One of the many unfortunate things about the rushed nature of the Equal Marriage Bill is that it has raised the political temperature on the issue to almost boiling point with both sides scrambling to have their voices heard whilst there is still a chance that political opinion may be influenced.
One thing that is very saddening is the way that the issue seems to have caused so much hate and division, with those in favour of the redefinition of marriage flinging unprecedented amounts of spite towards those of us who wish to defend the status quo – recognising that the already weakened link between marriage and family, should not be irreparably severed. This concern stems not from a sense of bigotry or contempt or wish to marginalise those with same-sex attraction but genuinely from a wish to protect future generations and our unborn. Every child has the right to be brought up in a stable loving, sexually exclusive relationship and to enjoy a close bond with both of their biological parents. Last night on Twitter, Conor Burns the openly gay Tory MP received a huge amount of unsolicited abuse , for not having yet made up his mind and the MP David Burrows has been in receipt of death threats. Clearly there is much reconciliation and healing that needs to occur.
I received a particularly poisonous comment about my own personal circumstances containing a choice piece of invective and attempting to goad me into disclosing information which would have been detrimental to one of my children. As someone who has a child who does not live with both of her biological parents, I can testify to the emotional difficulties involved for children who come from broken families and I can stress the importance of allowing a child to develop a close, loving and strong bond with both biological parents and their families. That someone felt so threatened as to attempt to find out personal details – I have had several searches on my blog over the past week with rather alarming search terms, really demonstrates the depths to which some will sink, in order to try to get their own way and shows that the defence of marriage lies in truth and reason, lies smears and insults are based in fear and demonstrate that someone has really run out of ideas.
Most of us, myself included, are heartily tired of having to endlessly debate this, but we have no choice other than to fight for something that is being taken away, not only from us, but from our children and the generations of children to come. In order for one group to be given something, it needs to be taken away from someone else and what is being taken is not only the link between marriage and children, but also our religious freedoms, in that life is going to be made untenable for those who do not believe that marriage can constitute anything other than a union between one man and one woman, especially those in the public sector.
The think-tank Respublica have today produced this excellent Green Paper which details why this bill is such a monumentally unsound piece of legislation – their arguments and logic are flawless. Catholics will disagree with the conclusion, we would dispute their notion of teleology for a Christian with same-sex attraction, but it is a sound piece of work, with some solid insights, not least in terms of the anthropological origins of marriage. The reason contained therein makes it impossible for detractors to apply the homophobia label with any integrity.
I touched before on how, under this bill, there will still be disparity between heterosexual and homosexual marriages, in that the concepts of adultery and consummation will not apply to the latter. Once again, the blogger Gentlemind has a detailed explanation as to the implicit legal fiction, not invoking any concept of a deity. As has been said from the beginning, neither religion, nor the state has the monopoly on marriage, whilst we as Christians believe that it was instituted from God as a gift to his people, from the creation of the world, we do not force or impose this view upon other people, whilst ironically it is the state who is imposing its new definition upon us.
The one question that nobody dare ask, the elephant in the room so to speak, is that marriage traditionally encompasses sexually fidelity for reasons of procreation, so that children may be legitimately recognised as well as brought up with stability, even though undoubtedly many couples have been unfaithful, but this has always been stigmatised with good reason. The current tendency to blame both partners when one strays, in an attempt to be non-judgemental and balanced, is whilst perhaps based in some truth, a misguided one. No matter how tiresome one’s spouse may prove at times, one has made a promise of love and fidelity especially if one is married in the Christian tradition. That’s why marriage is sometimes difficult. It’s not about being in love at the time of professing vows, but about promising to love until the end of one’s lives. Love often requires an act of will, it’s not purely an impulsive or romantic feeling, something that one has to remember when one’s spouse has left the loo seat up for the umpteenth time. We should not seek to excuse those who are unable to exercise sexual restraint. To cheat on one’s partner takes an act of will, one’s clothes simply do not fall off of their own accord and our body does not act independently of the mind.
So why is gay marriage devoid of this promise of fidelity in that a couple may not divorce due to adultery, which cannot exist? As a gay couple cannot technically consummate a marriage, does that mean that legally gay marriages are presumed to be devoid of sexual content, unlike heterosexual marriages? Straight couples are being called to higher sexual standards than homosexual couples, whose sex life is legally non-existent and unlike heterosexual couples cannot use a partner’s infidelity to split up the marriage. When a couple divorces on the ubiquitous grounds of unreasonable behaviour – at least five different examples must be given that would satisfy a judge. Does that mean that unlike a straight couple, a gay person will have to find five different provable instances of infidelity to petition for divorce? And what are we saying about the importance of sexual fidelity – does it only matter for heterosexual marriages? Is that fair? Is it equal? Or is there something unsavoury about removing the element of faithfulness in ‘gay marriages’? What message does that send and could it pave the way for further changes such as removing adultery as grounds for divorce in all marriages?
So, gay marriages may nominally satisfy the demands of equality, but they are still as different as civil partnerships. What a legacy for David Cameron – the man who promised to bring in tax breaks to support married couples and denied days before the election that he had any plans to introduce this legislation. Weakening in the name of strength.
I guess the one silver lining is that maybe this whole dog’s breakfast may actually start to do something to reinforce the already weakened bonds of marriage. Maybe people’s minds will be focused on what the true meaning of marriage is really about and churches may well be galvanised into proclaiming the goodness and fruits of marriage like never before. Maybe we will be able to reclaim Holy Matrimony for ourselves in all of its abundant richness.
Charles Moore has written an excellent column in today’s Telegraph, describing the country’s obsession with equality as ‘mad, bad and dangerous’.
In a week where equality is going to be at the top of the political agenda – it’s worth remembering that the concept of equality is not the same as homogeneity. To treat people equally does not equate to treating them absolutely identically, regardless of circumstances. As a mother of four children between the ages of 8 and 5 months, I undisputedly love them and treat them equally. According to the principles of equality laid down by advocates of gay marriage, treating someone equally is treating them in exactly the same way as one would treat another.
That clearly doesn’t work – should I treat my 8 year old in the same way as the baby? Should I have bought exactly the same Christmas presents for every single child, not taking their age into account? Is it unfair to have bought the baby a symbolic cuddly teething blanket and the eight year old a more expensive present? Or should I ensure that all the children are bought the same presents for their respective birthdays, so they all get say, a wooden railway for their second birthday because that’s what the eldest child had for hers?
Treating people identically regardless of circumstances is the cause of great injustice. We don’t, for example, allocate benefits or state help to people identically, without first taking their situation and individual circumstances into account.
The Equal Marriage Bill is unjust and perpetuates the very inequality it is supposed to remedy. It treats ‘gay marriages’ in an entirely separate way to heterosexual ones, in that a straight couple has recourse to divorce on the grounds of non-consumation and adultery, the concepts of which do not apply to gay couples. A straight couple can divorce due to non-consummation, inherently proving that marriage was ordained for the procreation of children – why else does the law recognise the sexual element?
If ‘gay marriage’ solves inequality, why does it then propose a version of marriage that still does not meet the standards of behaviour required by a straight couple. The answer is that cannot, because ‘gay marriage’ is in itself a legal fiction and impossible under natural law.
The picture says it all. Justice is ensuring that children have a legal framework that recognises that they have a physical and biological relationship to their birth parents and that supports the rights of children to be brought up, supported, nurtured and loved by their biological parents. Justice does not deny the rights and needs of a vulnerable child in favour of the desires of a set of adults.
A propos of nothing, I was re-reading my way through arguably one of the Church’s finest pieces of social teaching, Pope Leo XIII’s great encyclical Rerum Novarum when the following passage, perhaps providentially jumped out. It answers much of the argument amongst Christians, not only as to whether or not ‘gay marriage’ is permissible, but also addresses the concerns of those who believe that by stressing family as being the purpose of marriage, apologists and defenders are perhaps being utilitarian and not Christian in approach.
