All entries for Wednesday 10 November 2004

November 10, 2004

Gay Marriage and the Civil Partnerships Bill

Today in the Chaplaincy, I saw a very interesting advertisment. It filled a page of the Times, and showed a frankly dour woman in front of an estate agent’s sign. The headline: “Why should I have less house-sharing rights than a gay couple?” Tellingly, it had been placed by the Christian Institute, who offer ‘Christian influence in a secular world.’

In 2002, Lady Cathain took over from the late Lady Young as the main proponent in the fight against homosexuality, in particular gay adoption and marriage, a task which she undertakes with zeal. Since equalisation of the age of consent (which she also worked against), she has accommodated several more bees under her bonnet, including gay adoption and the Civil Partnerships Bill. Her latest tactic is deceptive, manipulative and very, very clever.

First, they spin the bill so that it appears to be unfair to families since, say, cohabiting sisters will not get the same rights as a gay couple (note the not-so-subtle appeal to homophobia). Their publicly stated aims are to support such individuals by extending the bill—all very laudable, but the perceptive reader will wonder: why have they never bothered about this before the Civil Partnership Bill?

The strategy can be reviewed here. Put simply, the bill was proposed as a typically British compromise on the issue of gay marriage; by addressing the more immediate problem that gay couples don’t have the same options with respect to pensions, taxation, inheritance, medical authority, insurance and government benefits as married couples, it is possible to defer a bona fide change to the definition of marriage. Thus, as explicitly stated in the bill, it addresses fundamental inequalities in the law, specifically with respect to gay couples.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with this concession, and worried that they won’t be able to stop it from passing, they now aim to fundamentally change the stated purpose of the bill by extending it to include siblings, carers and various other unmarriable/unmarried couples. The amendment—which peers voted for 148 to 130—transforms the bill into something it was never intended to be. To quote from the second reading of the bill:

...we strongly believe that the package of rights and responsibilities contained within the Bill, when taken as a whole, are unsuitable for people such as siblings or carers.

It’s a cunning ploy of misdirection: if you can’t stop something from happening, dress it up to look like something else entirely. As a Christian, I would normally consider it odd that a puportedly Christian organisation would be complicit in deception—and yet the Christian Institute advertises it in a full-page spread.

Slowly, my opinions regarding gay marriage have solidified, and I’ve come to realise that this bill isn’t enough. Perhaps it’s as much as we can comfortably take at this time, but sooner or later they’re going to have to go the full hog: redefine marriage, or commute current marriages into civil unions. Otherwise, the Government is left in the unenviable position of compromising between its secular duties and religious sensibilities. While marriage is exclusively reserved for male-female couples, gay couples will face a social barrier to acceptance, for the sake of an irrational (usually religious) prejudice.

The Arguments Against Gay Marriage

(I’m only going to consider a few, for the sake of brevity.)

  1. Marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman—this argument is weaker than camomile tea, and more circular than a bad Excel reference. Of course it’s defined like that now, that’s the reason we’re having this bloody debate. Next.
  1. Marriage is defined by God as a union between a man and a woman—just as irrelevent as the first, because we live in a country which is (to most intents and purposes) secular. We’re talking about legal marriage here. You don’t want them getting married, don’t let them in your churches, but remember that we live in a democracy, so your arguments have little influence on legal matters.
  1. I consider gay relationships to be immoral—good for you.
  1. Changing the definition of marriage will weaken it—in the mathematical sense, yes, it will; so what? In terms of marriage as an institution, it’s absolute balderdash – how does more people getting married make marriage a weaker institution? Are you worried that they won’t take it seriously? After all the campaigns, parades, petitions and lobbies? If anyone isn’t taking marriage seriously, its the people who focus on depriving people of it instead of addressing more important issues, like the high divorce rate.
  1. Gay marriage will lead to social instability—this leads on from the concept of marriage as an important social institution which is “weakened” by gay marriage. Since that’s among the stupidest arguments I’ve ever heard (see above), we can dismiss it out of hand. We’re also going to ignore a variant of this, that it’s an ‘untried social experiment’ (as Orson Scott Card puts it), since it has already been tried in various countries including Denmark, Spain and Norway.
  1. We could be on a slippery slope to incest, bestiality, paedophilia and who-knows-wot—poppycock. For one thing society has already accepted sodomy as a legal form of sexual expression, and is anyone arguing for paedophilia? Have siblings suddenly stopped being annoying towards each other? How many people do you see running around with a chicken attatched to their… well, you get the picture. Gay marriage is an extension in the legitimisation of homosexuality and nothing else.
  1. Marriage is only for procreating couples—yeah, like all those barren couples in the Bible. Or infertile couples in modern times. Honestly.
  1. Gay couples do not provide an adequate nurturing environment for children—OK. First of all, there are two ways in which gay couples can have kids, by someone other than their partner or through adoption. In the second situation, they will have been vetted by the adoption agency concerning their legitimacy and feasibility as a parent, and are thus more likely to be equipped to bring up a child than are natural parents. What this argument comes down to, therefore, is that gay couples with children are better suited to look after them without a partner! Patently absurd. Claims that they provide limited role models could just as easily apply to single parents, and the idea that somehow a gay couple will be ‘worse’ for a child than a straight couple is saying a lot, considering that couples where one partner is a paedophile are allowed to marry and have children.

None of the classic arguments against gay marriage really hold any water; the potential social damage is virtually non-existent and the benefits to gay couples (as well as their children) are enormous. So why doesn’t the Christian Institute recognise what’s good for children, good for gay people and good for (secular) society, and start paying attention to issues that actually matter? For example:

  • drafting a bill exclusively dealing with the people they pretend to care about, who co-habit a home with a sibling or carer and are subject to unfair treatment, instead of handicapping them with legislation that wasn’t designed with them in mind;
  • helping children to find suitable adoptive parents by actually doing something to loosen the regulations, rather than trying to make them more restrictive
  • trying to combat homophobic assault with the same zeal they have for attacking anything remotely beneficial to the gay community.

It’s unfortunate that an organisation which claims to be for the benefit of society is more concerned with destroying the rights of homosexuals, rather than improving the lives of millions of individuals – gay, bi, straight or purple-polkadot.


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