USCU hosts gay marriage debate

The Panel: (From L to R) Matthew Firth, Pam Eland, Eric Ollerenshaw MP and, Stuart Stokell

The University of Cumbria’s student union held a debate on gay marriage last month, following the parliamentary vote which saw the government’s plans to introduce same-sex marriage pass by 400 votes to 175.

The panel – and most of the audience – was in broad agreement on introducing gay marriage with the exception of  Matthew Firth, the University Chaplain, who remains firmly against the legislation.

The debate was staged at the Brampton Road campus in Carlisle, and included Lancaster’s Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw, Pam Eland, the chairwoman of Cumbria Pride’s organising committee, university singing lecturer Stuart Stokell and Mr Firth.

The debate followed Question Time style, and focused on one main question – “Is it the government’s place to redefine the state of marriage in this country?”

Eric Ollerenshaw said that the state has always redefined marriage throughout history: “Before 1836, because we had an established church, nobody could have a recognised marriage unless they got married in a Church of England church.

“In 1836 a law was passed creating the civil registration of marriages but also licensing certain synagogues and Roman Catholic churches to also conduct marriages. So we’ve always, in a sense, had two types; the faith marriages and the civil marriage.

Responding to this, chaplain Matthew Firth said: “It’s simply not the case that marriage has ever been redefined at all, in British law.

“The law surrounding marriage has indeed been redefined, but the fundamental nature of marriage has been between a man and a woman, ordered towards procreation.”

Pam Eland of Cumbria Pride said: “I think what Matt was saying was a bit weird, because he keeps saying how it’s all about procreation but what about people who don’t want children or can’t have children?

“By this rule, should it not be that these people can’t get married either? That’s what it sounds like you’re saying.”

Lecturer Stuart Stokell said: “I do actually believe that we’re very fortunate and lucky now that society, even since I was a child, has changed tremendously – so much so that the people in this room who are 18 or 21 or even older, may not realise how difficult things were for openly gay people, who felt that they were being persecuted just for being honest.

“I am thrilled that this government have thought this through.”

In regard to how quickly the legislation seems to have gone through the House of Commons, Firth stated that the process had been “profoundly undemocratic”.

“There’s been no mention of this in the manifesto saying that this was going to be brought up as a piece of primary legislation.”

In response to to Firth’s remarks, Stokell replied: “It’s great that Matthew is promoting democracy. The definition of democracy is that everybody has fair and equal rights.

“Currently, the Church of England doesn’t seem to back that up. Because at every opportunity they’re given, for example, female priests, it has to practically be forced upon them.”

Tom Rielly & Andy Hamilton

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