A senior Conservative MP has slammed the coalition Government over an official consultation which will consider doing “away with traditional marriage”.
On Thursday 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 Edward Leigh MP has questioned why the Government is 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, described the move as “mangling the language of marriage so that, for the sake of the tiny number of gay people who prefer marriage to civil partnership, everyone else in society must have the definition of their own marriage altered forever.
“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?
“Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?
“No doubt because it is an important symbol to them. But it is also an important symbol to many other people.
“Must the religious and cultural heritage of the whole nation be overturned to suit the demands of a minority even of the gay community itself?”
He added: “In recent years people who say things gay rights groups do not like have often found themselves being reported to the police.
“If the government presses ahead and replaces marriage with a unisex institution, what is the future for those who say they do not believe a man can have a husband or a woman a wife?”
It has been reported that the Government’s preferred option would also allow heterosexual couples to enter civil partnerships, a move which would cost £5 billion according to Stonewall.
Mr Leigh also criticised the Government’s proposal to allow civil partnerships to be registered in churches, saying: “When Civil Partnerships were brought in we were assured that they were not marriage.
“This pledge has now been broken. A marriage is a union between a man and a woman making a sincere attempt to stay together for life with a view to raising children.
“Civil Partnerships, by definition, cannot be this. The whole point of banning Civil Partnerships in a place of worship was to make clear that they were not marriages. This distinction will now be lost.”
Mr Leigh also warned that clergy who refused to perform same-sex marriages would face litigation “sooner rather than later”.
Speaking after yesterday’s announcement Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said: “The introduction of civil partnerships was one of the most significant changes introduced by Labour.”
He added: “Five years on from the first civil partnership it is right that we look at extending marriage equality for those people who want it. I welcome the announcement and hope that progress can be made on this important issue as soon as possible.”
Earlier this week a number of evangelical Christian organisations released a joint statement pledging to “firmly oppose” any change to the law.
And media commentators are also expressing concern at the prospect of marriage being redefined.
Michael White, writing on the Guardian’s politics blog earlier this week, 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, an Assistant Editor of The Guardian, 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.”
His comments were echoed by Melanie Philips, writing in the Daily Mail, who said: “Gay rights supporters contend that there can be no justifiable objection to extending the status of marriage to those who are not heterosexual. Gay or straight — what does it matter, as long as two people are committed to each other?
“But those who make this argument merely reveal they have no idea of the significance of marriage. They seem to think it’s just another contractual arrangement involving a binding (or not so binding) commitment — like buying a house or a car.
“But the truth is that marriage is a unique institution because it involves the process by which humanity reproduces itself — which is only through the union of male and female.”