The Government’s Gay Marriage Bill being debated in the House of Commons today is a flawed measure. Not in any way because of what it proposes or purportedly seeks to achieve: but because of the authoritarian, intolerant of dissent, and illiberal way it is being pursued and the way the Government intends to enforce it.
Much of the trouble comes from trying to reconcile the conflicting demands of liberal secularism with the deference expected of the political process towards the State’s established church by its adherents. This is supposedly highlighting cultural differences on social policy. What it ought to be highlighting though, and thereby providing a framework for approaching the gay marriage issue from a different perspective, is the anachronistic nature of an “established” church at all.
The gay marriage row would not be half as politically toxic as it is if the UK abandoned the idea of an “established” state-favoured Church, and allowed all religious belief and observance a matter entirely for the private sphere. The idea that, in the 21st century, what is merely one strand of merely one religion should be state-favoured, over all others, surely defies logic. Disestablishing the Church of England from the State, and making all religion a matter exclusively for the private sphere, would encourage and enable the state to do what it ought to do – namely not get involved in marriage at all.
Some more intelligent and thoughtful politicians, like Wycombe MP Steve Baker, understand the need for this withdrawal. Writing on the subject back in February, he argued: “the state should confine itself to providing one secular relationship which deals with the traditional property rights issues and leave private institutions to define marriage on top. That is how to deliver equality before the law, freedom to marry and tolerance for diverse views”.
He is right. The state should enable a civil union to be registered for administrative purposes, and no more, leaving any religious or quasi-religious solemnization or recognition as a private matter entirely between the participants and the representatives of the faith concerned.
From any even putative libertarian, there can be no issue with, and no objection to, homosexual marriage per se. But what any even putative libertarian ought to object strongly to, though, is its advocates’ determination to use the coercive power of the state and the law to force solemnization and/or recognition of same-sex marriage on bodies which hold perfectly tenable, morally-derived, religion-derived, or philosophically-derived contrary view.
In an ICM poll conducted in December 2012, 60% of the 73% of respondents thinking gay people should be allowed to get married also wanted not to require religious organisations to provide wedding ceremonies. The public’s consent to gay marriage therefore, overwhelmingly also demands proper and robust, resistant-to-challenge legal protection for those who dissent or decline to officiate on religious grounds, or those such as teachers who find themselves conflicted by religious or ethical conviction with what their employer may require.
These protections are supposed to be contained in the Government’s Gay Marriage Bill: but the Government’s assurances on this have been tentative, uncertain, and therefore unconvincing.
Cultural leftists, on the other hand, some of whose aims appear to be more about social engineering, than they are about eliminating inequality while protecting the rights of minority opinion, have already said any “conscience” derogations will be rapidly attacked on ECHR grounds, to ensure state-enforcement. Writing in December 2012, for example, the culturally left-liberal Ian Birrell, former speechwriter to David Cameron, was adamant: “a rapid appeal to the European Court of Human Rights will remove any opt-outs given to hostile religions”.
This is an extra reason why the Church of England should be disestablished as a concomitant of legalising homosexual marriage, and all religion moved wholly to be a matter solely for the private sphere, giving protection from state coercion. Because, as so often, the cultural liberal-left’s “tolerance” extends only to tolerating that which it approves of, & not any dissent from the fashionable, metropolitan-modish mores of the moment.
Such a visceral determination not to accommodate any expression of principled dissent as an integral part of a free society leaves a suspicion that the real target of the most vociferous left-liberal “equality” advocates isn’t actually “inequality”, or “injustice”, or “intolerance” at all: that the legislation is supported more as a tactic in the illiberal, authoritarian cultural Left’s campaign to undermine all non-state societal institutions which can serve as an alternative source of ethical or moral authority to Fabian-State cultural hegemony.
For this reason, however justified is the proposal to enable gay couples to marry – and it is eminently justified – the Bill should be withdrawn until watertight protections for minority views can be guaranteed. But then, as we know, some minorities are deemed more deserving of protection than others.
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