I have recently found myself in a small debate in the comments section of a blog post on gay marriage, and it set my mind off wandering around issues like this and their evolution (ironic for a debate so centred in religion).
My first thought on reading the blog about how reprehensible the gay marriage debate is, was one of disgust. Disgust that someone who I vaguely know can genuinely think like that, can still be closed off to the society around them and can so glibly dismiss the feelings of other people.
The central tenet of the argument is that the government has no role in messing around with the higher authority of the church and reddefining marriage. Alas, that is exactly the sort of thing the government should be involving itself in.
Yes, the government has a lot to be getting on with at the moment, banks, jobs, wars, hacking, horses and many, many, more issues. However, that doesn’t mean the government should be ignoring social issues when they rise to the surface. In fact, those are the issues the government should sink their teeth into and pour the full force of parliament into.
Regardless of the situation in the city, troubles with the Taliban or the situation on fleet st, social issues can be dealt with by a government regardless of external factors. Do gay people suddenly want to get married because the banks are not throwing credit about? Has the return of the Taliban to the front pages made lesbian couples decide that this is the moment they need to tie the knot?
No. Social issues such as gay marriage come to the fore because society has reached the point where it wants to recognise an injustice and put it right. It isn’t some zeitgeisty topic that we all have to agree on otherwise we look terribly out of touch, it is something that just seems right.
So where does the church stand in this? How does it manage to make itself so central to the argument when – as a respondent to my comment on the original blog informed me – only 8 million of the 60 million people affected by the laws of Britain are Christians.
The debate evolves because there is a total failure of the liberal population of Britain to insist that it’s voice is just as valid as any other institution or group.
Marriage is a curious topic for the church to fight so hard against. Why does the church feel it owns marriage? The latest figures (that I could find) suggest that 68% of marriages are civil ceremonies. Anecdotally, I would argue that even more marriages are ‘non-religious’, and only occur in a church due to the fact that, for all their faults, church groups can certainly spot a good architect.
So who owns marriage? Why does Cardinal Keith O’Brien feel he can legitimately describe the fight for gay marriage as the actions of “A small minority of activists“?
Society owns marriage. If society thinks a dog and a cat can get married then there we go, that is the society we live in and those who disagree will just have to deal with it. Thankfully, pet marriage is a relatively minor cause so it is unlikely to be causing Cardinal O’Brien any sleepless nights. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a society that understands two people can fall in love, and that those two people can be of any race, colour, creed or sexual orientation.
If Cardinal O’Brien doesn’t like it then he is going to have to learn to live with it. In the same way others have to learn to live with 26 unelected Bishops sitting in the House of Lords, or others deal with the fact Ministers do not have to pay council tax.
And when Cardinal O’Brien complains about teachers who believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman being forced to explain to children that marriage can be between anyone, think of those teachers who currently have to go home to their same-sex partners and wonder when they can enjoy the right to be married.
The church is more than entitled to it’s voice in the democratic society that we inhabit, but why it believes that voice is any more important than anyone else’s is a question that only the hugely protected and massively self-entitled minority of church goers can answer,