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British House of Lords Votes Down Traditional Marriage Amendment – Where Is the Catholic Response?

UK votes for gay marriage

© Leon NEAL / AFP

Carly Andrews - published on 06/05/13

While the French take to the streets, the reaction in the UK appears to be more muted

After an intense two day debate, the House of Lords has voted down a pro-traditional marriage amendment that would throw out a bill in favor of gay-marriage. With only 148 Peers out of 390 voting for the amendment against the bill, the amendment lost by nearly a 2-1 vote margin.

The third reading of the gay-marriage bill was pushed through in the House of Commons last month, with only 161 out of 366 voting against it. The minority who voted against the bill comprised 133 Tories, 15 Labour, 4 Liberal Democrats, 8 Democratic Unionists and one independent. Prime Minister David Cameron is in support of the legislation, even though half of his cabinet are opposed to it. His right hand Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg, and the Labour party leader Ed Miliband are also backing the bill.

After the House of Commons vote Cameron expressed hopes that the bill would soon become law, with same-sex ceremonies taking place as early as next summer.

These hopes seem to be coming into effect. Having made it through the House of Commons, the bill was passed into the House of Lords where Lord Dear, a Crossbench Peer, tabled an amendment in order to prevent another reading, which would have killed it instantly. However, the ammendment has been outvoted by an overwhelming 390 to 148 votes.

Lord Dear, along with a minority of other Peers, expressed grave concerns over the gay-marriage bill. During the actual debate Dear explained that it would "completely alter the concept of marriage as we know it", criticizing it for being “ill thought through” and dismissed its democratic legitimacy, calling it "fatally flawed."

On the other side of the fence was Equalities minister, Baroness Stowell of Beeston, who claimed that the bill would act as a”force for good”, serving only to strengthen the institution of marriage, and protecting both freedom of speech and religious freedom.

Her sentiments were shared by the Labour Party leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Royall, who described marriage as having a “special status” in British society. She stated "I firmly believe that our society will be strengthened when more couples are able to choose to make a lifetime commitment to each other and when all members of our communities are able to celebrate their identity and relationships within the institution of marriage."

Abuse of Democaratic Process

However General Lord Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009 was worried about the haste in which this bill has been pushed forward by David Cameron and co, criticizing it for going against everything he had spent his whole career as a soldier working for, “Following due process and procedure is a principle that I spent 40 years of my professional life upholding,” he said

“We fought for the ballot box for 38 years in Northern Ireland… and now as a Parliamentarian I am asked to accept an abuse of the democratic process and I will not do it.”

Colin Hart, the director for the Coalition for Marriage emphasized the significant opposition that still remains in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. "The government may have won the vote today,” he said, “but what was clear from the debate was the huge opposition to almost every part of the bill."

"We will continue to campaign to save traditional marriage and today's vote and the concerns expressed by many Peers mean we will be able to introduce safeguards that will protect teachers, registrars, chaplains and anyone who works in the public sector." He continues "If the government refuses to accept these changes, they risk losing the legislation at third reading."

With the ammendment having been voted out in the House of Lords, the gay-marriage bill will now enter into the committee stage where it will be heavily scrutinized before being presented again in the House of Lords. If it passes the final vote then the process of setting it in law will commence.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has expressed concerns for the complete shift in paradigm that this will mean for our understanding of marriage, whereby its definition would become nothing more than "a long-term commitment between two people of any sex, in which gender and procreation are irrelevant". Following the logic of such a definition, he claims that there could be a "slippery slope" into both incest, "say, two sisters bringing up children together" and polygamy, "multiple relationships, such as two women and one man".

Ben Summerskill, Chief executive of Stonewall, a gay-rights organization criticised Carey's remarks, dissmissing them as "hyperbolic shroud waving."

Where is the Catholic voice?

This emotionally charged legislation has been hotly debated in government, both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and it now seems to be on track for weaving its way into the fabric of British Law. There has been plenty of pro-gay demonstration, but where is the Catholic voice? Until now, there has not been much sign of public protestation on the matter by the British Catholic community, particularly if we compare it to the massive demonstrations that have been occuring in France.

There seems to be a relative silence. 

Whatever the reason, British Catholics certainly have the great challenge and responsibility of opening up lines of communication with our brothers and sisters outside of the faith in the spirit of compassion, so that we can achieve a wider understanding of why homosexual marriage is unacceptable.

It is important for our friends outside the Church to understand that our insistance upon retaining the tradtional definition of marriage is not something that restricts freedom, but rather allows the person to enter into an ultimate freedom, which is obtained solely by perfect union with God. Marriage is an inherently sacred institution, ordained and willed by God, which men do not have the power to redefine. 

So often the Church is portrayed as being a homophobic institution riding on the back of hypocracy, claiming to be grounded in love, but reserving this love only for heterosexual people.

This is a major misunderstanding of the Catholic persepctive.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that people who have same-sex attraction "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (CCC 2358) So approaching the issue of same-sex orientation in an attitute of contempt or violence is intherently non-catholic, which does nothing more than break down communication and spread misunderstanding.

Nevertheless the Church teaches that "'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life." (CCC 2357)

Does that mean that homosexuals are disordered people? 

No! Rather the act of homosexuality is. The person, like any other, is a child of God. The first point of reference for any Catholic should be God. A loving creator and father who made each one of us in his image, with whom to have a personal relationship. This stands for every human being. "The divine image is present in every man" CCC 1702 whether straight or gay, small or tall, black or white. We are all called to love and to serve God, before anything else, and it is in this that we find the path to true holiness and true happiness. It is this personal identity as a beloved child of God that defines each one of us as a human being.  

But then don't homosexuals have the right to be happy too?

The answer is of course, yes. But this happiness is found in the fulfillment of God's will for their lives. The Church teaches that homosexuals are called to love and to Serve God in chastity, and "By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection." (CCC 2359)

HomosexualityUnited Kingdom
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