Marriage could be destroyed if the Government moves to fundamentally redefine the institution, a prominent legal commentator has warned.
Last month the Equalities Office revealed that it will “formally look” at redefining marriage so that homosexual couples can get the same certificate as married people.
The Government will also consult on plans to allow civil partnerships to be registered in churches for the first time.
But writing in last week’s edition of The Catholic Herald barrister Neil Addison warned that any attempt to redefine marriage could have unintended consequences for society.
He warned: “Today in British Columbia, a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist is defending himself on bigamy charges by arguing that the bigamy law is discriminatory. It is quite possible that he will win, in which case Canada will have legalised same-sex marriage and polygamy.
“David Cameron has said that he regards marriage as fundamental to society but he and the Government need to recognise once they open the Pandora’s box of trying to redefine marriage they will end up destroying it.”
The barrister also warned that any change to the current law could result in litigation.
Mr Addison added: “The problem with both the suggested changes is that, in the present era of human rights and anti-discrimination laws, once something is allowed it can become illegal to refuse to provide it.
“If churches, synagogues, mosques and so on are allowed to perform same-sex marriage or civil partnerships they could easily find themselves being sued for discrimination if they refuse to perform them.
“Any legislation would, no doubt, say that no religious group would be obliged to perform same-sex ceremonies but any such guarantees could be legally challenged.”
Last month the Archbishop of Southwark warned that the Roman Catholic Church would oppose in the “strongest terms” any attempt to fundamentally redefine marriage.
Most Revd Peter Smith also said marriage does not belong to the state or the church, but is a fundamental institution rooted in human nature.
Media commentators have also expressed concern at the prospect of marriage being redefined.
Michael White, assistant editor at The Guardian, said: “Aside from all the theological, moral and cultural freight, there’s an important practical distinction here which goes to the root of any society – namely that heterosexual marriage is there to produce and raise children in a more or less stable environment.”
Mr White, writing on The Guardian’s politics blog, went on to warn that no amount of technology could “eliminate the need for a female egg and a male sperm to make a baby. On that fact rest all successful societies since the year dot.”
Edward Leigh MP also questioned why the Government was trying to ‘mangle’ marriage, warning that it could have devastating consequences for those who adhere to the traditional definition.
Mr Leigh, a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Once we have departed from the universally understood framework of marriage, there is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three? Or thirty-three?”