In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to observing virginity, or to bind themselves by the marriage tie. No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God’s authority from the beginning: “Increase and multiply.”(Genesis 1:28) Hence we have the family, the “society” of a man’s house – a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.
Also whilst we’re on the subject, a blogger known as ‘gentlemind’ has posted a wonderful Q&A demonstrating how marriage exists to bind procreation to parenting. Crucially:
The cost of inventing the legal fiction of same-sex marriage is that we will have to legally pretend that parents and children are not physically related. That is what happens when we seek to legally redefine nature: nature legally disappears.
*Reader discretion advised – this post contains discussion of an adult nature*
Fr Tim Finigan has blogged along similar lines to my post of the other day, detailing the type of material that could be used in schools, if the ‘Equal Marriage Bill’ is enacted into law. Teachers and parents who object to having detailed descriptions of anal sex or homosexual practices on the curriculum may be compelled to accept it in the classroom or face legal consequences.
For those who haven’t the constitution to read about the ins and outs of ‘bum fun’, couched in gay street parlance (and to be fair this specific booklet is not aimed at schoolchildren, they would most likely get a watered down version minus some of the expletives), I’ve read it for you which required much clenching of cheeks alongside a dose of mind bleach. This is the trouble with viewing sexually explicit material. Visual images are extremely powerful, they burn and imprint themselves into the brain, you can’t actually ‘unsee’ them and this really isn’t something we want young impressionable children or teens to be seeing and automatically associating with sex. ‘Anal Play’ does not come without considerable risks, listed at the end of this post.
Though diseases and injuries resulting from anal sex occur far more frequently in homosexual men, this practice is not restricted to men – it is becoming increasingly mainstream and is prominently featured on the most popular adult heterosexual porn sites. This is a problem in that young men are now beginning to expect it as par for the course from their girlfriends; that teenagers are drawn to exciting, exotic and dangerous practices which make them feel more grown-up , is not a new phenomenon and teenage girls report that they are under increasing pressure to conform to sexual pressure not only in terms of engaging in activity, but also in terms of performance. Furthermore, some young men who are experiencing same sex attraction, whether fleeting or permanent, report feeling under pressure to experience anal sex in order to be ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ gays.
Speaking in an article for Jezebel(caution a soft porn image and graphic discussion) a popular online feminist journal, Hugo Schwyzer a Professor in gender studies, tries to explain the seeming rise in popularity of the practice, which seems to me to be a symptom of feminism, in terms of the record levels of anxiety that young women are experiencing and how cultural sexual expectations of females have increased considerably over a relatively short time. Women are routinely expected to undergo increasing amounts of physical pain (such as intimate waxing) and extreme dieting, in order to fulfil male ideas of beauty – that this extends to sexual practices is hardly surprising. But at least there is an admission that this a painful business along with the acknowledgement that it is this causation of pain that is most stimulating and satisfying to the male.
And more than any other sex act, anal simultaneously symbolizes both the capacity to push through suffering and the willingness to please. For a generation uniquely acclimated to pressure, anxiety, and pain, it’s little wonder that this once taboo act has become so celebrated, so popular, so expected.
Almost invariably, the camera focuses on the young woman’s grimaces. More so than with any other sex act in mainstream heterosexual porn, in depictions of anal sex there’s an explicit connection between women’s discomfort and male arousal.
Is this really the authentic and joyful vision of sex that we want to be instilling into our children? An idea that has more to do with twisted, subverted desires and concepts of pain, domination, control and submission than the idea of mutual self gift?
Discussion of sex and sex education is a total minefield for Catholics, not least because as I am painfully aware in writing this post, we don’t want to titillate, be gratuitous, cause scandal or lead others astray. We know what we don’t want to see – like all parents, whether they admit it or not, we are disturbed by the idea of our children being given chapter and verse on sexual practices and techniques, which is wholly unnecessary. As John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility:
This is where the ‘culture of marital relations’ comes in and what it means. Not the ‘technique’ but the ‘culture’. Sexologists often put the main emphasis on technique, whereas this should rather be thought of as something secondary, and often perhaps even inimical to the purpose which it is supposed to serve. The urge is so strong that it creates in the normal man and the normal woman a sort of instinctive knowledge ‘how to make love’ whereas artificial analysis (and the concept of ‘technique’ implies this) is more likely to spoil the whole thing, for what is wanted here is a certain spontaneity and naturalness (subordinated of course to morality).
But we are scared to discuss this for fear of appearing homophobic or even sexually repressed, whereas the reality is that it’s not as simple as worrying that this type of intimate sexual education may, to use the unfortunate term ‘gayify’ children, for which there really is no evidence, simply that we do not want to normalise or give tacit encouragement to a sexual practice that is as harmful to women as it is to men.Given there is a spectrum of sexuality, we do not want organisations such as the Terence Higgens Trust or any sex educators misleading children into thinking that a fairly common fleeting but intense same-sex crush is indicative of a fixed sexuality or that children should seek to define themselves in that way, or sexually explore those feelings.
Laurence England has written an extremely courageous post outlining an experience of sexual abuse as a youngster, which he believes contributes to his same-sex attraction – his abusers being little more than boys themselves. Teaching children about sexual experimentation is not only unnecessary, it also contributes to the hyper-sexualised culture and pressures that are placed upon teens, as well as encouraging them to experiment sexually amongst themselves. If children are taught that they should explore their emerging sexual desires, it logically follows that they may well enculturate other younger youngsters such as in Laurence’s case. It also makes life very difficult in terms of protecting children from exploitation by adults. The recent appalling cases of child sex rings in Rochdale and Oxford, whereby social workers ignored the fact that children were working as prostitutes, deeming them to have made their own sexual choices, stems from such a policy of mistakenly assuming that children and adolescents should have sexual agency. That Peter Tatchell deems it appropriate to lower the age of consent to 14 and has lobbied No 10 to this effect, is cause for concern. Why is a 13 year old able to consent to sex with a 16 year old but not a 19 or 20 year old? And of course that will be the next logical progression, if any such decriminalisation were to occur.
Rather than simply saying that we don’t want this type of material taught in schools, Catholics need to be able to explain why and that this is not born out of the dreaded homophobia or obsession with what other people are up to in the bedroom. Let’s take another fairly niche practice – BDSM, which can take many light or heavier forms. If there was a push to have this as part of the sex education curriculum, there would be an outcry. If educators took the view that people are inevitably going to try it, everyone has read 50 shades of Gray, and so children may as well learn how to do it safely and consensually, we would rightly be horrified. It’s not that anyone is phobic of, or has hatred for those who wish to engage in fringe sexual behaviour, what folk get up to in the bedroom is their concern and theirs only, but the state should not be giving tacit encouragement to or promoting this in schools. After all the Terence Higgins Trust leaflet is aimed at those on the scene, why not continue to target those already engaged in sexual activity and give advice as to safety as required, instead of steering young people in that direction.
And why do schools need to make such a big deal about teaching sex anyway – by the time they’ve clinicalised it and endlessly discussed it and talked children into using hormonal contraception and condoms etc, no wonder it’s lost half its allure and fun and children then feel the need to go and try something bit stronger, more grown-up and edgier, whether that be anal intercourse, unprotected sex, multiple partners or group sexual activity.
Some discussion of sex in schools these days in unavoidable and probably rather sensible. The question needs to be, what vision should we be presenting to children? The idea that sex-education can be morally neutral is a fallacious one. Sex education is always taught from an ideological viewpoint – an allegedly neutral stance which allegedly imparts only facts, is an ideological viewpoint in itself, leaving the decision as to when or whether to start sexual activity up to the individual. It is the moral relativistic stance of ‘whatever is right for the individual’. Children and adolescents possess neither the emotional intelligence, the wisdom or experience to make wise choices in a moral vacuum. Even the so-called ‘relationship advice’ does not advise children other than to tell them that they should wait until they feel ready, which is meaningless. When are you ready to have sex? When you are ready to face the consequences that a baby might occur from such an encounter and both partners are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child together.
