Rarely has a policy debate been so undeserving of that title. There is no valid argument against gay marriage, none at all. Those who oppose it deploy spurious reasoning which masks emotional insecurities about two people of the same sex loving each other and wanting to enshrine this marriage in an ancient institution.
David Cameron’s announcement in last year’s conference speech that he supported gay marriage because he was a conservative indicated how far he’d come in modernising the Conservative party. All three parties support gay marriage and, despite impassioned rhetoric from some religious leaders and Tory backbenchers, it will in all likelihood be signed into law this Parliament. Perhaps Cameron did not expect such a vocal, if minority, opposition.
The religious leaders have not found refuge in understatement. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s leading Catholic, claimed legalising gay marriage would be ‘a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right’ and the government’s ‘intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world’. Perhaps the Cardinal’s level of logic is incomprehensible to us mere mortals, but to be honest I’m not quite sure what he is on about here. Our very own Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who refuses to condemn a bill still being considered in his native Uganda which would make homosexuality punishable by death, has pronounced that David Cameron would be a ‘dictator’ if he imposed gay marriage on society. So the Cardinal needs to read up on basic logic and the Archbishop needs to read a dictionary.
Those who oppose gay marriage deliberately misinterpret marriage’s essential meaning. They might say marriage can’t be between two of the same sex, since marriage is ordained by God for the pro-creation of children. Well this doesn’t make much sense. Not all couples decide to have children. Does this make their marriage less meaningful? Some want children, but are unable to have them, so choose to adopt. Should the adopted child be banned from calling their parents mother and father? Marriages are allowed to take place between those too old to have children. The main reason for marriage is to celebrate a life-long commitment, a public affirmation of the love you share. Indeed, some marriages break down despite the couple having children, indicating that procreation is secondary to the stability of the relationship.
Marriage is an institution which has been in place for thousands of years. It is undeniably a social good. Would opening it up to homosexuals undermine this ancient institution? The scaremongering opposition might have you think so. Opening it up to homosexuals would, in the words of Cardinal Keith O’Brien ‘redefine our society’. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman. Well that’s similar to saying to a woman in 1917 that she can’t vote because voting has always been for men only, or to a black child in 1950s America that she can’t attend this better school because it’s always been for whites only. Gays will be reinforcing, rather than undermining the institution of marriage. It confirms the belief that marriage is a social good. The Cardinal needs to get over the biological reality that two people of the same sex love each other and want to celebrate this publicly. You could say that they should be content with civil partnerships which were legislated for in 2004. But it is because of the sanctity and historical gravitas of the institution of marriage that gays want to get married, and should be allowed to do so.
Perhaps society isn’t ready for gay marriage. Would social cohesion be at risk if a historically understood concept is fundamentally changed? We’ve come an awfully long way when it comes to the acceptance of homosexuals in society. 45 years ago homosexuality was a criminal offence. And despite some concerns over the 2004 civil partnership legislation, it is widely accepted as being a good thing. But the battle isn’t over yet; neither here at home nor in the wider world. In 93 countries, homosexual acts are still illegal. In the UK, homosexuality is still something of a social stigma, especially amongst the young. ‘Gay’ is frequently used as a pejorative term. In 2010, 15-year old Dominic Crouch committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a six-storey block of flats. Gossip had been floating around his school that he was gay after he had reportedly kissed a boy on a school trip. A 2007 report by Stonewall, the gay and lesbian lobbying organisation, reported that 65 per cent of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have been the victims of bullying. This number rises to 75 per cent in faith schools.
The legalising of gay marriage would be a symbolic demonstration of society’s acceptance of homosexuals. It would tell those people still clinging on to unethical intolerance, that attempts to deride gay people as second class citizens will not be recognised. Far from causing ‘shame’ for the UK in the eyes of the world, as Cardinal Keith O’Brien would have us believe, it would show the UK’s humanity towards a group of people that have been demonised throughout history and continue to be throughout the world today.