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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.

  • Paul Halsall

    Gay Catholics have long had to live a lie. 

    If you do that – you end up like Norman St.John-Stevas – the entire world knows you are gay, but hides it by calling you “flamboyant”.That is just nonsense. The sooner we have nuptial masses for gay couples, the better.They already occur for certain well-connected people. They need to be available to all gay Catholics.

  • William Roberts

    That is not what Article 16 of the UNDHR says. The Cardinal might be advised to read it, carefully.

  • Mark H

    Well said Dr. Oddie. Cardinal O’Briens plain speaking provides the leadership faithful Catholics have been desperate for. The sooner the Shepherds of this country call homosexuals to repentance, the better for souls everywhere. JMJ.

  • Dave Corrigan

    If Jesus Christ appeared and wrote Article 16 of the UNDHR in his blood (in triplicate) the Cardinal would take no notice, because one cannot argue with psychosis. The problem is less about gay marriage, but is more about the Catholic Church losing power and control. The Cardinal wishes for the time when Pius XII was still alive and the austere mores of the 1950’s were in existence. Then the Church could do virtually as it wanted without too much interference. He longs for those days that are gone for good; Forever and Ever, Amen

  • Charles Martel

    Not going to happen. If it does, it simply means that those that participate have excommunicated themselves from the Church. The liberal smug perverted middle class self-styled intellectuals have have a good run since 1965 in refashioning the Church in their own smug image and likeness, but your time is up. Your takeover bid has failed. Catholics fighting an attraction to their own sex have been doing so for centuries with no help from you, just as heterosexual Catholics have been fighting their own fallen nature for centuries. The Church goes on, no thanks to you.

  • Lazarus

    The intention of Article 16 is clearly to acknowledge the right of a man and a woman to get married to each other and found a family. (The jurisprudence on the similarly worded Article 12 in the European Convention and common sense about time of the writing of the Article makes this clear.) 

    It’s is precisely the sort of twisting of the original meaning that you are suggesting here which is evidence of the Cardinal’s point: same sex ‘marriage’ results in the destruction of a traditionally understood human institution in favour of a liberal lifestyle choice. 

  • James H

    Article 16 says ‘Men and Women’. By what verbal gymnastics do you assume that includes homosexual couples? It certainly wasn’t intended by the original drafters, I can assure you of that.

  • Mark Castilano

    You have no way of knowing, any more than anyone else what the intention of the act meant.   It states clearly that men and women have the right to get married. This act has already been tested in law, and regardless of what you and the Roman Catholic Church think, it has been upheld that same sex couples may get married. You can skew and pervert this act until you are blue in the face, but there already is case law to support same sex marriage
    Article 16.
    (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

  • Londonistar

    Well said.

  • Anonymous

    In the Sunday Telegraph Cardinal O’Brien said “In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, marriage is
    defined as a relationship between men and women.” That is a false statement.

    To be charitable I am going to assume that his misquotation was simply a mistake, because as Mark Castilano has pointed out it does no such thing. While it does not say that people of the same sex have the right to marry, neither does it say the opposite. So Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  gives no support to either side of the argument.

  • Mike

    Yeah, let’s just go ahead an legislate for immorality. 

  • Anonymous

     What about the leadership to gay Catholics, or to those who have gay members of their families or gay friends? To them Cardinal O’Brien’s words sound at best outdated prejudice and at worst outright bigotry.

    It is inconceivable that the Catholic Church, given by Our Lord a command to preach the Good News to all nations, will permanently be lumbered with out-dated nonsensical teachings on sex that are only really believed by a tiny minority of fanatics. Catholics should speak out to prevent the marginalisation of the Church into a crackpot cult.

  • Chrisb

    Thank God for courageous people like Cardinal O’Brien who are prepared to stand up and be counted against those who would sweep all the age- old tried and tested values away.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Hadley,

    I really think you should go back to Catechism class. Your posts are so clearly against the teaching of the Church that I fear you have been seriously misled somewhere along the way. The idea that Jesus would condone something as grotesque as gay ‘marriage’ is quite simply risible. It is the gay rights lobby which is the crackpot cult pretending that human nature can be made into whatever we want it to be.

  • Anonymous

    See my reply to Mr Hadley.

