Archbishop Supports Marriage Discrimination

Posted: February 29, 2012 in gay rights, religion
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Brian made this picture while Rowan Williams, ...

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Good old Rowan Williams. Whenever he has an opportunity to show his religion isn’t an antiquated force for oppression, hatred and discrimination he balks at it. He’s now spoken out in Geneva against marriage equality:

Dr Williams said human rights law “falls short of a legal charter to promote change in institutions”.

He argued that while laws should prevent certain actions, including discrimination against gays, positive “change” must come from cultures themselves.

He also spoke of communities concerns that an “alien cultural standard” was being “imposed” on them regarding, among other issues, equal marriage rights for gays.

In a lengthy speech, he talked of the “anxiety” among religious people that rights law was being “used proactively to change culture”.

Williams may be a nice guy, but this is the same arrogance displayed by his predecessor. This position is predicated on the presumption that a culture which has discrimination at its core has any validity whatsoever. Why should the law uphold the freedom of Christians to discriminate, when the minority in this country who want to (I don’t believe the majority do) justify it on Biblical literalism? We’re governed by civil law, people, not religious law; the Enlightenment happened for a reason. The minority who still want to have a privileged opt out need to accept this.

On whether the law needed to change culture in order to redress an imbalance for under-protected groups, he said: “Not exactly: when the law establishes protection or equality of access to public goods for a previously disadvantaged person or group, it declares that an agreed aspiration to a culture of dignity is damaged or frustrated by unequal protection and access.

“It secures what the very institution of a law-governed society is intended to embody […] Now laws change as societies become more conscious of what they are and claim to be; as I have said, it may take time for a society to realize that its practice is inconsistent – with respect to women and to ethnic, religious or sexual minorities.

“Law may indeed turn out to be ahead of majority opinion in recognizing this, but it has a clear argument to advance – that the failure to guarantee protection and access is simply incompatible with the very idea of a lawful society.

“But this falls short of a legal charter to promote change in institutions, even in language.”

I’m seeing pseudo-intellectual crap like this now on a daily basis, and I was prepared to argue it out with the usual zealous suspects on Twitter only, but no more. He’s dressing up capitulation to religious zealotry in comforting language, designed no doubt to appeal to the extreme and largely African members of his flock, but the argument doesn’t hold water. The people who want their ‘culture’ held static won’t tolerate any infringement of civil law into their privilege at all – it’s the function of human rights law to ensure that noone gets an opt out for any reason. I don’t think most Christians in the UK agree with him, polls show majority support for same-sex marriage, and he seems wilfully ignorant about historical change of the institution of marriage. He doesn’t after all advocate that women who have been raped should marry their attackers


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  1. Duncan Ryan says:

    Usually I find the Archbishop an interminable bore and have a great many disagreements with him. Though I have to say that I still find him a bit incoherent on this subject, I am in agreement with his opposition to redefining marriage and I don’t see how that has to be characterised as ‘oppression, hatred and discrimination’. If you’ll permit me…

    I have noticed the proliferation of gyms under the brand ‘Curves’ in recent times. Part of their self-definition is: “Created specifically for women, Curves offers a complete fitness and nutrition solution.” As a man, I too am interested in my fitness and nutrition, but Curves discriminates against me in that they won’t afford to me the same opportunities as women – in fact they entirely exclude me from their institution. However, I simply must accept that by definition Curves is not for me – there are alternatives available where I can find the same service, though I just won’t be able to call myself a member of Curves. Definition is everything.

    It’s too easy to bring in the emotion of alleging that types of relationship are being hated or discriminated against, which is not what the opposition to same-sex marriage need be about; it centres on what marriage is. Marriage, by definition, is a union between a man and a woman – there’s no reason for that to be offensive. And to avoid what might be perceived as discrimination against same-sex couples the Government has already brought in an equivalent alternative called the Civil Partnership. No-one need lose out on the benefits of having a formal union in the eyes of the State because, whatever one’s sexual orientation, provision has been made.

    Supporting the traditional definition of marriage is not (necessarily) an outworking of homophobia, but perhaps out of a concern for where redefining marriage may go next: I know some people who love their dog above all others and I have known some people who have loved more than one woman at a time – why not make allowances in the definition of marriage for them too? Defence of an ancient institution which has brought structure and stability to human society is not necessarily intolerant or bigoted – it is to be in the (increasingly dangerous and now almost criminal) position of having an opinion which disagrees with the Government’s social engineering project.

  2. cosmodaddy says:

    Marriage, by definition, is a union between a man and a woman – there’s no reason for that to be offensive. And to avoid what might be perceived as discrimination against same-sex couples the Government has already brought in an equivalent alternative called the Civil Partnership.

