The Muslim Council of Britain has issued a statement against the British government’s plans to introduce non-religious civil marriage for gay couples.
Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the MCB, said: “Whilst we remain opposed to all forms of discrimination — including homophobia — redefining the meaning of marriage is in our opinion unnecessary and unhelpful.
“With the advent of civil partnerships, both homosexual and heterosexual couples now have equal rights in the eyes of the law. Therefore, in our view the case to change the definition of marriage, as accepted throughout time and across cultures, is strikingly weak.”
He added: “Like other Abrahamic faiths, marriage in Islam is defined as a union between a man and a woman. So while the state has accommodated for gay couples, such unions will not be blessed as marriage by the Islamic institutions.”
While much more measured in its response than the shrill and offensive comments of several Anglican and Roman Catholic leaders, this statement unfortunately suffers from the same problems as previous religious objections.
First, this is not a religious matter. The government’s consultation could not be clearer in spelling out that the government only plans to legalize civil marriage and will still expressly prohibit gay marriages on religious premises.
Second, the Council’s appeal to history — “definition of marriage, as accepted throughout time and across cultures” — does them no favors because marriage has changed and has even been changed by religion several times over.
Third, it is actually quite arrogant for the Council to suggest that it knows better than the gay community over what gay and lesbian people need from civil law in secular society.
However, the Council is affiliated with around 500 national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools, so its statement should not be considered redundant in terms of potential impact.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently had to defend comments he made that legalizing civil same-sex marriage is, in human rights terms, the same as legalizing slavery.
Not all religious responses have been negative however, with Rev Dr David Ison, the new dean of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, having said that the Church of England should embrace gay civil marriage.