Monday, 12 March 2012

Why we should all be in favour of gay marriage

It seems to me that the arguments surrounding same-sex marriage have become skewed, both by the press and by those participating in the public debate. Church leaders (of various denominations) have portrayed the change as a fundamental alteration to society while the gay community and those in favour of same-sex marriage have accused the Church of harbouring institutionalised homophobia and, worse still, reverting back to old imputations of paedophilia to discount an argument that represents the view of a large number of people.
I think it’s cowardly of the gay community (which, to save time, I use also to refer to heterosexuals who support same-sex marriage) to cower behind these accusations. The fight for same-sex marriage is a moral one, and one that I believe can be won in the context of a simple, calm and civilised political and theological debate. Responding to legitimate, if, as I believe, unwarranted, concerns about the change that would occur with belligerent accusation is unnecessary. This is an argument that needs to be won fairly with heart and mind.
Nor do I believe the renewal of laicism in the gay community is necessary. The Church, as with all institutions of faith, does have a role to play in the life of society. It both leads and represents the moral lives and opinions of millions of people in this country and it is not unacceptable for their leaders to make clear their position on this issue, and for a public debate to ensue. That is what is meant to happen in a free society where social issues can be discussed without fear of punishment for your views. Refusing to accept an opinion simply because it comes from a person of faith is as bad as a person of faith refusing to accept your’s because you aren’t. The way our nation’s democracy works is that debate should happen, and the majority opinion wins out. Again, I truly believe that majority opinion lies on the side of those in favour of equal marriage and not those opposing it, and many opinion polls conducted recently seem to reinforce that view.
Church leaders are reliant on an old argument against same-sex marriage. They continue to call it a redefinition of traditional marriage and to say that it would destabilise the foundation of our society, which, they argue, has been until now based upon the “nuclear family” unit. They espouse the view that marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman to procreate and live romantically for the betterment of each other and for the praise of God. Whether one views the purpose of life to be in the praise of God or not, this view of marriage as the traditional home of family life is one that held by a large number of people in this country and around the world.
Gay marriage does redefine marriage, but only if you agree with their original definition. I would argue that marriage is simply a union of two people in love, and occurs after each person vows to love the other for the rest of their lives. This definition of marriage also applies to civil partnerships, already permitted in the UK and acknowledged by the various churches in the nation as an accepted part of our national life. Civil partnerships are, to all extent and purpose, civil marriages.
So what’s in a name? Many people of faith argue that since gay people have the right to form a legal union and share the same protections that married couples have that the importance of the name of ‘marriage’ is negated. I think this is untrue - marriage is viewed as a far more important and significant step in one’s life, and conforms to a more traditional approach to morality and commitment than civil partnerships. For many years now, society has drawn a distinction between civil marriages and religious marriages and I see no reason why the legal approach to this issue should be shrouded by religious sentiment when it has not been for more than fifty years. 
For many gay people, being allowed to publicly declare their love and make a vow of commitment and dedication to one another is an important step in their lives, and one that is cherished. Almost all who have civil partnerships refer to them themselves as “married”. Yet the law, for the moment, still refuses to accept that they are, even though they share all the same rights and privileges, save for the very name “marriage”. For gay Christians, many believe that not only does God not condemn their actions, but He actively encourages and celebrates in their love. Indeed, they believe that God brought about that love, and it is just as right for them to declare it and find the same solace in it that heterosexual couples do. I believe that society is made stronger by families, but I refuse to accept that the “nuclear family” merely includes heterosexual couples. Two gay people coming together and forming a union strengthens society just as much, and the Church should encourage the commitment and love that mirrors Christ’s own with his Church. As anyone who has been married or attended a marriage in a church could tell you, the priest always reminds those getting married that marriage is a symbol of the love that, they believe, Christ has for each person. Nothing in a gay relationship negates this truth.
Nor does a gay relationship mean that you cannot bring up children in a safe, secure and beneficial environment which harbours learning, growth and success. Indeed, as the first generation of children brought up by gay parents begin to find their way in the world, many attest that the love and care they find from their parents is a source of support and strength, when some children from heterosexual couples find the opposite. Of course every situation is different, and no two sets of parents are the same, gay or straight, but it seems ridiculous to argue that gay parents cannot provide the same love and care that heterosexual parents can simply because of their sexuality, or because there is only one sex of parent. Too long has society been populated by people who were brought up outside of the “nuclear family” model who have gone on to lead prosperous, successful and happy lives for this to be a valid argument any longer. Children do not require the “nuclear family”. They require love, attention and support - all of which can be provided in abundant quantities by gay parents.
Marriage is a privilege and a blessing. Whether you believe it is a blessing from God or not is entirely a personal choice, but it is something that many people find enriches their lives incomparably. To deny gay people this happiness, simply for protection of a name, seems cruel and unjust. To me, it also seems un-Christian. Marriage is no more defined as exclusively between women and men than it is defined as being for life. Divorce is an accepted fact of our society, and one that many people believe to be an unhappy but very necessary option available to all people. An end to the distinction between one loving, committed relationship and another must happen if we can truly claim to be a free and liberal society. Often it is only when we have personal experience of a situation that our opinions change, and so as more members of society feel comfortable to come out to their families and friends, maybe the general opinion will move even more in favour of gay marriage than it is already. 
It is not illogical or unjustified to argue that simply because members of the gay community want gay marriage that they should be allowed it. Marriage is not the gift of the church, nor even the state. It is regulated because it is an important institution, but at its core it is a simple declaration of love between two people who wish to form a stronger, safer and more trusting union. As such, the state must not stand in the way of two people’s desire to marry one another, regardless of their sex. 
I support entirely the government’s plans to allow gay marriage, and to permit (though not force) churches to perform gay marriage services should they wish. I urge you to show your support of this cause too by signing the petition at http://www.c4em.org.uk.