    I think you’ll find it’s a definition, and the definition of marriage has changed as society has changed. For that matter marriage worldwide is by no means the same everywhere – men are allowed to marry each other in Holland and Massachusetts, whilst women are regularly subjugated by their husbands in many Islamic societies. It’s also historically revisionist to say that civil partnerships were introduced purely to avoid discrimination – they were introduced to avoid precisely the whingeing the religious lobby is kicking up now, thus allowing an improvement in rights, whilst not allowing equality.

    There is no reason on earth why marriage should not be between two consenting adults who love one another. If I were to marry my partner of the same gender it wouldn’t affect you in any way, nor would it affect a single heterosexual marriage which has ever taken place. If you don’t like same-sex marriage that’s indeed your right – noone’s going to try to make you marry someone of the same gender after all. I’m hardly surprised you finish your rant with the link between same-sex unions and bestiality – it’s about the only place you can go with the argument, with reason not playing a part. It’s a disgusting comparison, which doesn’t really dignify a response, and which says a great deal both about your intellect and your character.

  3. Duncan Ryan says:

    But I don’t live in Holland, Massachusetts or an Islamic society – why should we change the definition? I wasn’t actually trying to make a link between same-sex relationships and bestiality, but merely using an extreme example (which, believe it or not, was written with no connotations of sexual activity in mind) which I’ll gladly retract, for I was not trying to be offensive (or impugn my own intellect and character!). However, my point on polygamy (and the general point) still stands – if how we view marriage is as flexible as all that, allowing re-definition at will, where are the boundaries? In fact, are there any boundaries? If so, where do we get those boundary markers from?

    You introduce an emotive aspect which the law doesn’t care about – “two consenting adults who love one another”. This case is made a lot, but those who portray the issue as discriminating against types of ‘love’ are (indirectly?) making the issue out to be about homophobia (which in some quarters it undoubtedly is), but isn’t necessarily a fair reflection on the opposition argument. The issue is not ‘love’ which no-one has the right to cast doubt upon, but the issue of who and how many can be in a marriage.

    • cosmodaddy says:

      It’s not a changed definition. It’s a question of whether or not you think people different to you should be allowed into your privileged little club, which has never been possible but is now, as homophobia loosens its hold on society. Are you suggesting there’s something particular about British people, which the Dutch, Americans and Canadians don’t feel is true about them, which should preclude marriage equality in the UK? If so I can’t imagine what it might be, and feel free to comment on the post I’ve just made to follow up on this one.

      You did make a link between homosexuality and bestiality, and whilst I welcome your retraction, I wonder under what other circumstances you rely on it. The last few days I’ve had the same argument with zealots on Twitter about a linking of paedophilia with homosexuality and it was equally ugly. We are talking about consensual, both legal and actual, relationships across sexual orientations, and I note in your final comment again an argument that seeks to belittle that. You haven’t for one moment given a reason why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry other than ‘it’s never been that way before’ (marriage has never been constant anywhere) or the implicit ‘we don’t want gays in our club’. I suspect you’ll deny my latter claim, but it rings out loud and clear from what you’ve written.

  4. Duncan Ryan says:

    I’m not trying to hide what motivates me and what I cannot deny is that my worldview is founded in the Bible – I take as the gold standard for a marriage definition the consistent demonstration of God-instituted and God-sanctioned marriage being between a man and a woman. Though I have to acknowledge polygamy took place amongst some Old Testament followers of God, there’s no evidence of it being sanctioned by God and it almost always resulted in problems. I recognise that the definition of marriage we have in the UK has its foundations in this Judeo-Christian understanding and as such I think that definition remains valid and to redefine it in the way you advocate is to blur what marriage is.

    Marriage isn’t my club and I don’t hold the keys to the door of who gets in or not (nor do I want to); but neither is it the tool of the state/liberal classes to enforce political correctness. I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and as such have little issue with the introduction of strictly civil institutions such as Civil Partnerships. Thus I don’t believe that if the church was running things we’d have a utopian society (in some ways that frightens me more!); I don’t hold to the “Christian country” line of argument either, rather I do believe we each as individuals have an accountability before God as sinners (whether we’re in a marriage, a ‘marriage’ or none). I guess I see part of my responsibility as telling others what God has revealed about what marriage should be.

    These are my reasons.

