26 September 2011

L'esprit de l'escalier: Third Thoughts on Redefining Marriage

All of this, of course, still leaves us with one big question: even if marriage always has been understood in a certain way, and even if religious people continue to understand it in that way, what harm could it possibly do to change how we legally define it? After all, doing so would make some people feel happier about themselves, and it's not as if anybody's talking of forcing religious institutions to celebrate same-sex marriages...

'What harm could it do?' That's the big question here. Because if a symbolic change can be enacted without a practical price, surely it'd be churlish to obstruct it. But what if that legal redefinition, that symbolic change, indeed incurred a practical price? 

It seems to me that there are quite a few areas of concern on this, such that I think the price to be paid for such an insubstantial change is far too high.

Religious Wedding Ceremonies, or, when ability becomes obligation...
As we all know, laws don't mean what politicians say they mean; they mean what they say, and they mean what judges say that means, and judges do not interpret laws in isolation but as part of the law of the land taken as a whole. As such, any law that gave religious bodies the right to solemnise same-sex marriages, but that said religious bodies would have no duty to solemnise such commitments, would have to be read in light of the Human Rights Act and other equality legislation, notably the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.

What does this mean? It means that once it's legally established that religious same-sex wedding ceremonies can happen, it's only a matter of time before the refusal of a religious body to solemnise same-sex wedding ceremonies is deemed illegal. Tolerance will not be enough; approval will be mandatory.

I don't think this will affect the Catholic Church too much, but I can see the Anglicans getting into real trouble on this one. You can see how it'll happen, of course; a couple of liberal vicars will disobey their bishops and celebrate same-sex weddings, legally registering them as they go, thus setting a precedent, and once that happens, some poor evangelical vicar will get it in the neck for refusing to do the same thing.

Serious amounts of 'damages' will wind up having to be paid as the price of acting in accordance with one's own conscience, the rules of one's institution, and the original intent of the law of the land. This isn't a 'slippery slope' argument. This is the way the law works, and is how we've seen equality legislation being interpreted thus far.

Civil Ceremonies, or barring people from jobs...
As we also know, there have already been difficulties in the UK with marital registrars who have refused to register civil partnerships; some have resigned, whereas others have faced disciplinary proceedings. One lady, Lillian Ladele, who'd worked as a registrar in Islington for years, was deemed to have committed gross misconduct for having swapped shifts so that she did not personally have to preside over civil partnerships; she was denied opportunities for promotion, disciplined, and threatened with dismissal. This wound its way through the courts, with the Court of Appeal finding that Islington Council had done nothing wrong, Lord Neuberger ruling:
'It appears to me that, however much sympathy one may have with someone such as Ms Ladele, who is faced with choosing between giving up a post she plainly appreciates or officiating at events which she considers to be contrary to her religious beliefs, the legislature has decided that the requirements of a modern liberal democracy, such as the United Kingdom, include outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation, subject only to very limited exceptions'
Note that she hadn't attempted to block civil partnerships from being registered; she had in fact arranged things so that that registration could take place, but without her involvement.

I have no doubt that there'll have been other registrars who've had difficulties with civil partnerships who nonetheless have continued in their jobs and presided over them in acceptance of the fact that civil partnerships were new things, officially-sanctioned social mechanisms to give same-sex couples the same rights as married couples, that were nonetheless never intended to be identical to marriages.

And I have no idea how they'll cope now, especially if there's no allowance to be made for disagreements in conscience. There'll be a lot of people who'll think the government can call a dog a duck if it wants to, but it still won't be able to quack.

I'd expect that such people will have to choose between their jobs and their beliefs, and will be forced either to lose their jobs or to become hypocrites; what's more, I think that if the State henceforth is to require registrars to register same-sex unions as marriages, regardless of their personal beliefs, it will effectively be barring people from applying for such jobs.

