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.

- 34 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. x

    i agree!!

    10 Nov 2004, 06:06

  2. This is an excellent post. More people should read it.

    10 Nov 2004, 07:32

  3. This is indeed a very good post. Personally, I don't think religious arguments of any sort should enter into this debate. If you don't like it because of your religion, you don't have to marry them in your church/temple/mosque/whatever.

    10 Nov 2004, 08:33

  4. devgeny

    Fantastic post! And very apt this week, being pride awareness week! Hopefully this will indeed make people more aware.

    10 Nov 2004, 08:51

  5. Very well argued.

    A more effective argument against point #3, "I consider gay relationships to be immoral", is: don't have one, then.

    On point 7, no less a figure than the Home Secretary has argued this point. I assume this means he intends to ban all infertile hetereosexuals, and all women past the menopause, from getting married.

    10 Nov 2004, 09:43

  6. Charlie LEHN

    Personally I think two christian sisters living together for the whole of their life is much more unsettling than two men who cut their hair really short, drink wine and talk about fine art.

    10 Nov 2004, 09:44

  7. I agree with everyone that this is an excellent post. The Treasury and the Inland Revenue have always resisted totally the idea that family members other than husband and wife should be exempt from provisons of inheritance tax law. It takes very little time to recognise that once the exemption was extended, it would signal the complete end of inheritance taxes. That is a completely separate question from whether or not gay people in a partnership (which would presumably have to be registered in order to benefit under the provisions of the new law) should acquire the same rights as married partners. The consequence of the proposed Lords extension of the bill is that it would have to be opposed by the government. (Its ideological content, is, of course, to declare that gay partnerships are no different to a whole range of other volutary associations (and not equivalent to marriage), and that it would be unfair to treat them differently.

    I agree that the Christian argument is practicing deception. But I fear it is also the case that if you propose to confer the same legal status on gay partnerships that would be conferred by marriage, but decline to use the term marriage, this is bound to be the kind of trench warfare that ensues.

    10 Nov 2004, 10:15

  8. Careful Jordan, this level of blatant logic, obvious common sense and refreshing acceptance of others is clearly at odds with the established hysterical nature of Warwick blogs… there'll be complaints I tell you.

    10 Nov 2004, 11:05

  9. Thank you. This must be the clearest entry I've read so far. Didn't have to read any sentence more than once and your argumentation is rocksolid. When will you send this to Westminster?

    10 Nov 2004, 13:18

  10. patrick

    generally i agree, though your reasons for dismissing arguments against gay marriage are your own subjective responses – for example, the issue of gay couples nuturing children has been studied extensively by psychologists (generally showing sound upbrining, with slight increase in homosexuality of the children studied) are interesting and would qualify your otherwise valid points. see also crime statistics – gay man do not break the law! they also pay more tax and give more to charity than their striaght counterparts – the stats are out there somewheres….

    10 Nov 2004, 13:42

  11. Vallie

    (Passing comment)

    Its funny how the Christian religion is always attacked for its views on homosexuality…

    There are only a few Christian people who will blog an offensive comment towards homosexuals, but everytime a 'Gay' topic is mentioned, the Christian religion and Christians as a whole are generally attacked.

    Why is this? If you dont like to be generalised as 'queers' or (excuse my french) 'p**fs' , why generalise the Christian scope on this issue?

    From the blogs I've read, every Christian to speak out against Homosexuality gets lynched, yet people will openly insult their beliefs and their religion over this topic.

    It's so hypocritical and it really infuriates me.

    I don't mean to seem harsh, but this Christians vs Gays issue is getting kinda serious.

    10 Nov 2004, 13:56

  12. Vallie, I have yet to see a gay person write an entry slagging off Christians or other religions unprovoked unlike the, admittedly tiny, minority of Christians who have attacked homosexuality unprovoked. You're entirely right about generalisations but the problem is when the people doing the generalising present themselves as a spokesperson for a larger group. In some of the homophobic blog entries the people writing them have been referencing church doctrines coming from the highest of authorities (ie the Pope) and in Catholicism what the Pope says should, in theory, go for everyone in that religion. This is the view that Catholicism at least presents and this is why generalisations occur.

    Gay people can feel threatened by religions which describe them as sinners based on something they can do nothing about, ie sexuality. How would anyone else like to be told they are wrong, mentally ill or liable to cause paedophilia, incest and bestiality? Homophobic Christianty and homophobic versions of other religions will get criticised because they are outdated and discriminatory and people feel they are judging them on characteristics which (unlike choosing your faith) they never had a say in.

    I, for instance, would have no problem to a person who hated the colour red objecting to my red jumper. I chose to wear red so I am happy to take their criticism. But if there was a person who hated my blue eyes then I would get considerably more annoyed as I did not choose to have blue eyes. And if that person had, as is most likely, chosen to dislike blue eyes then I would criticise their beliefs because they are clearly not founded on ideas of equality and acceptance.

