Peter Hitchens has written an interesting piece in this weeks Spectator (sadly not available to read on-line) in which he argues that those who are opposing gay marriage are fighting the wrong battle. It is in his words ‘a stupid distraction from the main war’.
Rather than form coalitions to oppose the tiny number of gay men and women seeking to marry (relative that is to heterosexual couples) we need to face up to the fact that
‘The real zone of battle, a vast 5,000 mile front along which the forces of righteousness have retreated without counter-attacking for nearly 50 years, involves the hundreds of thousands of marriages undermined by ridiculously easy divorce, the millions of children hurt by those divorces and the increasing multitudes of homes where parents, single or in couples, have never been married at all and never will be.’
There is a lot that is right with this argument but what Hitchens overlooks is that the gay marriage argument is not really an argument about gay marriage at all. It is an argument about every marriage and an argument about gender.
1)It is an argument about every marriage. If the law is changed then that changes marriage for everybody. My marriage of 18 years is overnight redefined.
Not least it means that the centuries old, universal, understanding that marriage is inextricably linked with children will be broken for ever. This has unseen and probably unintended consequences that I will explore in a future post. But let it be known now that the redefinition of marriage will cause much harm to our children and children’s children.
2) It is an argument about the eradification of gender.
Perhaps the very last place where difference between gender is recognised is in the institution of marriage. When this is gone the language of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother will be gone, perhaps for ever.
So I share Hitchens concern – where have we been for the past 40 years? But also appeal for a recognition that there are bigger things at stake than the right or not of a few thousand gay couples per year to marry.
Ask a friend for a definition of marriage and you might expect something like this
‘Marriage is an expression of love in which two people make an exclusive commitment to one another.’
Or maybe something like
‘a private arrangement between parties committed to love’
If that is what marriage is what possible reason could there be for anyone objecting to same-sex marriage? It would be as discriminatory as telling a couple they could not marry because they came from different countries or they had different coloured skin.
It’s working from such a definition of marriage that gay lobbyists (and an increasing number of the population including politians and a prime minister) argue that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of equality. The argument goes that there can be no rational reason to resist the implementation of same-sex marriage legislation and therefore what lies behind the resistance of ‘traditionalists’ is nothing more than prejudice. Those who oppose a change in the law are now almost without thought regarded as simply intolerant, bigoted and homophobic.
But what if the kind of definitions we’ve considered are not a sufficient definition for marriage. What if marriage by definition means more than a loving commitment? What then?
Much of the debate about same-sex marriage has centred around attitudes towards gay people when really the debate needs to centre around the question ‘what is marriage’? How we define marriage is absolutely crucial to whether or not it is appropriate to legislate for same-sex marriage.
By far the most helpful book on the subject is David Blackenhorn’s The Future of Marriage. For the record Blackenhorn is no homophobe. He states quite clearly that what is at stake is not ‘good versus bad, enlightened versus reactionary. The real conflict is between one good and another: the equal dignity of real persons and the worth of homosexual love, versus flourishing of children. On each side, the threat to something important is real.’
Blackenhorn’s book demonstrates that marriage cannot only mean a commitment between two people who love each other. He writes:
‘Defining marriage as essentially a private emotional relationship obscures a large piece of reality…’
Because Blackenhorn points out that marriage exists for a bigger purpose, it always has. Marriage is a social institution that has been designed primarily for the purpose of raising children. He writes ‘Childrearing is probably the single most important social need that marriage is designed to meet, but there are numerous others as well.’
Three important statements then with which to finish this introductory post
1. That children (at least the biological possibility of children even if sadly frustrated by infertility) are central to the definition of marriage is a reality recognised by former Home Secretary Jack Straw MP back in 2000 when he introduced legislation for same-sex civil partnerships:
“I’m a very strong supporter of gay rights and treating people the same regardless of their sexual preference – but marriage has a different purpose. Marriage is about a union for the procreation of children, which by definition can only happen between a heterosexual couple. So I see no circumstances in which we would ever bring forward proposals for so-called gay marriages.”
2. The interconnectedness of marriage and children is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- (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.
‘Here we see six important ideas. Marriage is intrinsically linked to children. Men and women have equal rights in marriage. Marriage requires the spouses’ free consent. The natural family is society’s basic group unit. The institution of the family deserves protection. And, marriage is a fundamental human right.
The key point is that each of these ideas is connected to all the others. Freedom is linked to solidarity. Marriage is linked to family. Rights imply responsibility…Together, these six ideas are not perfect and do not tell us everything about marriage, but they ably suggest marriage’s fundamental shape and public purpose.’
3. Finally, that marriage is above all else for the purpose of children has been recognised across all cultures and at all times.
Blackenhorn after presenting a raft of evidence on how marriage has functioned through-out the world writes:
‘Across cultures, marriage is above all a procreative institution. It is nothing less than the culturally constructed linchpin of all human family and kinship systems. Marriage brings together biologically unrelated persons to produce the next generation, create fatherhood as a social role for men, and radically expand the reach and possibility of kinship ties. It brings together the two sexes in such a way that each child is born with two parents, a mother and a father, who are legally and jointly responsible for the child.’
Now the question we must turn to next is does anything about the way in which marriage has traditionally functioned suggest that we should not redefine it now. What is at stake in a redefinition of marriage and should a society have any concerns?
