Like it or not, gay marriage is now an “issue” in British politics and the question as to whether two people of the same gender should have the right to join together in marriage has set the commentariat alight.
I’m not concerned with those who drone on about the issue of gay marriage being irrelevant, pointless or “gesture politics”. The issue is under active consideration whether they are happy or not; the government appears committed to resolving this either way before the next General Election in 2015. In short – good.
What I’m concerned about are the arguments presented against gay marriage. The utter shallowness of the arguments against gay marriage that I’m reading in the press and elsewhere have doubtlessly been heard before, but the regularity (and apparent sincerity) of these arguments surely merits equally regular and sincere replies, as I hope this article constitutes.
Would gay marriage really “shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world”?
The first and most easily-countered argument against gay marriage is most often put forward by the religious. The purpose of marriage, we are told, is to provide a solid foundation for a couple to have children. Yet no-one I have ever heard has ever suggested marriage be made illegal for infertile couples or couples “past their reproductive prime”, to coin a phrase. Weeks into the gay marriage row in Britain, no-one so far as I can see has advocated banning marriage for those two groups of couples yet. So why discriminate against gays? So far, so easy.
Moving on, many heterosexual couples insist that they do not want the sanctity of their marriage “undermined” by the legalisation of gay marriage. This is a non-argument. How precisely would straight marriages be undermined? Would they be dissolved? Would the husband necessarily start looking at the milkman? Of course not. Straight marriages would not be affected at all. No changes to legal status or rights, no changes to the marital home. The only way, let us be logical here, that any marriage could possibly be undermined is if the husband and wife are not secure enough in their own relationship, and that has nothing to do with gay marriage rights anyway. Unless, of course, these straight couples base the strength of their marriage on marriage’s present exclusivity to heterosexuals, in which case they are very sad individuals. In either case, their argument is illogical idiocy. It is no valid concern at all.
Then of course there’s the scaremongering. Many opponents of gay marriage have said that it is inevitable (slippery slope alert) that once gay marriage is legalised, churches will eventually be forced to conduct them or be prosecuted, an argument which helps establish a highly disingenuous narrative about this proposal being part of a huge [insert nightmarish adjective here, i.e. “homosexual”, “liberal-left” etc] agenda to undermine or sideline (or – good heavens! – destroy) Christianity in Britain. Alas, they forget that the government already allows some churches to refuse marriages on the ground that one or both of a couple are divorced, and it does so with no outcry. There is no reason why such an “exemption” should not apply to gay marriages too, and no government minister to my knowledge has indicated a preference or intention that such an exemption not apply. Again, no real argument from the opponents.
The slippery slope methodology for arguing against marriage equality is nothing new (see the US Republicans), but the utter inanity of some of such arguments leaves one fearing for the future sustainability of rational discussion in our country. We are told, without many of our interlocutors even blushing, that legalising gay marriage could lead to bestial marriage, i.e. the marriage of man and animal. It could, but only if wider society becomes as daft as those who peddle such intelligence-insulting nonsense. If a dog ever agreed to a marriage proposal from a man, it would make headline news purely on account that the dog had demonstrated jaw-droppingly high (by canine standards) intelligence, to say nothing of having said “yes”. Indeed, if a dog ever descended onto one articulatio genus and proposed to a man (in a French restaurant, perhaps? or the end of Southend Pier?), the reaction would be even more profound. Really, those who propagate such ridiculous leaps of logic ought to be embarrassed. However, their rhetoric does not just embrace the absurd, but the doom-laden too.
Indeed, Britain’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has written a frankly disturbing article which lays out his opposition to gay marriage, which among other things demonstrates his insufficient respect for the law.
He asks what will happen to the teacher “who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman”. Answer: tough sherbet for the teacher, Cardinal; it is a teacher’s job to teach pupils the law, not teach their own personal morals. Alarmingly, the Cardinal says the teacher has the right to do just that, which shows how little he knows. In his most nauseating phrase, the Cardinal says legalising gay marriage “represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Alas, Cardinal, it is no subversion, but an extension, of a right whose present legal nature is evidently by no means universally accepted. Frankly, one has to be either mean, deluded or plain ignorant to accept the Cardinal’s assertion.
