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William Oddie FAITH Magazine January – February 2012

The Acceptance of "Gay Rights"

Are "gay rights" now the most prominent defining issue delineating -at least in Europe and the US - the gulf between the Catholic Church and the modern world?

Thirty years ago, for instance, marriage was universally seen as being essentially between one man and one woman, not just by Christians but by everyone else, almost without exception. In this country at least, this has not been the case for some years: homosexual "marriage" is more and more envisaged as a human right which ought to be enshrined in legislation. We have gone very far indeed along that road when a Conservative leader can say, at the Tory conference itself, something as mind-bendingly foolish as "Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us... So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative." This did not go down well in the Tory heartlands, but so what? Cameron knows the way things are going: and he will losefew votes by saying what he said.

That is where we now are; and that, increasingly, is where the Americans are, too; in fact, they led the way. Hence, the homepage on a rather good new website put up by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and entitled "Marriage: unique for a reason", opens thus:

What is marriage? Are a man and a woman really essential to marriage? (my emphasis) What about the child ... and the role of mothers and fathers? Is it discriminatory to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman? What impact does the redefinition of marriage have on religious liberty?

These are just a few of the many questions about marriage today. They all hinge upon the first question: What is marriage? When the answer to this question is understood, everything else falls into its proper place.

Well, indeed, so it does: but only Christians, or at least the religious, are going to ask such questions, I fear. The USCCB's website, it seems to me, is however a rather successful attempt at answering them. It contains teaching at various intellectual levels, including a somewhat sentimental video (well, they are Americans, bless them) entitled "Made for Each Other: Sexual difference is essential to marriage", in which a handsome married couple with perfect teeth "talk about why men and women matter for marriage". "Their dialogue and interactions", claims the website, "illuminate the beauty of sexual difference and complementarity between man and woman as husband and wife."

Well, maybe. But one thing is clear: though the website gives the Church's immemorial teachings about marriage (and does it, it seems to me, mostly rather well) the point is that this is very clearly - as the Church's constant restatement of its unchanging beliefs for each new generation always is -a response to our current situation. In particular, it is a response to the threat against the family represented by secular society's accelerating movement towards accepting what were, only a generation ago, simply demands by a small minority of activists for the legalisation of what they insist on describing as homosexual "marriage".

The new reality has been arrived at by means of the quite extraordinary success of the gay lobby over the last three decades. Only the Catholic laity in this country (and some evangelicals) are still putting up any kind of resistance to this lobby (the bishops, as those conducting the Soho Masses are well aware, have now simply capitulated). But lay resistance has become a rearguard action, with fitful support from such as The Daily Mail, and total silence from Ambrosden Avenue. In early November, for instance, Francis Phillips, in her Catholic Herald blog, scored something of a bull's eye, with a post in which she pointed out that Tesco had ended its support for a major cancer research event, but instead made a large contribution to London's main annual gay prideevent.

Her blog was picked up by The Daily Mail in a strong piece on the subject, headlined "Outrage as Tesco backs gay festival... but drops support for cancer charity event". The piece ran, in part as follows:

Tesco has triggered outrage by ending its support for the Cancer Research 'Race for Life' while deciding to sponsor Britain's largest gay festival.

Some religious commentators and groups have condemned the decision and are calling for a boycott of the supermarket chain.

Tesco has worked with Cancer Research for more than ten years, raising hundreds of millions of pounds to help combat an illness that will affect one in three of the population...

Francis Phillips, a commentator at The Catholic Herald, condemned the shift, saying: "Tesco is a supermarket. Its remit has been to sell good-quality food and other items at very reasonable prices, and in this it has been hugely successful.

"Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London? Why has it given up its sponsorship of Cancer Research?"

What puzzled me about this story was the simple question of why Tesco was doing this? It seemed like such an obvious own goal. The sums involved, for instance, are quite disproportionate. Tesco, actually, still gives a very large amount every year to charitable causes, far more than they are giving to the London Pride day: this year they gave £64.3 m. This represents 1.8\% of Tesco's pre-tax profits.

Now, what's interesting about all this is the way Tesco has handled the Gay Pride furore. In fact, they didn't (as you might think from The Mail) just switch from normal charitable giving to support for Gay Pride. They've ended their "headline support" support for a particular fund-raising event, the "Run for Life", and around the same time announced their support for the Pride day. But there's been no actual switch from one to the other. It just looks like that.