It's worth looking at the second part of the ninth article of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK a signatory:
'Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.'
Look at that. Freedom to manifest one's beliefs should only be limited if it is necessary to do so. Not useful. Not desirable. Necessary. As I explained the other day, the Convention does not regard same-sex marriage as a right, so it's not something that's entitled to protection. I'm not sure the State should be seeking to redefine something, to a purely cosmetic end, if the cost of doing so is to force people to act against their consciences or to block people from having jobs.

Remember: civil-partnerships already have all the substantive rights of marriage. Frankly, I'm not sure anyone should be looking for the State to pat them on the head if the price of their feeling better is for somebody else to lose their job, and I'm not convinced the State should be indulging anyone who thinks their feelings are worth more than somebody else's livelihood.

More Problems for the Anglicans, or the question of establishment...
As I said the other day, given the fact that Parliament has licensed the traditional liturgy of the Church of England, there's a powerful sense in which Parliament speaks through the Church of England, indeed, there's a sense in which the Church of England is an arm of the State. As such, it's the State that speaks when the Church of England declares:
'... that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.'
I realise this might be seen as a technical issue rather than an issue of basic justice, but the established Church, as an arm of the State, can hardly announce on a regular basis that lots of bonds sanctioned by the State are in fact unlawful. Indeed, I don't see that any marriage could be lawfully redefined in England without Parliament formally changing the status of the Church of England, such that it would cease to be an expression of the State; and what that would do to the Queen, Defender of the Faith that she is, I really don't know. After all, back in 1953 she took a coronation oath in which she was asked:
'Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolable the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?'
To which she responded:
'All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God'
Given her oath, I'm not sure the Queen could sign into law any law that redefined marriage; as such, redefining marriage could well turn out to be a step towards disestablishment. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems an odd thing for a Conservative-led government to work towards.

Can you really imagine David Cameron declaring that he supports the disestablishment of the Church of England, 'not despite being a Conservative, but because I am a Conservative'?

Recognition of Marriages, or an Orwellian law that affects everyone...
There's a typically snide kind of response that is often thrown in the faces of people who have issues with same-sex marriages, which tends to take the form of 'Well, if you don't approve of gay marriages, don't have one! Nobody's forcing you to!'

This is problematic in a number of ways, but not the least of the issues with such a line is that it confuses weddings and marriages. A wedding is merely a ceremony in which a marriage is recognised; it lasts an hour, a day, or a week, depending on your culture and the type of wedding. A marriage, on the other hand, is a much more protracted affair, typically understood as lasting until one of the two partners dies.

If the State redefined marriage to include same-sex covenants it would effectively be demanding that everybody recognise those same-sex covenants as being marriages, irrespective of what people might privately believe. It shouldn't be hard to see how that could have an effect on religious people, of whatever faith, who simply believe that same-sex unions cannot be marriages.

Mainstream Christian teaching would be open to prosecution under section 5 of the Public Order Act. The law doesn't require there to be an intention to insult, after all. It just requires people to feel insulted, in a context where the insulting person could be expected to realise that there might be somebody around who'd feel insulted or demeaned by what's being said or written.

Ordinary priests, teachers, and parents would become open to hate speech legislation.

If any service, or facility, or anything at all is offered to married couples only, well, the State would now be explicitly saying that it must also be made available to same-sex couples, regardless of your own views on what marriage is.

This would be a profoundly illiberal development, establishing a precedent for the State to redefine any pre-existing and generally recognised concept and to demand that people accept its new definition. Does anybody want that? Does anybody want the State to have a coercive power to redefine the very words we use in order to drive any ideological agenda, however noble we might think that cause to be?

Because if you're tempted to say the State should to be able to redefine words to suit your agenda, you're giving it the right to redefine them to suit somebody else's...

