Gay Marriage Fallout
I for one am not shocked or surprised that the House of Commons approved the bill for Same Sex Marriage, it seemed inevitable to me in a society that has such high divorce rates and so many co-habiting couples. Many couples today ask why they need the piece of paper to prove that they love each other. Indeed the fact that society simultaneously seems to reject the conformity of marriage whilst asserting with such authority that anyone in love should be able to get married seems slightly schizophrenic. With such a poor understanding of what marriage is and what it is about, can we really be shocked that legislation that seeks to define the institution to mere sentiment is supported?
Historically Marriage has seldom involved sentiment, and has been more about security, social progress, and a framework for the birthing and rearing of children. It is usually defined as the legitimate union between husband and wife. Love is undoubtedly part of a good marriage, but I always think that love is such a strange word. After all, the love you have for your dog or your iPhone is very different to the way you love your children, right?
C.S. Lewis, author of the much loved children's classics The Chronicles of Narnia, wrote a book on this called The Four Loves. In it, he illustrated that our single English word 'love', in fact contains many nuanced facets of the way we relate to each other. He illustrated this by using the four Greek words for love: storge, philia, eros and agape.
I have wondered in the past what the greatest of these loves is. C.S. Lewis says it is agape; which translates as caritas in Latin and Charity in English (although I think this is a poor translation of the Greek word). Agapē—ἀγάπη— is the love that brings forth caring regardless of the circumstance. Lewis sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Sacrificial love. It is the love that God has for His people.
Louis de Bernières' beautifully written novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin is really a novel all about different love. There is the initial lust-based love between Pelagia and Mandras, based on beautiful bodies and the passion of youth. This sort of burns out, as more immediate concerns focus the lover's attention: war and survival prompt a change in both of them. Corelli and Pelagia's slow-developing love is the central focus of the novel as it remains, regardless of the vicissitudes they face and speaks to the fulfilment of Dr. Iannis description as being "what is left when the passion has gone". Another strong theme is the paternal love of Iannis for Pelagia which is heavily compared and contrasted to that of Corelli. Perhaps most movingly, there is the figure of Carlo Piero Guercio, a man with homosexual tendencies who loses the object of his adoration to war and subsequently falls in love with Corelli, eventually giving his life to save him in an act of sacrificial love.
The novel contains an oft quoted paragraph which, in my estimation, beautifully illustrates the difference between eros (that is, romantic love), venus (which we might term 'lust') and agape.
“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don't blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being "in love", which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.”It is this love I think, that we all yearn for so deeply. I certainly feel I have achieved it in my marriage and thank God for that every day. But unlike Iannis, I'm not so sure it is a fortunate accident. Rather I think it is the result of a careful process of discernment, tethered to a shared understanding of what love and marriage meant. Take this formula and percolate with several small children for a number of years, add a dash of tragedy and you find you are cemented together with an indelible adhesive.
Now, the question you might be asking yourself is; can people with homosexual tendencies not feel agape then? I would answer don't be so bloody stupid, of course they can. I think the character of Carlo in Corelli provides one of the most moving expositions of true love I have ever read. So, why should anyone stand in the way of them publicly expressing that love?
I think the person who put this best over the last few weeks was Sarah Teather. Sarah is Lib-Dem MP for Brent and a former minister who has taken a very public stance in support of gay equality in a whole range of areas, including supporting civil partnerships legislation in 2004, voting for all stages of equality legislation passed in the last two parliaments, working with schools to address homophobia and lobbying the Home Office for fairer treatment of gay people seeking asylum from countries where they fear persecution. It is clear that she feels strongly about these issues and has devoted considerable time to campaigning on such matters over the last ten years. She voted against gay marriage though, and I think her explanation of why shows a far more nuanced understanding of the socio-historical reality than the PM.
I believe that the link between family life and marriage is important. We know that permanent stable loving relationships between parents are very important for children. Such relationships make it much easier to offer the kind of consistent loving parenting that enables children to grow into healthy happy adults able to play their part in society. I recognise that this kind of stability can exist outside of marriage, but the act of giving and receiving vows in front of others and making a commitment for life is an aid to stability. It is precisely the reason that marriage has formed the basis of family life for thousands of years, and is the reason that the state has historically tried to encourage it.
I also recognise that not all couples who get married have children for a variety of reasons, and similarly that many children are now born outside of marriage. My concern, however, is that by moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether. I doubt that this change will be immediate. It will be gradual, as perceptions of what marriage is and is for shift. But we can already see the foundations for this shift in the debate about same-sex marriage. Those who argue for a change in the law do so by saying that surely marriage is just about love between two people and so is of nobody else’s business. Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, “if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?”)
The key points that she makes (I think) are that this means that marriage is becoming (not immediately, but steadily, slowly, inexorably) de-coupled from family and surely we can recognise that we have problems in this regard already? Surely we can observe society and see the need to strengthen and unify the family unit, to hold it up and the model for stable society? This is basically what I alluded to at the beginning of this post. We are seeing less familial stability in contemporary society, not more, and we are being challenged with the fallout that necessarily results.
Secondly, she addresses the public dimension of marriage and the move towards relativism (it's no one else's business) that is another fallacy in modern thinking. For as Pope Benedict XVI explains:
"those who understand freedom as the radically arbitrary license to do just what they want and to have their own way are living in a lie, for by his very nature man is part of a shared existence and his freedom is a shared freedom. His very nature contains direction and norm, and becoming inwardly one with this direction and norm is what freedom is all about. A false autonomy thus leads to slavery: In the meantime history has taught us this all too clearly." (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 204).
Sarah's third point is that this bill can only serve to expedite the erosion of real family life, perhaps not in as dramatic and immediate a way as some opponents of the legislation have been saying, but slowly, and inevitably.
Most importantly, I think Sarah's explanation has all the more credibility because she has so strongly supported gay rights. Hopefully this will mean that rather than screaming abuse at her like 'homophobe' and bigot', the penny might drop for a few people. Oh, and by the way, it seems pretty likely that if this bill is passed into law, we will lose our beloved Catholic Schools.