Monday, September 12, 2011

Rennie takes on Church on equal marriage

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has hit back after two prominent clergymen condemned the idea of equal marriage.

Over the weekend, Cardinal Keith O'Brien said that same sex marriage would shame Scotland. Today the Archbishop of Paisley has described the idea as "cultural vandalism".

Frankly, I think that to allow equality in our marriage laws enshrines the liberal and tolerant values integral to our Scottish culture. No Church will be forced to offer marriage to same sex couples - that's an important part of the proposal accepted by the most fervent of equality campaigners. No Church has anything to fear so why Archbishop Tartaglia felt the need to use such strong language as this is beyond me:
"A government which favours and allows for same sex 'marriage' does wrong. It fails in its duty to society. It undermines the common good. It commits an act of cultural vandalism. Such a government does not deserve the trust which the nation, and including many in the Catholic community, has shown in it."
That's pretty threatening language.

And although the Archbishop might imply that the Church would not support a Government which introduced same sex marriage, it can't deliver the votes of its members, many of whom, along with well over half the population, support equal marriage. And if he thinks that this issue alone would decide people's votes, he has another think coming.

I'm glad to see Willie Rennie stand up to the Archbishop's and Cardinal's strong words:

“I am disappointed that leaders of the Catholic Church in Scotland have threatened the Scottish Government over proposals to bring equality to marriage.  Over six in ten people support same sex marriage, so to threaten politicians with the votes of 800,000 people of the Catholic faith may backfire on the Church.
 “I can’t see how it is “cultural vandalism” to bring greater equality into Scottish society. Under the changes the Catholic Church, nor anyone else, will not be forced to conduct a same sex marriage ceremony but if they wish to the law will no longer stop them. That’s a very tolerant and fair approach to this issue. “Ten years ago politicians stood firm against the Catholic Church and others when they threatened the Parliament over Section 2a equality teaching, I hope the Scottish Parliament stands for what is right and fair again.”

This offensive by the Church shows how important it is that all of us who believe in equal marriage respond to the consultation by 9th December.  I know, I know, I haven't done mine yet. But I will. And I have a diary full of nagging blog posts to make sure you all do too.

10 comments:

Bob said...

I think the civil partnership ceremony was fine but marriage is just daft. Marriage evolved to allow a man and woman to marry with God's blessing so that they could procreate and bring up a family in a loving and natural environment. It might say 'marriage certificate' but the gay married couple will start their union together living a lie. And most fair minded people will know it's a lie but be too afraid to speak out for fear of prosecution. And there's no chance that churches will be left alone to decide whether or not to allow marriages in their church. They will suffer the fate of that religious B&B owner who wanted a gay couple to take a twin room rather than a double. Humiliation, abuse, harassment, picketing, on line bullying, attacks from the BBC and it's print version The Gruinard etc...

Asterix said...

There are two separate issues at play here.

Firstly, the Church has a view of how best women and men achieve a fulfilling life and how best society should organize itself to allow that life. Its view -and the almost universal Western consensus until only a few years ago- was that the institution of marriage with its marks of a) being between one woman and one man for the procreation of children; b) being for a lifetime; c) excluding other sexual contact outwith that relationship; and d) being recommended as a state to which individuals should aspire was an important component in both goals. That is why marriage was privileged socially amongst all the other possible relationships which human beings can and do enter into. The statements by Catholic bishops recently have embodied that view of society -one which clearly you don't share but one which strikes me (and I suspect many, many others) as rather more plausible than the alternatives that are on offer.

The second issue is, if gay marriage is allowed, can churches and their members protect themselves from having to endorse it. Here I shall simply agree with Bob. Past experience -and the vitriol directed at John Mason and Bill Walker simply for suggesting the availability of conscientious objection- suggest that such protection is going to be extremely difficult to achieve.

Caron said...

Asterix and Bob

Why do you choose to perpetuate this utter myth that churches will be forced to conduct same sex marriages? They will not. End of.

This is very different to the owner of a bed and breakfast who is providing a service. I don't think that people providing any service should be entitled to turn away anyone on the basis of their sexuality or gender or race or religion or age. How would you like it if it happened to you?

