If Cardinal Keith O’Brien objects to being considered an intolerant bigot then he should perhaps cease making arguments that are a) intolerant and b) bigoted. Then again, he’s a member of the College of Cardinals and this is part of the price of membership*. His diatribe against gay marriage is an excellent example of this.
I suppose some people are exercised by the precise status of homosexual relationships but the Cardinal’s spittle-flecked prose still seems excessive, even by his church’s standards. It is doubtless a cheap observation to note that neither this Cardinal nor any of his colleagues wrote such furious opeds denouncing their church’s willingness to protect child abusers and other perverts. Cheap but no cheaper than the Cardinal’s own article. (Not least since the Cardinal asks that we consider the issue of gay marriage from the perspective of "the child". Motes and beams and all that.)
Objecting to a so-called "tyranny of tolerance" (yes, really) O’Brien dismisses explicit protections offered to religious organisations as just another piece of "arrogance" on the part of the secular authorities. So there you have it: tolerance is terrible even when those being tolerated are, as the Cardinal might put it "a small minority of activists". The Cardinal reveals himself when he writes:
Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time marriage would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.
He adds that "Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples," it is "clear that this proposal is not about rights" ignoring, quite cheerfully it must be said, his own admission that in his view homosexual couples should enjoy none of these rights, not even those offered by civil partnership. Perhaps this will un-gay them or something. Quite how a civil partnership or even a marriage certificate can damage "the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing" of those involved remains an utter mystery. Nevertheless, it is typically disingenuous for O’Brien to pretend his opposition to even civil partnerships is somehow based upon a higher awareness of what is good for gay couples than gay people themselves can possibly comprehend.
As for his injunction that gay marriage is, you know, just like slavery, well, you might think O’Brien is actually some intentionally-ludicrous comic creation. Not so. Apparently he does believe this, telling the Today programme that his analogy is "A very, very good example as to what might happen in our own country if we go down this path." Two may play at this game. I offer you an alternative, lightly-edited version of Cardinal O’Brien’s Sunday Telegraph article:
The Government is this month launching a consultation on slavery, asking the public whether it should be criminalised in England and Wales.
I hope many respond and consider signing the petition in support of traditional slavery organised by a new organisation, the Coalition for Slavery.
On the surface, the question of slavery may seem to be an innocuous one.
Free states have been in place for several years now, allowing some slaves to leave southern states and enjoy a variety of legal protections.
When free states were introduced, supporters were at pains to point out that they didn’t want to eliminate slavery in all states, accepting that slavery was an ancient, peculiar and particular institution.
Those of us who were not in favour of abolishing slavery in some of the states, believing that liberty was harmful to the negro’s physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, warned that in time the abolition of slavery in all states would be demanded too. We were accused of scaremongering then, yet exactly such demands are upon us now.
Redefining slavery will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of slavery is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of abolishing slavery 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?
If slaves are emancipated what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that liberty can only mean – and has only ever meant – the liberty of landed white men?
This is a point of view that would have been endorsed and accepted only a few years ago, yet today advancing a traditional understanding of slavery risks one being labelled an intolerant bigot.
There is no doubt that, as a society, we have become blasé about the importance of slavery as a stabilising influence and less inclined to prize it as a worthwhile institution.
No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of slavery.
Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise gay marriage but assured us that “no one will be forced to be gay”.
Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human institution? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?
This universal truth is so self-evident that it shouldn’t need to be repeated. If the Government attempts to demolish a universally recognised human right, they will have forfeited the trust which society has placed in them and their intolerance will shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.
The main problem with the Cardinal’s article is that it makes little effort to persuade anyone that his analysis is actually persuasive. It assumes its own conclusions and rarely bothers to argue for them. The downside to a change in label (that need not be recognised by those religious authorities that do not wish to recognise it) appears to amount to a) opening a door to polygamy and b) making it more probable libraries will stock books about homosexuality. A return to polygamy seems, I must say, improbable (not least since there are grave problems with consent issues in those circumstances and there is not, I think, an organised Polygamy Lobby) while the latter seems a trivial objection.
He is right however: there is such a thing as a slippery slope. At no point does the Cardinal explain why denying homosexuals any secular legal rights assists or strengthens heterosexual marriage. I dare say many people wrestle with the "marriage" word and actually take the view that homosexual unions are in some sense "equal but somehow slightly different". There is, to borrow a phrase from the Catholic Church itself, a "mental reservation" here. Such doubts, though perfectly human, are not the same as nor a justification for narrowing the legal, civil, secular definition of marriage.
Again, this is both a large subject (in terms of theory) and a tiny one (in terms of the number of people it will really effect). The fury evident in Cardinal O’Brien’s article is itself as remarkable as its lack of logic. It takes quite a leap of faith to presume you’re being persecuted when you are explicitly given an opt-out from a narrowly-drawn piece of legislation and it is quite something to be given a lecture in tolerance by someone whose arguments bankrupt the very meaning of the word.
That’s the Cardinal’s right, of course. Each to each and all that. But if he wants to prevent some marriages he’d be better off rooting out the thousands of marriages blessed by priests and ministers each year in which neither spouse holds any sincere religious faith but pretend to on the day to provide a more "fitting" atmosphere for the ceremony. These, I should think, undermine the religious aspect of marriage rather more severely than anything yet ahcieved by homosexual couples receiving a civil endorsement of their own union.
*This is not meant perjoratively: at some point Cardinal O’Brien has to believe Roman Catholic teaching is superior to that preached by other Christian denominations, to say nothing of the barbarisms of other religions. These alternatives are not only inferior they must be wrong. Otherwise all is relative and doctrine holds no more value than a Woolworths pick’n'mix display. Factually, not pejoratively, this makes most men of the cloth bigots. And that’s fine!Tags: Catholic Church, England, Gay Marriage, Gay Rights, Marriage