I wanted to write a quick comment piece on this article by Cardinal Keith O’Brien of the Catholic Church because I argue that he has misconstrued Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In his article Cardinal O’Brien states:
In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.
Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.
Now let’s turn to what Article 16 says:
- (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
- (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
- (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Number 1 seems to me to make no demand upon men to marry only women, or vice versa. The word “and” is defined as follows:
[and; unstressed uhnd, uhn, or, especially after a homorganic consonant, n]1. Together with or along with; in addition to; as well as. Used to connect words, phrases, or clauses that have the same grammatical function in a construction.2. Added to; plus: Two and two makes four.3. Used to indicate result: Give the boy a chance, and he might surprise you.4. Informal To. Used between finite verbs, such as go, come, try, write, or see: try and find it; come and see.
So, plenty of uses but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by my understanding, was to never gives rights to groups or pairs. The clue is in the title really. It is the protection of rights for the individual.
On this basis one can only arrive at a valid argument that “men and women” simply means men can marry and women can marry. Or, to be more precise, an individual has the right to enter into marriage. The Declaration makes no stipulation on this being with the opposite member of sex. One could make an argument that it does but this will not carry any weight when it is arrived at by a religious institution. Cardinal O’Brien’s logic is:
As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government. It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them.
Marriage would also certainly predate organised religion too? I am not aware of any society which did not practice some form of ritual for binding two persons together. Who is to say that societies which have gone before did not recognise same sex “marriage” or partnerships? Perhaps they did. Who can really say that marriage, in the religious sense, is the only form permissible?
O’Brien goes further:
Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child
No, this is not true at all. The basic law behind a mother and a father for every child is not one found in nature. Many animals abandon their young and we are, in reality, part of the animal kingdom. O’Brien can argue that we are “special” and “divinely created” by his god but he would also accept that there is no objective evidence for this. The basic law for a child being created is simply the reproductive act which governs their creation. We can argue that a child needs both a mother and a father growing up but with how messed up this world is often perceived to be with frightening individuals and wars between societies one could also argue that the traditional family unit has ultimately failed its offspring.
What we do know is that the Catholic Church is hardly the best institution to consult when it comes to the moral questions of our time. I might also add that O’Brien’s position in using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is hypocritical considering the Catholic Church’s abject failures to protect or consider the human rights of abuse victims.
Not that this is an argument for ignoring their view on the family unit or indeed same sex marriage, but one should always bear in mind that morality is not the preserve of the religious and, in this case, it is clutching at thin straws.