I also think that the very idea that Christians are perseuted in this country is utterly ridiculous. They even have places reserved for them in Parliament. You are free to express your views and others are free to oppose them.

Allowing equal marriage on the basis proposed by the Scottish Government's consultation is the most liberal, tolerant approach, a win/win for all. Churches who don't want to participate don't have to, while not being able to interfere in the liberty of those who do want to marry their same sex partner.

Why should you have the right to stop anyone else getting married? Why do you think you have the right to sit in judgement on anyone else's relationship? I'm genuinely interested to know the answers to these questions.

Bob said...

I'm not sitting in judgement Caron. If people want a service from the church ( a church provides a service just like a B&B) then the rules were laid down over a thousand years ago and the rules say that marriage is between a man and a woman. Only God can judge people.
If you don't believe what the bible says then why on earth would you want gays to be married in the House of God by a minister of God ?
Christians are persecuted in the UK and the West in general. There will be no muslim gay weddings for example because of the fear of murder and mayhem by 'more religious' muslims if it was allowed.
And I think it's astonishing that you feel there will be no backlash against churches and ministers who refuse to perform the ceremony. Apart from the ECHR which is probably champing at the bit to get it's first case there will be endless attacks from all media outputs at the 'discrimination'.

Asterix said...

1) 'Why do you choose to perpetuate this utter myth that churches will be forced to conduct same sex marriages?'

a) Because this is being urged by some -eg Mike Weatherley http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/2011/09/mike-weatherley-mp-calls-for-homophobic.html

b) Because there is a worry that (unintentionally) the synergy of human rights and equality legislation and revised marriage law might lead to legal action against those -such as Catholic priests- who discriminate between same sex and different sex marriage, refusing to perform the former, but not the latter. (Note that this is simply a question of law, not of intention: you might not intend the effect of legislation to be such compulsion but whether or not it will have such effects will be a matter for (at the moment) the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.)

c) Because the question of compulsion is wider than the performance of the ceremony. For example, will Catholic schools be able to discriminate against teachers who are in a gay marriage? Will civil registrars be obliged to perform gay weddings if they have conscientious grounds for objecting to them? (The problem here is that, again, the interaction between equalities and human rights legislation and any changes in marriage law seem extremely difficult to predict -and previous experience suggests that the ability of individuals and groups to practise their moral and religious beliefs is likely to be curtailed.)

2) 'Why should you have the right to stop anyone else getting married? Why do you think you have the right to sit in judgement on anyone else's relationship?'

Human beings enter into any number of different relationships but marriage is privileged culturally and legally. So why do we privilege marriage rather than (say) 'being a group of mates who go to the pub every Friday'? A social conservative has an answer to that: because marriage is about the rearing of children and creating a stable environment for that to occur.

It's hard to see what your answer would be. It can't, eg, be that it is a convenient legal package for the convenience of a dependent partner in the event of a death -that already exists in civil partnerships.

I suggest you have two possible answers here. 1) You are sitting in judgment on gay relationships and deciding that only those which fit into the traditional pattern of marriage are worthwhile. (And if so why? The pattern of heterosexual marriage is there to provide a stable environment for childrearing: why is this good for homosexuals?) 2) You really don't think marriage is that important and so why shouldn't anyone who wants it get it. (And there we are on to the most effective way of structuring society and particularly the creation and education of the next generation.)

Asterix said...

Apologies, Caron, for posting again, but the view that there is a potential legal problem for the Church is confirmed by the Catholic barrister, Neil Addison:

'The problem with both these suggested changes [sc. in same sex marriage] is that in the present era of Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination laws once something is allowed it can become illegal to refuse to provide it
If Churches, Synagogues, Mosques etc are allowed to perform same sex marriages or civil partnerships they could easily find themselves being sued for “Discrimination” if they refuse to perform them. Any legislation would, no doubt, say that no church etc would be obliged to perform same-sex ceremonies but any such guarantees could be legally challenged and are not likely to be worth the paper they are written on.'

http://religionlaw.blogspot.com/2011/03/destroying-meaning-of-marriage.html

Now, he may be wrong in his legal view. But he is an expert on the law relating to religion in (admittedly) England. Until I see a clear consensus among competent Scottish legal authorities that there is no comparable problem in any proposed legislation in Scotland (and I doubt very much that such a consensus would exist), it is not unreasonable for fears about the effects of legislation to exist.

