Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Letter against gay marriage to be read out in every Catholic church this Sunday

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The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nicholls,
head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales,
is a co-signatory of the letter
Following on from Cardinal Keith O'Brien's controversial remarks condemning proposals to legalise gay marriage, which he likened to legalising slavery, a letter has been sent to every Catholic church in England and Wales, co-signed by the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, calling on Catholics to resist the government's plans.

The letter, which avoids the uncompromising tone adopted by O'Brien on his weekend media rounds, will be read from the pulpit of all 2,500 Catholic churches in England and Wales this Sunday and restates the anti-gay-marriage campaign's argument that "neither the Church nor the State has the power to change [the] fundamental understanding of marriage itself". It then sets out what this "fundamental understanding of marriage" involves:
"Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible."
Thus, marriage must not be opened up to same-sex couples, because doing so would fatally undermine this "fundamental understanding" of its meaning:
"Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children"
As the academic and blogger Norman Geras points out, even if you leave aside the issue of gay marriage, many heterosexual marriages would not meet the definition the Catholic church is offering here. Marriage can indeed simply be about "the commitment of the two people involved", to borrow the Archbishops' words, and the idea that it is ultimately a means for creating an environment for raising children has long been an archaic one.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Equal Marriage, which has been established to counter the anti-gay-marriage Coalition for Marriage and campaign for a change in law, continues to gain in strength, with more than 16,000 names on their petition at the the time of writing. You can add your name to that, if you like, and also follow them on Twitter to track the progress of the campaign.

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