Published On: Wed, Feb 13th, 2013

Who Owns Marriage?

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The victory for marriage equality in the House of Commons on Tuesday, by a margin of 400 – 175 votes was a final visual display of the increasingly incoherent nature of those who argue against gay marriage.

 
There has long ceased to be a credible argument against gay marriage, and for years now those in favour of legalisation have had to contend with the same, often ludicrous assertions and illogical leaps, “If gay marriage is legalised then what about incest, what about bestiality, should these ‘immoral’ acts be legalised? This will dramatically alter society”.  For example, in America during the 2012 election, these were common talking points constantly reiterated by almost every individual running for Republican nomination for President.

 
Despite the surprisingly civil tone of Tuesday’s debate, we had Sir Roger Gale a Conservative representing North Thanet in Kent (married three times), draw illusions to incest, saying:

 
“There is a way forward. It has been suggested but it has been ignored. I do not subscribe to it myself but I recognise the merit in the argument, and that is this; if the government is serious about this, take it away, abolish the civil partnerships bill, abolish civil marriage, and create a civil union bill that applies to all people, irrespective of their sexuality or their relationships, and that means brother and brothers, sisters and sisters and brothers and sisters as well. That would be a way forward. This is not.”

 
This is a tired, and frankly, ridiculous talking point reused and rehashed, which has no credibility. While it may have had an impact years ago when homosexuality was subverted, the act considered disgusting and the people perverted, but today, even if someone does not know a gay person (something I would find unlikely) they would know ‘of’ a gay person, through television and music, creating a relationship of sorts and normalising gay people. Talking points surrounding homosexuality now come across as offensive, not just to gay people, but to straight people, because as a society we have largely accepted gay people as normal or as Andrew Sullivan aptly put it ‘Virtually Normal’. We now realise that it is a false antithesis to say, ‘love the sinner hate the sin’.

 
On Tuesday we heard the claim that marriage is solely about procreation or as I call it the Monty Python every sperm is sacred argument. This was articulated by Ian Paisley Jr of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP): “Marriage begets children, by and large; children begat families, by and large; and families are the root of society: they form society. That is a simple observation of life—a time line—but it goes right to the heart of what we are debating in this House today.” Firstly, credit to Mr Paisley, good use of the underused word ‘begat’. Secondly and more importantly, this is completely illogical because if the ultimate result of marriage is children, then do couples have an obligation to have children? And in failing to do so are their marriages now lesser to those do who have children?

 
Religion obviously plays a big role in thinking about this topic but to argue on it is a losing tactic, not just due to the declining church numbers, but because of the outlandish rules that can be found throughout the Bible and especially in the Old Testament that undermine its authority. Leviticus 18: 22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.”  Stated with clarity, this passage greatly influences thinking on the issue. The Rev. William McCrea (DUP) said:

 
“Each day, honourable Members gather in this Chamber to hear the Scriptures read and prayer offered to God, humbly asking for God’s blessing upon our Queen, her Government and our deliberations. We as leaders among our people still acknowledge God’s sovereign throne, the authority of His revered word and our need for wisdom far greater than our own. Sadly, after doing so today, we are turning from the teachings of that same book, and placing our wisdom and knowledge above divine wisdom”.

 
The teachings of the book of divine wisdom, he says, well how far should we extend our application of this biblical text? If we look just one chapter on in Leviticus to 19: 27, God displays a surprising hatred of shaved heads: “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard.” (The next verse concerns tattoos.) So should we apply this law? Should we also apply Deuteronomy 22: 20-21, which advises the men of a city to stone women to death in front of their father’s house if ‘evidence’ of her virginity cannot be found.

 
A common recurring argument utilised by opponents of same-sex marriage gain is that marriage has been defined, from almost time immemorial, by religion, as strictly between man and women. This was articulated, again, by William McCrea:

 
“For thousands of years, in almost all cultures, marriage has been defined to be a lifelong union between a man and a woman. Marriage is an institution given by God for the good of all mankind in every age and has been the bedrock institution of family and society, but today our Government intend to sweep away a definition that has served our nation well for centuries and to impose new standards and values on the whole of society, irrespective of religious beliefs or personal convictions.”

 
This point was utilised numerous times on Tuesday, by individuals such as Tim Loughton and Sir Roger Gale. These recycled claims, again, become useless once we apply history and biblical text as a counter-point. There are numerous times in the Bible when plural marriage is endorsed, in Exodus 21:10, regarding servants, “If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights.” (My Bible actually italicised wife, I am not sure if it is trying to be ironic.) The patriarch Abraham had two wives and so did many other Old Testament figures central to the Christian faith.

 
We know that homosexuality existed before advent of the Judeo-Christian faith, as well as outside of it. Oswyn Murray in his book Early Greece says that homosexuality was not just accepted but seen as the purest form of love, “the concept of love as permanent, destructive, irresistible, the basis of all human actions; idealization, unattainability and the idea of purity in the love one; the importance of pursuit and conquest over satisfaction; the torture of jealousy – these are all expressed primarily in relation to members of the same sex”. We know that the Roman Emperor Hadrian loved a young male, Antinous, and after his young lover’s death, Hadrian, unable to deal with his grief, constructed a city and encouraged a religious cult, all to honour his memory. Therefore this undermines the idea that it is unnatural because it clearly been prevalent throughout history, it is ultimately how we have perceived it that has determined its legality.

 
Marriage has been subsumed into religion and faith and that for many it is a corner stone of their faith. But it is wrong to say that marriage is owned by religious institutions because after all atheist heterosexuals can be married in a place of worship if they so desired, and heterosexuals can be married outside a religious institution at a civil ceremony, something that has been available since 1837.

 

There is the argument that the majority of society do not want a piece of legislation like this passed, Jim Shannon DUP reused this point: “More than 99% of my constituents who have contacted me have said that they do not want this. I have listened carefully to the argument that this is a matter of equal rights. That is not how I or my constituents view this matter”. Firstly, the number seems an exaggeration, but let’s assume that this is correct, and let us bring in another supposition that is often brought into this debate, that only 5 percent of the population is gay so why do we need to bother with them? This is disrespectful of the duty of the majority; it does not matter if the minority is 1 percent or 40 percent they still deserve equal rights afforded by the law. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States of America said in his first inauguration on March 4th 1801: “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression”.

 
Much of the British population no longer see homosexuals and lesbians as the ‘other’, something to be afraid of; who can be denied civil rights. In popular culture homosexuality previously used to be a nod and a wink to the audience; we acknowledged its presence in the performers’ evident campness. Now, homosexual characters are more prevalent, and we get to see their lives as normal, albeit often slightly exaggerated for dramatic and comedic purposes, shows like Will and Grace and personalities like Graham Norton portray the everyday concerns that are similar to that of heterosexuals. We have seen the defence of excluding gay people from the universal institution of marriage erode before our eyes, since at least the repel of Section 28, because it was not credible to say these individuals were equal in all these other ways but not just this one.

 
Finally, a bit of a tangent, as you may have noticed I have quoted three DUP members who spoke on Tuesday, is it not completely unfair that a minister representing a constituency outside of England and Wales, where the bill applies to, can influence the debate?? All eight DUP members in the House of Commons voted against this bill, if I was either English or Welsh and the bills success or failure had hinged on the votes of Ministers outside of my country, I would have been deeply annoyed.

 

Words :  Richard Jackson.


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