that accepts you for who you are in the first place.

    Photographing any wedding is always a privilege, it should be the most joyous occasion and no matter what race, sexual orientation or anything else it should be just that. Both Tory and I will sign the above petition gladly and hope true equality is received by all.

    • http://www.english-wedding.com Claire

      Jamie and Tory, firstly thank you for supporting the petition – and thank you for such a thoughtful comment. It’s very interesting to look at this from different perspectives.

      I always try and respect people’s religious beliefs and their right to practice religion. I know it’s something which people hold very dear and often live by and for.

      Your words “follow a religion that accepts you for who you are in the first place” are spot on. And to church leaders who try and impose their views on wider society… I think we agree on that one.

      Thank you both xx

  • http://lmgeorge.blogspot.com Laura George (@lmgeorge92)

    I understand your frustration at the Church getting involved and some outdated, homophobic bishops getting involved. But please be careful that you’re not tarring every Christian with the same brush.
    I am a 20 year old Christian who can bear witness to hundreds of young Christian’s like myself, or are
    1) becoming a new, young generation of christians (not the rising generation age you cited!)
    and 2) support gay marriage.
    First and foremost, Christianity is about relationships not religion. From that stance, I believe everyone has the right to fall in love and get married regardless of their gender or sexuality. My best friend is engaged to another women, and they’re planning the wedding- which I will be fully part of!

    Moreover, it’s not just the church that is getting involved in the debate, who can’t claim religious reasons- they’re purely homophobic or afraid of change! At least many Christians are reverting back to the Bible as a basis of their argument, whilst that might not please everyone, for Chrsistians the Bible is a great source of spiritual nourishment.

    so no, I don’t disagree with your main point, we should be making same sex marriage legal – and if people so wish same gender civil partnerships, but please be careful of throwing all the Christians under the same umbrella!

    Laura

    • http://www.english-wedding.com Claire

      Hello Laura,

      Thank you for your thoughts on this. As an atheist I’m always keen to try and understand others’ point of view and to hear your perspective as a young Christian is really interesting.

      Perhaps I should have made it clearer I was referring to church leaders above: Dr Rowan Williams and John Sentamu have featured heavily in the articles I researched for this post; likewise the authors of “that” letter read out in Catholic churches. I appreciate priests have varying views, and I expect there’s an even wider range of opinions within their congregations. (It’s not my area of expertise)

      Laura, what are your thoughts on the church leaders getting involved in this debate about civil marriage? Is it their place to intervene when the government aren’t talking about religious marriage? Do you think legalising religious same sex marriage would divide the church or have serious consequences for church organisations?

      Just curious! :)
      Claire x

  • http://www.edible-glitter.com Angharad

    Well done for writing such an in-depth and well thought out piece. It’s a huge issue that so many people seem to be sweeping under the doormat. I can’t imagine the day when wedding magazines will start to routinely feature same sex couples (which is a huge shame), so I agree, it’s up to bloggers and others in the industry to promote equality.

    I won’t wade into a debate on religion, but suffice to say that the perceived rights of religious communities should not be unjustifiably prioritised by the government over the rights of other groups.

    • http://www.english-wedding.com Claire

      Thank you Angharad. I’m proud of this blog post – and glad people are reading. Lovely to hear from you again too :)

      You’re right about the wedding magazines, and there’s such a huge gap between ‘mainstream’ wedding publications (including online) and specialist gay wedding websites, directories and forums. I’d love to see much more crossover between the two.

      For starters though, it’s just good to talk :) Thanks for sharing your views.
      Claire x

  • Kendra

    Considering what is in item one and two of the reasons behind the uproar, I don’t find any reason for anybody to create a fuss out of it. Since religious marriages in religious premises are still not permissible under the law, there is absolutely no reason the the churches to express their disagreement; the government have already made a compromise so that their anti-same sex marriage stand is considered.

