Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster has again attacked plans for marriage equality, claiming that if approved, it will lead to damaging consequences for the institution of marriage.
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, warned of “damaging consequences” if the institution of marriage is no longer limited to couples of different genders.
He also insisted that the possibility of having children should be central to the meaning of marriage and emphasised that Catholic teaching on marriage chimed with that of other major religions.
The Archbishop’s comments came at an annual mass in Westminster Cathedral to celebrate marriage.
More than 500 couples all celebrating major wedding anniversaries – with a combined total of 31,850 years of marriage between them – were invited to the blessing and renew to their commitment.
This year the event fell during the public consultation on the Government’s plans to allow gay couples to marry, something to which the Archbishop has publicly voiced opposition.
To this, I can only respond with a simple question: “How? “
By any conventional standards, the institution of marriage is already in deep trouble – with no help at all from gay marriage, which is not yet legally possible.
I offer once more this extract from a report by the Office of National Statistics:
In 2010 nearly half of all babies were born outside marriage/civil partnership (46.8 per cent) compared with 46.2 per cent in 2009 and 39.5 per cent in 2000. This continues the long-term rise in the percentage of births outside marriage/civil partnership which is consistent with increases in the number of couples cohabiting rather than entering into marriage or civil partnership.
That’s born outside marriage. The proportion conceived outside marriage is much higher, well over half, at a time when gay marriage was not legal. Gay marriage cannot be blamed.
Other couples are not bothering to marry at all.
The provisional number of marriages registered in England and Wales in 2009 was 231,490. This currently represents the lowest numbers of marriages in England and Wales since 1895.
The provisional number of marriages registered in England and Wales in 2009 was 231,490. This currently represents the lowest numbers of marriages in England and Wales since 1895
The number of married families with dependent children declined from 4.8 million in 2001, to 4.5 million in 2011. Married families without children increased marginally, from 7.4 to 7.6 million. During the same period, the number of cohabiting couples with children increased from 0.8 to 1.1 million, and without children from 1.4 to 1.8 million. Lone parent families with children rose from 1.7 to 2.0 million. To express this differently, in 2011 just 60% of all families with children were headed by married couples, down from 65% ten years previously.
This decline was not caused by gay marriage.
Of this 60% of families with children headed by married couples, how many were both the children’s biological parents? I don’t have figures immediately to hand, but we do know a substantial proportion are not: a significant proportion are children with one or more step- parents, or adoptive parents, or foster parents (and a small proportion are same -sex couples in civil partnerships).
In 2010 there were 11.1 new divorces in England and Wales for every thousand married couples. Half of all couples divorcing in 2010 had at least one child aged under 16 living in the family. Conversely, about a quarter of all people marrying in that year were remarrying after divorce – and a somewhat higher percentage of all marriages included at least one partner who had been previously married.
This too, cannot be blamed on gay marriage.
Then there’s the matter of adoption. Every year, something like 3000 children are placed with adoptive parents, because for one or other reason their biological parents are unable to provide proper care.
This is not the fault of gay marriage.
The institution of marriage in the United Kingdom is already in a poor state, even though gay marriage has never been a legal option. Is there any reason to believe that extending marriage will make the situation even worse? I cannot see it. The evidence from the jurisdictions where marriage equality already exists, points in precisely the opposite direction. In the USA, where the patchwork of marriage laws provide a useful barometer by which to measure the results, an interesting pattern emerges. Comparative data shows clearly that in general, those states with the greatest restrictions on marriage equality are also those with the highest rates of divorce and teen pregnancy. Those with the greatest tolerance for gay marriage or civil unions, are also those where all marriage is in the best shape. In Massachusetts, where gay marriage has been around longer than elsewhere and has become widely accepted, public health research has shown clear health benefits to same – sex married couples, with resultant benefits to their children.
Extending marriage does not weaken it – it strengthens it, by showing respect for the value of public demonstration of commitment in private relationships.
But Archbishop Nichols did not simply say that gay marriage would weaken the institution. “He also insisted that the possibility of having children should be central to the meaning of marriage”.
That’s fair enough, in terms of Catholic teaching, but ignores two important points. The proposed marriage equality legislation applies only to civil marriage, and absolutely does not apply to sacramental marriage, in church. In opposing the legislation, he is extending the Church view of marriage into the secular sphere. If he is so concerned that church teaching on the importance of children should be extended to all marriage, is he also demanding that all couples wishing to marriage should be required to promise to make babies, and to build that into secular law?
Of course not. Once again, there is a gross, discriminatory asymmetry in the Church response to same – sex and opposite – sex couples.
The other point he ignores, is that some children are being raised by same – sex couples. Just like other children, they too would benefit if their parents too, could marry. Examination of the facts of marriage and children leads me to the diametrically opposite conclusion of Archbishop Nichols.
We need gay marriage – for the sake of the children.
Chris has pointed out that the news report, with its emphasis on gay marriage, somewhat misrepresents Nichols’ actual words . I’ve more or less learnt not to respond to reports of Pope Benedict’s supposed attacks on gay marriage, without first checking his full texts. I would have been better off doing the same for Nichols: the full context gives a somewhat different flavour. Rather than picking only on gay marriage, as appears from the report, he in fact identified five distinct features that he believes are damaging to society:
- marriage without any thought of children at all
- the acceptance and promotion of sexual activity outside of marriage
- the promotion of gay marriage
- procreation outside of marriage
- children who are in consequence raised without both biological parents.
My main concerns remain, though. While acknowledging the numerous threats to marriage, he quite rightly does not propose enforcing Vatican ideology on heterosexual relationships, with laws to prohibit contraception or divorce, or requiring prospective marrying couples to promise a commitment to making babies. But he does want to impose Catholic orthodoxy on same – sex couples. This is discrimination, pure and simple.
A further problem is that while he acknowledges the important role that adoptive parents play in supporting children whose biological parents have not been able to provide suitable care, he completely ignores the same – sex couples who have taken on that responsibility, sometimes successfully taking on the kids that heterosexual couples avoid as too much trouble.
And in praising the love of the married couples in front of him, there is absolutely no recognition that same – sex couples too, can demonstrate equal, committed love, and contribute to extended families, in just the same way.
(Read Archbishop Nichols’ Homily in full at the Diocesan website).
- Did Gay Marriages Ruin Straight Ones? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Gay marriage: “Torn asunder from reality” (Guardian Editorial) (queeringthechurch.com)