Why same-sex marriage would undermine the institution
If David Cameron succeeds in legalising gay marriage, the consequence will be not a strengthening of marriage, but an undermining of respect for the whole institution
The acrimonious debate on gay marriage in Britain today usually divides along the lines of ‘rights’ or legal entitlements, with those supporting it demanding the right of gay people to marry and those against denying them that right.
The Prime Minister David Cameron, controversially, has come down firmly in favour of gay marriage rights.
But is the subject of human marriage really debatable in terms of legal rights? Is even the traditional marriage of heterosexual couples itself ultimately based on rights, or is there a more fundamental and underlying principle to human marriage?
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has said that gay marriage is unnatural or “against the natural law”, and has taken a lot of flak as a result from the liberal clerisy. The Independent preached:
“From the point of view of mainstream Britain, this is a man on the lunatic fringe of religious fanaticism.”
Actually, over two thirds of the people of Scotland support the Cardinal – but then fanaticism can blind even the secular religionists of the Independent. But what did the Cardinal mean by gay marriage being against “natural law”?
It’s important to understand that the Cardinal is not primarily saying that gays should or should not enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. Essentially, he is not commenting on rights at all. The Cardinal is saying something much more fundamental.
He is saying what in fact Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said in perhaps more acceptable language:
“Marriage precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way.”
Lord Carey’s point goes right to the heart of this matter.
Marriage is deeply rooted not in factitious legal or religious ceremonies, or in social or individual rights, but is to be found much deeper in our anthropological nature.
This was always the implicit understanding of most people. It was made explicit by the now forgotten but formerly famous anthropologist Edward Westermarck who said:
“Marriage is rooted in family rather than family in marriage.”
The whole purpose of marriage, Westermarck is saying, is reproduction, and the marriage ceremony is society’s recognition of what is in fact a rite of passage, the union of male and female in the reproduction of themselves, and the continuity of the species. Marriage is society’s formal recognition of the reproductive act.
Indeed, even the very words we use, marriage, matrimony, reflect the deep anthropological roots of motherhood or giving birth; mater or matris, meaning mother; even the word husband comes from the old German root-word meaning to till the ground, to make fertile. Everything about the nature and evolutionary history of marriage speaks of birth and of the natural family.
The reproductive nature of marriage is further reflected in society’s grounds for a voidable marriage. A marriage can be declared invalid for reasons of impotency and/or a refusal to consummate the relationship.
Same sex unions could never be understood in these terms. In what way, for example could same-sex ‘marriage’ be consummated or not consummated? Here we see a clear biological barrier to any concept of same sex marriage.
Lord Carey and Cardinal Keith O’Brien have anthropological fact on their side. Human marriage has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with human nature; and neither the state nor the churches can redefine that human nature.
So why would anyone demand that a two-man, or two-woman, relationship be included in such a deeply-rooted anthropological condition of reproductive fertility? Same sex relationships are sterile by nature and have no role in our genetic evolutionary history. Why should society celebrate non-reproductive unions with a marriage ceremony whose historical purpose was and is a reproductive rite of passage?
The answer to this question, as with many controversial issues today, has to do with the culture war that is raging throughout much of the Western world.
The driving force of that culture war, according to the American writer Robert Bork, in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, is a push for a radical egalitarianism that is undermining and destroying the most fundamental concepts and values by which we live.
The demand for gay equality in marriage is a political demand and is part of that culture war that seeks not so much equality but the undermining and eventual destruction of mainstream culture and values.
One proof of this is the strong support for gay marriage on the liberal left.
Historically, the left, particularly the Marxist left, have been extremely hostile to marriage and family, seeing them as property supporting bourgeois institutions.
But now the left has suddenly discovered the virtues of marriage – at least when it comes to gays, with many in the Guardian and Independent praising the newly-discovered benefits that marriage supposedly would bring to gay relationships.
This is pure hypocrisy and cynicism. It seems that for the left, any intellectual dishonesty or tactic is justified in the culture war against mainstream society. With gay marriage, one is reminded of Caligula’s promotion of his horse to the Senate
If David Cameron succeeds in legalising gay marriage, the consequence will be not a strengthening of marriage, but an undermining of respect for the whole institution. This apparently has already happened in Spain, with a dramatic drop in the number of marriages since gay marriage was legalised.
It could also herald an accelerating shift away from those institutions that permit gay marriage into those institutions that prohibit it, such as other religions.
Vincent Cooper is a freelance writer
We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.