Gay marriage: “Torn asunder from reality” (Guardian Editorial)

The argument that gay marriage undermines straight marriage is as unconvincing as it is insulting

It is surprisingly hard to find in the Bible a consistent endorsement of heterosexual marriage as we now understand it. The Old Testament is replete with stories of men like King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And the New Testament is generally populated by single men and women whose domestic arrangements have little in common with the model of Christian marriage that is now being aggressively defended by Cardinal Keith O’Brien and others. Indeed, the best that many wedding service liturgies can do to insist that Jesus himself supported the institution of marriage is to say that he once turned up at one.

None of which is to attack the institution of marriage, which provides many with a permanent, faithful and stable context for loving relationships. Cardinal O’Brien is, however, getting completely carried away when he speaks of gay marriage as an attempt to “redefine reality”. Traditionally, the church has explained the purpose of marriage in terms of three features: that it’s the proper context for raising children, that it promotes monogamy and that it exists for the mutual comfort and society of one person for another. How can the application of these three features to gay marriage justify the cardinal’s blustering hyperbole?

Of course, the cardinal has not been alone in seeking to whip up moral panic. The Archbishop of York recently described David Cameron’s expressed desire to extend marriage to homosexuals as something done by “dictators”. It is good, therefore, that a younger generation of church leaders, like the recently appointed Bishop of Salisbury and the new Dean of St Paul’s are taking a different line. The argument that gay marriage undermines straight marriage is as unconvincing as it is insulting – as if the currency of marriage is devalued by extension to those who find love with members of the same sex. In fact, the reality that religious conservatives are themselves failing to face is that civil partnerships are already being understood as a form of marriage, with or without the endorsement of the church. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Some in the church continue to fight a rearguard action for the extension of civil partnership rights to siblings. In this way they hope to drive a wedge between marriage and civil partnership. But that ship has sailed.

The language of marriage and of husband or wife is increasingly common parlance among those who have entered into civil partnerships. And while some in the gay community worry about the use of what they take to be a heterosexual paradigm, this anxiety is also diminishing. Gay marriage is effectively already a reality. And Mr Cameron is right that the law needs to catch up with where people are.

-Guardian editorial, March 09 2011

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4 comments for “Gay marriage: “Torn asunder from reality” (Guardian Editorial)

  1. March 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I’ve seen far more heterosexual marriages that make a mockery of marriage than I care to remember!

  2. March 10, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Marriage always celebrated down history as a one-man one-woman production?

    We know better than that, don’t we?

    If there are questions in the back, let us seek counsel from among our poets, some of whom have shown a good grasp of both history and biblical tales.

    Here is John Dryden (Absalom and Achitophel) certainly no social radical, whose own unpleasant marriage may have given him reason to cast a nostalgic glance at another Bible-endorsed mode of propagation:

    In pious times, ere priest-craft did begin,
    Before polygamy was made a sin;
    When man, on many, multipli’d his kind,
    Ere one to one was cursedly confin’d:
    When Nature prompted, and no Law deni’d
    Promiscuous use of concubine and bride;
    Then, Israel’s monarch, after Heaven’s own heart,
    His vigorous warmth did variously impart
    To wives and slaves: and, wide as his command,
    Scatter’d his Maker’s image through the land.

    • March 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      That’s a superb, apposite quotation. Many thanks

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