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?

Wrong!

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.




Comments

  1. I've been thinking so hard about this that my brain hurts. First, it seems to me that marriage is, actually, one of the products of our fallen state. Jesus explicitly states in the gospels that there will be no marriage following the resurrection. So marriage cannot be a perfect state but rather a solution for this life. If we were like God, we would love all people equally, without reservation or obligation. We would raise our children as a community. And the concepts of male and female would be meaningless - for in Christ there is no man or woman. So in the Kingdom of Heaven there is no need for marriage, because we will love perfectly, and loving perfectly, the concepts of maleness and femaleness will disappear. Being fallen, we are not able to love like this and so we have the compromise of marriage and family, as a means by which we can come closer to godliness, and as way to create an environment that is as conducive to unconditional love as possible. It seems to me that in a sense, the good intention behind same-sex marriage is that recognition that, in Christ, we are neither male nor female - along with the desire to fully represent the image of God (who is most clearly seen in us when we are loving). But the loss of our identity as male or female will be a *product* of our redemption - not the means through which we achieve it. And, *when* we achieve it, there will be no need for marriage, and marriage will cease to be possible. So ultimately, I think that the argument for same-sex marriage becomes circular: God's plan is for us to achieve a perfect state in which it will matter not if we are male or female, but when we achieve that state, we will also have rendered marriage unnecessary.

    I think that's where I've got to from a faith perspective. But as a citizen, I want same-sex couples to be afforded every protection, right and respect that other couples enjoy. And if the only way to achieve this is to "name" their unions "marriage" doesn't that make it the right thing to do?

    *Still scratching my head*

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  2. What do you think of the consistent witness of Scripture against homosexual acts in this context?

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  3. Ontheaxis - You are right up to a point.

    St Paul tells us that it is good for man to marry and Christ himself gives us the sacrament. Had Christ wished to extend the definition of marriage to same sex couples, He would have explicitly done so. We know that Christ had no problem in terms of causing scandal or overturning the old order, so why did his ministry make no mention of homosexuality, which would undoubtedly have existed?

    If we believe that Christ is the Incarnation of God, we also must accept that He came at that time and that place for a reason. We therefore have to be wary of writing off Christ as being constrained by the social customs of 1st century Judea. Had he wanted to redefine marriage surely he would have been explicit?

    I am not sure that if we could all love perfectly that a community would raise children. We know that pair bonds are the best way to raise children. We know that children have a right to their biological mothers and fathers. In creating man and woman God instituted the human family. There can be no getting away from the fact that marriage was ordered towards procreation.

    Same sex couples cannot enter into marriage and it does society a grave disservice to undermine marriage by extending its definition. The positive intention is irrelevant. By allowing same sex marriage with identical child rearing legal rights we are in effect stating that gender does not matter when it comes to parenting. This is against all natural law and the Magisterium. All children have the right to be created through an act of love between their parents and should ideally be brought up by both biological parents together. Gay marriage deprives children of their right for a parent of each gender.

    Gender may cease to matter in the next world but we should not pre-empt it as we are not there yet.

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    Replies
    1. Some good points. Whatever we divine about our future destiny, our created reality is as sexually differentiated beings. Why deny that reality?

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    2. Ontheaxis,

      Thanks for a very thought-proboking reflection. However, I think you are mistaken in thinking that marriage is a result of the Fall. In Mark 10, 6 ff, Our Lord says: 'God from the first days of creation, made them man and woman. A man therefore will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Why then, since they are no longer two but one flesh, what God has joined, let not man put asunder.'

      This seems to be a clear teaching:

      a) that marriage was part of the divine plan from the very beginning (and cf Genesis: it is not good that man should be alone etc)

      b) that one man and one woman are the partners to marriage

      c) that divorce is not permissible.

      The reasons that there is no marriage after the resurrection are surely different: it is anew phase in God's plan, and the purpose of marriage, to fill the earth as specified in Genesis, will have been accomplished. So whilst we will al love, we will no longer procreate, and it is that combination of love and procreation that is the essence of marriage. Which is another reason why homosexual marriage is impossible: it negates the very possibility of procreation and is therefore no marriage.

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  4. Thank you for responses above, which I do agree with in the greatest part. However we must be cautious about saying we know what is best for children. We know what *works* best in a considerably less than perfect world. That doesn't mean it is/would have been the ideal. And I think that there is a defensible position that we may be intended to come to a different understanding of what it means for a relationship to be "procreational" - again, our current understanding being based on our fallen state.

    It is a debate that, on the whole, I feel relaxed about, because I think anyone on either side who has genuine loving - not political - intentions will be able to be right with our Father at the end. No-one will be condemned for being too loving/tolerant. And no-one will be condemned for being too much in awe of the Word, as we understand it (provided that awe does not lead to unjust or unloving behaviour).

    But - socially - it is painful. And that, I suppose, is Selfish Me showing my true colours. :$

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  5. Thank you for responses above, which I do agree with in the greatest part. However we must be cautious about saying we know what is best for children. We know what *works* best in a considerably less than perfect world. That doesn't mean it is/would have been the ideal. And I think that there is a defensible position that we may be intended to come to a different understanding of what it means for a relationship to be "procreational" - again, our current understanding being based on our fallen state.

    It is a debate that, on the whole, I feel relaxed about, because I think anyone on either side who has genuine loving - not political - intentions will be able to be right with our Father at the end. No-one will be condemned for being too loving/tolerant. And no-one will be condemned for being too much in awe of the Word, as we understand it (provided that awe does not lead to unjust or unloving behaviour).

    But - socially - it is painful. And that, I suppose, is Selfish Me showing my true colours. :$

    ReplyDelete

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