  • http://www.theweddinggenie.co.uk Julie Dawson

    A brilliant well thought and researched article. I totally agree with you. I am an atheist too but try and understand the need for a belief. I have worked in nursing for many years before I was a wedding planner and seen so many people of all races and creed live and die by their religion. It’s been a comfort to them and their relatives. What I think and believe about most of these people is that they are following their faith which believes that human rights should be upheld and live by rules to treat everyone fairly and with respect and as such why can’t gay couples have the very same rights and respects that the same sex couples are used to. I am working on a gay wedding at the moment and the ladies i am working for are a delight and very much in love. They have the same bond, respect and love that same sex couples have. In fact I feel in some ways they already have to work harder at their relationship because of society beliefs which will and do impact on their professional lives as well as their personal ones. If we legalised same sex couples marriages surely this would also go some way to the acceptance generally. We are a modern technological society, it seems a shame that some of the most powerful “church” leaders can’t or wont see the bigger picture. I love that the young lady Laura has a voice for the new generation of today and understands that people are people despite their sexual orientation. Fundamentally these church voices in my onion are scared bigoted small minded individuals. I will certainly go and support the petition and copy this blog on my site to spread the message. Why would you follow and look to these people as an example to live by? If more of the Laura’s were heard the church might be forced to listen to their point of view or at least be open to a more balanced debate.

  • http://www.underthevintageveil.com Sara (Under the Vintage Veil)

    I agree with you completely. I think the reason I haven’t written about this yet is really because I don’t know if I’ll do it justice. You’ve said everything I’d ever want to say.

    Having said that, I think it’s really important we’re all behind this – I have an idea!!! Will DM you xxx

  • http://www.angelinthenorth.com/ Anna / angelinthenorth

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot too recently Claire and am equally angered by the reaction of some, usually those calling themselves “Christians.” In my day job I’m involved in politics and the contacts I’ve seen on this are – without fail – negative (actually outraged) and loaded with religious rhetoric. What happened to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’? Marriage doesn’t have to mean only a union between man and woman, it just happens that that’s how it has become to be understood. Words and meanings change ALL THE TIME. Remember when the word ‘gay’ meant something altogether different?! Keep up the good work we need to talk about these things.

  • Rachel

    This is a really interesting post- thanks for writing it. I’ve been talking about the consultation with a few people recently and there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what it’s actually proposing. It was really helpful to read what the consultation actually is on.

    I think one of the most frustrating elements of this whole debate is the role of the church and the state. I can’t really understand why religious leaders are occupying such prominent positions in this debate. I can sympathise with their position on marriage – taken from the Bible, of one man and one woman, forever. All the same, I don’t really see how it affects them and Jesus got pretty angry at people who were judgmental and condemning. He was friends with prostitutes and women, tax collectors and lepers. All of these people were seen as inappropriate companions for a jewish male and he didn’t seem to care a bit. The point that I’m trying to illustrate, is that the message of the Bible is one of salvation and care for people, and that Jesus was interested in those that other people were keen to reject. He never told someone that he didn’t want to know them because of their lifestyle choices.

    Nevertheless, the Bible does not permit gay marriage (to clarify something that was said earlier in the comments, homosexuality does not warrant the death penalty according to the Bible. If you’d like me to expand on that, I can). In order to try and keep this a little briefer, I’m only going to address the issue of why making religious gay marriage is a political problem. I totally agree with you, Claire, in that religious organisations who wish to marry same sex couples should have the freedom to do so. What is slightly more difficult (and you might disagree with me) is making it compulsory for the Church of England to marry any same sex couple who wished to marry there. Because the CofE is the state church, legally it cannot refuse a couple presently. If the ‘religious’ definition of marriage were to be expanded, leaders of churches would have to marry couples who they believed it was wrong to marry. Now, you might not see anything wrong with this, in which case the conversation takes a slightly different turn. For me it just raises some interesting questions about the church and state. I don’t think that a church should be forced to perform a religious ceremony (whether that is a wedding or a baptism) by the state. I think that churches of their own accord should be welcoming to people from all kinds of places and backgrounds, but a government mandate seems odd to me. So if I had my way, I’m not sure we’d have a ‘church of england’ particularly as it is so woefully unrepresentative of Christianity in the UK. I go to a church which is bucking the trend. One, it’s growing and two, the average age is well below 65 ;)

