As you can imagine, she’s super excited about it and to celebrate, she’s giving away a free copy over at The Trans Scribe. Want to enter? Do that HERE.
A Very Civil Wedding
by V.T. Davy
In my new novel, A Very Civil Wedding, I set my characters a problem to solve: Princess Alexandra, second in line to the throne after her father, wishes to marry her long-time girlfriend, Grace Stephens. This may not seem to be a problem to US readers; the UK has just passed a same-sex marriage law, right? Right, but… Let me explain.
On 17 July 2013, the UK parliament passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. The new law is expected to come into force some time in the middle of 2014. The new act is not perfect and there are still a number of issues that it doesn’t address, but it is a step in the direction of equal marriage. The act is also curious in that it contains something our politicians call the “quadruple lock” that makes it illegal for the Church of England (CofE) to perform a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples. You read that right – “illegal”. To understand what this means, it is necessary to understand the relationship between the church and the state in the UK.
To a citizen of the United States, this relationship is strange, perhaps even unthinkable. Enshrined within the first amendment to the US constitution is the notion that the country shall never adopt an official religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” So, whilst the US has some extremely passionate, bordering on fanatical, religious preachers speaking out against gay marriage, the organisations to which they belong have no special place or voice in the country’s government.
This is not the case in the UK. We have a national church, the CofE, which is home to worldwide Anglicanism, and twenty-five CofE bishops sit in the House of Lords (the upper house of the UK parliament) debating and voting on all UK legislation. Other religions may happen to have speakers in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, but they are not guaranteed their seats in the way that the CofE bishops are. Further, the law of the land and the law of the church (canon law) cannot be at odds because one is enshrined within the other.
The church and state come together in the person of Her Majesty the Queen who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and also our head of state. This dual role dates back to Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church and his founding of a protestant church to take its place; of which he appointed himself head – because he could!
When it comes to the subject of same-sex marriage the link between church and state is problematic. On their ordination, CofE clergy are automatically appointed marriage registrars, rather than having to apply for a licence as other religions’ clerics do, because it is the right of every UK citizen to get married in their Anglican parish church. The church is expected to carry out these services for any member of their parish who requests it. However, the CofE continues to refuse to recognise the unions of same-sex couples. It will not permit its clergy to bless civil partnerships (legal in the UK since 2004) or to perform a gay marriage service.
This is where the curious “quadruple lock” comes in. In order to get the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed, the government needed to reassure CofE clergy that they would not be forced to carry out same-sex marriage services. Much of the CofE’s fears centre around equality and human rights legislation that, under some legal interpretations, might mean a gay couple, who are refused a request to marry in their parish church, bringing a case against the church for discrimination.
The four safeguards that ensure that this cannot happen are:
• The new law states explicitly that no religious organisation, or minister, can be compelled to marry same-sex couples, or permit this to happen on their premises;
• Religious organisations are “opted-out” of conducting same-sex marriages unless they specifically “opt-in”, and even then individual ministers may continue to refuse to perform same-sex marriages;
• The 2010 Equality Act has been amended to stop any claim for discrimination being brought against a religious organisation, or minister, for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, or permitting this to happen on their premises;
• The new law has no affect on the law of the Church of England and the Church of Wales (canon law), which effectively prohibits the performance of same-sex marriages, by their clergy, on their premises.
Now that you know the UK background to this issue, you can begin to see how having a future queen who is not married in the eyes of the Church of England, of which she will one day be supreme governor, would cause a bit of a constitutional crisis!
Originally, Princess Alexandra and her girlfriend, Grace, were going to have a civil partnership because when I started writing A Very Civil Wedding, I never expected the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to get passed in the House of Lords. I thought that the bishops would be too powerful as a group and that it would get sent back down to the Commons for amending, or rewriting, or scrapping. I underestimated the “quadruple lock” effect! Although it seemed like overkill, it did squash much of the opposition’s objection.
I was well over halfway through writing the novel when the bill was passed, by quite a margin as it turned out. As you can imagine, my joy at the passage of the bill was tinged with a sinking feeling that my two heroines would now have to have a marriage rather than a civil partnership, which I thought meant a massive rewrite!
Happily, the rewrite wasn’t as massive as I had feared. Much of the novel explores the arguments for and against gay marriage as the Princess’ request opens up old wounds. These arguments were still relevant whether it was a marriage or a civil partnership. They are also pertinent to those who are still struggling to persuade governments to legalise same-sex marriage. Australia is having a difficult time getting their legislation through and the majority of states in the US still ban same-sex marriage or partnerships. This novel is therefore not just about the UK’s position on this issue but it also speaks to the wider debate about equality for gay couples globally.
I hope that readers in all countries will find the book thought provoking and that they will come away from the read with a better understanding of what those on the opposing side of the argument are saying. Of course, the world would be a better place if everyone could just accept same-sex couples as a normal part of human existence and their right to marry, or not, as a given, but we are not there yet. The best that we can hope for is a tolerance on both sides to the views of the other. That way, dialogue can happen, slowly views may shift and, given time, one day everyone will be free to have a very civil wedding.