The question is, says the Guardian in a report from San Francisco, whether God is actually gay, what with the gay marriage movement being on such a roll. The US Supreme Court majority ruling that marriage between same-sex couples is a constitutional right usefully coincided with a similar ruling on gay marriage in Mexico, which makes a nice change, I expect, from worrying about the narcotics-related homicide rate. In Australia, Malcolm Turnbull says it’s bound to happen there. Quite a coup, this, for the social media companies like Facebook, Apple and Google who’ve been campaigning for just this outcome.
Over here, David Cameron too must be quietly congratulating himself on the outcome, given that he declared two years ago that he wanted to export gay marriage around the world – hasn’t he done well! Meanwhile, the BBC, even-handed as ever about the issue, recruited Alvin Hall to occupy the comment slot on Radio 4, where he declared that overcoming the forces of reaction and prejudice against gay people when it comes to marriage rights was really just the same as fighting the kind of racial prejudice that led to a white supremacist gunning down black worshippers in a Charleston church. Which, by some sort of syllogism, puts those of us who are opposed to gay marriage in the same class as racist killers. Nice.
Obviously the political class has been pretty well unanimous in its view that this ruling – 5-4, let’s remember – is more or less America catching up with the march of progress. Norman Lamb, LibDem leadership contender, spoke for the consensus when he declared that this means ‘you can love who you like and marry who you like’. Really? As Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, observed, on this basis two men could marry one woman and a man could marry his daughter. I’m not trying to be wilfully offensive here, but if sincere love is the only criterion for marriage then it’s perfectly compatible with the Muslim rule that a man may have up to four wives (plus concubines), given that he may quite sincerely love them all. As for sibling marriage, at least that has rather more in the way of historic precedent than single sex unions.
The real objection to the ruling was magnificently articulated in a dissident statement by Justice Antonin Scalia who declared that the Supreme Court majority ‘are willing to say that any citizen who … adheres to what was, until 15 years ago, the unanimous judgment of all generations and all societies, stands against the Constitution’. And by expanding the Fourteenth Amendment so as to make gay marriage a universal right, the Court ensures that ‘it stands for nothing whatever, except those freedoms and entitlements this Court really likes’.
So, the concept of marriage, which in the Western tradition, was universally understood as a contract between a man and a woman, can be reinvented at will, just so long as the reinvention coincides with contemporary prejudice.
And while objections to same sex marriage do not – repeat not – depend on religious conviction so much as an understanding of the nature of marriage as based on the complementarity of the sexes, it happens that most of the opponents of gay marriage are Christians in the US, and protection of religious freedom really is protected by the constitution. How the judges will square those conflicting principles remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, outside the bubble, marriage is an institution in crisis, increasingly the preserve of the middle class rather than the working class – as Fraser Nelson pointed out in The Spectator recently – and in Britain, increasingly ignored as the normal context for procreation. If the political class bent on expanding the definition of marriage were to put half as much energy into bolstering its conventional expression, society would be the better for it.