Same sex marriage is a subject which is currently causing a great deal of debate in society. On the 15th March 2012 the Government launched a 12 week consultation on the question whether homosexual couples can marry. Under the current law, introduced in 2005, homosexual couples can register their relationship as a “Civil Partnership”.
However, LGBT charity Stonewall have argued that this does not confer “equality” under the law. Rights such as the ability to transfer tax allowances and social security benefits upon death are considered “rights” by Stonewall which are enjoyed by the heterosexual population.
The Home Office’s consultation paper has set out the following aims:
- to allow same-sex couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony
- to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage
- to allow people to stay married and legally change their gender
- to maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service
A great deal of opposition to the calls for allowing homosexuals to have their civil unions ‘branded’ marriage comes from the religious perspective and from Conservative MPs, like Tory backbencher Peter Bone who commented on the consultation questionnaire:
Wouldn’t it just be very simple to write back and say: ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman so this is completely nuts’?
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, has claimed that the consultation does not go far enough:
If we really support the institution of marriage and want to welcome more people into it, then Government and Parliament should not deny the Quakers, the Unitarians and other churches who want to celebrate gay marriage the chance to do so
Part of the reasoning behind Peter Bone’s argument is, predictably, from a religious perspective. Yvette Cooper however argues that the religious perspective can be observed because there are religions that want to be able to conduct these ceremonies which are, at present, unable to so. But it has to be said that options do not tend to be recognised within the law; either you are obliged to perform the ceremonies under equality legislation or you are not.
And it is precisely this point which has certain religious factions in a pickle who are claiming that their rights to practice their faith are being trampled on. Their arguments against same sex marriage do not tend to vary amongst the various religions. Indeed, aside from the recent campaign against secularism and perhaps the pro-life movement, those religions have never seemed so united against one cause.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, was recently calling for adherence to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which can be argued to be logically flawed from the start. Muslims and Sikhs also came together to express their feelings on the government’s proposals. Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said of the proposals:
[they are] an assault on religion… such unions will not be blessed as marriage by the Islamic institutions.
Lord Singh, head of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said:
It is an attempt by a vocal, secular minority to attack religion… Sikhs believed in marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that changing the definition was an attack on the English language… We have total respect for gays and lesbians and we are delighted that there is a Civil Partnership Act. We believe that this gives gays and lesbians everything they need.
Of course if one was to follow the “Islamic Institution” then Polygyny is permissible (the right of a man to marry more than one woman). One could easily argue that on the subject of the sanctity of marriage, the Islamic faith is not the best one to consult considering the rise of honour violence in the UK and indeed worldwide.
And the Sikh traditional marriage does not allow divorce, a cornerstone of individual liberty. One might seek a civil discharge from the “contract” but until there is a permanent solution the issue of divorce in the Sikh, and indeed the Hindu tradition, there remains a legacy of female subjugation and, what modern commentators would call, blatant misogyny. If the argument about same sex marriage is about equal rights, one can argue that even in the heterosexual tradition the Sikh community might have something it needs to look at.
The Christian argument against same sex marriage falls into similar categories as other religions but mainly focuses on a tradition union of a man and woman with the intention for bringing forth offspring. Of course, arguing from a purely biblical perspective would be suicide for the Church. But when they retreat to a historical argument which is rooted in biblical tradition they usually expose themselves to the charge of hypocrisy.
The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury recently gave a lecture where he said:
What this brings into focus is the anxiety that law is being used proactively to change culture
Perhaps Rowan Williams is able to provide an explanation for what happened to the culture which deemed it ‘reckless’ enough to change Deuteronomy 22:22? This is the biblical permission for stoning a woman on her wedding night lest her husband finds she is not ‘pure’. Perhaps fewer murders were being committed once this cultural shift was enforced by law?
But therein lies the problem of using scripture and indeed any religious perspective. This is because their holy books and mantras, throughout their entire existence, have promoted intolerance towards homosexuals on one level or another. There is no escaping what is written down in textual form. And with so many different religions prescribing so many different ‘rules’ governing the ordinance of marriage, the debate becomes muddier without any real progress towards objective morality.
The quest towards objective moral values should not involve the religious perspective. This is not to exclude religious people from the debate of course. In fact, a secular argument involves everyone working together to reach an acceptable moral outcome regardless of what one can achieve via a retrograde analysis of what this god said or did in the past.
Using scripture does not work either because evidence can be provided that these texts were written by people with less knowledge than us about the world. The average 4 year old knows more about the world than a 30 year old knew in the 1700s. If we cast a stone further back, the lack of knowledge about the world around us recedes further still.
This is now the time to have a sensible, rational debate about the issues which affect humanity without recourse to bronze age myth. The religious will struggle to argue from the secularist perspective in the future because people will always remind them of their scripturally traditionalist arguments from the beginning. Accusations of homophobia will now always plague them.
The question then arises whether there is any secular argument at all (something this writer will report on) and, if there is, will religious people be able to retreat to a secularist argument considering that secularists have been ridiculed over the past few weeks as “militant” and “angry”?
It would seem rather hypocritical and capricious for the the scriptural traditionalist commentators to change tack and one might doubt that they can avoid the subsequent backlash if they revert to a secularist argument which they have berated time and time again.