Monday, 20 February 2012

Opponents of gay marriage launch online campaign

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Lord Carey
This morning saw the launch of the Coalition for Marriage, which will campaign against legalisation of same-sex marriage. According to reports in the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph (the only papers to pay much attention to the launch), the Coalition is a "grassroots organisation" but, as Martin Robbins points out in an excellent post on his Guaridan Lay Scientist blog, it's not entirely clear how a group that appears to be spearheaded by a collection of MPs, peers and bishops, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, can be considered to have come from the "grassroots".

Carey, in particular, seems to be positioning himself as a vocal voice in the campaign, and he sets out his arguments against gay marriage in an extraordinary piece for the Mail. The former Archbishop is the biggest name involved in the Coalition, and is presumably seen as the man with the formidable intellect required to put forward the definitive case for keeping marriage heterosexual, so it's rather telling that the best he can offer is a rambling argument based on fallacy and anecdote. In one line that has caused particular bemusement among observers, Carey explains that the government's proposals to legalise gay marriage constitute "one of the greatest political power grabs in history", because:
"The state does not ‘own’ the institution of marriage. Nor does the church.

The honourable estate of matrimony precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way."
Marriage, it seems, has a transcendent existence outside of earthly laws, and because it was not historically open to gay couples (Carey passes over the fact that this tended to go together with homosexuality being considered a crime), its definition must never be altered. Carey goes on to explain that marriage must be a good thing because couples continue to choose to get married, but his enthusiasm for choice does not extend to the thousands of gay couples who would also choose to marry, if they were not prohibited from doing so.

Carey is clearly keen on the long history of marriage, and it leads him to make an interesting claim for its influence on the development of British society:
"For many centuries, Britain has known much more stability than most other nations on Earth, and marriage has been essential to our national welfare. It keeps families together. It is clear that family breakdown has a personal and societal cost – from children damaged by the experience of growing up in a broken home to the older people who are left lonely and isolated because of the break-up of their families in middle age."
In stating that Britain has known greater stability than "most other nations", Carey is presumably referring to the comparative absence of revolutionary upheavals in British history (if this isn't what he means, I have no idea what he's referring to). Historians have long concerned themselves with the question of why the various European revolutions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries never spread to Britain, but as far as I am aware none of them have ever posited the endurance of the institution of heterosexual marriage as a reason. Perhaps Lord Carey is on to something, and should be invited to advance this thesis further.

Ultimately, what Carey fails to do is point out why the legalisation of gay marriage would affect him or any of his fellow campaigners in any way whatsoever. Why are they so concerned by what other people do with their lives? Their entire case seems to come down to the argument that marriage should be between a man and a woman because it just should be (essentially a roundabout way of saying that anything other than heterosexuality is unnatural), and to listen to their hysterical protests you would think the law is going to be changed to make gay marriage compulsory. No one is trying to force the members of the Coalition for Marriage to marry members of their own sex. The government's proposal is simply about giving everyone the choice to get married if they want to.

Reading Carey's article and the material on the Coalition's website, it seems that they think society will eventually collapse if gay marriage is legalised. If this is what they think, surely it's something they should elaborate on – what do they believe will happen? And if this isn't want they think, why are they so determined to restrict people's access to marriage?
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