Debating Marriage Equality

This post has turned out to be far longer than I expected it to be. There didn’t seem to be an obvious place to break it into two posts so I have left it as a single post. I apologise to readers if it is too long. If you do find it long and hard to read, please let me know and I’ll bear that in mind for future posts.

Recently here in limeyland there have been discussions and votes on changes to the law on marriage. The basic proposal is that same sex couples should be allowed to marry in the same way that heterosexual couples do. This discussion and vote has been inevitable since same sex couples were granted rights to a civil partnership some years ago.

By chance, I have been working on a project in London for the past month. This means that I regularly walk past the houses of parliament on my way to and from the client offices. On a few occasions there have been protesters and campaigners outside the houses of parliament making their feelings on the subject known. Living in a democracy, this is a right we have and I support that right. When people feel strongly about something, they should be able to make their voice heard.

With this specific subject it is pretty much a for or against, there isn’t really a middle ground where the two extremes can meet and discuss a workable compromise. This makes the campaigning very polarised. On one side you have those wishing to keep marriage for man and woman only. This is a utopian dream where life is perfect and there is nothing to upset the sensitivities of nice upstanding people. So far as I can tell, the strongly opinionated in this group belong to the religious in our society. I don’t recall seeing anyone making an argument for keeping marriage to man and woman who was not religious, or at least sympathetic towards religion. The basic argument seems to be that marriage was ordained by god as being between a man and a woman. Since homosexual acts are a sin anyway they shouldn’t be encouraged in law.

On the other side the argument is one of basic fairness. The current situation denies some couples the rights and protections that are available and expected by those who are able to marry. Interestingly, there are religious people on this side of the debate too. Which does beg the question, is the bible (or any other holy book) actually that clear on the subject?

In amongst the discussions some very unhelpful things have been said. I cringe each time I hear a phrase that implies that same sex couples are somehow less worthy of or less able to engage in a long term and loving relationship. There are also those who make the utterly disgusting association between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is no link, plus heterosexual people commit disgusting crimes too. Equally, I find the accusations of bigotry or homophobia of poor taste, the accusation may be true on some but certainly not all who object. Throwing insults is never going to be a productive way to have a discussion.

Part of the problem that I see with this debate is that the two sides are entrenched, there is no way to have the debate in a rational way. It will always become emotional simply because of the nature of the discussion.

 

 

On a personal level, I have no real investment in the subject. Whichever way the law swings, there is no obvious impact on my life. I have no one who is close to me who will be directly affected by the vote and eventual law change. What the subject does show is how my own views have undergone significant change over the years.

In my more devout days I would have been utterly opposed to the idea of allowing same sex relationships. Sex was for marriage and for man and woman only, anything outside of that was sin and should not be allowed in law. I was very much in the ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ camp. Though I do see how that comes over as a patronising and, in some cases, devaluing sentiment. Over the years my attitude softened significantly. I am not sure how well it maps with my journey away from faith. There were definitely signs that my attitudes had become more liberal before I started to leave creationism and faith behind.

I think my change in attitude is down to my change in understanding. There was a time when I believed that gayness could be cured and it was just a sinful habit. This was reinforced by a couple people I knew of at the time who seemed to turn from straight to gay as young adults. The modern claim that they were born that way did not fit. I still don’t think it does for those specific cases, there is a lot of emotional trauma involved for each individual.

Science tells us that homosexuality is something that will happen and seeing it in other animals confirms the case. I’ve seen it suggested that homosexuality came about because of the curse from Adam’s sin; I would counter that this can’t apply if other animals demonstrate the same tendencies too.

The scientific discussions of sexuality cased me genuine confusion in those early days. As I got used to the idea that science was uncovering more and more about sexuality (and gender) so more and more I had to question my own assumptions on the matter. Leaving faith made following the science much easier.

As I look at the marriage arguments now, I can’t see any logical or moralistic way to object to allowing same sex unions. I think claims that it will lead to a breakdown of the institution of marriage are vastly overstated.

There is one part of the whole process that does leave me concerned though. That is the matter of using the weight of law to force people to fall into step. One example is that of marriage registrars and churches. The majority will very likely welcome same sex couples and grant them the wedding they want. There will be some who have difficulty with the idea and I think that forcing those people to step into line is not helpful. People should have the option to say, “I’d rather not bless this union because it makes me uncomfortable, please use someone else”. On a basic level, why would anyone want to get married where the officiator is there under duress and fear for being sued? Far better to find someone who is happy to bless it.

One of the sad things about the gay movement in the UK over recent years is the small numbers who have gone specifically into a situation knowing and expecting to upset someone and then they cry foul when the reaction they were intending to provoke came about. This is an underhand tactic which I do not approve of. Sadly it makes easy news and headlines and leaves naive people hurt and labelled as villains.

If someone is blatantly spreading homophobic propaganda, then that’s a different matter and they should be dealt with under anti-hate laws. Also, accepting that some people can’t help being gay also means accepting that some people can’t help being disgusted by it. Let’s all live and let live and not go out of our ways to create an issue where none needs to exist.

That UK law will be changed to allow same sex couples to marry is pretty much inevitable, but there will still be a fight over it and it won’t be a whitewash vote. On balance I would say it’s a good thing this is going to happen and I don’t think it’s going to break society. I do worry that small minded people will carry on looking for a fight over it.

As an atheist I find myself wishing there were more people acting Christ-like on the issue.