    I think what we are really asking the church to do, is to think differently. The fact that the church (on the whole) doesn’t accept same sex marriage as an acceptable institution is what people find repulsing. The fact that same sex couples cannot be married in a church is just a symptom of a deeper belief. Generalising, I think I’m right in assuming that we don’t think we can force people to change what they think. So lets look at the possibility of enforcing a law which states that churches have to marry same sex couples against their beliefs, but at the couple’s request:

    I think marriage is a wonderful thing, something to be entered into joyfully and soberly. If we were to make the cofe perform same sex marriages when that church believed that marriage to be wrong, it would seem horribly disingenuous and false (again, you might disagree with me on this). I certainly would not want to marry in a place where they believed my marriage was wrong, even if they legally had to say all the words which indicated otherwise. But then, I am not a part of a same sex couple who wants to marry.

    So I think a better proposal would be to allow churches (and other religious institutions) to marry same sex couples if their theology permitted, and allow others to continue as they have before (for example, some churches will not remarry divorced couples in certain circumstances). It would require a lot of re-jigging of the way things currently are but I imagine it could work.

    This is a really long comment! I hope that I’ve not just written utter nonsense! I agree that the blogs are a great place to have these discussions, and I’m happy to be a part of them!

    • http://www.english-wedding.com Claire

      Thank you all for your comments. I’ve read each at least twice – I’m fascinated by all the different perspectives on this debate and now particularly looking into Rachel’s thoughts on the subject.

      Rachel, while I don’t really understand the church system / hierarchy I agree with the points you’ve made. While I was researching and writing this blog post I did consider potential impacts of the proposals – but decided to leave my blog post where I did to avoid overcomplicating things.

      Now I’m brought back to thinking of the ideal outcome – at least in my mind – from all of this. Your comment has really got me thinking.

      I believe the only fair outcome of these proposals and at this stage will be to make it legal for religious organisations to marry same sex couples on their premises. The decision will then lie with the church organisations and priests from each church. (Readers please note I’m including temples, synagogues, mosques when I use the word ‘church’ here – that’s a function of my limited knowledge of religious systems.)

      If the legal ban is taken away, and it becomes legal to marry a same sex couple on religious premises, then it’s going to be up to churches, priests and congregations to decide.

      Some churches might be very hierarchical and the top priests dictate what they will and will not allow. Others might be more lenient and leave the decision to individual parish priests to make.

      I’m aware there are plenty of gay priests in England and Wales. I’m aware not all Christians / Muslims / religious people are against gay marriage in church.

      The debate within the church would be very interesting indeed. I hope it would be peaceful.

      In an ideal world, each religious organisation would let priests decide whether or not to marry same sex couples in their church. And I would hope that if not now, certainly in twenty years’ time most churches would welcome gay marriages.

      That’s my view anyway – thank you Rachel for getting me thinking again.

      Claire x

  • http://lmgeorge.blogspot.com Laura George (@lmgeorge92)

    Thank you for your response Claire and also your comment on my own blog :)
    I think, that whilst the role of the Church and Christianity within the UK is dwindling, we are still considered a Christian Country- with David Cameron saying not long ago that he’d like to go back to Church values. With this in mind, I think Church leaders such as John Sentamu and Rowan Williams, will probably always be consolted on issues which are likely to divide the nation-as I said, it’s not just religious people who are anti a change in the law!
    I totally agree that the views seem homophobic and out dates, however, they are both incredible men who have done a lot more then sit on their asses- which is more then can be said for a lot of christian leaders lower down the chain.

    So whilst I’m not sure that it is their place to get involved, I do think that it is unavoidable.
    The changes are likely to divide the church community, as homosexuality already does- but I think it wll be with surprising outcomes, I have already seen so many young christians in abolsute favour of the changes, compared to a select few who aren’t.

    I hope I’ve explained this full enough :)