The current ‘Same Sex Couples Bill’ is part of a trend that supposes equality is only to be advanced by erasing all differences between us so that we are all the same and all equal. But a free society is made of those who differ and who can express that difference and distinction both by themselves and in association with each other.
The task of a democracy is not to obliterate difference in the name of a collective unity that makes all interchangeable with each – after all we have seen the fruit of that legacy in China, Russia and Cambodia. We believe that if the argument for equality has merit, it does so because it protects difference. Equality used to allow those who differ not to subsume themselves under another’s identity but to claim equity for their distinction and the state’s protection in maintaining and even defending it. Now however equality is being used to erase difference, destroy institutional distinction and remove proper and plural provision for different groups, faiths and organisations. We have profound reservations about same sex marriage not just because of the harm it does to a vital heterosexual institution but also because we reject the implication that in order to be equal and respected homosexuals should conform to heterosexual norms and be in effect the same as heterosexuals. In this sense we believe same sex marriage to be homophobic – it demands recognition for gay relationships but at the price of submitting those relationships to heterosexual definition. This serves neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals.
The former are absorbed into a structure that does not give due credit or recognition to their distinction and difference; whereas, heterosexuals are stripped of any institution that belongs to them qua their heterosexuality. Men and women who marry are denied proper recognition or celebration of their own distinctive union across the sexes and even more importantly any recognition of their role and unique responsibility in creating and nurturing children whose origin still lies exclusively in heterosexual union.
As mentioned above same sex couples want marriage because they want the social endorsement that it signifies; but by admitting gay marriage we deprive marriage of its social meaning. It ceases to be what it has been hitherto, namely a union of the different sexes, and a blessing conferred by the living on the unborn.
The pressure for gay marriage is therefore in a certain measure self-defeating for in seeking equality with something unlike yourself the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined. What is needed here is equity that respects difference not equality that destroys it. Gay people have wholly legitimate demands and needs for not just acceptance but celebration and recognition and this needs to be recognised by all who oppose same sex marriage.
What is needed is a an equity in diversity – and let us take a difficult case just as Judaism needs to restrict itself to those who profess the Jewish faith and Islam needs to do the same one can have equity and respect between them both where neither suffer through being what they are and neither need fear the erasure of the difference of their own beliefs that they value so dearly and so highly. A free country should allow differences to be protected and articulated in groups and institutions that further the vision of each particular set of human beings. To pursue gay equality is noble and right. But to pursue it by undermining heterosexual institutions is deeply damaging to both hetero and homosexual persons alike. For heterosexuals need an institution that shapes them for the consequences of opposite sex union and without that it is disaster and despair for children, burden and poverty for women and dislocation and atomisation for society.
This is an extract from Marriage: Union for the future or contract for the present, a paper from ResPublica.