Peter Mullen writing in the Telegraph argues that behind the debate about same-sex marriage is a much bigger clash of ideas.
(HT: David Robertson)
Just when I thought it was impossible to be shocked any more…
(HT: Christine Happ)
If an extremist is someone holding extreme views then 5Live presenter Peter Allen suggested last night that holding orthodox Christian values could well label you an extremist.
In a discussion about the Republican primaries being held in Arizona and Michegan conversation turned to the candidate Rick Santorum. Santorum is an orthodox Roman Catholic with conservative views on social policy eg. abortion and homosexuality.
The following is a transcript of the conversation last night between Peter Allen 5Live’s drive time presenter and British broadcaster Simon Conway who hosts the drive programme of Iowa’s WHO radio station (to listen click here and forward to 2 hours 41 minutes).
Peter Allen: When you say he [Santorum]won’t stand any chance that’s because of what, some extreme views he’s got?
Simon Conway: He’s ultra-conservative and those social issues , which is what we refer to them here, would be played up by the Obama campaign in a 1 on 1 and I don’t’ think they would play well because just like in the UK it’s not the traditional conservative and labour voters who decide any election it’s the middle.
Peter Allen: Give us an example of the extreme views on social policies. What is it abortion and stuff like that?
Simon Conway: Abortion is something that does play in the middle here. It’s more about homosexuality his views are very extreme.
It seems to me an unavoidable conclusion that at least some BBC presenters are ready to label Christian views as extreme (not conservative, not traditional but extreme) and it is a very small step indeed to describe someone holding extreme views an extremist.
What makes this language quite scary is that the BBC has advised its presenters NOT to speak of Abu Qatada as an extremist despite the Islamist Cleric having been described by a judge as ‘Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe’.
BBC journalists were told they should not describe Qatada as an extremist. The guidance was issued at the BBC newsroom’s 9.00am editorial meeting yesterday, chaired by a senior manager, Andrew Roy.
According to notes of the meeting, seen by The Daily Telegraph, journalists were told: “Do not call him an extremist – we must call him a radical. Extremist implies a value judgment.”
Now Peter Allen’s description of Santorum may have been a one-off. Only time will tell as to whether Christians in this country will face the same charge of not just holding ‘extreme’ views but perhaps in time joining the number of those labelled ‘extremists’.
In this Spectator article Parris is, as always, uniquely insightful on matters of faith and refuses to see the wisdom offered by those who find religion useful without a personal belief in God.
‘As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.’
Updated: the post on which my blog-post depends appears to no-longer be available
How should Christians respond to arguments in favour of same-sex marriage? There are many advocates for a change in the law to permit gay couples to marry. After all the argument goes ‘equality should mean equality’.
Peter Saunders chair of the Christian Medical Fellowship has written a blog post outlining Ten reasons not to legalise same sex marriage check it out and think it through for yourself.
Most persuasive for me is argument 9 – Redefining marriage will not stop with same sex marriage
After all ‘Equality is equality is equality’ is surely the foundation for the argument in favour of a change in the law to recognise same-sex marriage. IF equality is equality and IF we are to be free from ‘intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory and hateful’ positions in the debate I wonder whether advocates of a change in the law think that
1) a man should be legally able to marry his sister?
2) 3 or more parties should be free to enter into a marriage arrangement?
3) a muslim should be permitted under British law to have 3 or 4 or more wives?
Having rejected historical or biological arguments in favour of the ‘equality’ argument it seems only logical that those in favour of same-sex arguments will also be in favour of all sorts of marriage ‘arrangements’ between consenting adults.
If anyone can suggest otherwise I’d be happy to hear from them.
In an article in today’s Telegraph Baroness Warsi (the Tory Party Chairman) warns of the effect of a rising secularism in our nation ‘where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.’
She is also rightly aware that
‘one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.’
What she doesn’t mention is that as a society we must not be allowed to forget that tolerance belongs to Christianity, uniquely, because Christianity alone espouses a view of the world in which tolerance is a God-like virtue. Even as nails were driven into his hands in preparation to kill the maker of the universe Jesus said ‘Father forgive them.’ There is no other worldview that celebrates the values that we enjoy and rejoice over and that secularism, true to its ideology, wants to remove.
Bruce Sheiman in his book An atheist defends religion writes of the extraordinary impact of Christianity when he reminds us that
‘A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture’
So don’t be surprised by secularism’s intolerance, tolerance belongs to Christianity.
Cristina Odone in the Telegraph puts the case for taking on the National Secular Society
(HT: Westminster 2010)
Dame Joan Bakewell, once a powerful voice in the campaign for the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, has again (see my earlier post) voiced her dismay at the outworking of the sexual ‘liberation’ she advocated for so long. This time the focus of her concern are the televised performances of Lady Gaga.
On it’s impact on today’s youth she comments ‘I perhaps overrated romance rather too much, but I don’t know whether they overrate sex too much these days, I’ve no idea. What harm it will do, I just don’t know.’
It seems, sadly a little too late in the day, she has accepted that the desire for ‘freedom’ from sex within marriage has been a destructive freedom for through it we have begun to destroy ourselves. The truth is that we never find freedom when we run from God we only find that we have unleashed a force in our society that we are unable to control which begins its inevitable effect of corruption and destruction.
The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Pray for our children.
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