But all in all carrot needs to accompany stick and carrot is generally a much better tactic in terms of motivating and encouraging people to reach their aims and goals, rather than a tactic that consists of scare-mongering, i.e. you’ll get pregnant, an STD and here are the harms caused both to your body and the environment by hormonal contraception…
Catholics and Christians are rather poor at presenting a positive vision of sexuality, instead appearing like a bunch of miserable party-pooping puritans out to spoil everyone’s fun. It all seems to be about ‘thou shalt not’, rather than the beautiful, authentic, joyful, wonderful vision of sex, love and sexuality by our faith. We should be shouting this from the rooftops. Catholic doctrine on sex is fabulous stuff, it’s not about power, domination, submission, control or cultural expectations of beauty and behaviour but about mutual self-gift, taking delight in the other and real love, a love that is not solely based on selfish personal sexual satisfaction, but a love based in body and soul. It’s heady and empowering stuff that really does set you free.
Here are some more extracts from Love and Responsibility:
From the point of view of another person, from the altruistic standpoint, it is necessary to insist that intercourse must not serve merely as a means of allowing sexual excitement to reach its climax in one of the partners, i.e. the man alone, but that climax must be reached in harmony, not at the expense of one partner, but with both partners fully involved.
There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and by the woman, and as far as possible occur in both simultaneously.
There is a need for harmonization, which is impossible without good will, especially on the part of the man, who must carefully observe the reactions of the woman. If a woman does not obtain natural gratification from the sexual act there is a danger that her experience of it will be quali- tatively inferior, will not involve her fully as a person.
A woman finds it very difficult to forgive a man if she derives no satisfaction from intercourse.
The natural kindness of a woman who (so the sexologists tell us) sometimes ‘shams orgasm’ to satisfy a man’s pride, may also be unhelpful in the long run.
There is here a real need for sexual education, and it must be a continuous process. The main objective of this education is to create the conviction that ‘the other person is more important than I’.
Not the kind of stuff that one would expect from a celibate old man in a dress! The reason that I, and I suspect most Catholics who have read anything of Theology of the Body, feel so strongly about sex education in schools is not only because it is the parents’ primary duty (and why aren’t schools empowering parents to be able to talk to their children openly, instead of assuming that they won’t and usurping our roles) but also because children deserve so much better. I really wish I had been taught this in school, it would have saved me a lot of pain and heartache. I recently read Dawn Eden’s The thrill of the Chastewhich should be required mandatory reading in every school – confirming and endorsing my experience (as someone who has previously co-habited and then was entirely chaste up until my marriage to Robin) that actually waiting until such time you are married, is awesome and improves your marriage, your intimacy and the quality of your relationship no end. The rewards of chastity are immense and more than outweigh any temporary frustration, temptation or impatience. Instant gratification is a false god, leaving you impatient, restless and hungry for the next thrill or hit.
By all means teach children about reproductive biology, teach them about contraception, how it works both physically, emotionally and spiritually, but also teach them the really good stuff – what it is they should be aiming for and why. And for non-Catholics or non religious schools who may grumble about indoctrination or religious belief, ask why it is that they should want to expose their children to early sexual activity, multiple partners and whether or not this is in anyone’s long term best interests, be that emotional or physical, because sooner or later, your past will catch up on you.
Which vision looks more attractive, a series of passing transitory encounters for which you need to take precautions in order to mitigate risk, in the hope that one day you might find the right person and do the same thing with them for the rest of your life as you have with umpteen other people, or one intimate life-long relationship which from the outset engenders mutual love, respect and responsibility?
For those in any doubt here’s the ewwww part from the Terence Higgins leaflet. Diseases and injuries Are we still sure we want this stuff taught to our kids?
anal herpes (no cure for this one and it makes HIV transmission more likely)
anal syphilis (making a comeback according to THT due to multiple partners, often symptomless until its spread)
anal warts (treatment for this is ouchie. Frozen off with liquid nitrogen or acid, treatment takes months and they may reoccur)
LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum) – rare type of chlamydia, first made its appearance in the UK in 2004
Moving onto gut infections now which are more common (you really don’t want to know why)
Giardiasis (invisible parasite, chronic infection can last months or years and be hard to treat, known as Beaver Fever in the US due to polluted rivers)
Amoebiasis (very nasty if it spreads to the liver)
Shigellosis and Salmonellosis
Then of course HIV. Not a death sentence these days, but certainly a very serious disease requiring an enormous cocktail of retrovirals to be taken for the rest of your life and constant tests and check-ups
Next we have prostatitis which comes in three different forms
A follower on Twitter linked me to some graphic material, produced by the Terence Higgins Trust, which SPUC are claiming is indicative of the type of the material that will be taught in schools if gay marriage is enacted into law.
The booklet is entitled ‘The Bottom Line’ and is a comprehensive guide to ‘safe’ or ‘safer’ homosexual sex. Another friend on Facebook has expressed some legitimate concerns – the booklet, he says, is designed for distribution in GUM clinics and doctors surgeries and is deliberately couched in gay urban parlance, the Terence Higgins Trust are attempting to reach the gay community in order to educate and reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Whilst as Catholics we would advocate a more holistic solution involving both body and soul, though I’m uncomfortable with the contents of the brochure simply due to the ick factor (yes I’ve read my Freud, spare me the inevitable comments about repression or heaven forbid ‘homophobia’, I just find graphic depictions of sex as about erotic as a tub of blue play-dough), the Terence Higgins Trust should not be condemned for attempting to improve the health of the gay community.
I’m also not about to, for want of a better phrase, explore the concept of sodomy, other than to note that it’s entirely contrary to Catholic teaching, regardless of the mix of genders who may be engaging in it and it isn’t inciting homophobia to state that it carries greater health risks than heterosexual or ‘vanilla’ sex. According to the latest report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) released in November 2012, the highest rates of HIV were reported amongst men who have sex with men (MSM), where the diagnosis is 47 per 1,000, with new diagnoses amongst this community being at an all time high. That sodomy is inherently a risky business is evidenced by the need for educational material such as that produced by the Terence Higgins Trust. Like most things in life, sodomy, particularly between males, is a calculated risk – despite various precautions one can take in order to mitigate the risk.
As an aside, it’s fascinating to note how the government is attempting to interfere and regulate in other matters of personal health such as putting swingeing great increases on the cost of tobacco, introducing a minimum price for alcohol and mooting a fat tax, but in terms of sexual behaviour, which one could argue has enormous consequences for public health, prefers a laissez faire attitude. Perhaps David Cameron’s push for gay marriage is a disguised attempt at encouraging homosexual monogamy?
SPUC’s point about this booklet, is to be fair, a valid one, but I think some caution is required before using it as an example of the type of material that may be used in schools. They may not be too far off the mark, a quick look at the Bish Training website will give an indication as to the type of material that is thought appropriate and the horrors of the Living and Growing video, which was shown to children as young as 8, will still be fresh in parents’ minds. The problem is that those who are ideologically wedded to the idea of sexual enculturation as at early an age as possible, will seize on any attempt to portray their opponents as liars. As it isn’t entirely clear whether or not this booklet would be aimed at teens, it not being specifically produced for use in schools, then accusations of deliberate and false scaremongering will fly, along with the usual flim-flam about inciting hatred.
But SPUC are correct to point out that the teaching of gay sex in schools will be a logical and necessary consequence of gay marriage, simply teaching about hetrosexual practices will be deemed discriminatory. And I’d be willing to bet my bottom (ha excuse the pun) dollar, that most parents, aside from the achingly hip metro-liberal chatterers desperate to wave their progressive rainbow crendentials, would be terribly uncomfortable with that.
Do we really want our primary school children and young vulnerable adolescents given explicit instructions into the mechanics of anal sex, or the sexual practices of anyone, beyond basic reproductive biology? Anyone with same-sex attraction surely figures it out for themselves an at appropriate age without being given the pointers in school, as does anyone with any sexual urges.