    Love thy neighbour… I am the only person in the world who thinks that's the most important bit?

    10 Nov 2004, 14:35

  13. Vallie

    Holly, thanks for your fair and equally valid comments.

    The term ' Homophobic' has derrogatory implications. Right?

    I would say Christianity speaks against homosexuality, true, but it doesnt encourage violence towards gays, or incline us to have an irrational hatred towards them. That's an INDIVIDUAL CHOICE people take.

    So I wouldnt say 'Christianity' is homophobic, there may be homophobic denominations, but 'Christianity' as a whole is not homophobic, and I get angry when people assume this is so. (Not that I'm saying you are).

    Society is constanly changing, so it would be impossible for religious doctrines to stay 'updated'.

    You can have many different versions of the bible, from 'Old king James' to 'Street', but the message stays the same. I believe the Bible and other religious texts seek to establish a foundation of beliefs, and their function is not to 'go with the times', but to remain a strong, stable and solid backbone to their faiths. How you apply it to modern times is your choice, and you are given that right to choose.

    After all, we are all viewed equally before God, so we have no right to judge. Right? But it is a difficult issue.

    Love thy neighbour – Realistically, its not that simple, or easy.

    10 Nov 2004, 15:17

  14. First of all, thanks for the great response! I think it has been mostly positive and I'm very flattered. I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that it's entirely undeserved – rather, I owe a profound debt to those who informed my opinions with their own creativity

    I didn't really expect to start off a discussion, but I'm glad I did! Thanks, Patrick, for that information on gay parents – I know about a few studies demonstrating that gay couples are just as good at bringing up children as straight couples, though I'd never heard of the crime statistics! And you're right that my arguments are entirely biased towards my own views, though I try the best to be objective within the constraints of my personality.

    Now, Vallie, I'm glad that someone has raised a voice of dissent, but I'm not entirely sure what you're referring to. It can't be my article in particular, because I have never made any generalisations about my faith as a whole. In fact, I was very careful to make it clear, through direct statement and definite context, that all my indictments were against the Christian Institute and their supporters – who, through their ouvert attack on homosexual rights and unrestrained abuse of their influence to affect parliamentary matters, have opened themselves up for a response. Therefore, I can see no reason for objections on this basis.

    If you're talking about some of the other discussions I've seen around Warwick blogs, I can only agree that it's depressing when people fail to notice plain distinctions. I know a few gay Christians who can argue convincingly for their faith, and it's sad that they're dismissed like this.

    I'd be interested in knowing if you were referring to me in particular when you said " don't like to be generalised as 'queers'..." If so, where did you get evidence for my sexuality? I'm pretty sure I've never mentioned anything specific enough to give weight to any opinion of my sexuality.

    If anyone has any specific objections about my post, feel free to post them and I'll be glad to address them.

    10 Nov 2004, 15:35

  15. Oh – and something I'd like to make clear. I don't have any problem with Christians who oppose homosexuality on the grounds that it is unbiblical. Neither would I have a problem with anyone who can present a convincing argument as to why gay marriage is unfeasible, though I have yet to find anybody who fits this description! I do, however, have a problem when people argue against homosexuality on religious grounds, and consider this a sufficient basis for laws to be passed. God did not give us the right to dictate to others; rather, He asks us to do something much more difficult, which is that we proclaim what we believe to be true, and let people choose to follow us or ignore us as they please.

    10 Nov 2004, 15:44

  16. Vallie

    Ok, um Jordan, I wasn’t referring to you when I was talking about 'queers' and if I gave you that impression, I apologise. Your sexuality is your own business.

    Plus I wasn’t referring to your own comments, I was referring to the same people (they know who they are) who always have something to say about Christians in every discussion about homosexuality.

    I just could'nt hold it in any more.

    10 Nov 2004, 16:06

  17. Vallie, it all depends on your definition of homophobia, you're seem to imply it means violence or hatred towards gay people. The Oxford English dictionary defines it as "Fear or hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality.". Now I totally agree that the majority of christians have no hatred towards us, in fact to of close friends are deeply christian and don't hate me at all. I would have to argue they fear us though, they seem to fear that giving us equal rights would destroy the sanctity of marriage etc and everything else they believe in. I never really attack them though, just grumble about them everynow and again, at the end of the day they are entitled to their beliefs which is fine, just wish that sometimes they'd keep their beliefs to themselves, afterall we dont go round trying to talk them into homosexuality.

    10 Nov 2004, 16:12

  18. Vallie

    Hmmm, sorry Chris (can I call you that?) I was using the Encarta definition.