And then there's Unknown Unknowns...
I was ahead of the curve in disliking Donald Rumsfeld, having read years back of how he'd basically ended Kissinger's career at the top of American politics because he believed Kissinger was a wimp. That said, I thought he was the subject of a lot of unfair criticism after he said, in February 2002, that:
'There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.'
I thought that was a perfectly clear, sensible, and systematic sentence. My main problem with him saying it was that he didn't seem capable to taking on board the implications of what he said, as had he done so, I'd imagine the Bush regime would have been rather less keen to lead the charge to invade Iraq. There are some things we simply cannot foresee in any sense, and we should keep this in mind when considering such a radical change to an institution that predates the State and has long been the foundation of British society. We have no idea what the consequences might be...

Much opposition to government same-sex marriage relates things directly to children and the fact that a same-sex marriage is, by definition, sterile: it cannot, in and of itself, ever produce a child. There's a level at which this opposition is, of course, redundant: thanks especially to changes in UK adoption law, there's a sense in which same-sex relationships are already recognised in UK law as environments in which children can be reared and nurtured*. That said, I don't think we can get away from the fact that seeking to redefine marriage in UK law is part of a general process over the last half-century which has seen marriage eroded almost out of existence. Only half as many Britons are getting married now as were getting married -- from a smaller population -- in the 1960s, and almost half of the marriages that now take place end in divorce. The idea of marriage as a stable bond that acts as the foundation of a balanced and secure family in which children can be born and raised has been undermined for decades.

Only a few weeks back Britain panicked as thousands of teenagers ran riot, plundering and ransacking her cities, terrifying ordinary people everywhere. For all the nuance we need to apply in thinking about this, it seems clear that the roots of these riots lay in two main phenomena.

I've talked already here about the economic strategy of the right -- and that includes Blair who largely followed Thatcher's line on this -- having rendered millions of less-able and ill-educated people surplus to Britain's economic requirements, leaving them hopeless and frustrated in deteriorating and soul-destroying sink estates. This is a reality that pundits on the right seem, in the main, unwilling to face.

The other issue, however, is one that should discomfort the left. There seems little denying that the riots were a symptom of a much broader social breakdown, and that well-intentioned social liberalism -- which dominates Britain's attitude to social policy -- must bear much of the responsibility for this. Dying to Belong, the Centre for Social Justice's 2009 study into gang culture, identified family breakdown as a key driver in gang culture, noting that experience of early divorce or separation massively increased the likelihood of crimes being committed in youth and early adulthood.

That's not to say, of course, that same-sex partnerships or 'marriages' will cause crimes; such a claim would be as absurd as it would be offensive. However, it's important to recognise that marriage, long recognised as the bedrock of British society, has been under attack for decades; it seems to me that if the Government seriously wants to address the problems of social breakdown in modern Britain, it should be trying to protect and support the traditional institutions of British society, rather than seeking to redefine them out of existence.

*Whether this will prove a good thing is another matter: it might be absolutely fine -- for the sake of the children, I hope so -- or it might not. Though what tiny amount of evidence there is suggests that there's no harm done through children being raised in any environment in which they could never have naturally arisen, there is simply next to no real evidence on the subject.

Same-sex adoption was illegal everywhere prior to 1995, as far as I can tell, and it's really only been in the last decades that national legislatures have voted to legalise the practice: the fact is that hardly any children, raised in same-sex households, have grown up yet. They might well turn out to be the best people who've ever lived but we just can't say based on the scanty information we've got. There's a sense in which people passing opinions on this matter are passing them based on the earliest preliminary stages of a well-intentioned social experiment. It's not normal practice to adjudicate on experiments until the results are in, and it's especially bad form to do so when you've a strong vested income in a certain outcome...


Albert Pond said...

Very interesting posts here. I'm an admirer of yours (friends may be getting sick of me quoting you) and think the vast majority of what you've said here is sensible, well-argued and correct. My question, or issue, or whatever, is with this bit:

"The Point of Marriage
Marriage, however, is not and has never been a socially-approved love-bond; indeed, throughout history it's been quite rare to think of love as essential to marriage. Desirable, sure, but not essential. Why would the State care whether two individuals -- of whatever sexual orientation -- love each other or not? It's not the State's business to comment on our private relationships.