I hate writing posts like these with my ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ sucking a lemon face on, because actually sex is a glorious and joyful thing, which is earth-shatteringly powerful. We shouldn’t underestimate its power, nor seek to neutralise or clinicalise it in soggy grotty latex filled self-satisfying encounters or feats of performance, which are about as stimulating as watching Midsommer Murders with a cup of hot cocoa in a cardi.
Which is one of the tragedies of the ideology of sex education in schools. A fulfilling and joyful sex life should not have to include a mandatory regular health check, nor intricate discussions of the workings of the back passage that would make Kenneth Williams blush. And the sooner people cotton on that the way sex is taught in schools, that anything goes, nothing matters so long as it’s consensual, is an ideology and a damaging one at that, the better.
There is an excellent blogpost on the new Catholic Voices media blog, which states we have much to learn from the example of the French in our defence of marriage. The French bishops have successfully managed to keep the frame away from homosexuality (how many people realise that the Church favours the decriminalisation of homosexual acts) and have instead kept the focus upon the conjugal meaning of marriage and the welfare of children.
The French Church has managed to build a broad civil alliance against same-sex marriage, including various gay and atheist activists. The movement is called Manif pour Tous, which according to Le Figaro, includes “La Socialo, La Catho et l’homo.”
There is a rally taking place in Paris on Sunday, which has a predicted turn-out of at least half a million people – a rally ‘for marriage’ and ‘against homophobia’.
Against this backdrop, in a decision which could have implications for religious freedom across Europe, France’s education minister, Vincent Peillon, has written a controversial letter warning Catholic schools not to engage in any discussion about this issue with their students, after Eric de Labarre, secretary general of France’s Catholic schools had sent a letter to France’s 8,300 schools, urging just the opposite! The socialist President, Francois Hollande has weighed in on the side of his education minister and thus French Catholic schools (which are private) are barred from discussing the issue at all, unlike state institutions.
In the meantime, rumour has it that the ‘Equal Marriage’ Bill is coming before Parliament for its first vote (second reading) on 28 January.
La Manif pour Tous, has invited supporters of traditional marriage to join with them in solidarity and make their feelings known in London, this Sunday at the same time as the Paris rally. Meet in front of the French embassy, 58 Knightsbridge, from midday.
Catholics could make a day of it and go on from there to Southwark Cathedral where the relics of St Don Bosco can be venerated between 3.30pm and 5.30pm with the Mass at 6pm.
One of the valuable lessons I learnt last year is that sometimes it’s better not to air one’s grievances publicly. The internet is still a new tool and all of us are learning as we go in terms of how to most effectively utilise it. This time last year I made some criticisms about SPUC which resulted in a very unpleasant fall-out. Whilst I don’t regret what I said, and stand by many of my concerns, I also accept that I was blogging in a state of anger (never a good idea) fuelled by what I felt was unfair criticism and aided by a huge dose of pregnancy hormones. Hopefully SPUC of all people, should be able to understand that a woman experiencing her third pregnancy in as many years, coming 8 months after the birth of her previously unplanned child, was perhaps not in the best place emotionally and took the criticism rather too personally.
Therefore I ought to apologise for the intemperate nature of those posts, feelings were running high and admittedly I was being cleverly manipulated by a behind-the-scenes agitator, suggesting that I should blog. Mea culpa.
I still have reservations about the wisdom of whether or not it was a wise idea for SPUC to use its resources in defence of marriage, but in the interests of balance, I ought to admit to an interesting conversation regarding with my father-in-law, who is still technically an Anglo-Catholic and long term member of SPUC. He informed me that he was having a meeting with his MP in the middle of January in order to discuss same-sex marriage. He doesn’t expect to get anywhere, given the MP is a Liberal Democrat, but felt the issue was important enough to make his views known.
I asked him what prompted this, to which the response was “I had an URGENT letter from SPUC, which said that something had to be done, so I straight away phoned up the young girl in their office, had quite a long in depth conversation and then made the appointment to see the MP”. So fair dos really. SPUC do seem to be rallying some grass-roots activism, which is no bad thing.
To be honest, I still believe their campaigning and strategy needs some updating and revisions. The fact that they were successful with my father-in-law is because he is pretty typical of the average SPUC member, i.e. over 65, a staunch Christian, not net literate (he doesn’t use the internet at all) and he tends to get very worked up by the angrily typed letters and edited handwritten slips of paper which look like they have been produced on an old-fashioned duplicating machine, that drop through the letterbox, containing their latest foreshadowings of imminent danger or deadly peril and urging strongly-worded letters and street petitions. I think SPUC’s appeal lies mainly with the retired reactionary Tory voters as well as the young traddie Catholic movement and at some point they will need to broaden their focus, but you know what, fair-play.
How many Catholics reading this have lobbied their MP yet? And if not, why not? I’ve just moved to Hove, so I’m wondering whether or not to have a bash at Mike Weatherly, the Tory Hove MP who narrowly won the key marginal from Celia Barlow, the former Labour incumbent and within a year of his election, lobbied David Cameron to shut down churches in his constituency who won’t conduct same-sex marriages. Modernise or close down was his rallying cry. Is two bites at the cherry (given I met with Caroline Lucas back in October) a little greedy, or is there no point? Incidentally I’m more than a little peeved – a Tory vote was recommended in the key marginals, if I recall correctly and it turns out that Celia Barlow had a much better pro-life record than I should imagine Mike Weatherly will have.
But I do endeavour to be fair-minded, so err yeah, credit where credit’s due. Although quite what L’Osservatore Romano’s reviews of Skyfall, have to do with a secular pro-life lobby group is beyond me. I’m not sure I agree with the sentiments therein, a group of seminarians and priests I know went to see the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Didn’t someone say something about being in the world and yet not of it? If we want to warn youngsters of the dangers and pitfalls of life as a secret agent, or the false glamour espoused by James Bond, then doesn’t it help if we’ve actually seen the material in order to be able to engage effectively with it and view it critically?
There has been a welter of criticism following Archbishop Vincent Nicols’ Christmas homily in which he denounced the forthcoming Government plans to introduce so-called ‘gay marriage’, thereby permanently redefining marriage without the democratic consent of the country. Those of us who are married are about to have their status altered to that of civil partnership without our permission. The state has now decided that it is the supreme arbiter of what constitutes a marriage – namely romantic love and a presumption of commitment only.
Catholic Voices deftly dealt with the Archbishop’s vociferous critics here, both Megan Hodder and Ben Trovato offer sound defences of marriage and Fr Ray Blake in fine barnstorming form offers some ideas as to how Catholics can supplement their support of marriage, aside from fulfilling our moral obligation by lobbying our local MPs.
I won’t revisit the arguments previously made on this blog, but there is a missing dimension to the debate, one that is close to my heart and should concern feminists or those who claim to care about the plight of women and children, and that is motherhood.
I am a mother. I nurtured my children in my womb, they were comforted by my unique heartbeat, the unique intonations of my voice, my unique smell; in short I was, and am, their world. I birthed my children, I fed them from my breasts, I sang to them, when they are tired, unhappy, hurt or in need of comforting, it is uniquely me they want – no-one else, no matter how loved, will do.
That is not to detract from or denigrate their father, whom they are lucky to have, who bathes them, who reads to them, who plays with them, who also soothes them, but when the chips are down, instinctively and intuitively it is mummy they want. Despite the fact that Robin is an extremely involved and hands-on father, there is something visceral, something priomordial about a biological mother’s care, that simply cannot be replicated. I can hear my babies cry and just ‘know’ what is wrong and how to sort their problem, soothe their pain, whilst my husband looks on in bewildered awe. It is with good reason that medics pay close attention to the mother and trust maternal instincts when treating a sick child. If one could only bottle the essences that constitute motherhood, those hardwired responses to one’s own offspring and the emotions that flow naturally between mother and child, one would be rich as Croesus. Mothers rarely need to be shown how to love, even if they do sometimes need some external guidance.
