Homosexual Marriage and the Conscience Clause: a possible compromise?

So the homosexual marriage referendum passed in the Republic. As Mick noted below this makes Northern Ireland the only place in the UK and Ireland without same sex marriage though not the only place in the British Isles.

The Isle of Mann has civil partnership but not homosexual marriage whilst Jersey in the Channel Isles has civil partnerships and is considering homosexual marriage.

More interesting perhaps is Guernsey’s proposal of “Union Civile” which allows for partnerships between any two people and permits them subsequently to get married in a church but requires neither that they do so nor that a church agree to marry them. This complete separation of church and state could provide protections for all parties and is being proposed by Guernsey’s chief minister Jonathan Le Tocq who is leader of the Church on the Rock, which appears to be an evangelical church affiliated with the New Wine movement. It has been welcomed enthusiastically by LGBTI groups in Guernsey.

This concept of complete separation of church and state is not typical of the views of Calvin and Knox but has an honourable tradition within evangelical Christianity for example within the Gospel Hall movement (Brethren). Gladys Ganiel notes Nick Park from Dublin’s Anabaptist argument. Dr. Ganiel’s comments are worth repeating in full:

What Park would prefer is for both the state and the churches to give up their efforts to ‘own’ marriage, in the sense of imposing their own definitions on the rest of society, including who may or may not marry and for what reasons. Rather, he recommends broadening the Civil Partnership Act to make it possible for any two adults to gain legal protection in areas like taxation, property and inheritance (p. 155), and returning marriage to the ‘community’ where groups (Christians and non-Christian alike) can have their own marriages free from the interference of the state.

The problem is that the seemingly irresistible force of the move towards homosexual marriage is now met by the immovable object of the DUP (and others in the Assembly) complete with the Petition of Concern. Attempts to square that circle may centre round the courts but it would be a significant event in a democracy for the judiciary not to strike down a law from the legislature but rather to seek to force it to make a given law.

Whilst this may have the makings of something of a “Mexican standoff” There could, however, be a compromise.

One of the greatest concerns Christians (and others) have is that their freedom of conscience will be denied by an aggressive interpretation of secularism, couched in human rights terms, which forces through others rights against theirs. That is the fundamental intellectual basis behind the proposed Conscience Clause.

The Conscience Clause is of course likely to be prevented by Sinn Fein (and others) using a Petition of Concern.

Therein clearly lies the possibility of a compromise: The DUP agree to allow some sort of homosexual marriage bill to pass and in return Sinn Fein allows a Conscience Clause.

Compromise on this subject might be difficult but we have had greater compromises previously and such an agreement could provide a way out for all sides possibly even demonstrating a way forward for other societies as well.

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