The consultation on what the Government are calling civil marriage was launched on Thursday. I thought I would give you a little background into consultations in general as well as campaigners and Government tactics and point you in the direction of the civil marriage consultation so you can have your say on the proposals.
But first a little background. One political tactic that can be used when trying to oppose a proposal put forward by the Government is to see if you can get it kicked in the long grass. To use the golf analogy, perhaps the ball will then be lost and everybody can forget about what was obviously a misunderstood and wrongheaded idea.
That may have been the hope of the Coalition for Marriage campaign, which to date has raised the impressive figure of over 200,000 signatures for a petition that supports the traditional understanding of marriage. Stalling could have allowed David Cameron to save face if he did want to abandon the proposal.
However, it is no doubt due to the presence of the Liberal Democrats in Government, as well as a Home Office Minister who is keen on the idea, that has made it inopportune for this tactic to work. So it came to pass that the Government published their consultation, and the public, as well as other interested parties such as churches, hotels and members of the LGBT community have been asked to respond.
As is usual with Government consultations, individual respondents and larger organisations have been given time to read and consult with their members over how to respond. Government guidelines stipulate that at the very least 12 weeks should be given to respondents, while it is not unknown for the time period to be 18 weeks or even longer, particularly if the period of consultation falls over Christmas, or the summer break. It seems Easter is not long enough to consider giving the consultation more time, but then the other side of the tactic, which is sometimes used with controversial proposals, is to rush a consultation, or the passage of a bill through the House so as not to give time to those who might oppose the motion to gather their wits and muster a robust enough, or embarrassing enough response.
The other thing to say about consultations is that they are not seen as a democratic mechanism. This means that even if more respondents say they oppose the proposals, the Government can still decide to go ahead with their plan, though it would be harder. And even if the wording of the consultation is such that it is written in the format of agreeing or disagreeing with the proposals (as this one is), it is the written statements that tend to be most important, because it is here that issues are raised which could have unforeseen consequences.
For example, the proposals lead to an ambiguity as to whether it will be a duty for teachers to teach about civil and religious marriage during relationships education. This would obviously pose an issue of conscience for some teachers who would not want to affirm civil marriage.
But it is encouraging that the first question in the consultation is whether or not the respondent agrees or disagrees with the Government’s proposals. This was not expected.
As with most consultations there is an online version, which is simplified for individual respondents who are giving their own opinion. This option can be found at the Home Office website by clicking here
The rather more lengthy option which pastors might want to consider responding to in more detail on behalf of their congregation can also be found on the Home Office website www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/
No doubt the Campaign for Marriage will be providing you with more details of how they think you should respond to the consultation on their website. The deadline for responding is the 14th of June, but why not do it before Easter?
As the phrase from Exodus 12:11 in the King James version has it over the preparation of Passover, be ready and gird up your loins and respond. Do remember the wisdom that God has placed before you through his Spirit and the desire to love your neighbour as yourself, even as Christ Jesus loves you.