Cardinal O'Brien stands tolerance of gay marriage on its head
Humanists support a counter-campaign
In the Sunday Telegraph (4 March), Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, wrote that gay marriage is a ‘grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right’. He suggested that same sex marriage will lead to three way marriages and compared the government’s support for equality to legalising slavery.
He described the proposed consultation by the government, which is supported by the leaders of all the main parties including the SNP First Minister of Scotland, as ‘an attempt to redefine reality’ and maintained that “no Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage. Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’. Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?
“The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is crystal clear: marriage is a right which applies to men and women, ‘the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’.
“This universal truth is so self-evident that it shouldn’t need to be repeated. If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world”.
A week earlier, Archbishop Rowan Williams had said that the Anglican Church will oppose gay marriage.
The Catholic Church has of course the right to make whatever rules for its adherents that its teaching dictates, and it would clearly be wrong for the state to compel it to conduct gay marriage services. But, by the same token, the Church cannot impose its rules on those who do not agree with it. The same applies to the Church of England. The question of ‘marriage’ is a civil matter, and religious groups have no right to hijack it and claim exclusive ownership. They cannot impose their definition on everyone else because the concept is not their intellectual property.
Moreover, the Catholic Church has hardly been the paragon of morality in recent years. The very credibility of its pronouncements on sexual matters is tainted by decades in which its leadership in many countries was knowingly complicit in child abuse on a huge scale, not least here in Ireland.
O’Brien, in true Orwellian fashion, also stands logic on its head. Apparently, it is a human right to exclude gays from marriage and intolerant to allow it. Right for whom? Certainly not for gays or lesbians. On the contrary, supporting equal marriage is extending human rights and tolerance, and to argue the opposite is jesuitical doublespeak. Only by Orwellian logic can it be argued that it is an erosion of human rights to extend them to more people.
And how can it be intolerant to allow gay marriage? Surely, the real intolerance and lack of compassion is being displayed by the Cardinal, a supposed representative of Christ, who is the Christian arch symbol of love and compassion?
We might also have supposed that the Cardinal would want to promote marriage as a good thing in itself, but apparently it is not for gays or clerics of his own church. The irony is obvious: a man who is not married, and cannot marry, is pontificating to the rest of us about the rules of marriage.
There also seems to be an assumption that marriage has always meant the legal union of one man and one woman. But the Cardinal is on shaky ground here. Human societies have always displayed a wide diversity of ‘marriage’ arrangements. Thus in the Bible, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Polygamy was quite normal in the Old Testament (Deut. 21:15, where it refers to inheritance rules for the sons of a man with two wives), and Abraham himself engaged in divinely-sanctioned bigamy.
The shaky ground also underlies his reference to gay marriage as 'legalising slavery'. It was religions like Judaism and Christianity that endorsed slavery for thousands of years, and it is only with their decline that slavery has been abolished. Treating gays as second-class citizens is actually a form of modern slavery (as is not allowing priests to marry).
There is no reason why we should regard the concept of marriage as a union exclusively for people of opposite sexes. Time moves on and marriage can now legitimately be regarded simply as a legal union between two people.
The BHA are among those who are promoting a counter-campaign by the Coaltion 4 Equal marriage. You can sign their petition at:
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