What marriage primarily is, and what it has always been, is a mechanism to enable the procreation and the rearing of children in a safe, stable, and balanced environment. This is, by definition, a public rather than a private relationship, and it is something that creates a public good. It is for this reason, and essentially only for this reason, that the State recognises marriage as an institution.

Discussions about what's fair for adults miss the point. From the point of view of the State, marriage has always been viewed as an essentially child-centred institution."

Again, all of this makes perfect sense. But what about the sterile heterosexual couple? They're as unable as gay people to have children of their own, so in what sense does their relationship meet your definition of 'marriage' at least insofar as the state has an interest in it?

One could put forward a plausible answer from a legal point of view - it's impractical to legislate for minor exceptions, etc. - but from a moral point of view, what exactly is the case for granting a sterile couple the status of marriage? They can adopt, but so can gay couples (though as you correctly say, the jury is very much out on whether two men or two women are, all else being equal, as able to raise a child well as a man and a woman). So that's my first question...

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Well, bear in mind that I'm kind of wrestling with this out loud, as I said the other day, and I may have a different view next week. There's a part of me that wonders whether, given the way the State acts nowadays, and the need for equality, it might be better simply for the State to cease recognising marriages at all.

I think there are two answers to your question: one is religious, so I won't get into that given the context, and the other relates to the fact that marriage predates the State and seems rooted in what the Pope would probably call our natural human ecology.

I think it's crucial to understand that we're not talking about the State inventing marriage from scratch. The State didn't invent marriage, any more than the Church did. Socially-recognised complentary pair-bonds have always existed, as far as we can tell, and our modern states have inherited the marital thinking of earlier states.

Historically, these bonds would have been made between two young people, in most cases, and were formed in the hope that children would result, thus perpetuating the society. The bonds continued into old age, into a stage when the married couple were incapable of having more children, but where they were still a marital unit. And if two old people could remain married, why shouldn't two old people get married?

As for sterile younger couples, historically we only ever discovered that couples were incapable of having children after they were married. The marriage itself was a hopeful thing.

If the State allows the marriage of young sterile couples and elderly couples now, it surely does so because it has always done so, and to forbid such things would be the removal of an existing right.

I think.

Albert Pond said...

In the last post I asked you about the State's position regarding gay marriage, but this time I'd like to ask you about the Church's:

I'm a committed Catholic, and I agree with you about the Christian definition of marriage - it is what it is, and shouldn't be redefined into meaning something else. But does the Church necessarily have to oppose all lifelong, monogamous unions of gay people?

As far as I can see, and I've read quite widely on this, the Catholic arguments against recognising such unions as good and holy can broadly be divided into two categories (forgive me if I oversimplify or have missed something, and feel free to correct me):

1. Sex is intimately connected with procreation, and any sex that is not "open to the possibility of creating life" is inherently selfish.

The problem with this is that the Church allows sex not open to the possibility of life, as long as it's during a woman's infertile period. I've heard some argue that Natural Family Planning always has a possibility of not working, therefore the sexual act remains "open", but this, I think, is missing the point (as well as being amusingly inconsistent when the same people argue that NFP is just as effective a pregnancy preventer as the condom, if not more so - I don't have the necessary experience to judge the effectiveness of either!). The intention of the couple is to have sex without a pregnancy resulting - is that not selfish by the Church's criteria?

Now, the argument could certainly be made that although not every individual sex act must be open to life, the relationship as a whole has to be. Gay people are incapable of having children, ever, therefore their relationships can by definition not be open to creating new life.

But again, what about the sterile couple? What about a woman who, for the sake of argument, has been forced to have a hysterectomy? Any marriage she participated in would be just as incapable of bearing children as any gay union. Sure, she and her husband could adopt, but that adoption would have nothing to do with any sex they might have - should they therefore abstain?