A few years ago, when the 3 year old was a baby, Robin used to tease me for “that weird thing you do pulling faces at her”, thinking that it was one of my many idiosyncrasies. Not long afterwards, he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on his return, recounted how he had seen a Muslim woman in the airport lounge in a niqab behaving in an identical way and pulling the same exaggerated faces. “It was peculiar’, he said, “there was this woman, she looked nothing like you, she had a different colour hair, a different colour skin, she was a different cultural background, was wearing different dress, spoke a different language and yet when I saw her playing with her baby all I could see was you. The mannerisms, the way you hold our baby, the way you pull those faces, exaggerate your speech and intone when you sing, it could have been your carbon copy. I realised that it was obviously something that women instinctively do, this is how they play with their babies. It’s inbuilt and intuitive”. A practical demonstration, if any were needed that the basic skills of mothering are so primordial, so instinctive that they transcend all boundaries and though men can undoubtedly learn and develop such skills, the way women instinctively mother their children is not an ingrained response that naturally occurs in men. This morning, our twenty month old climbed into bed in the early hours and cuddled Robin, as I was feeding the baby. Upon placing the baby back in her bedside cot, the toddler spied her opportunity, climbed over, muttered “mummy” and hugged me tight before falling into blissful slumber. There are no words adequate to describe the contented and satisfied grin on her face as she snuggled in. It was mummy she needed.
So what has this to do with ‘gay marriage’? Put simply, I am not a “Progenitor A”. I am a mother and I will fight to the death to defend not only my children and their best interests, but my right to be identified as a mother. My husband is not simply “progenitor B”, but their father, to which he brings an entirely separate set of attributes.
What “gay marriage” does is undermine and rip away all notions of natural parenthood and paves the way for children to be cared for and brought up by anyone who is deemed to be in a loving romantic relationship.
By stating that romantic love or attachment is the only requirement for marriage, children are then treated as the optional extra. Whilst that may work for some couples, in a world where a misunderstood notion of equality overrides all other considerations, a gay couple is seen as equally worthy and deserving of a child, regardless of that’s child’s rights to be brought up and loved by both of its biological parents. The act of childrearing becomes rooted in selfishness and the desires of the couple in question.
It is an act of supreme selfishness, cruelty and exploitation for a couple to pay a woman to bear a child, to nuture that child in her womb, even if it is not her biological child, to then rip that child away from her, for a sum of money. There can be no excuse for treating women’s bodies and babies as human commodities. Commercial surrogacy consists of trading upon desperation, human misery and is dependent on the commodification of women. Feminists who align themselves with gay-rights activists need to search their conscience.
Once you make all relationships the same, once you strip away the complementarity of male and female, once you define solely romantic love as being the determining factor in a marriage, then you pave the way for babies to be taken away from their mothers and give implicit approval to trading upon human misery. As a woman who has known the highs and lows of pregnancy, who has experienced the agony and ecstasy of childbirth four times, who knows that biological love has the capacity to conquer all, even the most inauspicious of beginnings, the thought of children being deprived of their mothers, sickens me and chills my blood. I guess one could describe it as a type of homophobia because the act of producing children in laboratories and removing them from the women who birthed them, depriving them of a mother to pass them into the care of two men, no matter how rich or well-meaning, does induce fear and concern for women and their children. It is an unnatural thing to financially coerce a woman to produce a child to order, for the benefit of someone else. As a mother, I cannot think of a worse thing to do to another woman than to deprive her of her baby. It is beyond one’s worst imaginings.
We are already seeing the dreadful consequences of children bred to order, and the impact this is having upon women. Two men artificially producing a biological child that belongs to one of them is seen as socially acceptable and desirable, and in order to accommodate their whims, not only are women being commodified and exploited and children deprived of their inherent rights, but also the law is needing to be constantly revised and updated. Which is why countries like Spain, are dispensing with the traditional titles of mother and father, to be replaced by Progenitors A and B. I am not a progenitor, I am not simply a faceless biological producer of a factory-produced child to order, but I am a mother and a woman whose children were produced in love. And what happens if or when Progenitor A and Progenitor B split up? Child then has to divide its time between two same sex households and potentially acquires two more same-sex step-parents and that is deemed to be in its best interests? Or what is there to stop the State from allocating extra Progenitors such C or D to a child, deciding what actually constitutes a Progenitor, or stripping a biological parent of Progenitor status? If all a child needs is a loving parent of any gender, why are we seeing fatherless children ask for a dad in heartbreaking letters to Santa?
Children do not simply need a parent, but the complementarity of a mother and father. To state that the sexes are interchangeable, strips and deprives women of a key part of their gender, treats them as little more than mechanical breeding machines and denies the unique and wonderful ability of a woman to mother her own child. Study after study demonstrates how babies feed from the stimuli of their mother, right from the moment that they are conceived and study after study demonstrates that though other types of family can and often do an excellent job in terms of raising healthy and well-balanced children, the traditional mother/father in a committed relationship is the ideal.
We change marriage to being solely about a notion of romantic love between two people of any gender, then we further weaken an institution already damaged by divorce laws that constitute an adulterer’s charter. When we say that a marriage is about reaffirming a romantic love or attachment, then there is little incentive to keep the relationship afloat during the rocky times. When marriages or relationships with children break down, it is almost always invariably, though not always, the women who remain the primary carers and who suffer the most.
And this is, though not the only reason by any means, is certainly one of the driving forces behind the fact that I intent to fight this forced change to the definition of my marriage, tooth and nail. Fundamentally same-sex marriage is anti-children, anti-women and anti-mothers.
I will not allow the Government to strip women such as my four girls, of their biological rights to be mothers, without the fight of my life. I am a mother and by definition the best thing that there is for my children. I will not let my motherhood be taken away from me, or from any woman.
I am exceptionally grateful to Laurence England for arranging a deputation of Catholic constituents of Caroline Lucas to meet with her and explain our opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as for including me amongst their number.
I don’t really have much to add to Laurence’s account of how the meeting went, though I don’t think we did much to change her views, we certainly appreciated the opportunity to present our case, and Caroline Lucas certainly came across as a very warm, honest and engaging MP, she did not dismiss our case, neither did she pretend to listen politely, but she actively participated and asked questions as appropriate. Of course one might argue that she was only doing her duty as an elected MP and representative of her constituents, but at least she was gracious and actually took the time to make it seem as if she was genuinely interested! It was a very different experience from when I met my former constituency MP, David Cameron, who was at first dismissive, then had a Damascene conversion once I opened my mouth and he discovered that I’d worked for various Investment banks and had a public school background.
One thing that was very positive about the meeting was that Caroline had an opportunity to see that we were not coming at this from a position of bigotry, we didn’t wish any harm upon the LGBT community and it was certainly helpful that we had at least two of our number who openly identified themselves as being gay or having same sex attraction. Caroline hearteningly said that she had been very supportive of Christina Summers, the Green Party councillor who has been expelled from the Green Party for her opposition to same-sex marriage and that she disagreed with the party’s decision to exclude her; though Caroline’s Green Party credentials are immaculate in this area, she finds it disappointing that someone should be ostracised on account of their sincerely held beliefs.
Of particular interest seemed to be the side-effects of this legislation which clearly David Cameron had not thought about in any depth before going full-steam ahead with his proposal. We explained how Christians and indeed people of all faiths who disagreed with the redefinition of marriage could be affected in the workplace and highlighted the comments of the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, who has hinted that profound philosophical difficulties lie ahead for religious workers in the public sector. Everyone will be expected to recognise the new definition of marriage under law, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.
Another factor was how the redefinition of marriage would necessitate a change in the Anglican prayer book, via an Act of Parliament. Though that may seem irrelevant to a group of Catholics, it would also be a significant step to disestablishment of the church and whatever one’s views on that issue might be, surely such a significant change should not come about as a side-effect of legislation, but should be debated on its own merits or lack thereof.
We also pointed out that the government’s guarantees that religious marriage would remain unaffected would be utterly worthless as there is no distinction in law between religious and civil marriage, therefore if the change comes about it will need to be available to everybody in the same way. Some religious organisations will be unable to solemnise same-sex marriages and the realities of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act will mean that these organisations will have to withdraw from providing marriages if they are not able to offer it to all couples, in the same way as happened with the Catholic Adoption agencies.