  • Anonymous

    The more impoverished our culture becomes, the more obsessed society becomes with sex, and the more obsessed society is with sex, the more impoverished our culture becomes. Worship of idols is the beginning, cause and end of all evils. Ultimately it is worship of money – consumerism – which is at the root all the degeneracy. Gay people are like the beat up traveller in the good Samaritan parable – they are victims of this sinful society, and need tender loving care, not exploitation under the guise of caring – the last thing the West needs is more sex, but the advertisers, media stars and celebrities teach us from an early age that it is the key to all happiness. Our society is idolatrous and priests and clerics need to teach this truth as the Cardinal is – for the benefit of our fellow travellers through life who have had their minds beaten. No priests should pass by on the other side – yet that is what some Anglicans are doing by pretending that sex outside of natural marriage is harmful. The loving thing  to do is to teach the truth with welcoming compassion to those who can still listen.

  • theroadmaster

    I see nothing untoward or threatening in the words of Cardinal O’ Brien who firmly but very articulately lays out the reasonableness of maintaining the properly understood definition of marriage on  it’s own merits.  He does not frame his arguments primarily in a religious framework, but rather cleverly utilizes the historical and sociological significance of this particular institution.  It seems that you have to whisper your argument in hushed tones without emphasizing your main points in a raised voice, to suit the sensibilities of the bien-pensants of the secular liberal tendency, which is the default position of a lot of the print, audio and televisual media.  A clearing of the air without resorting to shrilly conveying one’s opinion is often required to unambiguously leave people in little doubt as to the serious nature and ramifications of the issues under discussion.

  • theroadmaster

    I wonder who is trying to “skew and pervert” this act?  You would need to be very naive or grossly ignorant to think that the original framers of this act intended that Article 16 could be extended to include couplings other than the subject of their deliberations, namely a marriage between one woman and one man.  Modernist ideologues looking  for a distorted application of “rights” have twisted the original intentions of the law-makers.

  • The Raven

    At the time that Article 16 was drafted homosexual acts were classed as criminal acts in the vast majority of the states contracting to the Declaration, and, in most cases, continued to be punishable under the criminal codes of those countries for a period of decades after signing up to the Declaration. The idea that those framing the UNDHR had unions between same-sex couples in mind is simply anachronistic.

  • Anonymous

    Could I respectfully ask, for the umpteenth time, that my fellow Catholics, indeed everyone devoted to sane discussion, stop using the perfectly innocent word “gay” to describe this most unspeakable of perversions?  We are in a War of the Words, and if you concede this battle to the sodomites, they have won that battle.  Can you not see this?  Words are everything.  Choose them carefully.

  • Dave Corrigan

    Very good indeed, I recall a time in Scotland when homosexuals were sent to prison for six months for allegedly engaging in same sex. Am I to understand that you would like the good old days to return. I think that Jesus Christ would not approve of your gesture.about the age- old tried and tested values. Would you like to see them flogged or hanged? 

  • Trockfield

    Yes, he’s a very clever man that cardinal O’Brien; I particularly like the pictures of him in a dress and a pointy hat…

  • Trockfield

    Yeah! bring back flogging and hanging! And the Inquisition!

  • Trockfield

    What word would you use?

  • Anonymous

    Homosexual, sodomite, etc.  Even “poof”, if you like.

  • Mark Castilano

    Yes you are quite correct The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was agreed in 1948 in Paris. It does not matter what they intended, the fact is that that same sex marriage has been agreed in several countries throughout the world. The very first country to legislate about same sex marriage was a catholic country: Argentina. It does not matter what Cardinal O’Brien says or does, or what the whole Catholic Church says or does, the fact is that same sex relationship legislation has been tested in court and it is here to stay. The legislation for same sex marriage will be passed by Parliament soon. Within a very short time, it will be the law that all establishments conducting marriage will have to facilitate same sex marriage, and that will include The Catholic Church.

  • Mark Castilano

    Your opinion is just as good as that of anyone else, however it is only opinion and it is not admissible as a credible entity. Please accept and understand that it does not matter what the Catholic Church thinks or feels about this issue. The Act of Parliament to allow same sex marriage will be passed, enacted and will become that law that you must obey without question.

  • Dave Corrigan

    Come on Old Darling, don’t be such a prig. Get yourself down to a gay club and live a little. You would be surprised at the sort of stuff that goes on there. It would make your eyes water, but you would go back for more because you sound very much like a closet gay man. So, “come out”

  • Dave Corrigan

    Yes, I agree with that. It is the nearest one can find to a priestly vocation!! One can dress up in women’s frocks and flaunt themselves in public. Being a priest and being gay is synonymous.

  • David Devinish

    The very thought of being excommunicated is just too terrible to contemplate. Imagine the loss of sleep and the frightful shame and embarrassment this would cause. I am going to flog my self senseless with a big whip. Like hell I am, this sort of idiotic stuff is piffle. Look get a life, and start living instead of being a bore.

  • Romsbar

     Even if Mr Schmenz is a ‘closet gay’ the he’s 10 times the man you’ll ever be, Mr Schmenz sounds like someone trying to live Chaste life.

