Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about my petition. Through my petition, I seek an amendment to the definition of adultery so that it also applies to spouses who have been unfaithful through involvement in same-sex extramarital relationships. My intention is not to have the adultery laws abolished.
I am a Christian and I am proud to call myself a Christian. I recognise the importance of safeguarding the adultery laws for people such as me, who follow a faith, and for non-religious people who value the principle of faithfulness in a marriage and see adultery as wrong.
As the definition of adultery stands under current law, it is discriminatory, as one section of society is treated differently from another. That makes the law unequal. The marriage legislation should treat people equally. The use of “unreasonable behaviour” as an alternative ground does not quite address the issue, which is that marriage equality should mean equality in all respects, and that fundamental principle should not be violated. Furthermore, unreasonable behaviour can be defined widely. It does not apply only to infidelity but has been used as the common ground for divorce in UK divorce law because of incidents of antisocial behaviour, domestic violence, substance misuse et cetera.
The right to equality is a basic human right that the Government has a duty to protect, respect and fulfil. It is enshrined in law and respected in practice, in all aspects. As the definition of adultery stands, it is in direct breach of legislation. For example, article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Article 5 of protocol 7 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which promotes equality between spouses, states:
“Spouses shall enjoy equality of rights ... during marriage and in the event of its dissolution.”
The Human Rights Act 1998 safeguards existing human rights and places a duty on the Government, the courts and other public bodies to respect them.
The definition is also in breach of the Equality Act 2010. It is an example of direct discrimination under section 13(1), as it treats one person less favourably; it is a form of victimisation under section 27(5), as it involves
“committing a breach of an equality clause or rule”;
and it is a form of indirect discrimination under section 19, as it places one person at a disadvantage.
As I stated, my intention is not to have the adultery laws abolished. We live in a world where morals are on the decline and a world that has become a bitter place, with more social problems, more division and more hostility. We are living in a world that needs to safeguard our morals more than ever. Marriage is one of the most important institutions in our society. Faithfulness is an essential part of marriage and the adultery laws uphold that belief.
The law, our morals and social and spiritual behaviours are steeped in biblical principles—do not steal, do not commit adultery, love one another, be a good Samaritan et cetera. Adultery is not just a personal offence against the injured spouse; it is an offence against morality laws that has enormous consequences for the rest of society. It is a clear violation of the contractual obligation between those in a married couple.
In the UK, we treat adultery as a civil and personal matter. We seem to forget that, in many parts of the world—such as Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, North Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan and 26 states of the United States of America—adultery remains an offence in law and is punishable by fines and imprisonment.
This Parliament needs to leave as a legacy to future generations a “powerful moral compass” that informs us of what is and is not acceptable and a “set of values” that treats everyone equally and recognises and protects basic human rights. We need to leave this world a better place than we found it. Moral fibres bind the nation together, and removing the adultery laws would affect our society’s moral fibres, contribute to the decline of morals, create more social problems and leave a legacy to future generations that unfaithfulness is acceptable. It would devalue the importance of faithfulness within a marriage and send out the message that adultery does not matter and does not harm the injured party. That might lead to an increase in divorce rates, which would place further pressure on existing services, and divorce law would eventually slide towards a fully no-fault system.
Parliament cannot remove the adultery laws without breaching other legislation. For example, under the Equality Act 2010, religion, its characteristics and beliefs are protected for people who follow a faith, and removing the adultery laws would breach that law. In fact, such removal would be a form of discrimination against those who follow the fundamental principle that marriage is based on exclusive sexual fidelity.
Religion decrees that, when unfaithfulness is cited, the ground of adultery needs to be used to petition for divorce, regardless of gender status. A sexual relationship, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual, is an equivalent betrayal to the injured spouse, causes deep distress to the betrayed partner and, as has been seen, rips the fabric of society as it tears marriages and families apart. It is important for an individual to be able to dissolve a marriage in a manner that does not compromise their faith and integrity. If people have the right to marry how they choose, they should also be able to choose how to divorce.
It is within the scope of the Parliament’s powers to change the definition of adultery without removing the adultery laws. In the UK, adultery is defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is not the person’s spouse”; in the USA, it is defined as “voluntary sexual relations between an individual who is married and someone who is not the individual’s spouse”; and the Bible defines it as “consensual sexual union”. As we can see, many terminologies are available to the Parliament in redefining adultery.
Scotland is a nation wealthy in culture, history, natural beauty, creativity, forward thinkers and leaders in academia, science, research and politics. It has produced Prime Ministers and so on. Let us not become a nation poor in morals. Removing the adultery laws would divide a nation on moral grounds. Mark, chapter 3, verse 24 puts it well when it says:
“if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”