You could, of course, get around this with the following argument: (More to come)

Albert Pond said...

2. There is something about man and woman that is complimentary in the way that a gay union can never be - scripture is full of references to marriage as between a man and a woman, and even if they're unable to have children, their relationship can still be justified on this basis.

Again, I think this is right with regard to marriage - but I don't see how it precludes the Church from recognising another kind of union as well. This argument demonstrates that from a Christian perspective, marriage between a man and a woman is the ideal, the gold standard. Heck, I think it even demonstrates that all else being equal, a marriage will have access to some things that a gay union won't. But I don't think it demonstrates that homosexual relationships or unions are in themselves harmful, as long as they're lifelong and monogamous.

The crux of the matter is that if there are people who are unchangeably homosexual - and in the Cathechism's words:

"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible."

- then they are unable to enter into a heterosexual marriage. Thus, the question that should be asked is not "is this homosexual relationship the ideal?" but rather "is this homosexual relationship intrinsically harmful or sinful?" I don't think there's any evidence showing that people involved in lifelong, monogamous gay relationships are any more unhappy or psychologically unwell than anybody else.

I've read your posts about the historical unusualness of homosexuality as an orientation, but if even two people exist who are unchangeably gay, and those two people love each other, my argument should still stand.

I'd be interested to hear what you think about all this, but I acknowledge that my posts are mammoth and will take a bit of responding to - if you don't have the time or inclination to, don't worry about it. Maybe just leave me a brief comment to let me know you've read them? Thanks a million, and keep up the good work.

Albert Pond

PS There are a few more arguments, mostly of the "sterile heterosexual unions still look very like childbearing marriages, so they still bear witness to and strengthen society's support of marriage" variety. But these are mostly "if it quacks like a duck" type arguments. And even if that point was acknowledged, it would seem to me poor grounds for saying to a gay couple "your love for each other is illegitimate, and to act on it sexually would be immoral."

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

On point two, I don't think I've said homosexuality was historically unusual as an orientation; if I have, I've phrased my thoughts very badly. What I've tried to say is that we don't have the data to say whether it was common or not, and that it certainly was uncommon for homosexuality to be recognised as a phenomenon. That's not to say that it was uncommon, merely that homosexual acts were not understood as being manifestations of a homosexual character, if that makes sense. I hope I've not worded that badly too...

Could churches bless any sexual unions that weren't called marriages? Perhaps. I don't think the Catholic Church could ever do so, but I think others could credibly argue for it. Having said that, I don't see any reason why the individual members of such unions shouldn't and indeed shouldn't be blessed and prayed for in the Catholic Church.

On the issue of whether homosexual couples should act on homosexual urges in a sexual way, I think that argument is purely a religious one. I don't see that the State can argue either way on that one. I realise some would argue that it should, but I'm not in that camp.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

To all of that I'd ultimately have to add that I just don't know.

I have a lot of gay friends, having met them at many different stages of my life, and a handful of them are people who are very close to me, such that I'd regard a couple of them as true confidantes.

Having talked about stuff like this with a few of them, I have all manner of bubbling troubled thoughts. Certain key ones that rear my head on a regular basis are the absolute need to honour and love people as individuals, the inability of the Church to approve of something the sinfulness of which it has always regarded as a revealed truth, the importance of keeping in mind how we are all sinners and all sin in one way or another, and our obligation to distinguish at all times between sinner and sin.

On natural family planning, btw, I take your point. There is a certain irony in that. It's not, however, a topic I've ever done a huge amount of thinking on. And I suspect it's a topic that requires a huge amount of thinking...

Albert Pond said...

Thanks a million for your responses. As somebody who tries to live life as a Catholic as best I can in accordance with my conscience, this bit of the Church's teaching is the one I struggle the most with. I have gay friends myself, and "bubbling troubled thoughts" is a very good way of describing the state of my own head on this whole question. Thanks for engaging!

