Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Natural Law and Marriage: Part 2: religious liberty

Sacrificing a goat: protected by religious liberty?
In considering non-religious arguments for (real, traditional) marriage, a great deal has been said about the consequences for religious freedom. This has been the constant theme of the Christian Legal Centre: the very proposal for redefinition of marriage, and the enactment of civil partnerships, has been a key part of the drive to outlaw the proclamation of Christian teaching on sexuality. Legal recognition does not logically imply moral acceptance, and the law does not normally demand that citizens conform their ethical thinking to a state-approved model, but in practise the connection can be very close. In this case non-descriminatiion and hate-speech laws have made it closer still. In a nutshell, the legal recognition of gay marriage is going to mean that anyone criticising the gay lifestyle will be held to be attacking something legally established as legitimate, and this will facilitate the claim that it is unjustifiable hate-speech.

It is interesting that heterosexuals have never felt the need to invoke such laws against those who think that all sex and/or childrearing is wrong. Admittedly there aren't many Manichees or Cathars around today, but the claim that having children is irresponsible is increasingly made.

The Christian Legal Centre can point to a lot of court cases which illustrate their point, and it is certainly very worrying for orthodox Christians. But it is not an argument which has much effect against the proponents of same sex marriage, or on the less committed majority: or else the former would not push these court cases, and the latter's outrage would stop them in their tracks. The reason is simple: as I have pointed out before, what is regarded as a legitimate exercise of religious liberty does not determine, but rather is determined by, what is regarded as just.

Just let that sink in. Religions which sacrifice children have no case under religious liberty laws, because the sacrifice of children is a violation of justice. Whether religious believers are permitted to sacrifice goats, carry out cliterodectomy on girls, or circumcision on boys, or teach children about Hell, depends, and will always depend, on whether those practices are regarded as intrinsically unjust. You cannot make an argument for any of these practices being just from the fact that they are required by some religion or other. It simply doesn't follow. If you want to defend them, you need to defend their justice directly.

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