As Laurence said, the area that Caroline Lucas seemed most interested in, was that of democracy and the public appetite for change. After pointing out that none of the major parties, including her own had this in their election manifesto, it seemed that a major change was being brought forth which nobody had actively voted for. I mentioned the Catholic Voices Com Res poll, of which she was unaware, suggesting that a significant chunk, some 70% of the population are against redefining marriage as well as the fact that the gay community seem to be apathetic to the change. There is also a risk that those gay couples who choose not to marry but to be in civil partnerships will also be thought of as having second-class unions and face discrimination.
Laurence was particularly persuasive and incisive when Caroline quizzed him on the notion of what constituted the common good. She asked whether the Church could still claim its position was in the common good, that if the poll results were reversed, showing that 70% of people were in favour of the change, surely that could be considered the common good? Laurence used the comparison of pedophilia, which most people find abhorrent, other than Harriet Harman’s friends. Even if public opinion were to change regarding pedophilia or polygamy, legislating for it, would most certainly not be in the common good, regardless of people’s personal views. The common good is an entirely distinct concept to public opinion. We also asked why the state felt that it needed to legislate for people’s private relationships, the only reason that marriage is regulated by the state, is for one reason alone and that is because its main function is to provide children. We explained that as a Church we did not hold the rights to marriage – it is an institution outside of both Church and state.
I don’t think we will have changed her underlying views, however my hope is that we did give some food for thought and that in Caroline’s words, she could see that we were not against equality per se or wanting to degrade same sex couples, but had genuine concern as to the impact of any forthcoming changes in the law.
This for me, is what it means to be a Catholic Voice, not simply a talking head in the media who someone may or may not remember, but actually being pro-active and making sure that the case is coherently and articulately presented in the public square. We did not shy away from our faith, nor did we deny that it affects our conscience, but equally we were able to display that our concerns were not those of bigots who wished to do harm. I do hope and pray that Caroline has a conversion of heart and that our meeting did at least have some impact.
In the meantime, here’s the Janet and John version from the Coalition for Marriage.
Given the wealth of polemic flying about the internet with regards to same-sex marriage, I’m loathe to add my voice to the tumultuous din, particularly given that I already blogged a few months back, but some important points are being lost amidst the white-hot passionate rhetoric on both sides, which is becoming increasingly partisan and, from what I have observed today, disturbingly anti-Catholic in tone.
As there are so many intertwined issues, I am going to break my habit of lengthy screeds, by breaking up into sub-headings to address the various issues
Why the Anti-Catholicism?
Firstly Cardinal O’Brien’s article in the Daily Telegraph and subsequent disastrous interview on the Today programme shifted the terms of the debate from what constitutes marriage and its place in our society to Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality. Whilst many Catholics and indeed Christians of all denominations may have intellectually accepted his argument and applauded him, his intemperate language raised the emotional ante. I was asked by Tom Chivers of the Daily Telegraph whether or not I condoned his “disgusting comments”. My response: I think they were unhelpful.
Whilst many Catholics are very poorly catechised with regards to the doctrine on human sexuality, this is a matter that needs to be addressed internally, the pages of a national newspaper and a radio programme with an audience of millions is not the most appropriate medium to expound the complexities and nuances of Catholic doctrine. As I have discovered to my cost, the nuances and complexities of doctrine are completely lost on the majority, who are unable to contextualise or see beyond philosophical and theological language and understandably take huge offence.
The extremely powerful letter issued by Archbishops Nichols and Smith has done much to redress the balance, many were glad to hear Archbishop Nichols state on the radio yesterday morning that it is not the intention of the Catholic Church to condemn anyone, Monday’s Gospel reading reminds us of the words of Jesus “Do not condemn and you will not be condemned”, (Luke 6:37) but due to its very persuasiveness and the potential audience of over 4 million Catholics, as well as being widely reported in the mainstream media, this has brought an element of anti-Catholicism to the fore, with the old familiar tropes, which do nothing to engage with the actual point at hand.
Does the anti-Catholicism matter? To a certain extent it doesn’t, Catholics in the UK are accustomed to centuries of recusancy, Christ himself said that it would not be easy to follow him, however whilst on the one hand we need to keep a sense of perspective in terms of persecution, we are not persecuted in the same way as Christians in Egypt, Iran or Pakistan for example, it is important that we fight against this perjorative smearing and distortion of our faith. To meekly accept it as our lot, accepts our own marginalisation, we need to defend our faith through the use of reason and apologetics, otherwise we rule ourselves out of all public discourse and cease to have any influence or voice in society. Though we are Catholics (and the same applies to all faiths) we should not isolate ourselves from society, we are members of it and thus have a right to participate and be heard if we want to impact the Common Good. It is extremely damaging and potentially dangerous to accept the often violent anti-Catholic/Christian sentiment of the type I have seen expressed today. Whilst there are shameful episodes in the Church’s history, not least the abuse scandal, we must not allow this to taint people’s perceptions of the Church and keep them from discovering the joy of faith. We must appeal to reason, not adopt a passive mentality. There is a difference between turning the other cheek and lining up one’s brethren for a good slapping.
Why are Churchgoers more important than bingo attendees?
This was the question asked by Hugo Rifkind today. Well in one sense they are not. All members of a democratic society should have equal say. It is not churchgoers who are more important, but churches/religions are more influential in society than bingo halls. If we are going to run with this analogy, bingo halls are simply there to generate profit for the owners. Religions are the embodiment of Cameron’s elusive Big Society. The Catholic Church is one of the largest charitable organisations in the world. It is the second biggest provider of humanitarian relief in Africa. The Catholic Church, along with the Anglican Communion and other religions actively work in society, in communities for the good of other people. Religious believers give more to charity and do more unpaid voluntary work, than non-believers. More people do unpaid work for church organisations than other organisations. Work, such as visiting the sick, setting up playgroups, lunches for the elderly and so on.
Though we cannot surmise that the average church-goer is a better person than the atheist bingo-player, it can be stated that religion can be a force for great good and members do a lot for society and thus deserve to be heard. The truth is that religions are better placed to be able to motivate an organised, strategic, campaign – churches, mosques, synagogues, temples are all cohesive communities with shared aims who are easier to mobilise. Religions are concerned with working towards the common good, bingo halls with individual profit. Religions also make up a greater proportion of the population.
Why is the Church so bothered – it won’t be forced to accept anything?
That’s not strictly true. We are entering unchartered waters here. It is true to say that were this proposal to go ahead then the Catholic Church would, in all likelihood, not be compelled to conduct same-sex weddings. The same cannot be said of the Church of England. Various Anglican canonists are concerned, given that Anglican vicars act as agents of the state, to use their official title, they are “clerks in holy orders”, that they may well be compelled to conduct same sex weddings or face legal proceedings. A local “Conservative” MP in Hove, Mike Weatherly, has called for churches who do not conduct same-sex weddings to be closed down. The former fresh-faced housewives’ favourite, Will Young, stated on Question Time this week, that Cardinal O’Brien should be up in court for hate-speech. When questioned whether this should necessitate religious leaders being called into police stations for their religious beliefs, Young replied “yes, rightfully so”. His views were shared by shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint and Will Self.
Whilst it is not yet clear whether or not churches may be compelled to conduct weddings, what is apparent is that religions will have a new definition of marriage imposed upon them. Ironic given the perennial accusations that the Church faces with regards to imposing its beliefs upon others.
Weddings and Marriages
Where people, including some Catholic commentators and it would seem, the government, are getting confused is in the difference between weddings and marriages. When bemoaning civil partnerships, various Catholic blogs have posted photo after photo of civil partnership ceremonies in a bid to prove that these are de-facto marriages, perceived as marriages and therefore must be condemned. Likewise gay and lesbian campaigners have bemoaned their lack of opportunity for a wedding. The government have been genuinely taken aback by religious opposition, because they believed that the exemption would be enough to mollify any opposition, so long as churches were not forced to conduct wedding ceremonies, they would be fairly sanguine about the change.
