We Cannot Afford To Indulge This Madness

By “this madness”, of course, I mean religious leaders talking about what society wants without bothering to ask them. The latest example is this piece in the Telegraph by Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Let’s take a close look at what he says.

The Government is this month launching a consultation on same-sex marriage, asking the public whether it should be introduced in England and Wales.

That’s a good thing, surely? I mean going out and asking people what they think. Rather than just assuming that you know best.

I hope many respond and consider signing the petition in support of traditional marriage organised by a new organisation, the Coalition for Marriage.

And I hope that many more sign the petition from the Coalition for Equal Marriage.

On the surface, the question of same-sex marriage may seem to be an innocuous one.

That’ll be because it’s an innocuous question.

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.

That’s not marriage though, is it? And, bizarrely, heterosexual couples can’t opt for a civil partnership.

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.

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.

That’s not how I remember it at all. It was clear to me that civil partnerships were a stepping stone on the way to full equal marriage. If that’s not what you heard, then perhaps people were being politically astute and trying not to scare you too much.

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.

Well, yes, clearly it’s an attempt to redefine marriage. But a “small minority of activists”? That doesn’t seem accurate to me. I see a huge wave of people in favour of equal marriage rights. Perhaps we’re both just talking to people like ourselves.

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.

Maybe. We’ll see. But change isn’t always bad. Perhaps the repercussions won’t be as large as, say, the abolition of slavery. Society seems to have dealt with that change.

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?

Yes. Next question.

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?

The teacher who wants to tell pupils that will clearly be wrong, as the definition of marriage will have changed. So that teacher should be dealt with in the same way as any teacher who tells lies to pupils.

Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? 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?

The teacher will be able to hold that view, of course. But that view will be wrong and therefore shouldn’t be taught to children (other than when setting historical context). Not seeing how the children are victims here. They should be being taught the truth – as defined by the law.

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should not be written in stone. If society changes and disagrees with its definitions then those definitions can (and should) be changed. People suggesting that aren’t derided because in the real world their suggestions make total sense.

[Update: It turns out that if you actually read the UDHR then you’ll see that it doesn’t say what the Cardinal claims it says at all]

Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.

Reality has been redefined by society. Acknowledging this is not madness. We are not subverting a human right but, rather, extending it.

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.

No, marriage was not created by governments. It was created by society. And society, therefore, has the power to change the definition. Of course governments recognise the benefits of marriage. They are not attacking or dismantling it – they are expanding and enhancing it.

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.

Well I wouldn’t use the word “bigot”. But I’d certainly suggest that anyone putting forward your arguments was out of touch with modern society.

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.

This may be true. But it’s not gay marriage that has undermined it. You only have to read the celebrity pages of any newspaper to see how many heterosexual couples are doing all they can to undermine marriage. This cannot be laid at the feet of the campaigners for equal marriage rights.

It has been damaged and undermined over the course of a generation, 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.

Actually, I think the damage goes back more than a generation. Yes, marriage has existed for as long as society. No-one is suggesting that it should be removed.

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.

See, I think you’re just making things up now. I don’t believe that there’s any evidence that backs this up at all.

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.

We already live in a society where a large number of children are brought up by a single parent. Surely two parents (of any sex) has to be better than one?

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?

Why not indeed? I don’t really see this as a danger. If you seen two parents of different sexes as a good thing, why wouldn’t multiple parents of mixed sexes be even better? Mind you, I don’t see anyone seriously campaigning for this.

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”.

I’m not sure what policies in Massachusetts have to do with the discussion in hand. What is appropriate in British schools will be decided by the British parliament and British courts.

And your use of scare-quotes around the word “normal” rather gives away your whole view on this matter. Homosexuality is normal. Deal with it.

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, that’s not arrogance. It’s government trying to accommodate the outdated views of people like you.

No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

Maybe not. But society does. And government is acting as the representative of society here.

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?

Oh, you’re on very shaky ground here. Remember that the Christian church endorsed slavery for as long as it could get away with it. And besides, slavery clearly reduces human rights, equal marriage increases them.

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.

Didn’t we cover this a few paragraphs back? The Universal Declaration can and should be changed if it no longer reflects modern society.

The Cardinal has no reasonable argument here. He is simply saying that something shouldn’t change because it hasn’t changed before.

As he says in his opening paragraph, the government is opening a public consultation. If society believes what I think it believes then the final report will recommend that the definition of marriage should be changed. If society is still as blinkered as the Cardinal hopes then the report will recommend that things remain as they are.

That is surely the best approach to take. To ask people what they want. But scare-mongering and hand-waving of the kind in the Cardinal’s article has no place in the discussion. If he has facts and evidence to back up his claims, then let’s see them. But I don’t think he has.


  1. Canada did redefine marriage (not at a whim) and is not generally regarded as having shamed itself for having done so. So there are valid precedents, and society didn’t fall apart. That would seem to be a large gaping hole in the Cardinal’s silly argument.

  2. The prefered interpritation seems to be one man and one woman for life, so perhaps I’d take him a lot more seriously if he gave equal importance to preventing divorce Whilst he might be against it in theory, i’ve seen no suggestion or call for a ban.

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