    Oh and by the way I say this a Catholic Man experencing unwanted (and hopefully tempoary) same sex attractions, I just do my best, pray to St

  • Romsbar

    Ah so tyrany of government prevails does it? How orwellian of you. To quote St Thomas Aquinas ” an unjust law is no law at all”, should Martin Luther King Jr just shut his trap and not bothered with fighting for ‘true’ civil rights?

  • Lefty048

    yes the church will go on having left the teachings of jesus way behind.  not to change the subject too much but when did he say anything about contraceptives.  this has gotten mr limbaugh in our country in alot of trouble. 

  • Lefty048

    be nicer to charles i get a kick out of reading his comments.

  • Anonymous

    They already occur, do they? An extraordinary claim. Care to elaborate?

  • Romsbar

    Please do not presume speak for all ‘gay catholics” I am a young Catholic man who is currently experiencing (hopefully temporary) unwanted same sex attractions, I am doing my best to be a faithful son of the Church and I am NOT living a lie.

    It may be news to you but men (and women) can have very close and initimate relationships with members of the same sex without said relationship being sexual, at Secondary School I had a close friend whom I spent the best part of my school years with, yet it was purely platonic, without further evidence I must believe that The Lord St John of Fawsle lived a chaste life (whether or not he suffered from SSA) and is now hopefully in Heaven (or Purgatory). 

  • Anonymous

    The Church would not and could not obey such a law, and I seriously doubt that any government would be stupid to pass such a law. What does worry me is that there are people such as yourself who are totalitarian enough to think that passing laws which violate people’s consciences would be a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    Obey without question? Same sex civil marriage may come into being, but any suggestion that the Church would “obey without question” any directive to carry out same sex marriages is delusional.

  • Anonymous

    It is noteworthy that whilst most proponents of same sex marriage protest that it is a civil matter only, people such as you give the lie to this and state that the aim is ultimately to force the Church to perform these marriages too.

  • Mal

    Little things please little minds.

  • Mal

    Yeah! Then society might improve.

  • Mal

    It would never be a good thing. True marriage between man and woman are recognised all over the world. Same-gender ‘marriage’ is only recognised in a few small pockets.

  • Mal

    You obviously do not like frocks. Millions of people in Africa and the Middle East wear what you call frocks. Do you believe that you are somehow better dressed than them? Or that they are gay?

  • Dave Corrigan

    I have lived in the Middle East and in Nigeria and their dress is very appropriate in a protective context because of the extreme heat, sandstorms and insects. I possess Bedouin Traditional Clothing (Thobe) that is wonderful and appropriate to the circumstances. Clerical clothing serves no tangible purpose whatsoever and in contemporary terms appear hideous. If the Catholic Church concentrated on the precepts of the “Corporal Works of Mercy” as taught by Jesus and abandoned its medieval flummery and pantomime (dressing up) activity the world would probably be a better place.

  • Mal

    What you consider appropriate, others might not. If you can tell us which organisations performs more “Corporal Works of Mercy” than the Catholic Church it would be helpful. AS for me, I do make fun of people’s clothing style.

  • Harry McCracken

    This issue is not only about being gay. In simple terms the idea of human beings bending their knees and genuflecting in adoration of a nonexistent deity (God) are virtually gone. Religions of all sorts have “killed the golden goose” with their ecclesiastical shenanigans. There is widespread catholic estimation that within fifty years from now, the whole ethos of Roman Catholicism will have changed so much, just has it has done over the past fifty years. For example: In my home town, in 1956 the bishop behaved like, and was treated like a medieval prince with sycophantic and fawning people genuflecting in the street kissing and his ring.  If he passed by in his chauffer driven Bentley car, the people made the sign of the cross.  However, in several parts of Ireland today, he would probably the subject of derision, scorn and mockery. The Catholic church cannot and will not recover from this “Fall from Grace”

  • EndTimes101

     You are wasting your time trying to reason with Patrick Hadley. He is beyond mere words. After reading many times now, his staunch criticism/twisting of Catholic dogma and general contempt for the Catholic church both on this website and much worst on non Catholic national papers, it’s is fair to say only prayer and heavy penance will be able to penetrate a heart so set against God and his Holy Catholic Church. It’s best to ignore him and his fake posts pretending to be one of us. Prayer is always the key ingredient…..

  • Brian A. Cook

    So they are not human beings?  They are not human beings who want love and compassion?  They are supposed to be put into dehumanizing boxes?  Is that what you are saying? 

  • Brian A. Cook

     Thank you very much.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the advice. I will certainly follow it.