…Lobbyists naturally believed that all you had to do to allow gay marriage was to extend to same-sex couples exactly the same law as applied to existing, heterosexual marriages.
Too late, they discovered, this cannot be done. Civil servants, confronted with the embarrassing task of working out what defined the consummation of a homosexual relationship, faltered. Since homosexual acts have no existential purpose and no procreative result, consummation is a meaningless concept. From this it followed that the Government could come up with no definition of adultery in a homosexual marriage. A law designed to be equal, is not. Under the Bill, non-consummation will not be grounds for divorce in same-sex marriage. Nor will adultery.
By accident, then, the Government is introducing, for the first time, a definition of marriage which has no sexual element. Yet it refuses to face the logical consequence of this surprising innovation. If sexual intercourse is not part of the definition of same-sex marriage, why should blamelessly cohabiting sisters not marry one another in order to avoid inheritance tax? Why should father not marry son? Why shouldn’t heterosexual bachelor chum marry heterosexual bachelor chum? What, come to think about it, is so great about the idea of monogamy, once sex and children are removed from the equation? Does the word “marriage” any longer contain much meaning?
And if Equality is the highest of all moral aims, how can the Government possibly justify not extending the gay right to a civil partnership to heterosexual couples who, at present, have no such privilege? If this Bill becomes law, all these matters will be litigated over, right up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Against such outcomes, as he painfully well knows, Mr Cameron can make no provision.
Possibly the House of Commons, where mere politics reigns and virtually no time has been permitted for debate on the Bill, will fail to think through these issues, although revolt is growing. But precision and fairness in framing our laws are subjects in which the House of Lords rightly claims a key role. The Government faces trouble there.
Up until now, many of the opponents of gay marriage have felt inhibited. Look, for instance, at the sotto voce response of the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, usually so eloquent on social questions that stretch well beyond his denominational boundary. Listen to the rather uncertain bleats that have emerged from Lambeth Palace in recent years. Respectable people are truly terrified of being thought anti-homosexual. In a way, they are right to be, because attacking people for their personal preferences can be a nasty thing.
But the course of the Same-Sex Couples Bill is gradually revealing that the question here is not much to do with homosexuals. It is to do with marriage itself. Are Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg wiser than every mainstream religion, thousands of years of history and the almost uniform practice of every civilisation? Put the question like that, and the answer is plain. But I do not want to be rude to our well-meaning rulers. All I want to ask is, “Are you quite sure you know what you’re doing? If not, please pause.”