A wedding is a ceremony – be that religious or civil. For us it was a Byrd four-part Mass and lashings of incense. For others it might be humanist vows on the top of a London bus. A wedding is the ceremony that legally and in some cases sacramentally, joins two parties together. Some of those in civil partnerships feel aggrieved that their official ceremony simply consists of signing a register and want the full “wedding”. Technically there is nothing to stop people from doing exactly what they want. Most tolerant people don’t really care. If a religious venue wants to be able to hold civil partnership ceremonies, then that should be their choice. I can’t quite see how this could be done in the Church of England or Catholic Church and I do also think that it does unhelpfully blur the margins between the two institutions, but if Sharon and Michelle both want to don enormous fluffy white meringues and get an obliging minister to formulate vows and/or prayers in the setting of their choice, providing the denomination permits it, then that should be their choice in a free and liberal society.
Whilst I’m on the subject, I’d also relax the daft restrictions upon choices of music and readings in civil ceremonies that forbid specific references to religious symbolism or worst still God. I mean, fancy making reference to God in a civil wedding – saint preserve us, what next the collapse of secularisation? If folk, whether heterosexual, lesbian or gay want to belt out jingoistic songs about the repression of mill workers in order to celebrate their partnership, if they want theologically unsound ballads by former boy band members then that is entirely their affair. You want “Angels” by Robbie or the local rugby club wants “I vow to thee my country”, go ahead – fill your boots!
A marriage is an institution, a legally and sometimes sacramentally recognised partnership in society. It is the permanent and binding union of a man and woman, that acts as building block of society, in order to create family units and raise children. Though the conditions surrounding marriage eligibility may have altered over the centuries, the basic premise has remained the same – one man, one woman for love, companionship but primarily for the procreation of children.
Well the Church can believe what it wants? What’s the problem.
It is impossible, not only for the Catholic Church but for several other denominations and religious to believe that marriage can be anything but one man, one woman. The problem is, that once this becomes legal, the Church will have no choice other than to accept the legal definition. One way of demonstrating this would be in the case of a person in a same sex marriage, which the Church did not recognise. If a person in a same sex marriage split up from their partner, found a partner of the opposite sex whom they then wished to marry, then in the Church’s eyes, they would be free to do so. Legally, however this would not be the case, unless that person had received a civil divorce. The Church’s feelings on the matter would cease to come into play here, if an Anglian vicar or a Catholic priest were to marry someone who was already in a same sex marriage, they would face charges of being complicit bigamy. Furthermore there is also a moral issue coming into play. What if the person had adopted or artificially created children whilst married to their same-sex partner and then committed “adultery”. Whilst the Church would recognise the same-sex marriage as being fornication (any sex outside traditional marriage comes under the adultery commandment), should it be complicit in sacramentally blessing an infidelity that split up a family unit and created turmoil for a child? Whilst this does not tend to happen in the Catholic Church, the Church of England, when considering whether or not to marry divorcees, tend to go by the rule that infidelities are not consecrated, even the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall had a blessing and not a marriage.
Of more pressing concern, there is a danger, that Church doctrine on marriage, could actually become “hate speech” and an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order offence, which states that
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
All of us who have defended the status quo, have at some point been accused of insulting others, of homophobia, of prejudice, of hatred. What caused me enormous distress in the incident a few weeks ago, was that one man, who has yet to apologise made the following call for me to be “hunted down” and my intimate parts to be “filled with cement like God intended”. The reason that the man is quite so unrepentant about this, is because he feels that my attitude deserves this kind of threatening response. He feels victimised and threatened and therefore wants me to be at the receiving end of similar treatment in order to change my ways. Regular readers know that I tend to be fairly measured in my use of language. In fact, the whole furore resulted from a statement in which I admitted that the use of the word “disorder” was unacceptable and could cause offence and that we should not be comparing ourselves to primates.
A few months ago, a commentator stated that whilst it was acceptable for me to hold certain views, I should not be allowed to promalgate them in public. As mentioned above, various public figures have called for the prosecution of clerics who preach what they deem to be “homophobia” or “hate speech”. No matter how much Catholics or Christians may emphasise the pastoral care that should be directed towards the LGBT community and condemn any unjust discrimination, no matter how much we may state that no-one is defined purely by their sexual orientation, it is reductive, no matter how much we point out that homosexuality is no worse than heterosexual cohabitation, this is not what is heard. What is heard is hatred and discrimination, a desire to harm and punish, despite the fact that this is so counter to any Christian doctrine that I know. Part of this stems from decades of unjust treatment and from the fact that true homophobia does still exist, homophobic attacks do take place, although they are not as prevalent as other forms of crime. Same-sex marriage is not going to alter flawed human nature, it is not going to stop damaged individuals who wish to attack and destroy those who are different.
One of the accusations levelled at me was that I am a hardline religious fundamentalist, made dangerous by the fact that I cloak my “hatred in the garb of reasonableness and pretend to be a nice Catholic mother” when underneath this is all about wanting to punish, persecute and diminish people with same sex attraction. This has now become the popular meme of the gay marriage lobby. Anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot fuelled by hatred and to prove it lets personally discredit them and/or their religion, if applicable.
This is what is going to happen to Catholic catechists and other religious instructors. It will be taboo and potentially against the law to teach religious doctrine, either in parishes and certainly in schools. If the law states that marriage is a romantic relationship between two people of any gender, then religious teaching will contravene the law. On the one level this is dangerous, because it forces religions to either conform or marginalise themselves. Of more pressing concern, as outlined above, it could be seen to contravene the public order act or the Equalities Act. Ministers of religion may be exempt, but ordinary members of the laity will not be. Catholic teaching could be held as being discriminatory.
Many of us have encountered opponents of faith schools claiming that faith has no place in education, which must be purely about “facts”. It is not hard to envisage a situation whereby the law compels children to be taught the secular definition of marriage, even though this would contravene religious and individual conscience rights. Children will be taught a new orthodoxy, namely that marriage is between two people of any gender who love each other.
The situation is untenable for the government as this definition of law contravenes Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which specifically provides a right for men and woman of marriageable age to marry and provide a family. Despite a number of petitions the Court has refused to apply the conventions to same sex marriage. The law in England and Wales will therefore contravene the ECHR, which may well create problems which will no doubt be resolved by a series of messy court cases, involving Public Order offences, the Equalities Act, the ECHR and UN Declaration on Human Rights, which expressly allows manifestation of religious freedom of expression.
Today John Sentamu has highlighted the problem of the 1662 Prayer Book and Article 30 of the Church of England which both require the approval of the General Synod before they can be changed. Though Parliament could overrule this, it would require disestablishment of Church and State, which whilst the National Secular Society, with their membership equalling the National Sausage Appreciation society would applaud, it is really a worthwhile and necessary use of valuable Parliamentary and legislative time, when the country is facing an unprecedented global economic crisis? When the country is facing a welter of social and economic problems, unseen for decades, is it really helpful to be spending huge amounts of time and resources, tinkering around with something that has the potentially to radically alter society, a unique social experiment that goes against thousands of years of biology and sociology, to satisfy the demands of less than 1% of the community. The grassroots gay lobby have not campaigned for this, 70% of the population are against the redefinition of marriage according to the Com Res poll commissioned by Catholic Voices and 74% of people believing that it is wrong to fast-track these laws according to an ICM poll for the Daily Telegraph. Make no mistake, disestablishment could prove extraordinarily complicated, impacting upon how Parliament, the monarchy and even the armed forces interrelate. We would be unpicking the strands that constitute English society.
Thirsty Gargoyle has promised to blog the specifics of the legal implications, his razor-sharp analyses is second to none, but in short, this whole thing is something of a beggar’s muddle.
If you don’t want a gay marriage – don’t have one!
