Thu 20th Nov 2014 | Last updated: Thu 20th Nov 2014 at 22:52pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

This is a time for passionate language; Cardinal O’Brien and Dr Sentamu are right to speak as they do about gay ‘marriage’

It would be a disaster almost impossible to reverse: this is the time to put a stop to it

By on Monday, 5 March 2012

Cardinal O'Brien has been accused of 'absurd and inflammatory rhetoric' (PA photo)

Cardinal O'Brien has been accused of 'absurd and inflammatory rhetoric' (PA photo)

The controversy over gay “marriage” is increasingly becoming a defining struggle in the culture wars of our times. Those who are opposed to it believe that if legally enacted it would further destabilise both true marriage and – because, in the old cliché, marriage is one of the building-blocks of society – the whole of our social order too. Those who are in favour of it believe, in the words of the Times newspaper, that “so far from damaging marriage, expanding it to same-sex couples shores it up. Stable gay relationships are a part of national life. If marital law cannot accommodate them, the purpose of marriage will eventually be brought into question. Gay marriage will be a notable but still evolutionary social reform. And the marriage contract has changed historically to take account of shifting mores.”

It looks increasingly as though, in part at least, this question is emerging as a struggle between the religious and the secularisers – and (to complicate a complicated situation further), this latter category, of course, includes many who are secularising members of existing religious communities. It goes without saying that Muslims are against it: but so are Catholics (Cardinal O’Brien on Sunday) and Anglicans (Dr Sentamu, Archbishop of York) and even, in his usual nuanced way, Dr Rowan Williams. This isn’t, of course, a cut and dried division; Quakers, liberal Jews and others, are all for it. But the general trend is there, clearly enough.

The least that can be said is that this proposed innovation is not one which has general and whole-hearted support, and for that reason alone it should be opposed, not only by those who are against it but by those who are in favour of it in principle. The Times newspaper, I was sorry to see this morning, has a leader generally supporting it: but this includes a warning against precipitate action, preceded, however, by a crack at two Christian leaders opposed to it for their supposedly intemperate language:

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, yesterday branded the Government’s position a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has accused the Government of acting like a dictatorship. More temperately, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, maintains that changing the law to allow gay marriage would force unwanted change on the rest of the nation.

If the critics were to restrict their case to stressing the institution of marriage as a support for stable families and societies, they would be making an important contribution to debate. And, though Cardinal O’Brien and Dr Sentamu have chosen to embellish their argument with absurd and inflammatory invective, Dr Williams, a Christian leader of great intellectual gifts, raises an issue that should give pause to those who support change. Reforms to marital law need to be informed by a sense of history, lest they give rise to unintended and damaging consequences. Only in the past generation has the principle of same-sex marriage gained widespread support. It is not a frivolous criticism that the legitimacy of marriage and the social cohesion that it provides might be damaged if the law is rewritten without regard for how most people understand an historic institution.

The Times goes on to say that “the objection is misguided, even so” and continues in words I have quoted above. And there is that accusation of “absurd and inflammatory invective”; the implication being that those in favour of the change are civilised and reasonable and those strongly against it are extremists, even fanatics. This is the kind of accusation which despite the fact that I left the county of my birth as a young man, brings out all the Yorkshireman in me (you can take the lad out of Yorkshire but you can’t etc) and prompts me to rejoin that that was clearly written by some right mealy-mouthed southern smoothy-chop milksop (an American would no doubt add “pantywaist”).

Clear, strong language isn’t necessarily fanatical. Take Dr Sentamu’s accusation that to impose this legislation would be acting like a dictator. This is what he actually said, off the cuff but absolutely on the button: “Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are. We’ve seen dictators do it in different contexts and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.” Why is that “absurd”? How is that any different from what the Times more suavely accepted, that “It is not a frivolous criticism that the legitimacy of marriage and the social cohesion that it provides might be damaged if the law is rewritten without regard for how most people understand an historic institution”?

That’s just what Cardinal O’Brien argued, too: and it’s worthwhile to consider exactly why he did argue that gay marriage would be “a grotesque subversion of a universal human right”; note exactly where the language of human rights comes from here:

Can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?

Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is defined as a relationship between men and women. But when our politicians suggest jettisoning the established understanding of marriage and subverting its meaning they aren’t derided.

Instead, their attempt to redefine reality is given a polite hearing, their madness is indulged. Their proposal represents a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.

“Tradition,” said Chesterton, “is the democracy of the dead.” Every generation has supposed itself to be wiser than all its predecessors; and succeeding generations have then rejected their immediate predecessors and as often as not either returned to what they swept aside or at least bitterly regretted that it is impossible to do so, since not every mistake can be reversed. Some blunders are very difficult to reject: a new institution of this kind, once established, is all but impossible to suppress, however dire have been the consequences of establishing it in the first place.

Gay “marriage” is quite simply against the grain of human history and human nature. How can it be denied that true marriage, that between a man and a woman, would be immeasurably emblematically weakened if this travesty were to be enacted into law? Cardinal O’Brien has been traduced for the strength of his feelings on this matter: but what kind of man would he be, what kind of Christian leader, having seen so clearly what a disaster the proposed legislation would visit on our society, if his feelings were more “moderate”, or his language less passionate? As a Catholic, I am proud of him: now, it is time for the Catholic position to be spelled out just as unambiguously south of the border.

  • Darsoot

    Sin is not ours to judge but the Lord’s. To take this ridiculous stance you are setting yourself against the Lord and the Church. Judge not lest ye be judged.

  • Darsoot

    Deo Dratias

  • ms Catholic state

    It actually is secular society that is sex-obsessed.  So much so that despite a rampant sexual free for all…..the birthrate is inadequate and needs to be supplemented by mass immigration.  We have now a sexually degenerate but failing society.

  • Anonymous

    You will win, friend Romsbar, despite what some of the deluded posters here are telling you.  Just as one can stop breaking the Fifth commandment, one can also stop breaking the 6th and 9th. I wish you God’s choicest blessings.

  • Maccabeus

    No one is suggesting that homosexuals should be punished under the law as it stands so why do you invent a straw man that no one advocates? The subject in question is marriage which by definition refers to a union between a man and a woman. Arguing for gay marriage is like pointing to a horse and calling it a squirrel. A horse is not a squirrel and no matter how many times you call it a squirrel the horse remains a horse. You don’t like nature? Take it up with Darwin. You don’t like the natural law? Take it up with Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, they articulated it long before we Christians did.  Or are you perchance saying that the modern gay movement is smarter than Plato, Aristotle and Cicero put together?

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, this is the type of convoluted thinking that occurs when the Church has for decades upon decades not been doing its job.

    But this weird state of affairs in the Church will not last forever.  After all, we know the gates of Hell will not prevail.

  • Maccabeus

    We already have the inquisition – only it’s now called ‘Supine compliance with PC dogma under pain of public ridicule, humiliation, loss of job, criminal charges, slander, calumny and political and social ostracism’.

  • Tridentinus

    For over 300 years Christians were persecuted, among other groups I grant you but specifically on many occasions.  According to Tacitus, after the Great Fire of Rome, Nero “fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Chrestians.”
    From 303 Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius issued edicts to supress the practice of Christianity throughout the Empire and it is estimated around 20,000 were martyred mainly in the east. Persecution ended with the Edict of Milan under Constantine in 313 although it was revived some years later for a while under Julian the Apostate who was trying to restore the old Roman religion

  • Anonymous

    As Thomas More said: ‘I die the King’s good servant but God’s first.’ Catholics will have to be prepared to go to prison rather than go against their consciences. 

