By Ann Schneible

LONDON, England, May 31, 2012 ( With the British consultation to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples coming to a close, Catholic Voices organized a debate about the issue of same-sex "marriage" and what the legal redefinition of marriage would mean for society.

During the debate, which took place this past Tuesday, supporters of traditional marriage faced-off with representatives of the British Humanist Association (BHA), which co-hosted the event with Catholic Voices – an initiative committed to communicating Catholic values in the secular sphere through mass media. Those supporting traditional marriage included Dr. Austen Ivereigh and Peter D. Williams – both from Catholic Voices – and Brendan O’Neill, atheist and editor of Spiked Online, while those in favor of legally redefining marriage to include same-sex couples were chief executive of the BHA Andrew Copson, professor of Roehampton University, along with liberal Catholic theologian Tina Beattie and Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue. The two sides either supported or opposed the motion, "This House would legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales."

This past March, a consultation which seeks to redefine marriage so as to make it legally possible for same-sex couples to "marry" was submitted to the British government for a 12 week review, a review which is just two weeks away from coming to an end. The Equal Civil Marriage consultation review is in line with the British government's commitment to legalize same-sex "marriage" by the year 2015. ZENIT discussed the societal implications that redefining marriage could have upon society with Dr. Austen Ivereigh in light of Tuesday's debate.

Objectives of marriage debate

Catholic Voices, Ivereigh told ZENIT, decided to launch this debate first because they believe that there has been insufficient public debate on the issue of same-sex "marriage" since the consultation was first proposed. The second objective was to show that this is not an issue of religious people versus the gay community, but that support for traditional marriage comes from believers and non-believers alike. "It is very important for us to demonstrate," Ivereigh explained, "that our arguments were made from reason, and from natural law, that they do not depend upon any theological presuppositions about marriage."

"Public opinion on the potential legalization of same-sex 'marriage' in Britain," Ivereigh said, "is divided."

"According to the polls," he explained, "support of same-sex 'marriage' hovers around fifty percent of the polling. But our own polling [which was conducted earlier this year] also showed that 70% of people are in favor of keeping the current definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman."

"What many people do not realize is that legalizing same-sex 'marriage' implies a fundamental redefinition of the institution of marriage," Ivereigh said. Many "have not yet thought through what gay marriage actually involves, which is the complete redefinition of our understanding, redefining marriage for everybody, rather than encouraging this new entity called gay 'marriage'."

Making a rational case for traditional marriage

Ivereigh also emphasized that the focus of Tuesday's debate was to present rational arguments for the importance of preserving the traditional definition of marriage at the State level. "Marriage is a natural institution of civil society," he said, "which precedes and predates both State and Church. There are not two different institutions [of marriage] – one religious, and one civil. There is one institution and two ways into it, so both State and Church regulate marriage in order to preserve its essential characteristics."

"The point is that the State and Church recognize marriage as being [an essential aspect of] society, and neither has the right to change it or to redefine it," he said.