It always irritates me when people discuss complex, nuanced, historically sensitive cultural issues like this as if it were a simple black and white matter of good vs. evil. Of love, liberty and equality vs. bigotry, superstition and reactionism. This is why I like playing the devil’s advocate in favour of unfashionable things like religion. Over a year ago now I tried my best at defending the anti-same sex marriage (SSM) position with this article. I was indifferent to begin with but in the process I decided I agreed with what I’d written. The overriding purpose, however, remained to defend those who are against SSM from the popular charges of homophobia and irrationality. But over the course of the year I’ve decided that the arguments I thought were decisive made too many assumptions.
Namely, the argument that marriage requires a union of heterogeneous elements is guilty of sex essentialism, of assuming that people can be defined by their sex to the extent that people of the same sex share a fundamental ‘sameness’. But this is clearly not the case, two homosexual women can be very different people just like two heterosexual women can be very different people. So SSM meets this criterion of heterogeneity. Similarly, I now consider SSM to meet the criterion for preserving the link between marriage and relationships of a procreative kind, since human love is a type of relationship that has evolved in relation to procreation. Even if particular strains of this love such as that of homosexuals have developed in such a way that they can no longer literally fulfill this function, they sufficiently retain the essential character of heterosexual love to belong to the kind of procreative relationships. This being strongly distinct from more disordered forms of relationship such as paedophilia, incest and bestiality.
So now I’m not really against SSM – I suppose I’m quite tentatively in favour or agnostic. But there’s still a debate to be had and I maintain that it’s not necessarily irrational or homophobic to oppose SSM. This journalist (an atheist) makes some good points for instance. The main problem I have with these current SSM proposals is the government having a monopoly over the meaning of marriage. It’s often overlooked that in order to have legal equality we’d need to have civil partnerships for heterosexuals, and if we were to do this the simplest solution to the whole issue would be to just reclassify heterosexual civil marriages as civil partnerships.
If the government held back, instead of imposing a uniform meaning of marriage across all of society we wouldn’t need the one size fits all approach that is causing the mess. Each group that facilitated ceremonies -whether churches or groups like the British Humanist Association- would simply be free to promote their own conception of what partnerships mean, and to act on that. It would be clear what meant what, and easy to respect differences. But in the present dispute no one knows what the institution they’re trying to protect or to access even is anymore. And we have all this needless fighting between groups trying to get the state sponsored form to more closely resemble their particular conception. Many people don’t even care but simply enjoy having an emotionally charged issue over which to criticise their ideological opponents (it’s no secret that a large section of the LGBT rights lobby don’t believe in marriage).
I find it hard to take seriously all these people who are saying it is simply about equality because the British government’s support for it is obviously designed as a big distraction from really significant areas where they’re doing so much harm like the economy and social security. If you think this is cynical then why do all the Tories in the government -including Cameron- have a long history of voting against gay rights, including civil partnerships?