Caron said...

But in Spain, where they've had equal marriage for some time, there have been no such actions against the Church there and nor will there be here. If you think about it, various religious organisations have all sorts of reasons for not marrying people varying from not going to church often enough to being divorced. These haven't been challenged.

I have been married for a long time now - almost quarter of a century. I totally value my marriage and my husband. I really would be so upset if there had been some arbitrary law stopping us from getting married. And civil partnerships just reinforce the differences. Separate isn't equal - yet I don't think there is any difference in the commitment and love my husband and I have for each other to that of our friends who are in same sex relationships. We should therefore be able to have the same form of marriage.

I actually think that CPs should be open to everyone as should marriage.

You may have certain views about marriage, but these aren't shared by everyone. I don't think you should have the right to impose your view on those same sex couples who want to marriage.

I always look for the solution which gives maximum liberty. Legislating for equal marriage doesn't affect you because you're not being compelled to do it, but it gives the choice to those who do - and to those religious organisations who want to. That to me is the liberal and fair outcome.

Asterix said...

1) The absence (to date) of legal challenge in a different jurisdiction with a different legal culture is a poor guide to the legal principles at stake here. David Waddington, a QC, expressed his opinion that clergy could be sued if they declined to perform same sex marriages (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7361378/Clergy-could-be-sued-if-they-refuse-to-carry-out-gay-marriages-traditionalists-fear.html); Neil Addison, a barrister specializing in the interaction of religion and law has also expressed a similar opinion (http://religionlaw.blogspot.com/2011/03/destroying-meaning-of-marriage.html). Perhaps there is a clear and expert legal consensus that these views are misplaced. But I have yet to see it.

2) Even if a direct challenge to the non-performance of marriage ceremonies by clergy were unlikely, there remains the question of compulsion in other areas. Would individuals be free to ignore the existence of gay marriage and to discriminate between same sex and different sex marriages?

3) Civil partnerships already supply the substantive goods realized in a marriage: there are no extra substantive freedoms to be gained by allowing same sex marriage. (And whatever increase in freedom might be discerned in the mere formal possibility of same sex marriage is at least balanced by the compulsion present in 2) and (possibly) 1) above.) The introduction of same sex marriage is not about an increase in freedom but a privileging by the state of a particular type of relationship. The suitability of heterosexual marriage as a child rearing institution is why that form of relationship should be supported by the state. Why does the state have a comparable interest in supporting same sex marriage?

Caron said...

Lord Waddington is one of the most socially conservative people in the country. He was a nightmare as home secretary.

I'm starting to think that all this talk of compulsion is simply a mendacious strategy to try to frighten people into opposing equal marriage on false grounds. There is simply no prospect of compulsion. Even the most fervent supporter of equal marriage would not want that.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by your point 2.

So do you consider marriage between a man and a woman who do not intend to have children as invalid? Or what if a couple can't have children? Is their marriage put on the naughty step?

Marriage is about so much more than children, although, of course, many same sex couples have children and raise them perfectly well.

Asterix said...

1) What you intend about compulsion (and others, such as Mike Weatherley, do intend compulsion) the question is not what you intend, but what the legal effects will be. That is a matter for detailed and expert legal assessment, not pious wishes.

2) My second point referred to 1c in my previous posting. Whilst (most) campaigners for same sex marriage do not intend Churches to be forced to perform them, it is not so clear that compulsion isn't intended with regard to any individual's action. Will everyone be free to ignore gay marriage and go on as before, or will individuals be forced to act differently? (I gave examples before, but I assume that much of the point of gay marriage is to compel a social acceptance by legal means.)

3) The question of gay marriage is a question as to why a state should support a certain type of relationship rather than others. My argument is that whilst the state has a reason to support heterosexual marriage as the prime institution for childrearing, it does not have the same reason to support gay marriage. Now, of course, you may disagree that the state has any such reason to support heterosexual marriage. But if you do accept that, it is irrelevant that individuals may (intentionally or otherwise) use the institution for other reasons. (Analogously, if the state has a reason to support libraries to extend education, it is irrelevant that some people use them to shelter from the rain.)

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