John Glenn, Tory MP for Salisbury and Wiltshire South, brought the Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Bill before the House of Commons for its second reading. The bill consists of a solitary line: ‘Repeal sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.’ As well as being a refreshingly concise and bitingly forward piece of legislation; it is a noble one. Sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 allow for the lawful dismissal of a sailor on a merchant vessel for committing a homosexual act. Whilst recent equality legislation has basically disarmed these sections, John Glenn presents the Bill hoping to symbolically wipe these anti-gay anachronisms from the law books. It would seem that his fellow members agree, as the bill passed its second reading and is well on the way to the committee stages. With a bit of luck, it will soon be clearly and definitely legal for homosexual merchant sailors to be themselves on the open seas. Yo, ho, ho.
As far as I’m concerned, the state should have no connection to marriage, and should have no say on what consenting adults of any sex get up to in their bedrooms. I’d rather like to privatise marriage and sever the institution from the state entirely. At the end of the day, it doesn’t concern me, nor should it concern others, if two people find each other attractive and want a marriage. Who am I to judge? You do you, and I’ll do me. The state shouldn’t hold the monopoly on love. Shag on gents, shag on.
Whist it may be my wildest degenerate dream to privatise marriage, I doubt it’ll happen any time soon; if ever. That being said, marriage liberalisation has already made massive progress. The 2010 Equal Marriage Act was a landmark for civil rights in the UK. It is the shining keystone of Cameron’s at best murky legacy, and reassured the LGBT community of Great Britain that they would have equality in law, and finally be able to tie the knot with their partners. It was certainly a departure from the regrettable days of Section 28. Whilst the act brought equality to marriage for the first time, there was an oversight. The definition of adultery remained the same.
Adultery is defined in British law as having consenting sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex, whilst in wedlock. This means that members of same-sex couples who cheat on their respective partners with a member of the same sex may well be guilty of infidelity, but not guilty of adultery. They would only be guilty if they had sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex. This inequality cuts both ways. If a member of a heterosexual married couple sleeps with a member of the same sex during wedlock, no adultery was committed. Adultery has not been considered a criminal act in the UK for quite some time, but it is considered a violation of marital vows. That means that it is grounds for a divorce, and quite rightly; but as you can see it isn’t all encompassing. This anomaly in the law means that it is near impossible for a gay man to divorce his husband on the grounds of adultery. The final inequality exists not in marriage or in merchant shipping, but in divorce.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that it goes without saying that it should still be considered adultery if your partner sleeps with anyone else, no matter their sex; it should still be fair grounds for divorce. The problem lies in the definition of adultery as ‘intercourse’, and not as ‘sexual conduct’. For adultery to be legitimate, it has to include a penis penetrating a vagina. Whilst a gay man may have penetrative sex with another man, it is not technically ‘sexual intercourse’, and therefore not equivalent to adultery. LGBT couples are trapped in a marriage if their partners cheat on them, can you imagine how heart-breaking that must be?
I hope that the government will soon realise the blaring anachronisms surrounding adultery divorce. Not only do homosexuals deserve to enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals in divorce, no one should be trapped in a marriage with an adulterous partner and not be able to escape, based entirely on the sex of the ‘third person’. We should carry on from the momentum of the 2010 Equal Marriage Act and finish the job. It’s time the UK took a sober look at the definition of adultery, and about time we extended the divorce franchise to homosexuals. After all, just as their love is the same as ours; it can fall apart just as well. We’ve had equal marriage, it’s time for equal divorce.
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