By his arguments, Cardinal O’Brien is either being deliberately disingenuous or desperately deluded.
Indisputably, we are witnessing an emotion-driven (and horrifically reactionary) linguistic assault on logic by opponents of gay marriage. Groups like the Coalition for Marriage are stating that “[p]eople should not feel pressurised to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness”, yet they do not explain in any detail what is meant by this. What does it mean to “go along with same-sex marriage”? Does it mean to partake in it? Clearly in that case no-one should feel pressurised, as marriage is a matter of choice whether the participants are straight or gay. And haven’t they heard? Forced marriages are illegal. Or does it mean, as the logic of the situation simply indicates, to tolerate it? What are they suggesting? That opponents nationwide of gay marriage are strapped down onto the church pews with their eyes forced open a la Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange and compelled to watch gay marriages take place? Puh-lease.
They also say that “no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us”, yet I cannot recall any one person or institution ever having ownership rights over the definition of words. Who decides? The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, or a group of unelected theists in a medieval building somewhere?
Others say that the definition of marriage has existed for thousands of years. And? It’s different in every culture, and personally, I do not want the social, cultural and legal standards of this country dictated by supposed “absolutes” thousands of years old. Why? Because I believe in a little thing called “progress”. I live in 2012 AD Britain, not 2012 BC Jerusalem.
Clearly, irrefutably, doubtlessly, people like Cardinal O’Brien, and groups like the Coalition for Marriage are playing with people’s emotions. By failing to provide adequate explanations that aspire to even basic logical integrity, they are inviting people’s imaginations to run riot. They are no different to those going about saying that they have the right not to have gay marriage “foisted” upon them, as if every straight marriage will be dissolved and people forced to walk up the aisle with members of their own gender. Again, scare-mongering claptrap.
Nothing that the Coalition government has said or done would indicate that the proposals for gay marriage legalisation would compel churches to conduct them if they did not wish to. As one Tory MP said: “Apart from anything else, the churches seem to miss the point that they won’t be forced to conduct same-sex weddings if they don’t want to.”
Ultimately, the legalisation of gay marriage is not gesture politics. It is not some fashionable “power grab”, as people like Lord Carey have insisted. It is not a threat to British civilisation, and it would not herald some cultural apocalypse. It would simply allow a same-sex couple, who love each other very much as any straight couple (indulge the romantic element, for one moment), who feel that “marriage” best fits their desired relationship status as many straight couples do, who don’t want to enter into a “civil partnership” (which many have labelled as way too technical-sounding, even cold), to have what the majority of the population, namely straight people, already enjoy as a life option.
If legalised, gay marriage could bring happiness to thousands upon thousands of people in this country (and let us not fool ourselves that only the happy couple would benefit – their friends and family who want to see them happy would too). Even better, it would come at no expense to anyone.
Look around online and in the papers. Fish out all the arguments against gay marriage that you can find. I have tried, and I still cannot find a single one that even comes close to explaining why we as a country should deny a group of people equal rights or the chance to stand as equals in wider society, or one that upon even basic analysis is not hopelessly flawed in its logic, intelligence or decency. So far, the arguments presented against gay marriage are based either on stupidity or bigotry or an intolerance even of a church’s right to choose for themselves whether to conduct gay marriages. Ironically, it is gay marriage supporters who often accused of intolerance or being dictatorial in “imposing” their views on others.
The legal benefits of civil partnerships are not an issue here. Legalising gay marriage would send a very powerful signal that YES, gays and lesbians are equal to everyone else; YES, all those gays and lesbians who aspire to be treated the same as everyone else can reach for it here in Britain; YES, we are a mature, choice-respecting country and a people who can walk on by and live and let live, even if some of us are for some reason opposed to the notion that two people of the same gender can be attracted to one another, and love one another and plan a life together. Those gays and lesbians in the closet would be able to breathe a little easier, too, knowing that when they did come out to everyone else, they would be doing so in a country where NO, homosexuality is not something abnormal or deserving only of special categories and separate institutions, as is propagated by the present inequality of marriage.
Britain, for goodness’ sake, we are truly better as a country and society than the opponents of gay marriage would have us be were we to accept their arguments.
You may not instinctively support gay marriage, but please think twice if you think you oppose it.