Sunday, March 04, 2012

The (basket) case against gay marriage

Cardinal Keith O’Brien – “Britain’s most senior Catholic” – is entitled to his wretched, venomous, semi-coherent opinion about gay marriage. I am likewise entitled to my very different opinion, and my right doesn’t diminish his right.

The same is true of marriages: one couple’s marriage doesn’t diminish another couple’s, however bad a match each pair thinks the other is.

But O’Brien can’t stomach that. He wants to defend the traditional right of straight people to have more rights than gay people, and to champion religion as the last bastion of respectable homophobia.

He writes:

Civil partnerships have been in place for several years now, allowing same-sex couples to register their relationship and enjoy a variety of legal protections. When these arrangements were introduced, supporters were at pains to point out that they didn’t want marriage, accepting that marriage had only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman.

He neglects to name any names, but if my own memory serves, there were some people who favoured civil partnerships but not marriage for gays, while others have supported gay marriage all along.

Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time marriage would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.

O’Brien should certainly be congratulated on his powers of prophecy. But here I’d like to note his GAYS BAD aside and wonder why, if he has such a strong core case, he’s even bothering with the technicalities of the rest of the argument. But it’s jolly decent of him to put his cards on the table like that.

Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.

Opinion polls put the support for gay marriage at between about 40% and 60% of the population.

Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense.

Gosh. I can’t wait to find out what these implications and repercussions might be. Let’s read on…

But can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?

Huh? Where’d it go? No? Oh well.

So, can we simply redefine terms? Well, if they’re legal terms then of course we can, whenever Parliament changes the relevant laws.

But “marriage” is a socially and culturally defined term as well. So can we just redefine it? Actually, we don’t need to. “Gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage” and “homosexual marriage” are perfectly understandable terms. We know what they mean and we can support or oppose the idea accordingly. The only question is whether we like the idea.

Oh, and “marriage”, which comes to English from Latin via French, is not “a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history”.

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?
Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed?

Well, if gay marriage is legalised, then such views will become factually wrong, and any teacher worth their salt will avoid passing on out-of-date information.

Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

Words fail me. I apologise. I promise I’ll do better with the next bit.

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women.

You’ll note that he doesn’t quote the Declaration. I know it’s terribly bad form, but I’m going to do it for him:

Article 16
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

No mention of sexuality. No mention of what particular configuration of “men and women” (not “a man and a woman”) it is that has the right to get married. The end of line (2) would have been a fine place to say “husband and wife”, but no: “spouses”.

But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided. Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged.

So hang on, we’re redefining reality now? I thought we were only redefining a term. But anyway, what he means by “redefine reality” is change something. And unless all change is by definition bad, he needs to do better than that.

Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.

What right? Whose right? The Universal Declaration doesn’t do the work he wants it to, and gay marriage is very, very far from “universally” opposed. But this really gets to the heart of it: letting gay people get married doesn’t harm the marriages of straight people. It takes no rights away from them, except the right to deny rights to gay people.

When gay marriage is finally legalised, the people hell-bent on opposing it can continue to view gay marriages with hostility, and their views of straight marriages won’t have to change either. They relationships they’ve approved of they can continue to approve of.

As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government. It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them. Instead, recognising the innumerable benefits which marriage brings to society, they should act to protect and uphold marriage, not attack or dismantle it.

I’m sceptical about the potted prehistory lesson, but I’ll pass. Again: when gay marriage becomes legal, straight marriage will continue as before.

This is a point of view that would have been endorsed and accepted only a few years ago, yet today advancing a traditional understanding of marriage risks one being labelled an intolerant bigot.

The sad fact is that some traditions just are intolerant and bigoted. The good news is that when society becomes less intolerant and bigoted, we can change these traditions.

There is no doubt that, as a society, we have become blasé about the importance of marriage as a stabilising influence and less inclined to prize it as a worthwhile institution. It has been damaged and undermined over the course of a generation…

Not by gay people it hasn’t been. The straight divorce rate hasn’t risen because couples are spending more and more time imagining how awful it might be if one day gays were allowed to marry.

…yet marriage has always existed in order to bring men and women together so that the children born of those unions will have a mother and a father.
This brings us to the one perspective which seems to be completely lost or ignored: the point of view of the child. All children deserve to begin life with a mother and father; the evidence in favour of the stability and well-being which this provides is overwhelming and unequivocal. It cannot be provided by a same-sex couple, however well-intentioned they may be.
Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.

I hate to have to be the one to break it to the Cardinal, but same-sex adoption is already legal. So, while one might dispute his overwhelming, unequivocal and unexplained evidence that the very best gay couple can’t possibly be good parents, it’s really beside the point.

Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another? If marriage is simply about adults who love each other, on what basis can three adults who love each other be prevented from marrying?

I’m afraid it’s much, much worse than that. Let’s go back to O’Brien’s precious Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which says: “Men and women…have the right to marry and to found a family.”

It doesn’t say how many men and women! We’ve already sold the pass and agreed to license marriages of crazed, sick and wrong numbers of men and/or women! Dammit, NOOOOOOOO!

Who would ever have imagined that basing a socially illiberal argument on a declaration of rights could possibly backfire?

In November 2003, after a court decision in Massachusetts to legalise gay marriage, school libraries were required to stock same-sex literature; primary schoolchildren were given homosexual fairy stories such as King & King. Some high school students were even given an explicit manual of homosexual advocacy entitled The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century. Education suddenly had to comply with what was now deemed “normal”.

And? That’s the nature of change.

Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same-sex marriage wouldn’t be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is staggeringly arrogant. No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.
Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?

One day, the world will produce a thinker who can spot the flaws in an analogy between restricting rights and expanding them. But I am not that thinker.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is crystal clear: marriage is a right which applies to men and women, “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.
This universal truth is so self-evident that it shouldn’t need to be repeated. If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.

And so here, at the end, he’s just raking over the same barren ground again. All I’ll say is that if the essential and eternal straightness of marriage really were “self-evident”, then his whole vile article need never have been written.

And what a wonderful world that would be.

1 comment:

Mil said...

Excellent piece, Tom. And I actually read it from beginning to end. Glad you found the time to put it together ... it needed saying.