(And I reckon any confusion over what you said about homosexuality and history was more due to my failure to articulate what I mean than yours - "homosexual character" is closer to what I actually meant.)

Anonymous said...

I was interested to see how you would wrap up the topic on marriage, and the question your pose, and answer, in the following extract is central, I believe, to the whole issue. Although, when you talk of profoundly illiberal, I think profoundly liberal.

“If the State redefined marriage to include same-sex covenants it would effectively be demanding that everybody recognise those same-sex covenants as being marriages, irrespective of what people might privately believe. If any service, or facility, or anything at all is offered to married couples only, well, the State would now be explicitly saying that it must also be made available to same-sex couples, regardless of your own views on what marriage is.

This would be a profoundly illiberal development, establishing a precedent for the State to redefine any pre-existing and generally recognised concept and to demand that people accept its new definition. Does anybody want that? Does anybody want the State to have a coercive power to redefine the very words we use in order to drive any ideological agenda, however noble we might think that cause to be?

Because if you're tempted to say the State should to be able to redefine words to suit your agenda, you're giving it the right to redefine them to suit somebody else's...”

Legislating valleys to be mountains or housecats to be Bengal tigers would be regarded as absurd because these entities clearly belong to the realm of “reality as given”; their definitive meaning is derived from their nature as hard fact, and is not dependent on the value or interpretation that man bestows on them. They are objectively defined.
Opposed to this “natural”, given realm, there appears to be a realm of “convention”, an historical realm where social and political orderings arise in variable forms and whose meaning and definition seem to depend on the value and interpretation that man ascribes to them at any place and time.
Now when it comes to entities in the historical, conventional realm, most men, even if they do not explicitly acknowledge it, act as if the meanings and interpretations that they ascribe are founded on, and rationally follow from, principles that themselves are located in the realm of “reality as given.” That is, the conventional realm is itself founded on some bottom-line principle, or set of principles, that is accepted as objectively given, true and normative.

The character of this bottom-line principle falls broadly into either one of two camps.

The first camp includes the Platonic, Aristotelian and Christian traditions that have explicitly understood man in his essence to possess a telos or purpose which does not originate with him but which is his by virtue of his participation in an hierarchical order of being that grounds and transcends him. This order of being and man’s role within it is knowable to the natural light of his reason and through the revelation of the natural order that is open to his experience and reflection. Man possesses a freedom to achieve his essential telos by an increasing attunement to, and free integration with, a reality that comprehends and transcends him.

The second camp includes the modernist tradition which understands man to possess no natural telos or purpose by virtue of participation in a greater reality; rather, man is free to determine his own purpose and life goals by virtue of his own will and to the degree to which he is able to order reality to conform to his own will. Many modernists also feel that the most expedient form of political order is one that maximizes each individual’s freedom to self-determination while minimizing the number of constraints placed on individuals required to achieve this.
The watchwords are liberty, equality and brotherhood: the brotherhood recognizes each individual’s freedom to self-determination to the degree that that freedom does not indiscriminately restrict the same freedom for others.

Anonymous said...

When you set out why marriage, a social entity, is defined in one way rather than another by the Church and under Irish and British law, you are implicitly adopting the principle belonging to the first camp. Marriage is ordered to serve the procreative purposes of the family, which is a “moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.” This view holds that the coming together of man and woman as husband and wife in a marriage open to the procreation of children within a family is an attunement to the given natural order in which man may properly realize his being as father or mother, son or daughter. And this natural order is no more redefinable than housecats. Marriage, properly constituted, is the mediating institution through which individuals, parents or children, may best realize their telos. The view also holds that any other definition of marriage that would fall short of such a social arrangement would constitute a failure of attunement to the natural order.

