Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton has said he hopes a Supreme Court ruling paving the way for heterosexual civil partnerships will not deter people from the “sacred and life-long commitment” of marriage.
The Supreme Court concluded that denying straight couples civil partnerships was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, the couple who took the case to court, said they had a problem with the “legacy of marriage” which “treated women as property for centuries”.
Bishop Doyle, the lead bishop for marriage and family life in England and Wales, said: “Marriage is a response in love ultimately founded in the call of God who is love. Couples enter the bond of marriage as equal partners, mutually and freely giving and receiving each other.
“God blesses the marriage bond only when the couple freely and without conditions exchange their consent. We hope that today’s ruling does not deter people from that sacred and life-long commitment.
“As Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan state, the commitment between man and woman is also to raise children in a nurturing and fruitful environment, in which the shared parental role is extremely important. We must recognise that family is the building block of a good and strong society.”
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 to give same-sex partners the same legal rights as married couples. The latest ruling adds to pressure on the Government to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
Andrew Tettenborn, a law professor at the University of Swansea Law School, said the Supreme Court’s decision was “disquieting” in the way that it devalued both marriage and the concept of human rights.
“In civil society it must be correct to say that some rights are so important that they need to be insulated from being taken away in the course of democratic process. But we need to limit it to rights that are genuinely vital,” Professor Tettenborn wrote.
“The only difference between marriage, which the claimant couple did not want, and civil partnership, which they did, was its name.”
“More important,” he wrote, “is the message it sends about marriage. There is good reason to regard marriage as a sacrament; it is (as the Catechism puts it) ‘a partnership of the whole of life’, an ‘intimate community of life and love’, ‘established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws’. Even for non-believers, a civil wedding carries a similar meaning: it too implies an intimate community of love and life endowed with its own proper laws.
“If these features are lacking, then we have mere co-operative cohabitation. There is nothing in between; to suggest that it is somehow inherent in human dignity that one must be able to disavow the commitments of marriage and yet claim a commensurate status is to dress up cohabitation as what it is not and to devalue marriage itself.”
The ruling misses why human rights are to be respected, Professor Tettenborn wrote.
“Like marriage, these exist to further people’s rights to develop their corporal, intellectual and moral life as beings created in the image of God. They are not there as individualistic prescriptions, allowing people to claim recognition of a status on no better ground than that that is what they, for good reasons or bad, happen to want. If that is what the European Convention on Human Rights now demands, then no wonder some people are beginning to think the unthinkable and speculate as to whether it is the human rights regime we need.”
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