  • Anonymous

    Protecting and caring for all human beings regardless of the labels they or others put on them is the Christian way. Our Equality laws in that respect are based in Christian values. However, promiscuity is a manifestation of man’s inability to exercise self-control. In relation to the sexual appetite, the pinnacle of self-control is celibacy, while Christian disciples unable to make that sacrifice, exercise self-control by abstaining from fornication and limiting sexual relations to one person within marriage, for life. Self-control is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said that those who would follow him must deny themselves. Anyone can call themselves Christian, but those who do not think that the above limits apply to them might well ask themselves why they call Jesus Master and not do what he says? There are would be Christians who are sinners – weak and undisciplined – but nonetheless aware of their sinfulness; some of these no doubt think of themselves as homosexual, but they, like the adulterous woman, can find salvation through Jesus – by repenting and doing what he says, and praying for the grace to do so. Then there are those who teach a contrary message – that there is no need for the above limits, and indeed no need even to be limited by natural constraints. They preach permissiveness, or sexual self-indulgence, which St Paul said is the opposite of the Holy Spirit. It is because of self-indulgence (selfishness) that people harm others and commit crimes and atrocities. Thus we see that Love and unconstrained sex are opposites. Those who seek to undermine all natural and legal constraints, on the availability of others for sexual gratification, masquerade behind the false claim that indulging one’s sexual appetite is the same thing as Loving one’s neighbour. They often retort that the Church should keep quiet because, being celibate, clerics can know little about sex. The truth is that those who promote sex outside marriage between a man and a woman know little about Love. Love, as St Paul said, never seeks its own advantage.

  • daclamat

    We have one in Switzerland to complete the set, though he’s not a cardinal: Vitus Huender, bishop of Coire. He’s being particularly courageous about victims of broken marriages who have the audacity to enter into a new union after the break down of their marriage. No sacraments for them! Even though the rest of our bishops have this unfortunate tendancy to think broken suffering people need the grace of the sacraments. Long live old and tested values. What values, and who tested them? I notice O’Brien is four months older than me, and has views on:
     Scottish independence
     Homosexuality and Civil partnerships
     Politicians who support abortion
     Embryo bill
     New Labour
     UK foreign policy
     Act of Settlement of 1701
    I  don’t see where Jesus comes in to all this, but so long as it’s all tried and tested, it must be all right.
    I do however have a sneaking feeling that like me he began to be infallible when he turned seventy. I rather wish you would stop quoting Chesterton, William, who was as much an exhibitionist as he was an apologist, sculpting a bon mot at the drop of a hat.
    As a Catholic  I am ashamed

  • Homar

    A comment to liberal thinkers…..


                                                                     JESUS, to Sr Mary of St Peter  

  • daclamat

    Disgusting. Surprised CH  has allowed this stuff to stain its pages for a whole week

  • daclamat

    Talking about faith of our fathers, “How sweet would be their children’s fa ate,
    If they like them could die for thee ee*
     Suicide bombers and the like
    Catholics in England were pretty good at dungeon. fire and sword.
    It seems to have been a trait of Christians down the centuries.

  • Anonymous

    It does not matter whether “Society” thinks Cardinal O’Brien,is right or wrong, the fact remains that you cannot change the reality of marriage, it is a blessed sacrement between a Man and Women, and it will always be so.

    To consider a same sex partnership as “Equal To Marriage” is  insulting  and distateful to those of us who still, want to live in a society where there is still some real meaning to “Traditional Marriage.”   That Cardinal O’Brien had the guts to say what many were thinking, speaks volumes!

  • Anonymous

    A person should not be vilified for their sexual orientation, and no one has ever suggested they “Should”….But why should I as a Catholic, be asked to accept a definition of marriage, that is ilogical???

    Would you ask the Dali Lama??

  • Anonymous

    You show your stupidity, and severe lack of knowledge!

  • Don

    God Bless His Eminence, he makes the rest of us feel human. I used think as a child these guys in red were self aware but Cardinal O’Brien proves they are the same as the rest of us. I would advise the good cleric to take it easy as gay marriage whether we like it or not will come and in the future I imagine the church will grab the pink pound or euro when they allow the knot be tied on their premises. Its the way of the world, we rebel, grudgingly accept and incorporate into our system that which we once thought alien. The RC church will never get a prize for leading the way but it has changed with time as much as any institution, its just that it takes it a little longer.

  • The Raven
  • Tridentinus

     Well of course it is wrong! If you are going to post on a Catholic website have the decency to have studied the Church’s teaching before you start attacking it. Then attack it, if you must, logically. Flicking through your posts you are totally dismissive of any way of thinking, save your own without offering the slightest proof or justification of your views.

  • David Thomson

    Sooner it is redefined the better.

  • David Thomson

    The sooner it is redefined the better.

  • dnthomson

    Bloody liar.

  • Pingback: target amtrak coupons and promotions