Monday, 10 December 2012

"Marriage for all": (a) dishonest and (b) Nick Herbert's give away line

(a) One can see a timeline stretching from the attack on Section 28 of the Local Government Act which led to its repeal down to the present day debate on gay marriage or, as a more appealing strap-line puts it, "marriage for all". At each stage in the timeline there was the assurance, not in those terms but equivalent to them, that "this is as far as we want to go". The whole point to civil partnerships, for example, was that they weren't marriage and, unless I am mistaken, that was the basis on which that particular legislation was passed. But now it isn't enough. The whole thing has a thorough going dishonesty about it, an incremental push, and then push again, to get more and more  societal acceptance of LGBT lifestyles as absolutely equivalent to chaste heterosexual lifestyles, equivalent in every sense including the moral.

But, even if one remains completely neutral as far as the moral judgement one might express with regard to those lifestyles, that they are morally different seems to me as plain as the nose on my face. They are not the same, they never will be the same (whatever legislation might wish to claim) and whenever I have met "the ordinary person on the street" they have not had any sense that they are the same (though they might have a well developed sense of non-discrimination in terms of what they think is appropriate behaviour towards those who live one lifestyle rather than another).

The gay movement uses the language of "equality", but what they seek is not just fair and equitable treatment. They also seek a framework of legislation and culture that enforces onto everyone that absolutely equivalent evaluation of different lifestyles referred to above. The changes sought do not just change things for the LGBT community; they change things for everyone else as well, and this is more apparent in the push for "marriage for all" than it was in the push for civil partnerships.

It was Sir Ian McKellen, speaking at a Stonewall event, who gave the game away as far as the government of Tony Blair's activity in these matters was concerned. He described a visit to Mr Blair before the 1997 General Election at which Tony ticked off each of the demands of Stonewall for progress in "gay rights", saying yes, we will do all of that. Is there a corresponding moment for David Cameron? Because if there is, perhaps we have a right to know about it.

(b) When at the weekend Nick Herbert wrote in his Sunday Telegraph article:
But civil partnerships are not marriages. They convey almost the same legal rights, but they do not express the same universally understood commitment.
and some of the Conservative high and mighty joined him in writing in their letter to the same paper:
"We recognise that civil partnerships were an important step forward in giving legal recognition to same sex couples.

"But civil partnerships are not marriages, which express a particular and universally understood commitment."
I think he made a very significant choice of words. I have added the italics above to draw attention to it.

First, a thought on the use of the word commitment. Speaking of marriage as a "life long commitment of two people who love each other" is deficient because, in the all too common use of this kind of phrase, the terms commitment and love remain undefined. What is committed to is not defined; and love should not be reduced to the fact that two people feel attracted to each other (they may well be attracted to each other as part of the dynamic of their relationship) as that does not constitute love in its full sense. It will be apparent that, if marriage between a man and a woman is understood in this ill-defined way, then there is no reason why marriage understood in this ill-defined way should not be equally accessible to same sex couples.

And second, a thought on Mr Herbert's choice to refer to a particular and universally understood commitment. That particular and universally understood commitment is that a marriage takes place between a man and a woman and thereby establishes a community ordered towards giving life to children and to bringing them up. The commitment (subjective, belonging to a particular couple) is to an institution (objective, and which defines the content of the subjective commitment). "Marriage for all" seeks to redefine in law and in culture the objective content of the commitment of a couple in marriage. The crucial point of Mr Herbert's choosing to refer to a particular and universally understood commitment,however, seems to me to be that, once the content of this commitment has been redefined for the purposes of civil law, the redefined content will become the  particular and universally understood even for opposite sex couples (and for religious bodies such as the Roman Catholic Church).

Mr Herbert's choice of words represents a case that in essence depends on an indifference towards the particular and universally understood commitment to marriage (first thought) but with a deliberate intention of redefining that particular and universally understood commitment (second thought). A rather exquisite kind of contrariness!

After legislation, what will be the position of those whose understanding of the particular and universally understood commitment remains the genuinely particular and universally understood one rather than the redefined one? Will they in conscience be able to take part in "marriage for all" as, in law, there will be nothing else available to them? Will they be forced in conscience to cohabit, in legal terms, whilst in fact having undertaken a clandestine marriage according to the genuinely particular and universally understood manner? Will Roman Catholic parishes cease to act as places for the registration of marriages for the purposes of civil law since, by doing so, their witness to the genuinely particular and universally understood commitment in their liturgy will be contradicted by their acting as places of solemnisation of "marriages for all"?

If Mr Herbert's choice of words indicates, as I believe that it does, an intention that legislation should establish "marriage for all" as the universally understood manner of marriage according to civil law, then there are serious implications for those who do not subscribe to the idea of "marriage for all", implications that can only reinforce the distrust being expressed with regard to assurances that religious organisations, for example, will not be forced to undertake gay marriages if they do not wish to do so.

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