This sends me reaching for my self-disembowelling kit. That’s like saying, if you don’t like drink-driving, don’t drink and drive. The problem is that same-sex marriage will be imposed on me, whether I like it or not. It may not have a direct impact on my marriage, although it will certainly change the definition of my marriage, it will almost certain impact on my children and future generations who will be encouraged by society to think of marriage purely in terms of romantic commitment and thus bail out when it goes wrong.
Myself, my children and future generations will now be forced to be guarded in their thoughts and opinions if they are against gay marriage and risk prosecution or employment discrimination. The love of God – the love that dare not speak it’s name.
What about the children? Hiding behind an excuse?
Though there are exceptions, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that children do best when raised in stable relationships by both biological parents. That is not to denigrate the job that single parents, adoptive parents, gay parents, step-parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and others do in often very demanding circumstances, but all the evidence suggests that the ideal of two biological parents is the one to which we should aspire.
Whilst non-biological parents do a marvellous and commendable job, the task is undoubtedly easier in a stable low conflict relationship. This is what marriage recognises, namely that every child deserves its two biological parents. There is no question of banning alternative arrangements, but equally it is not prejudiced or discriminatory to recognise that the purpose of marriage is to raise children. Society needs to aspire to ideals.
Discrimination of this nature surrounds us all the time and is deemed to be perfectly acceptable – couples over 45 are not accepted for IVF for example and family members are not allowed to enter into marriage. Though many find the comparison with incest, understandably offensive, the incest rule underlines the very purpose of marriage. By stripping out the procreative element of marriage, the government makes it purely about romantic relationships. If marriage is purely about romantic relationships, why should it be accorded any special legal or tax status or recognition. Why are romantic relationships more important than any other relationships, such as family relationships, friendships or relationships between carers, for example?
Do children really need two biological parents? The really polemic bit
The evidence suggests that yes they do, this is the ideal. There is something primordial about the bond between parent and child that is very difficult to define or artificially recreate. My family is broken, my daughter lives with myself and her step-father, but it is precisely because I recognise the importance of the relationship between her and her biological father and his family, not only for her, but also her father, that over the years we have all worked extremely hard to keep relations extremely cordial, pleasant, friendly and above-all open and honest. Fortunately there is no conflict, but despite having the almost “ideal” situation, it is still not ideal for her. It is better than it could otherwise have been, it is better than the alternative, but the ideal for her would have been for her biological parents to stay together in a low conflict stable relationship.
Whilst her stepfather adores her and has done so since the moment they met, having gone on to have two biological children of his own, he admits that there is something undefinable about biology. Whilst he loves them all identically, there is an instinctive biological closeness from the very beginning with his natural offspring, that whilst not affecting the quality of his relationship with his older daughter, is perhaps missing. The same could be said of my daughter. She loves her dad enormously, but he is not “daddy”. The outcome for my daughter, will hopefully be good, because we have other factors in our favour to compensate.
What same-sex marriage does is to put same sex relationships on the same footing as heterosexual ones. Sound the prejudice klaxon. Stonewall can probably scent blood. Most reasonable and tolerant people have no problem with this in terms of equal civil rights. But a child is not a civil right. Gay relationships are naturally unable to produce children. There is no escaping this fact. For a gay couple to produce a child, they either need to adopt or artificially reproduce and increasingly couples seem to be plumping for the latter – sexuality is no bar to the often overwhelming natural urge to have one’s own biological children.
Gay couples argue that this is the only way that they are able to have children and that it is discriminatory to “deny them their rights to children on the basis of sexuality. It is homophobic”. Discrimination in its modern sense is unfair. What is more fair? That a child has an opportunity to be born from the natural procreative act of its parents and to be brought up by both of its biological parents, or that a child is deliberately denied its rights to a biological parent in favour of the rights of its other biological parent? All of us have an innate sense of identity, we want to know who we are, how we fit into the world and where we are from. Our biological and cultural roots are tremendously important. Adoptive couples are given intensive and specialist support in terms of dealing with adoptees’ identity issues as they grow up. It is recognised that adoptive parents potentially have a rockier road in terms of parenting than biological parenting.
Yet all of this, the rights and needs of the child are swept away in favour of the needs of the parent. At the moment due to the costs of artificially creating children, this option is only open to monied or middle-class gay couples, therefore it can be argued that the children’s outcomes will be similar. Whilst this is yet to be proven, what does come into play is the rather disturbing notion that at least the child is wanted, loved and can be materially well-provided for. These are all good things, but it implies that children are only worthwhile if they are desperately, wanted, loved and have material things. Better the middle-class gay couple going for IVF, than say, the single-mother on the rough housing estate. It perpetuates inequality and puts a value upon human life. It takes no account of the needs of the child for its biological mother and father and sends out the message, a child doesn’t need a mother and a father, gender is unimportant.
This is the heart of the objection to same-sex marriage. It says gender and biology are irrelevant when it comes to children. What they need is loving parenting. A child does not need a mother and a father. It just needs an adult (s) to love it. This runs counter to thousands of years of biology. Two dads cannot be a mum. They cannot breastfeed, neither of them have carried the baby in the womb for 9 months, the person whose every intonation of voice the baby has heard for nine months, their smell, their heartbeat, the person to whom they have been a part of, is cruelly and intentionally taken away from them. Bonding and attachment happen instinctively between mothers and babies. When all of my children were newborn and crying, just the act of picking them up or lying them on my chest was enough to calm and settle them. My babies knew it was me and were happy. Mothers are a baby’s entire world. It is an undisputed fact that babies need their mothers and should only be removed in the direst of emergencies and circumstances. Mothers are pre-progammed biologically respond to their crying babies and infants. It is instinctive, intuitive, not learned behaviour.
Whilst Lesbian couples may be at more of an advantage biologically, there is still overwhelming evidence that children ideally need to be parented by both genders as though equal, male and female are undeniably different. Male and female are complementary, both with strengths and weaknesses. Children need to be exposed at close quarters to the behaviour of both genders. Research indicates that fathers help to reduce delinquency in teenage sons and daughters who have a positive relationship with their father are more likely to establish good relationships with males as adults. All recent studies to the contrary which attempt to portray gender as irrelevant such as Gartrell/Bos and Biblarz/ Stacey have been shown to be significantly flawed in terms of methodology and therefore their conclusions are highly suspect.
What about older or infertile couples – aren’t they married then?
The age and/or fertility status of a couple is irrelevant, it does not change the purpose of marriage which is complementary and ordered towards having children. A couple will marry and age, meaning that they will no longer be able to produce children. Age does not dissolve the legality of the marriage therefore it follows that older couples are not disbarred from entering into marriage. Although they may not be able to have children of their own, they may still be able to adopt, or they may end up rearing grandchildren. It is the complementarity that is at stake, which is why the same applies to infertile couples. The marriage is not legally altered by any intention not to procreate, but it brings us back to the issue of why marriage is elevated by society.
More equal than others?
Two same genedered people in a relationship is not the same as two different gendered people in a relationship. One set will not be able to biologically produce children. Provided there are no underlying fertility problems, the other set will. This is an inescapable reality and why society has been ordered along the lines of biology for thousands of years. Marriage exists to ensure that children have mothers and fathers.
Recognising biological differences in couples is neither discriminatory, prejudiced or bigoted. Bigotry is imposing your will upon other people and refusing to tolerate legitimate divergence of opinion. Such as criminalising those who can not accept that same sex relationships can be a marriage, or that marriage is able to be redefined. Or deciding on the basis of no evidence that a child does not need a mother and a father and deliberating contriving a situation that removes the biological parent to satisfy personal desires. Bigotry is inciting violence and hatred against people on the basis of their opinions and/or faith. Prejudice is pre-supposing motives and intentions.
Inequality in its modern sense, means to treat people in an unfair way. LGBT couples are not being treated unfairly. They are not being denied any civil or human rights. Any perceived “inequality” results from a biological reality. Only different gendered couples can produce children. Children need their biological mothers and fathers. No amount of legislation or semantics can change those realities. Sometimes life just isn’t “fair.”
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal – Aristotle.