Daniel Bregman has sent the letters to three Merton alumni: Lord Wright of Richmond, a crossbench peer who read classics; Lord May of Oxford, also a crossbench peer who is an emeritus Fellow of the college; and Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, who read chemistry and has previously publicly opposed same-sex marriage.
Bregman hopes the letters will encourage the lords to vote through the same-sex marriage bill. In them, he argues: “Contrary to how it has been characterised by opponents, the proposed legislation is not a ‘redefinition’ of marriage but an acknowledgement that what we once thought could only happen between a man and a woman can just as well happen between any two adults, and that what we as a society value in that relationship is just as valuable regardless of gender.”
He added that the current differentiation between marriage and civil partnerships “undermines equality”. “If the bill is made law it’ll mean that the state is no longer telling same-gender couples that what they have is different to what different-gender couples have,” said Bregman. Laura Simmons, a Mertonian who signed the letters, commented: “If we’re going to give the same rights to gay and straight couples (which I think the State should) then we should give their rights the same name.”
Simmons especially criticizes the current job application procedure: “when filling in any form and asked for their marital status, any gay person in a civil partnership would have to declare their sexuality, and could be discriminated against on that basis.”
However the Merton Chaplain, Simon Jones, was equivocal on the issue, agreeing that, “The Merton JCR’s campaign seems to be in tune with the majority view both in Parliament and in the wider population” but pointing out that, “Given the diversity of opinion on this subject within Anglicanism, it seems unlikely that there will be any change to the Church’s position in the near future.” However he did highlight “the widely-held perception that the Church of England is out of touch with popular opinion on this issue,” adding that this, “may well accelerate the process which could lead to it authorising rites to bless civil partnerships. This would not be same sex marriage but it would demonstrate the Church’s support for same sex couples in permanent and committed relationships.”
At present the UK does not permit or recognize same-sex marriage, but same-sex couples have been allowed to enter into civil partnerships since 2005. However the new bill aims to enable same sex couples in England and Wales to marry in civil and church ceremonies. On 5 February the bill passed the second hearing in the House of Commons by a strong majority of 400 votes to 175. The date of the bill’s third reading is yet to be confirmed, after which it will be debated in the House of Lords.
At the time of going to print, 77 current Mertonians, undergraduates as well as graduates, had signed the letters.