Sunday, 15 July 2012

Gay Marriage - a view from the Circles (Update)

Many thousands of Gay and Lesbian people in Ireland are celebrating today following the huge vote in support of equal marriage -

I originally planned to post the first version of this post on my usual Legal Blog. But it is a subject which is driven more by religious/philosophical and political arguments. For lawyers the position should be straightforward – whatever the law is that is what we work within and advise on. We may want laws to change but that is influenced by our worldview.

I am also posting an opinion here because I always try to view things from a Christian perspective. And there are those who assume that, as a Christian, I will therefore be against Gay/Lesbian marriage. It is as if it is a tribal thing and thoughtful responses are not permitted. Not only am I in favour, I have positively advocated in its favour and will continue to do so. For the rest of this post I will refer to inclusive marriage.

Many Christians feel that opposition is the default position, because the bible says so. This is despite the obvious fact that committed same sex relationships were unknown in bible times. This is not the only area where there is a tendency to use word association games to attack minority groups. So there are references to obscure verses in the Levitical laws which talk of abomination. I know of no other area of life where those laws, which also have much to say about boils and shrimps, are used to form a contemporary morality. There are also references in Paul’s letters, Romans and Corinthians, which are clearly critical of promiscuity, orgies and being ‘inflamed with lust’. If those verses are used to ban inclusive marriage then heterosexual marriage goes out with the bathwater.

Another common argument from opponents is that the bible says that marriage is limited to a male/female union. As far back as the book of Genesis we read of a 'man' leaving his father and mother and becoming one flesh with his 'wife'. From any reading this is not a statement of 'law' but simply one of observed reality. That's how it was. 

The reality is that the bible is silent on a form or relationship which was culturally unknown. So why should we rely on some obscure references rather than other bible verses which talk about relationships and the importance of love, faithfulness, gentleness, mutual respect and acceptance. If a same sex couple wish to make that level of commitment to each other then is this something that Christians should oppose?

Another argument against inclusive marriage appeared some time ago in the Daily Mail. I have to say that Mark Dooley’s piece was reasonably argued and lacks the venom often associated with this subject. His main point is that same sex couples cannot naturally produce children. Comparing the two types of marriage he says – ‘While both are potential expressions of love, and while both are sources of pleasure, only heterosexual union is intrinsically goal-directed.  That is to say, only heterosexual union is capable of natural procreation.’

That is true but misconceived as a contribution to the debate. There are many heterosexual couples who are not capable of natural procreation. There are also many such couples who have no desire to have children. Does that somehow invalidate their marriage?

The classic marriage vows say – ‘I, (Bride/Groom), take you (Groom/Bride), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.’

There is nothing there about the producing of children.

There are recognised legal unions short of marriage so why should same sex couples not stick to them. The more important question is why should they have to? Why should they not be entitled to same dignity as the rest of humanity?

I have called this piece a view from the circles because I am not gay. I have never experienced the exclusion, the venom, the bullying or the fear. So that extent I am an outsider looking in.

But if there is one thing that the Christian faith teaches without exception it is this; discrimination is never acceptable. Its most basic teaching is that humanity is made in God’s image – so sex, race, religion, wealth, age should make no difference. In our culture we have to add sexual orientation to that list. There is no difference to a person’s entitlement to be treated with dignity. Jesus became very unpopular with religious people because he mixed with and identified with those they disapproved of.

So if a couple wish to give to their relationship the commitment of marriage, then society should encourage rather than ban.

I have found the words of Irish Senator, Eamonn Coughlan particularly moving -

He added: “It is clear to me as a parent of a gay child that the marriage equality referendum is about voting for real people and their lives.
“It is not about politics or about voting for a particular party. It is about equality, removing rejection, removing exclusion, removing the guilt, shame and fear that gay people experience.
“We have to think of the person, their dignity, their validation, their human freedom to love and to live life to the full.
“I was lucky enough to marry the woman of my dreams. Who are we as a nation to deny our sons and daughters the basic right of marrying the person they love?”

I do not support inclusive marriage despite being a Christian, I support it because I am a Christian.