    As I said before, it's a really complicated issue. How can you discuss it without offending people?
    It's virtually impossible.

    I don't hate homosexuals, or believe homophobia is right, there's too much hate in the world already. Homosexuals are humans, like myself, and have just as much right to be on this earth as I have.

    But regarding your Christian friends, Christians can't keep their beliefs to themselves, that would be selfish.

    10 Nov 2004, 16:23

  19. I don't think you can discuss it with offending one of the camps (no pun intended). I understand what you have said about it being selfish to make christians keep their beliefs to themselves, and I'm happy to listen to their beliefs providing they express them in a non-offensive and reasoned way. I have a feeling that one of my Christian friends actually keeps his thoughts on my homosexuality to himself as not offend as I don't think he greatly approves and I respect his feelings by not really telling him about that side of my life. Unfortunately in all this I can't really be objective as I'm biased!

    10 Nov 2004, 16:51

  20. p.s. Chris is fine, in fact I prefer it to Christopher.

    10 Nov 2004, 16:52

  21. Homosexuality is certainly a very big deal for Christians. The Church of England (or rather, the international Anglican Church) is split from top to bottom over the creation in New Hampshire, USA, of a bishop who lives a non-celibate homosexual lifestyle.

    All mainstream Christian denominations (Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and their spokespersons, priests and ministers) say that all sex outside marriage is a sin, that is all sex outside marriage between men and women: adultery is sin; casual heterosexual sex is a sin; sex between a man and a woman who live together is a sin. And similarly, sex between men or between women is a sin.

    Thus while Christian spokesmen and ministers prefer to emphasise that they do not think gay people are inherently sinful; or that it is sinful, in itself, to be homosexual (or have homosexual feelings), in practice this doesn't mean much, because they think all gay sex is sinful, because all gay sex takes outside marriage. Gay people are not interested in living celibate lives, and do not do so. Gay sex between partners who have lived monogamously together for decades – but who, necessarily, are not married – is sinful, just like promiscuous gay sex at night clubs.

    The "logical" solution would be to grant gay people the right to marriage – then only gay sex outside marriage would be sinful. But theologians, ministers and church leaders are against that, because they say gay sex is not compatible with marriage. It is when we get to the reasons they give for that claim that things usually get nasty, and all kinds of things are said that are simply not true, or which reflect only prejudice.

    The anti-gay marriage arguments include statements about the what are the supposed "purpose" of sex and marriage on one hand, and about the nature and qualities of homosexuality, and the behaviour of homosexuals, on the other. Many non-gay people believe some of these things, but are open to a dialogue of information and persuasion, or do not think them relevant to gay marraige. Most of those responsible for making the Christian argument are not open to argument and when counter-arguments and contradictory factual information are presented, simply re-assert their views, often more strongly,. This is usually the point, not surprisingly, at which serious offence is caused and name-calling ensues.

    People are right to say that religious beliefs have nothing to do with civil, legal equalities. Nobody is demanding gay people should have a right to be married in churches. Just that they should be able to register their partnerships, and receive appropriate treatment from the state, the same as that which married couples receive. But what about the many straight couples who live together, but who have chosen not to get married (even though 100% non-religious state marriage is available)? Surely they are the ones who will now be left out in the cold. But if they were brought in, what would be left of marriage but a hollow religous ceremony?

    So it is worth thinking, what are the reasons for the state giving special status to married people in the first place (i.e. historically), and why is it continued today? Would it not be reasonable now for everyone to be treated the same, whether single or married, living with someone else or living alone, whether they have children or none? If that is not reasonable, what are the special qualities of a partnership that entitle it to special legal status, both from the point of view of the needs of the couple, and the needs of society (and the needs of anyone else who might be involved)?

    10 Nov 2004, 17:18

  22. Gosh, you guys really get down to it while I'm not here!

    Vallie, I'm not at all offended – besides, it would have been accurate. I was just uncertain as to who was being referred to as 'you,' and if it was me, how you could tell!

    A little more about marriage. The definition of marriage differs across the world, and in some countries involves more than one woman to a single man. It has also been changed over time: in some countries, only members of a certain religious group were allowed to marry, whereas some cultures (for example, the early Mormons, or Jews) advocated polygamy for a time before settling on bipartisan marriage. In many countries, including the US and the UK, it was illegal for couples of a different race to marry, a condition which in some states lasted until the 1960s. Even provisions for divorce constitute a change to the definition of marriage, which was once considered to be an unbreakable life-long commitment, and there are still cultures in which marriage is pre-arranged by one's parents.

    Similarly, the purpose of marriage has changed over time, and across different cultures. Some people today still insist that it is entirely for procreation, others that it is an expression of love – and to the upper or middle classes in Victorian and pre-Victorian times, it was often a means of securing your place in society. Royalty has been known to resort to, ahem, extreme measures to preserve royal blood in times when marriage prospects are poor.