So why didn't they say so more convincingly?

They had a ready defence after all: that their charitable giving has not diminished at all. They could even have protested, in the face of Catholic attacks, that they were and are still major donors to a large third-world charity founded by Catholics, Mary's Meals (yes, it's that Mary), which feeds about half a million third-world children every day. Tesco's support for Mary's Meals feeds over 4,000 schoolchildren in India, Kenya, Malawi and Thailand every year.

So, there's the question: why didn't they defend themselves, as they so easily could have done? Francis Phillips' question remained unanswered: "Tesco is a supermarket; its remit has been to sell good quality food.....

Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London?"

Well, there's a simple answer to that. They were absolutely delighted by the whole furore. They wanted, and want, to be thought aggressively pro-gay, if necessary at the expense of their well-deserved reputation for charitable giving. First, because there's money in it: the pink pound is now a substantial economic factor in these things, just as in London, at least, the pink vote has to be courted by politicians seeking election.

But another factor, quite simply, is that the "gay and proud of it" movement is well established within Tesco itself, as may be seen from the website of "Out at Tesco: supporting our Lesbian, Gay and Transgender staff", an in-house site set up by members of Tesco's main board, one of them chairman of Tesco Bank, the other its chief executive.

And the fact is that annoying the Catholics is a very clever thing to do, if getting the support of the gay lobby is what you want. I have no doubt that Tesco delighted at the furore the comparatively inexpensive gesture of supporting London's "Pride Day" stirred up; certainly, they did nothing to calm it down. So where does that leave us? What should we have done? Simply ignore their probably deliberately provocative act: or boycott them, almost certainly to very little effect?

Either way, I have an uneasy feeling that there are those within Tesco who are still laughing all the way to the Tesco bank.

Furthermore (and this bears repeating) you will hear no support for the likes of Francis Phillips, or any other lay Catholic swimming against that particular tide, from the English bishops, if for no other reason that it might cause the faithful to call to mind an (at the moment) dormant issue: their continuing support for the Soho Masses, at which homoerotically active homosexuals (self-proclaimed as such) regularly, and some say blasphemously, receive the Sacrament of the Altar.

But the worldwide Church is nevertheless still fighting this battle. The USCCB website invites us a little coyly to "Dive in deep into the Church's teachings": this can be done by going to one of the site's most valuable pages, which gives links to statements on marriage by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Here are just two passages germane to the question raised by the site's introductory paragraphs about the impact of the redefinition of marriage on religious liberty and much else besides. The first is from a document snappily entitled "Declaration of the Pontifical Council for the Family regarding the Resolution of the European Parliament dated March 16, 2000, making de facto unions, including same sex unions, equal to the family":

.... the European Parliament has approved a Resolution ... which ... considers de facto unions, including the registered cohabitation of persons of the same sex, and the need to recognise "legal marriages" between persons of the same sex.

This Resolution represents a grave and repeated attack on the family based on marriage, a union of love and life between a man and a woman from which life naturally springs.... Doesn't making "de facto" unions, and all the more homosexual unions, equivalent to marriage, and inviting Parliaments to adjust their laws in this sense, represent a refusal to recognise the deep aspirations of peoples in their innermost identity?

We tend to give Vatican documents issued by dicasteries like the Pontifical Council for the Family a miss, assuming that they will be written in the usual impenetrable Vaticanese: but this passage is pretty close to being a cri de coeur. Here's another, scarcely less oratorical in character, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the title of this document (another wonderful example of Vatican bogus academic language when what is needed is a competent journalist used to writing informative headlines) is "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons" (2003):

The Church's teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognised as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman....

Well, you would have thought so, wouldn't you? But we seem, all the same, destined to live through a period during which that certainty will more and more become clouded for many. In the end, it will, we may be sure, reassert itself: but only because of the many human casualties which will emerge as our deeply confused society blunders around, continuing to undermine the stability of the traditional family based on marriage between a man and a woman.

In the end, the tide will turn; and once more, the Church will be seen to have been right all along. But it will take several decades: I will not live to see it.

Faith Magazine