Why Definitions Are Important

The way I see the gay marriage debate is this.

Pretty much everyone agrees that if two people love each other, that's a good thing.
I agree with that sentiment as well.

The problem is about what marriage is. Most people would probably say that marriage is what you get when two people love each other. It is a public commitment, an outward sign of the love they share with the rest of their community. Does that sound about right?


That's not what marriage is.

The support and status that marriage entails is not a societal bonus for falling in love and agreeing to make a relationship lasting. That is not, of course, to say that love and romance are not an important part of marriage. But they are not the reason it has special status. If romance were the reason for supporting marriage, there would be no grounds for differentiating which relationships should be included and which should not. But that is not and never has been the nature of marriage.

Marriage is vital as a framework within which children can be brought up by a man and woman. The term describes that state, the basic unit of family. It describes that foundational building block of a man and a woman and children.

Not all marriages, of course, involve child-raising. And there are also, for that matter, same-sex couples already raising children. But the reality is that marriages tend towards child-raising and same-sex partnerships do not.

Why should a gay relationship be treated the same way as a marriage, despite this fundamental difference?

A wealth of research demonstrates the marriage of a man and a woman provides children with the best life outcomes, that children raised in marriages that stay together do best across a whole range of measures. This is what we all, rightly, aspire to. Especially those of us in the business of raising the next generation. In no way am I attempting to cast aspersions on other families, but rather to underscore the importance of marriage as the institution at the bedrock of our society. This is not about denying anyone anything, it is about calling a dog a dog and a cat a cat.

This is why the demand for gay marriage goes doubly wrong. It is not a demand for marriage to be extended to gay people – it is a demand for marriage to be redefined. The understanding of marriage as an institution that exists and is supported for the sake of strong families changes to an understanding of marriage as merely the end-point of romance. This is only possible through the action of people who don't seem to understand what marriage is in the first place, or show no respect for it or its value. If gay couples are considered equally eligible for marriage, even though gay relationships do not tend towards child-raising and cannot by definition give a child a mother and a father, the crucial understanding of what marriage is actually mainly for has been discarded. Yes this merely constitutes a further down-grading of marriage and is nothing new, but is that what we want? Can it serve to do anything except realise a stigmatisation of gay married couples, who are not in a proper marriage, but engaged in a second rate sham?

What gay marriage amounts to is the kind of marriage that puts adults before children. Surely that's just selfish? Many gay people I know consider this is far too high a price to pay simply for the tokenism of a government trying to convince voters it has a progressive side by treating opposite-sex relationships and same-sex relationships identically. And it is a token gesture. Isn’t it common sense, after all, to treat different situations differently?

The government's shambolic handling of this matter leaves me frankly in despair. It is clear that the consultation process' only aim was to shroud a shockingly undemocratic exercise in a cloak of false legitimacy. What is clear is that the Government intends to redefine marriage despite opposition from the overwhelming majority of respondents to its proposals. As Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Peter Smith explain:
"The government has chosen to ignore the views of over 600,000 people who signed a petition calling for the current definition of marriage to stay, and we are told legislation to change the definition of marriage will now come to Parliament."
There were 228,000 individual responses to the consultation. 53% – fewer than 121,000 – of them said same-sex couples ought to be able to marry. Four times as many people contacted the Government to support the traditional understanding of marriage rather than to overturn it: the Coalition for Marriage’s petition alone bore 509,800 signatures when it was submitted. It now bears more than 620,000.

Can someone explain to me how this constitutes a mandate for a measure which was absent from both Conservative and Liberal Democrat election manifestos, as well as their 2010 programme for government?

As the Archbishops point out in their statement, Parliamentary process has been scorned in the rush to redefine marriage:
"There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today."
The Government seems to think it is only a matter of religious objection to their redefinition, which is hugely patronising in my opinion. Simplistically, they intend to introduce a ‘quadruple lock’ to protect religious institutions from being compelled to act against their principles in connection with the proposed legislation. As Archbishop Peter Smith points out:
The prime minister is against statutory regulation of the press because he fears that a subsequent Parliament might amend the Act.
If future Parliaments cannot be trusted to respect the freedom of the press, can they truly be trusted to uphold these "quadruple locks" that supposedly protect religious freedom?
It's a good point isn't it? I don't accept it as re-assurance even for a second. I have no doubt that there is a fight coming for those who consider it impossible for two men or two women to marry. There are all kinds of constitutional and human rights problems raised by this madness. I am no expert in the constitution I will leave that to others. Certainly there's a good look at it on the Catholic Voices blog and Cranmer certainly knows a lot more about it than I do.

As Catholic Voices put it:
The Government states that “At its heart, marriage is about two people who love each other making a formal commitment to each other,” but it is difficult to see why such a private commitment should be a public concern: the state is not in the business of legitimating private relationships, and cares about marriage purely as a matter of public good.
British law has long recognised that marriage provides a uniquely stable and balanced environment in which children can be born and raised, protecting it as the one public institution that exists to uphold the principle that every child should – ideally – be raised with the love of a mother and a father.
It is telling, therefore, that the Government’s 47-page response devotes just three paragraphs to children, relegating them to the peripheral ‘wider issues’, and rejecting outright the view of 84pc of British people, as found by a ComRes poll for Catholic Voices this March, that children do best in life when raised by a mother and a father in a stable and loving relationship.
Regardless of governmental cynicism, it is indisputable that many support this project for the best of motives. Unfortunately, such support is misconceived: the introduction of same-sex marriage would not correct any injustices, couples in civil partnerships already having the same rights as married couples, and can only be brought about if British law decrees children to be at best peripheral to marriage and the state to have an interest in regulating people’s private lives.
I can't see this as anything other than a huge mistake by the Government, embroiling themselves in an argument that affects 1% of the population yet attacks two areas which are hugely important for the majority of the voting public: Politics and religion. They've done this in a manner which seems to have alienated just about everyone. Let's face it, homosexuality is largely a left-leaning issue, so even those who are ardently behind the Government's proposals will most likely vote Labour next time around. I'm aghast. The Government is a disaster. Let alone the fact that they should stop prodding wasps nests and get on with sorting out the economy. Unbelievable tom-foolery. What a joke.

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