Monday, 5 March 2012

Leading Scottish Cardinal likens gay marriage to slavery

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Cardinal Keith O'Brien
The head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, took to the media this weekend to launch an attack on the government's plans to hold a consultation on legalising gay marriage. In an opinion piece for the Sunday Telegraph, O'Brien threw his weight behind the campaign by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M), launched by religious groups last month and spearheaded by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, and echoed C4M's emphasis on the "redefinition" of marriage:
"Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense.

But can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?"
Having branded proposals for legalising gay marriage as "madness" and "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right", and argued that gay marriage would "create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father", O'Brien went on to deploy a bizarre and, you could argue, rather offensive analogy:
"Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same-sex marriage wouldn’t be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is staggeringly arrogant.

No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”.

Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?"
O'Brien continued his attack on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, restating his view that legalising gay marriage will "shame" the United Kingdom. Asked whether his slavery analogy was "inflammatory", O'Brien defended the words he used in the Sunday Telegraph:
"I think it's a very, very good example as to what might happen in our own country at this present time, and I feel I've a duty, I've a responsibility, to preach and to teach, and this is one of the ways in which I do it. ... It is a perfectly good example as to what could happen in our own country if we go this way, and as I say I am simply handing on the teaching of the Christian church down through the years."
Asked whether states that have already legalised gay marriage are violating human rights, the Cardinal continued:
"Countries where this is legal are indeed violating human rights. We know that, we know what the United Nations declaration states, and we know what follows on from something like this. It seems to me to be the thin end of the wedge, and it's changing the whole notion of what marriage and what a family is."
Today presenter John Humphries concluded by asking O'Brien whether he is afraid that his views risk creating the impression that the Catholic Church is "way behind society". The Cardinal responded by suggesting that society may have "progressed" too far:
"I think it's time now to call a halt to what you might call 'progress' in society, I don't call 'progress' the things that are happening nowadays, and when we talk about the thin end of the wedge, we remember that Abortion Act in 1967, when we were told there would be clearly-defined ways when abortion might take place, and now we know there is around seven million abortions since that happened, and further aberrations are hinted at at this present time. The same would happen if same-sex unions were defined as marriages. Further aberrations would be taking place, and society would be degenerating even further than it has already degenerated into immorality."
Same-sex marriage looks set to become a key battleground in coming months. Today's Daily Telegraph reports that the Catholic Church is planning to mobilise its congregations in opposition to the plans, while secular and liberal Christian campaigners have rallied to condemn the recent attacks on gay marriage. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has condemned O'Brien's remarks, suggesting that the Cardinal should welcome the fact that gay couples wish to get married:
"Cardinal O'Brien is out of touch and intolerant. Opinion polls show that most Christians support gay equality and that 61 of the public support the right of gay couples to have a civil marriage in a register office. Only 33% disagree ... If he supports marriage, the Cardinal should welcome the fact that many lesbian and gay couples want to get married. Same-sex marriage does not detract in any way from heterosexual marriage. It does not diminish or devalue marriages between opposite-sex couples.

Cardinal O'Brien has attacked government plans as an attempt to redefine marriage. But the churches have redefined marriage in the past. They no longer oppose divorce and the remarriage of divorced couples. There is no reason why marriage should not be redefined to include lesbian and gay couples."
Meanwhile, a Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM) launches this week, supported by Stonewall, the British Humanist Association, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the LGBT+ Lib Dems, the Pink Triangle Trust and the Metropolitan Community Church of North London. Over 11,000 people have signed a petition supporting gay marriage so far, and you can add your name by visiting the C4EM's website.

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