Gay Marriage Revisited - 5th March 2012
The Gay Marriage debate has exploded onto the national agenda with the intervention of Cardinal Obrien on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph when he said that such action by our government would bring shame on our nation. I found his argument confusing and I simply did not understand his point when he likened allowing gay marriage to the reintroduction of slavery. When I heard him interviewed on the radio on Monday morning he appeared strangely inarticulate.
His only arguments seemed to be first, marriage has always been between a man and a woman so we have no right to change that. Second, that all the teachings of Jesus are against it. Third, that the International Convention on Human Rights defines marriage as between a man and a Woman. I’ll take each in turn: First, ‘it’s always been like that’ is never a strong argument, on the contrary, it is a refusal to argue, it is a mindless put-down, an unwillingness to engage in the debate for and against a particular proposition. Second, the Cardinal referring us to the teachings of Jesus on the subject is particularly revealing because -as anyone who has read the Gospels will know- Jesus had nothing to say about the issue whatsoever. It is extraordinary that the Church has made so much of something on which Jesus remained absolutely silent. Third, I think anyone who prays in their aid the International Declaration of Human Rights is clearly on a losing wicket: we really have had quite enough of daft human rights declarations rammed down our throats.
Whilst it is only last week that the debate was at the forefront of the nation’s attention, the arguments have been chugging along nicely in the New Forest since last October when I wrote about the issue in this column. Ever since, I have received a steady stream of letters and emails outraged at the stance that I took. Almost exclusively these have attacked my ‘liberal’ and permissive opinion, and have sought to correct me by referring me to passages in the Bible. Of course, it is entirely my own fault because, in my article back in October, I myself went back to Scripture to show that Christian resistance to gay marriage in particular and homosexuality in general, was based on a misunderstanding. I had no business to do so. Even as a Bible believing Christian, it is no place of mine as an elected representative, to tell other Christians what to believe. Having reflected on it, I now think that it was not proper for me to, in effect, enter into a restricted dialogue with a Christian subset of my constituents about what we believe. A Member of Parliament has to represent the interests of all his constituents whatever their religious beliefs. I think I was right to draw attention to the fact that Christians do not speak with one voice on the issue of gay marriage, but wrong to enter into the argument between those Christians and myself.
The point is that the Church is entirely entitled to believe whatever it chooses to about marriage and is at liberty to adhere to those beliefs without interference. Marriage is not owned by the Church however, and is an institution that Parliament is at liberty to alter in line with the changing needs of society. Marriage is an institution that is entered into by people with different beliefs and none. The government, which acts on behalf of the whole nation, can change the definition of marriage for the benefit of gay couples without in any way interfering with what the Church continues to choose to believe about it. This is essentially a question of Liberty.
When I was recently challenged on this subject at a village meeting in the Forest, I did not expect my reply to make me popular given the relatively elderly audience. I said that the Church needs to end its obsession with what other people get up to in bed, the fascination with which borders on fetish. I expected to be roundly booed but was astounded instead to receive vigorous applause.