Freedom, Equality and Gay Marriage

Freedom, Equality and Gay Marriage

Picture Credit: ‘Getting Married’ by CharlesFred (Creative Commons)

Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning. It’s true because it works, has done and always will do.

So says Abraham Lincoln, as played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film about the US President’s fight to pass the 13th Amendment to the constitution and thus end slavery in his nation.

For him in this context, the question was of the validity of the following equation:

1 black person = 1 human being

If that were true, and if we also agree that:

1 white person = 1 human being

then 1 black person must = 1 white person, and thus be entitled to the same freedoms.

The equation is a useful one in the discussion of the legalisation of gay marriage – and one which has had ridiculously little discussion in David Cameron’s frantic dash to put the legislation to the vote, and get it rushed through. The notion proposed by David Cameron and those lobbying for gay marriage is that the committed partnership of one man and one woman is equal to the committed partnership of two men or that of two women. This may well be so. What has been glossed over, however, is the question of whether or not both (or all) of these partnerships equal ‘marriage’.

In an excellent article today – hopefully not too late to help inform public (and more importantly MPs’) opinion, Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond give a very thorough, detailed explanation of what marriage is and why changing its meaning in order to open it to homosexual couples is both a corruption of equality and, in fact, homophobic.

It’s well worth a read – here’s a flavour of some of the best bits (my emphases)…

“[Marriage] provides the sole institution that can successfully cope with the generative power of opposite-sex unions.”

“In all observed societies some form of marriage exists, as the means whereby the work of one generation is dedicated to the well-being of the next.

“Marriage has ceased to be a rite of passage into another and higher life, and has instead become a bureaucratic stamp with which to endorse our temporary choices. We would not call this a gain in freedom – for those choices have not in recent years been denied to us.”

One part of the argument runs, with much more detail in the gaps, like this:

The pressure for gay marriage is…in a certain measure self-defeating. It resembles Henry VIII’s move to gain ecclesiastical endorsement for his divorce by making himself head of the Church. The Church that endorsed his divorce thereby ceased to be the Church whose endorsement he was seeking.

Why should we throw [the matrimonial ideal, which we inherited from Greece and Rome by means of “Holy Matrimony” and the cult of courtly love]away at such a critical point in our history, simply in order to bestow on gay couples a benefit that will not accrue to them what they truly desire and will be by then no more than a word without a referent?

The pressure for gay marriage is therefore in a certain measure self-defeating: in seeking equality with something unlike yourself, the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined.

That is a fascinating and really important point. Calling homosexual unions ‘marriage’ does nothing to change those unions, but  does change the institution gay couples wish to join. If I, as a generous Size 14, want to wear Size 8 clothes, letting out the seams and adding  more fabric to make them fit will indeed mean I end up wearing clothes with a Size 8 label – but they won’t be truly Size 8 clothes. I’ll have got what I asked for, but not what I really wanted.

And what of the equality question? Isn’t it our duty to stamp out inequality everywhere? Well, that depends on what you understand equality to mean. In The Telegraph the other day, Charles Moore capitalised Equality when talking about a BBC programe he had participated in. He then explained why he had done so:

I put a capital e on Equality because, more than we recognise, it has become the public doctrine of our time. If you believe in big-E Equality, you are not merely saying, as most would, that people should try to make life fairer for all. You are making Equality the all-conquering principle of social organisation and human life.

In the film Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens says,”I don’t hold with equality in all things, just equality before the law, nothing more”, and Scruton and Blond put it like this:

“What is needed here is equity that respects difference not equality that destroys it.”

They explain:

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill now before the British Parliament is part of a trend that supposes equality is only to be advanced by erasing all differences between us so that we are all the same and all equal. But a free society is made of those who differ and who can express that difference and distinction both by themselves and in association with each other. The task of a democracy is not to obliterate difference in the name of a collective unity that makes all interchangeable with each – after all, we have seen the fruit of that legacy in China, Russia and Cambodia.

Charles Moore also expands the point, though with rather more rhetorical flair and passion:

If you stand back to look at how Equality works, you notice three things.

One is that it undermines freedom. It specialises in attacking ways of living which people have developed for themselves, often using the law and even the police to do so.

The second is that it undermines institutions. The bulwarks of a free society are not atomised individuals, but businesses, families, schools, clubs, churches, charities, sports teams – the Big Society we seem recently to have stopped hearing about. Equality is the government’s instrument for nationalising them.

The third is that Equality makes everyone (except lawyers and other activists) very unhappy. No one knows where she or he (you see!) stands, what law he might inadvertently be breaking, what “inappropriate” remark he might have made. And those who invoke Equality to advance their collective cause, far from being pleased by what they have won, are in a semi-permanent state of rage about any remaining imperfection. They are trained to identify grievance, so naturally they are aggrieved.

Moore also has some useful points to make on the specific issue of gay marriage and its implications, which I haven’t got space for here, but I’d strongly encourage you to read.

Two really helpful articles, and two appropriate and useful film quotes explaining why it would be madness for the ‘Gay Marriage Bill’ to go through tomorrow.

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P.S. In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t agree with Scruton and Blond’s recommendation to churches at the end of their article – I think it shows that while they have a very clear understanding of what marriage is, their understanding of what Christianity is is severely lacking.

7 Comments On This Topic
  1. Father Stephen
    on Feb 4th at 11:20 pm

    The Bill also raises constitutional questions about the the rights, freedoms, and equal treatment of the Monarch. MPs are being given a free vote because, I assume, the proposal is a matter of conscience. The Church of England is exempted from its provisions; more than that, it is specifically prohibited from conducting same-sex marriages.

    If the bill is passed by Parliament, Her Majesty will be constitutionally bound to give her Assent and enact the measure even if she is opposed as a matter of conscience. So in such a situation where are her rights and freedoms? Should she not also have the opportunity to be equal to her subjects and say “No”?

    Furthermore she will be asked to to give her Assent ‘by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same’. Now, I wonder, what would the position be if the Lords Spiritual all either abstain or vote against the proposal – after all they are exempt from it’s proposals so they may, as a matter of conscience, conclude that it would be improper for them to impose on others something which will not encumber them themselves. If that were the case then Parliament would not be in a position to tell Her Majesty that it is with the advice of the Lord’s Spiritual. Would Parliament then be asking her to act upon a lie? Or would the centuries-old formula for requesting the Royal Assent be reworded? And if the Church is to be exempted, why should it’s Supreme Head be the one to enact it? That sounds a tad like the Henry VIII thing in reverse – the body which will no longer have any legal right to conduct all marriages (and will by law have to discriminate against same sex-couples by refusing to marry them) will have it’s Supreme Head forced to bring the Act into being.

    Reply
    • Jennie Pollock
      on Feb 5th at 7:21 am

      Hmmm, interesting thought. The prohibition on the CofE is a typically botched part, isn’t it? Lots of vicars etc have been protesting because they want to be able to marry gay couples! Ridiculous!

      Reply
  2. Rob Williams
    on Feb 4th at 11:49 pm

    Was glad to forward this to our MP, Helen Grant, Under-Secretary for Justice, Women and EQUALITIES.

    Reply

  3. […] the parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. And I’m well aware that Jennie Pollock has already made precisely this comparison, perhaps it was why my ears pricked up at the relevant […]

    Reply
  4. K Proud
    on Feb 10th at 2:02 pm

    Our (Church of England) vicar suggested reading the briefing that the Catholic bishops sent to MPs. I found it helpful too – you can read it here: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/01/29/bishops-briefing-on-same-sex-marriage-bill-full-text/

    Reply

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