    • cosmodaddy says:

      I acknowledge you have a belief about marriage, which you say is informed by your religious background. That doesn’t make your belief relevant to the rest of society, nor does it mean it’s substantiated by facts. Marriage is an institution that predates relation, let me remind you, and whilst I appreciate that you have a culture-specific expectation towards it, it’s always been a broader cultural institution than merely a religious one. I note with some amusement that your argument is just as I predicted: we don’t want gays in our club. Why not? Because we never have before. Oh well you didn’t let people of different racial backgrounds marry in the past either but that changed. You’ll get over this too. Let me remind you too that most people in this country do not consider themselves practising Christians – you’re in a minority on this.

      That’s not to say that your opinion shouldn’t be acknowledged, nor that you aren’t allowed a contrary one; of course you are. But at its core it’s an argument based on homophobia, and that religion should be allowed an opt out from being held to account for it. You may not like your argument being called homophobic – I’m sure you have gay friends, and even relatives, whom you treat with respect. But your position in this debate would be to deny them and me rights which you want to keep to yourself.

      Your deity for the record is imaginary, and your religion is an anachronism. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I allow a cult to determine which rights I should and should not be allowed.

  5. cosmodaddy says:

    Your language also betrays you. The state/liberal classes? Enforcing political correctness? Think it through.

  6. Duncan Ryan says:

    And therein lies the reason why we will not find any common ground on this matter despite the (largely) civilised dialogue – if, as you say, the God I believe in is a fiction, then you’re right, we can redefine marriage any way we like. If I am right, then I’m only stating what is in-keeping with what that God who instituted marriage has revealed in the Bible. You are right to anticipate that I don’t like the accusation of homophobia too much because to say I am (literally) in fear of homosexuals/homosexuality is not correct. Moreover, I think the Christian Gospel of salvation for sinners by faith in Jesus Christ is anything but homophobic (and it is a real tragedy that so many branches of the church have made it such).

    For the record, I should point out that I’ve never prevented inter-racial marriage, nor disapproved of a marriage for that reason, nor am I part of a Christian group which has ever done so (as far as I’m aware). My language doesn’t betray me, for I’m not trying to hide anything. (Many) Christians believe that this issue of redefining marriage is a moral issue of right and wrong – the government is venturing into the realm of telling society what it must think about moral issues of conscience which impinge in no way on the liberties of others; this is enforcing political correctness and pursuing an avowedly liberal agenda (I don’t want to pretend that’s not what I think)

    Thanks for being willing to discuss.

  7. cosmodaddy says:

    I fear you’re not going to like the line I’m going to take on this, the further your irrational attitudes take you. As I said, you’re abundantly free to have them and to express them, but don’t be surprised when you’re held to account for them. In my experience very few theists take well to being held to account for prejudices which they mask as religion (which is supposed to make it all ok), and I doubt you’ll respond any better even though your overall position on this subject is abundantly clear.

    Let me point out how far out your argument is from making sense for starters. You say the government is trying to meddle in issues of conscience. It isn’t – it’s promoting equal rights. You say rights are already equal – they’re not – gay people can’t get married and straight people can’t get a civil partnership. You say this is ‘enforcing political correctness’ – I couldn’t find that more patronising. Equal rights under the law for me are not a question of political correctness thank you very much, and let me make your issue of a ‘liberal agenda’ the centre of my next point.

    I heard a line a few years ago in a film I admire greatly: just because there are two sides to an argument doesn’t mean they’re of equal validity or equal merit. You imply that a ‘liberal agenda’ is by definition a negative thing, yet you are objectively wrong. Ruled as we are by civil law instead of religious gobbledigook, this ‘agenda’ allows more people in society to be more free to be who they are, not to be discriminated by superstitions or prejudices and for everyone to be treated equally before the law. You’re suggesting quite clearly that this is a bad thing empirically, yet more equal societies show much higher qualities of life by every measurable index.

    At the end of the day if I get married to my partner it’s none of your business. You won’t even notice it, should it ever be possible in this country. It won’t affect you, were you married it wouldn’t have any impact on your marriage, nor would it weaken the institution; heterosexual people let me remind you are doing a very good job of doing that themselves. You suggest nonetheless that it would be ‘wrong’ for a spurious religious reason, curiously whilst insisting that you and your religion don’t have a homophobic angle on this at all, and still persist in not making sense of that claim. Societies with marriage equality haven’t faced some unknowable apocalypse – far from it – but it’s true that their religion – state or otherwise – doesn’t carry as much sway as you’d like the C of E to have here. Fortunately neither Carey nor Williams are likely to win the argument, as neither they nor you seem able to articulate a position which isn’t founded on prejudice being acceptable on the grounds that religion should be allowed to be. And most Brits just aren’t that religious anymore. That’s a very good thing.

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