Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Writing to my MP

Here is the text of the letter I have sent to my MP, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Smith, who sits for Oxford East, about the legislation being considered today on its Second Reading by the House of Commons to redefine the nature of marriage.

Dear Mr Smith,

I am writing to you as one of your constituents about the proposals being brought before Parliament to redefine marriage.

I am not certain as to how you intend to vote on this matter but I would strongly urge you to vote against such a significant change in the law.

Amongst the criticisms which can be made of this proposal there are three to which I would ask you as my MP to give consideration.

Firstly none of the main political parties proposed this dramatic change in their manifestos at the 2010 General Election. There is no popular mandate for changing the law, and in this case it is one which will ultimately have an impact on very many people's lives. It is as if the proponents of such a change knew it would not receive majority backing and deliberately kept quiet about it. That does not show much respect for the electoral process.

Secondly there is already provision for same-sex Civil Partnerships to ensure property rights and other benefits. The "fairness " argument really does not work. To redefine something as important as marriage to satisfy the aspirations of a minority of a minority is to unbalance social structures in an extremely dangerous way.

Thirdly, and most importantly, such a change will be a fundamental change to our society. As a historian it is, I think, accurate to assert that all previous societies across the world and the vast majority of contemporary ones, whatever their religious or ethical background - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or humanistic - view marriage as  between a man and a woman, their essential complementarity leading to the birth of children and the future of the society. This is true for polygamous communities - there too marriage is between two members of the opposite sex. Marriage is not just about companionship, it is the fundamental building block of society and ensuring the future. Morally I believe it is beyond the competence of an Act of Parliament to seek to change a universal practise and understanding - the Sovereignty of the law does ultimately have limits. Such a change would be rather like Parliament legislating that the Moon is made of green cheese and everyone must accept, teach and believe the fact because it has been made the law of the land.

In addition to these points I would add the concern that if this legislation is enacted there will be the real risk of discrimination against those who cannot in good conscience accept it. What enforceable safeguards will be given to Registrars, teachers, clergy, charities, and many others which will not be overturned in the name of a newly invented Human Right?

I look forward to receiving your comments and indeed to seeing how you have voted on this issue.

Yours faithfully,
John Whitehead

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