    Marriage is, therefore, flexible.

    The modern contention is same sex marriage. I believe that we can rely on legal same sex marriage becoming a reality in the next few years. Those churches which do not change their own definitions of what constitutes marriage will, therefore, have to emphasise the difference between secular marriage and marriage in the eyes of God.

    Take the example of the Mormons. The early Mormons practiced polygamy, and in fact preached that having plural wives (or being a plural wife) was essenssial to salvation. At this point, the difference between the US' definition of legal marriage differed from the church's own. Even when Mormon philosophy was altered to conform with legal marriage, the difference between a temple marriage and a temporal marriage was always emphasised. Temporal marriage is marriage on Earth until death; temple marriage binds ('seals') a couple for eternity. In fact, receiving temple marriage is not cotemporaneous to being granted a civil marriage in Britain, because the temples restrict access to practising Saints. Also, in Mormon theology, a man can marry another woman after his wife has died, and yet is still considered to be married to his earlier wife – this is in contradistinction to the legal reality.

    It's my belief that gay marriage will eventually be considered legal, and gay couples will have access to both the term and its entailments. Once this happens, and gay people can claim to be part of this important social institution, churches which retain orthodox or conservative views will be forced to make clear their schism with common law. The Saints cope, and they're coping now; I'm certain other religions groups and Christian denominations will follow suit.

    10 Nov 2004, 18:25

  23. Oh, and for those who are genuinely interested in the debate:

    Warwick Pride are hosting a debate on religion and homosexuality tomorrow at 1pm. It will be held in MR 6. (Anyone who can tell me where that is will get… um, a Porsche. Or maybe just a thank you. Or maybe a slap for being a smart-alec.)

    10 Nov 2004, 18:33

  24. Union north, same side of the corridor as reception, last door (i think) on the right

    10 Nov 2004, 19:33

  25. Jordan, thank you.

    Btw, there's supposed to be a debate tomorrow (Thursday): "Homosexuality and Religion…" for anyone who's interested (1 – 2 pm, MR 6).


    Apparently, religious groups have been reluctant to join in but we're hoping it will happen.

    10 Nov 2004, 21:55

  26. Chris, I'll slap you when I see you.

    Thanks Mohammed, that's what I was referring to.

    Actually, Christian Focus (from what I gather) seemed to support the idea, but for some reason or other it hasn't been brought up. My friends are confused as to whether or not it's because it slipped Hannah's mind, or if Pride forgot to get back to them with a date and time.

    Either way, it's in about an hour and I think I'll be going. Thanks, Chris, for the location.

    Incidentally there's also a lecture about chocolate, four o'clock today in the Physics Lecture Theatre, at which it's rumoured that there'll be a few, ahem, aids to demonstration. Where will Jordan be at four today? I wonder…

    11 Nov 2004, 12:14

  27. Great entry! Good arguments.

    There is nothing that infuriates me more than the total disregard for the rights of homosexuals. If you don't like homosexuality, fine. You are perfectly welcome to your opinion. But don't try and tell others what to do. We all have the right to live our lives in the ways that make us happy. It's no-one else's business how we do this.

    11 Nov 2004, 15:21

  28. Oh. I didn't see that comment.

    Btw, I think I saw you at the debate.

    13 Nov 2004, 01:26

  29. Hehe, I await your slap :P

    14 Nov 2004, 20:38

  30. Do e-slaps count? Otherwise I'll catch you next week at Xananas (which despite Wes' complaints, don't make you wait more than a week for something that takes a few seconds to prepare – I'm take bad service to whole new levels).

    I don't remember which one you were, Mohammed! Any more than one person at a time and I'm guaranteed to forget everyone's names. Any distinguishing features? Where were you sitting?

    16 Nov 2004, 03:03

  31. This debate is really interesting!
    My congratulation to you, Jordan!

    16 Nov 2004, 20:59

  32. Well written.

    15 Dec 2004, 14:30

  33. Hi,
    I'd just like to say that this is a great article but 'to all intents and purposes we are a secular society' is, unfortunately, a falsehood. Given that only 2% of people in this country are serious religious believers (not defined by me, I have no intention of undermining the seriousness of any persons faith) I think that it is not particularly democratic that C.30 bishops sit in the house of Lords and continue to undermine legistlation designed to give us more civil liberties.

    20 Dec 2004, 22:53

  34. Hi Johnathan,

    Ah, you hit that nail on the head. We purport to be a democratic society, which doesn't necessarily mean we are. Unfortunately, true democracy remains (by and large) an impossibility, but the House of Lords is a particularly inelegant element in the realisation of even a pseudo-democracy.

    – Jordan

    12 Jan 2005, 01:47

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