One wonders whether Lord Brennan QC has discovered the “Ctrl-F” function, conveniently found in almost every commercially available word processing package, which allows thousands of words to be replaced in an instant.
Last month Stonewall published a draft gay marriage bill which removes the words “husband and wife” from the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, replacing them with “parties to a marriage”. When asked to explain, Ben Summerskill, the CEO, said: “In some clauses you have to replace the words husband and wife because you cannot have two husbands or two wives.” I doubt many husbands and wives will be happy to have the legal definition of their marriages re-written in such a way.
The remainder of their simplistic bill grants wide-ranging powers for a minister to amend the rest of the statute book on marriage, presumably to get rid of all the other references to husband and wife. The minister is going to be busy. The word “husband” appears 1,003 times in statute; “wife” appears 888 times; “spouse” occurs 2,740 times. In all, there are 3,000 references to marriage in current law. The oldest is in an Act passed in 1285, in the reign of King Edward I, part of which is still in force.
Given our present economic situation, why does Mr Cameron think that so much parliamentary time and energy should be dedicated to a change in the law which would obliterate vast amounts of our cultural and legal heritage? Surely not to burnish his “modernising” credentials?