Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Coalition for Marriage

Half the blogs I follow now have a little post about the petition in support of the traditional definition of marriage organised by the Coalition for Marriage.

This is the judgement of Peter Tatchell in Pink News on the Coalition's campaign:

Coalition members are entitled to believe that same-sex marriages are wrong, but they are not entitled to demand that their opposition to such marriages should be imposed on the rest of society and enforced by law.

Supporters of traditional marriage should learn that by heart. It is the central contention of the campaign for same-sex marriage. Morality, along with religion, should be confined to a private sphere where they won't impede anyone else's pursuit of happiness.

It is term time, and I'm in Philosophy tutor mode, so I might as well say I don't think that the Coalition does a very good job of dealing with Tatchell's argument. Here's what they say, in red, with my comments in bold.

Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman.Wrong! Marriage 'in virtually all human societies' has taken a variety of forms, notably to include polygamy and concubinage. But NEVER same-sex marriage because that simply doesn't make sense: if anthropologists found such a thing in a remote tribe, they would hesitate to describe it as 'marriage'. The Coalition is wrong to place polygamy further down the 'unthinkability' scale than same-sex marriage.

Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father. True: but why don't they make the point that this what marriage is for? The raising of children is the purpose of marriage, it is the reason why marriage is designed as it is, even if not all marriages are fertile.

If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People's careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. Wrong! This has already happened, as a result of what the Coalition already accepts: Civil Parternships.

If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy? This could be a good argument (why not marriage between men and apes?), but they need to explain why marriage should be defined in the way it is defined. What exactly is wrong with polygamy? If they are appealing to the 'yuk' reaction, they are doing Tatchell's work for him in conforming to the homophobic stereotype.

Civil partnerships already provide all the legal benefits of marriage so there's no need to redefine marriage. This is the concession which concedes the whole debate. If the law of the land has an interest in giving a special legal status to same-sex unions, why shouldn't it lump them together with 'marriage'?

It's not discriminatory to support traditional marriage. Wrong! It is discriminatory, undeniably so: marriage is open only to heterosexual couples. The Coalition's job is to argue that this discrimination is justified. 

Same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us. This is just puzzling. You've been married for a few years, and when you tied the knot the legal category you joined was 'the union of one man and one woman'. Later they extend the category to be 'the union of two persons'. How have you been harmed? The Coalition needs to do better than this.

Part of the problem I think is that this is a Coalition of Catholics with Evangelical Protestants. It excludes Muslims because the Christians don't like polygamy. And the presence of Evangelicals makes it difficult to talk about Natural Law.

James Preece does a pretty good job of explaining why same-sex marriage is wrong. This is how I'd try to fit it into a nutshell.

Traditional marriage, the lifelong committment of a man and a woman ordered to procreation, is the indispensible condition for the family, and grows directly out of human nature. It is not the product of human convention or law; it is historically and logically prior to the state. Since it is the fundamental institution of human society, the state has an interest in recognising and protecting it, particularly as it provides the natural, normal, and by far the best environment for the raising of children. The proposal to extend the legal category of 'marriage' it to same-sex couples is a proposal to cease to recognise the natural institution as such; those getting married will be accorded the same status as those engaged in something completely different. This is motivated by a social-engineering project in favour of sexual libertinism which is directly hostile to stable family life, and it is a move away from the state's engagement with human realities, towards a dystopian fantasy.

But hey, while I'm a critical old curmugeon I still think you should get over to the Coalition website and sign the petition!


  1. Ben Trovato2:20 pm

    Thanks for this excellent analysis.  Like you, I back signing the petition, but do think they have got their arguments in a twist...

  2. Ioannes Patricius5:23 pm

    This is an extremely useful post.

    Really think we should sign it though, when it accepts CPs?

  3. Joseph Shaw8:59 pm

    Yes, I think so. The stuff I've been criticising is a series of little
    points they make, but what petioners are actually subscribing to is
    simpler: all the petitioin itself says is
    "I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary
    union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all
    others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it."

  4. Jancis M. Andrews.11:14 am

    You ask what is wrong with polygamy? Polygamy (more correctly, polygyny) involves one man collecting many women, the first of whom will be his legal wife while the rest are merely concubines in his harem. Only the legal wife and her children have any claim on the man's life insurance, health, vision and dental insurance, pensions and tax benefits, etc. The concubines and their children are on their own, have no legal rights and face poverty should they leave. Polygamy comes from the dark ages when women had no rights and were considered chattels. It has no place whatsoever in the modern world where women are considered men's equals. The year is 2012 AD, not 2012 BC.  

  5. Joseph Shaw11:34 am

    Heavens, I'm not in FAVOUR of polygamy! Whether it be polygyny or
    polyandry. I'm just saying they need to *explain* what is wrong with
    it. There are of course serious attempts from time to time to make it
    legally recognised.
    If it were rognised, then most of the problems you cite would go away.
    So we need better arguments if we are going to oppose its recognition.

  6. Steven2:14 pm

    The issue of same-sex unions is not an issue of discrimination, phobias, opinions or arbitrary judgements, rather immutable ethics, rooted in natural law.

    Natural law states that the human race, for its survival, require male and female to procreate (for the purpose of continuing the survival of the species through progeny).

    Nature provides organs for such purpose, respectively male and female.

    Natural law states that the sexual organs are correctly used for the act of procreation (which is exclusively found in the sexual union of man and woman).

    Therefore, according to the thus stated natural law; any use of sexual organs outside of the act of procreation is incorrect.

    The State has an obligation to safeguard natural law for precisely the same reason that there is male and female procreation – namely – for the purpose of continuing the survival of the species (and therefore the State) through progeny.

    Natural law also decrees that a human child is unable to care for itself for approximately the first 6 years of its life. Natural law places the responsibility of care on the procreators; the parents, male and female. Natural law expects male and female to practice fidelity for two reasons; the sake of the progeny and the sake of the sexual partner.

    Human beings have named this state ‘Marriage’, where a male and female pledge their mutual consent to mutual life-long fidelity, for the purpose of procreating and caring for their progeny.

    Any act outside of this natural legislation would therefore be considered incorrect.

    A State attempting to assign the same legal status of males using their sexual organs with other males (or females with females), as the natural structure described above, which we call 'marriage', would be acting against the States very own survival. Suicide.

    The fact that human beings have discovered satiation by use of sexual organs outside of procreation, and are willing to go to any length in order to preserve that method of satiation, is beside the point.

  7. I am registering my unease at your uncharitable and negative comments leading up to the 'Sign Here'. It seems that you have succeeded in inflaming your spirit and stirring your mind to nit-picking and stingy comments about our Christian brethren from the seperated churches. Why?
    The Evangelical Catholic and Church of England have shown more signs of life and industriousness in the public square than any other group. They are doing a better job to awaken conscience of the impious, the godless and the spiritually intrepid Christian. I may well ask you what have your right wing Catholics done in this domain? Should we not be joining forces with enthusiastic and eager minds to spread the Laws of God - What kind of Christianity do you preach?
    I am sure in some way you are collaborating in the way of saving souls but the absurdity of the black sea of comments and heresey which you want to expose is certainly not one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!

  8. Joseph Shaw6:38 pm

    What a truly bizarre comment. There are certainly some fruit-cakes out
    on the blogosphere!

  9. Clearly your intellectual arrogance precedes you.

    I wish you a charitable Lent.  Maybe you could learn something from reading the Gospels