Same-Sex Marriage and the Common Good

Vincent Freely FAITH Magazine March – April 2012

Vincent Freely, who has just begun an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at Imperial College, presents some of the arguments on display at a recent Catholic Voices colloquium.


The Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, may well find that he becomes remembered more for his headline-grabbing moments pandering to focus groups than for coherent policy. Just as his photo opportunity riding with huskies in Lapland (searching for Santa?) is the best remembered part of his pre-election period, the only part of his recent Conservative Party Conference address which remains in the public consciousness is his unequivocal call to legalise homosexual "marriage": "I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative."

One wonders how far Mr Cameron will go in order to find nuggets of pleasing news to throw to his coalition partners, in this case the Lib-Dem "Equalities Minister", Lynne Featherstone. There has hardly been a public clamouring for Mr Cameron's proposed change in law, more probably the reverse given that the number of people actually wishing to get married is in general decline. There have only been 46,662 homosexual civil partnerships between their legalisation in December 2005 and December 2010, and 18,000 of these were in the year after the law was passed. The annual rate is currently about 2.5\% of the rapidly falling number of marriages, with annual dissolutions heading towards the 10\% mark. Since the recent further development of this legislation, less than a handful of religiousestablishments have stepped forward to offer their premises to host civil partnership ceremonies.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark wasted little time in stating:

"Whilst we welcome the Prime Minister's support of marriage, family life and especially the care of children, the proposed redefinition of marriage cannot be right. Marriage by its very nature is between a man and a woman and it is the essential foundation of family life. The state should uphold this common understanding of marriage rather than attempting to change its meaning."

Against this background, Catholic Voices, an organisation whose motto is "putting the Church's view in the public square", arranged a talk about homosexual "marriage" and the common good last November. The aim of Catholic Voices is to assist interested parties in articulating well-founded arguments supporting traditional Catholic teaching and to train participants in presenting the Church's case on contentious issues in the media.

Having recently been asked about my view on this issue at university, I decided to go along to the talk, held at the elegant rooms of the London Centre of the Catholic University of Notre Dame in America, just off Trafalgar Square. David Quinn, a Catholic journalist and commentator, and Neil Addison, a specialist barrister in religious freedom, spoke for approximately 15 minutes each, ably giving arguments against the legalisation of gay "marriage"; a question time session followed.

One of the main arguments used by advocates of gay "marriage" is that the current definition of marriage (as pertaining exclusively to man and woman) breaches the principle of equality and thus discriminates against same sex couples. However, the principle of equality, as David Quinn commented, "treats similar situations in a similar fashion, but treats different situations differently", and herein lies the weakness of the proponents of gay "marriage". There is a major difference between a same-sex couple and a heterosexual couple that is relevant enough to justify classifying them differently. For that reason, restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is not a breach of equality. This relevant difference is that only a man and a woman together can have a child that is biologicallytheirs.

The difference is not only a material fact, it also points to a significant benefit to society, that is to the common good. As has been almost universally accepted, there is an added value to a child being brought up by its own biological parents because every human by nature has a biological mother and a biological father. This cannot be discarded in determining the definition of marriage since it is a fact of life, which has been recognised by every society in history that has used marriage as a social institution. Whilst David Quinn did not elaborate on these benefits, they would seem to include less crime, lower divorce rates and psychological advantages.

Conjugal relationships are, by their nature as the union of man and woman in their respective complementarity, always ordered to the production of children; even if specific couples are unable to have children because of infertility or age, it is still in the nature of the relationship to be procreative. Thus infertile marriage is not a basis for disapplying the relevant differentiation between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples.

David Quinn takes the benefits of a child having both a male and a female parent, as opposed to two same-sex parents, a stage further. Even if for unfortunate circumstances, a particular child cannot have its own biological parents, the child is in general still better off having a mother and father. There appear to be no studies of children brought up by two male parents, and the few studies purporting to show that children with two lesbian mothers are in no way disadvantaged are typically flawed: they are taken from limited samples, have not followed the children's behaviour through time, and have generally been compiled solely on the lesbian parents' opinions. Given that the onus of proof must rest with those trying to show the equivalence of a lesbian upbringing, the studies fallwoefully short. The state, with a duty to promote the common good, must protect and support an institution, such as genuine marriage, that benefits children and society.

David Quinn also commented that a legalisation of same-sex "marriage" would perpetuate the discrimination against non-sexual relationships, which has been created by allowing civil partnerships. He spoke about the Burden Sisters inheritance tax case in 2006, in which two cohabiting sisters who had lived together in a loving and committed relationship all their lives lost a lengthy court battle to avoid paying inheritance tax when one of them died. If marriage and civil partnerships are all about commitment, as David Cameron insists, then there is no difference, apart from the sexual aspect, between the relationship of a same-sex couples and that of equally loving, cohabiting sisters. Why does the state deny cohabiting siblings exemption from inheritance tax, purely because theirrelationship is non-sexual?

Neil Addison also presented a set of arguments against the introduction of same-sex "marriages". He explained that if the definition of marriage is changed to include almost any type of relationship, marriage comes to mean nothing at all. The relevance of this is that the state has commuted certain benefits to marriage, such as taxation treatment, pensions treatment, memberships etc. The justification of such benefits can only be based upon marriage being in the common good. Charles Moore made a related point in his leader column in The Daily Telegraph of 7th October 2011: "if the definition of family can be almost anything, and if your human right to one gets you 'out of jail free', then a real family life - marriage, children, that sort of thing -gets devalued."

The 70 or so attendees were appreciative of the well-founded and logical analysis of the Government's proposal, and of the distortion of the concepts of "equality" and "commitment" for the sake of political expediency. Perhaps, given current trends, we should be grateful that it is still possible to hold such an educational talk in a public forum.

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