Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Liberal or bigoted? Confused, inconsequential babble about gay marriage from George Pitcher

The Reverend George Pitcher says he’s a liberal and that gay marriage is a threat to the Church of England. He’s right about the last part, it’s plainly a threat, hence the church’s petulant and lightweight response.  But it turns out that’s not what Pitcher means. What he means is….muddle-headed at best.

As a classic Anglican liberal, I'm slightly rattled at finding myself siding with the traditionalists over gay marriage.

I'm uneasy about my position because I suspect that much of the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in homophobia.

That seems to be the extent of his liberal feelings: a slight unease about the church’s motives.  You know what? I’ve been around this block so many times that people have started calling the police.  It’s a smokescreen.  Clearly the opposition to gay marriage is rooted in the desire to treat homosexuals differently to heterosexuals, which is either homophobic or indistinguishable from homophobia.  But we judge people and institutions by their actions and if the church were a moral organisation it could put aside the icky feelings of some of its constituents and show a commitment to caring about people rather than the institution. It doesn’t do this because it wants to court controversy instead. It knows that a strong stance on issues like this will attract a certain type of person.  Or to put it in no uncertain terms, the Church of England is deliberately trying to attract the bigot vote.

It seems to me that this would be the point at which an actually liberal-minded person would object to the institution, but Pitcher is having none of it.

I'm supportive nevertheless of the Church of England's opposition to gay marriage, published in its government consultative paper today.

I wonder if he has any good reasons?  What do you reckon?

That's because I'm committed to equality, not uniformity. Men and women are different. It follows that marriage and civil partnership are different institutions.

It…..follows?  It follows….how…..exactly?  Men and women are different….how….exactly?   Because this is what matters in the argument.  Everyone is different, but that doesn’t mean we need a different definition of marriage for every couple.  So we need to work out what is so different about men and women that the ordinary definition of marriage can’t possibly apply to same-sex couples.

And this is where we get right back down to bigotry because although he doesn’t say it, I have little doubt that Pitcher is talking about genitalia.

To declare that they are the same institution is to unravel thousands of years of definition of what a marriage is and what it's for.

So here we are.  Marriage, according to Pitcher, is ‘for’ procreation, regardless of all those couples who are childless by choice or unable to have children.  But marriage can never, historically, have been for the purposes of procreation because we can happily procreate without it.  But I accept there’s tradition behind single-sex marriage.  I just don’t think tradition is a good excuse for discrimination.  Pitcher apparently does.

While we're at it, let's kick the tyres of the research that shows consistently that the best environment in which to raise children is a stable family with a mother and father (perhaps Iain Duncan Smith could have a word in Cameron's ear?). And if we decide that still holds, then let's decide whether we want the Church and the state to endorse that institution.

Where to begin?  We don’t ‘decide’ whether research holds or not.  It’s either true or it isn’t, that’s rather the point. But if it’s true that heterosexual marriages are in some sense ‘better’ for children than homosexual ones, so what?  Marriages between affluent couples might also be superior.  Or black couples.  Or tall couples. Would we prevent those people from getting married?  Pitcher’s bigotry is showing and he doesn’t seem to know it.  And then who exactly gets to decide what the church endorses?  We have a say in what the state does, but we don’t vote for bishops, never voted to have bishops in the House of Lords and never voted to have the Church of England as part of the establishment.

At least then the Church and state would be singing from the same hymn-sheet, which is a rare enough occurrence these days.

As it should be. The church does not speak for me and has no place in public life. 

It's facetious of Mr Cameron to speak of the Church being exempt from conducting gay weddings. If he introduces them, then a marriage in Church and a state wedding will be two completely different things (and why, incidentally, will he continue to make a distinction in secular law between marriage and civil partnerships?)

On the first point, I partly agree.  Exempting churches (and not the state) from performing gay marriages gives them special dispensation to discriminate and I can see no reason to allow this.  I don’t see why this would make marriage by the church or state two different things though, surely this is just a matter of administration.  On the second point, the purpose of differentiating marriage from civil partnerships is that they are specifically designed to be different things.  People might want a partnership instead of a marriage. For one thing, they might want to avoid an institution traditionally associated with a bigoted church.

So a priest in church will be performing a different role as registrar at a wedding from that of a secular registrar. How does that work for a Church of England that is established in law, with the head of state as its Supreme Governor?

The priest would be performing precisely the same role in every respect. Whether or not the priest happens to be a bigot and refuses to marry same-sex couples does not affect the role in any way.

Of course, there are those secularists who see this precisely as another opportunity to drive a wedge between Church and state in their intent to have the Church of England disestablished. That hardens my resolve - and should harden the resolve of all who call this 'a Christian country' - to resist the move.

But why?  The only reason anyone could want an established church is to afford it special privilege which it doesn’t deserve.  A liberal would surely understand that a secular society is a much fairer one and that an established church cannot fail to work against the interests of members of other churches and atheists.

Again, we should have a sensible and informed debate about disestablishment. But we shouldn't condone those who seek cynically to use the institution of matrimony - or euthanasia, or abortion or the 1701 Act of Settlement, which discriminates in the succession of the Crown against Roman Catholics - to achieve absolutist secular ends. That would be a wholly illiberal and discriminatory way forward.

Illiberal how?  If I ‘use’ the church’s stance on gay marriage to publicise its bigotry and thereby undermine its unearned ability to tell everyone what to do, I would not be acting illiberally.  Patently quite the reverse.  I would be increasing choice rather than restricting it.

I'm for the Church finding a way to bless civil partnerships, as the unconditional love of God should, in my view, be celebrated wherever it is found.

To ‘find a way’?  Well, just do it.  Just say the magic words and wave your bladder on a stick or whatever it is you do.  What do you imagine is stopping you?

All you have to do is care about people more than the institution.  The rest is easy.

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