But saying all this does not quite demonstrate why it should be accepted as true. Marriage between man and woman may well always have been, as you say, “a mechanism to enable the procreation of children in a safe, stable, and balanced environment,” that is, safe, stable and balanced with respect to the needs of children; needs that are not legislated or contrived according to the will of any individual, but needs that are natural to, and expressive of the essential nature and telos of children. But still, what are we to say when this naturally ordained mechanism fails? Not all families are safe, stable and balanced. Many married men and women are not fit to procreate. And who will deny that there are unhappy, neglected children who would be better off, materially, emotionally and spiritually, if they were placed in the care of a homosexual couple? It seems that the principles of the first camp are oriented to sticking to an ideally conceived form even when it falls short practically, while the second camp is open to practically exploring and refining what it is that is to be considered ideal.

Certainly, redefining marriage would be a repudiation of the principles held by the first camp, but why would that be wrong? Its not as though you are redefining housecats to be Bengal tigers, is it?

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I'm starting to think a comments policy is needed here; you don't seem very responsive to my broad hint that a name would be good. There's also the fact that comments are really meant to be comments, rather than posts in their own right; I realised that rather quickly nine years ago, and as a result started my own blog. I'm thinking that if your views are so developed, you should probably do likewise.


Your distinction between valleys and housecats, on the one hand, and marriage on the other is a false one in two respects.

Firstly, when it comes to naming them, what we call animals and physical features is purely a matter of taxonomy; and the words we use are pretty much arbitrary things. The words themselves possess no intrinsic reality; they're merely codes we agree to use as signifiers so we can talk about things that are not mere words.

Secondly, I would also point out that I've already said that I believe marriage to be a real thing, as real as anything else. That my reasons for believing this are religious as much as anything else doesn't make them any less valid. I've made the case at some length that religion should not be excluded from the political sphere.

As for your question, I think it is broadly true that people can be, roughly speaking, divided into those who believe we have a purpose in life and those who don't. And I also think that your paraphrasing of my understanding of marriage is a fair one, but with regard to the variants of marriage that you list as falling short, in one way or another, of my ideal, I'd suggest you look at the comments above. I believe I have already addressed at least one of them.
What do we say when such mechanisms fail? We live in a fallen world. Things fail. Ideals aren't met. What's your point?

Your arguments are solely philosophical and show no awareness of history, or, to put it another way, of reality. The reasoning you seek to apply ultimately forces one to choose between two polar opposites: a value-free and wholly shapeless democracy where numbers and fashion alone dictate what is allowed, or a bloodbath, where everyone seeks to impose their ideal society upon everyone else.

I live in the England of Cameron and Clegg, and not in Plato's Republic. While I'm here, I'll argue the case for a traditional understanding of society and morality being preserved within a largely secular state, and for the individual's conscience being respected in law.

(The line about gay adoption is a canard; adoption rates have fallen since same-sex adoption was legalised, an innovation that was driven far more by a sense of the adults' rights than than those of the children. Adoption rates had been dropping for years, of course, but one might have hoped that the introduction of same-sex adoption would have helped stem the tide. It didn't. It's gotten worse. Some have tried to attribute this to the actions of social workers, but the closure of most Catholic adoption agencies must have contributed to this too in no small way, especially given their specialism in placing more difficult children.)

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I'll leave you be.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

You don't have to, just, well shorter comments that don't require as much work to respond to than the original post had taken to write. And a name. Of some sort. Even Jeff the Platonist. I don't mind. Just so I can tell one anonymous from another.

Recusant said...

On a far simpler level - and I agree with the main points you have enunciated so far - the fundamental purpose of a large (largest?) proportion of those who support gay marriage, and especially their media cheerleaders, is to diminish marriage itself as an institution. It cannot be a complete coincidence that those who traditionally have had nary a good word to say for the 'bourgeois, patriarchal, oppressive and outdated' institution of marriage are those who are so loudly in favour of gay marriage.

It all could appear very Gramscian.

Caral said...

Superb post. Thank you.