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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.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Brian:

    I think you read every word I said and no where will you find that I say these poor souls are not human beings.  Of course they are.  We are all human beings and we are all sinners.

    We are commanded by the Church to help people to stop sinning and to live their lives as Catholics.  If I meet someone who is in a terrible state of mortal sin, such as a homosexual, it is my Christian duty to try to help that person out of a way of life that will bring him probable physical death and certain spiritual death.  If he asks for help I will help him.  On the other hand, if he asks me to accept his mortal sin as “normal”, or to “celebrate” his sexual perversion, I will not do that.  That there are priests and Bishops and nuns out there who ARE doing that is a horrible tragedy and those in the Church who allow these unfortunate people to continue in their sin will share in their punishment after their deaths.

    The best way I can show “love and compassion” for these people who are committing sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance is to help them to stop committing them.  What better act of charity can one perform for someone, if not to steer them away from something that will send them to Hell?  If I see someone walking blindly toward the edge of a cliff is it right to let them go merrily on their way until they fall over the precipice?  Or would it be better to tell them to stop?

  • Pete

    If you’re gay just accept it. You’ll be a lot happier being yourself.

  • theroadmaster

    A rather silly comment from someone whose intellectual curiosity seems to be very limited.

  • theroadmaster

    Well Harry, where is your proof beyond doubt for the non-existence of the Creator of our universe.  How do you explain the origins of the mathematical complexity of the laws which lie behind the interaction of celestial bodies in our skies.  How do you explain the intricacy of the DNA double helix which forms the blueprint for a human life or the thoughts which form in our brains which are invisible to the naked eye.   Your materialistic horizons will have to expand to appreciate the spiritual nature of these wonders of our world

  • theroadmaster

    Yeah, parliament is a law literally on to itself and feels that it is it’s prerogative to overthrow the long-established understanding of marriage or matrimony as it is religiously known.  The institution of marriage pre-dates the foundation of the first nations in Europe and the legislative subversion of it’s essential meaning will have negative social consequences.

  • Oconnord

    It says “Men and Women” not “One man to one woman”. So it does not exclude homosexual marriage, or polygamy, or polyandry. It is not a description of marriage but more a definition of who is entitled to marriage…. Men and Women!

  • Rwaligora

    excellent post and i could not have said it better

  • Oconnord

     When I first read your comment I admit I was angered by your faux love and charity. But after deliberation I simply pity you. You don’t even have the slightest clue of why you might be wrong. It is the curse of the religious (or idealogical) to be so certain without knowledge or experience. 
    I, and most people, do not act because they are “commanded” by an institution. We use the gifts of compassion and reason (which you think were a gift from a god) to judge our actions. That’s why you are no more that a dying anachronism, young people today see their family, friends and collogues and judge them as people.. not sexualities.    

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps I should not bother to reply because, sadly, your words speak eloquently for themselves.  But I will say this:  when you see a nice, kindly and cheerful adolescent boy that you know well suddenly buggered by a homosexual, and watch the degradation that that brings on, perhaps you could apply your much-vaunted gifts of compassion and reason to the young man so horribly violated.

  • Charles Martel

     A question for Mark Castilano and Patrick Hadley. Who are you chaps? Do you consider yourselves Catholics?

  • Oconnord

    You sad and lonely man! My younger brother is gay.. or a poof..fag.. queer.. or whatever word you use. The words we use as siblings are more descriptive than you can use because I have no reason to imagine him in a sexual sense. 

    As to buggery? Well why are you asking? My brother is a homo and it never tops the list of conversation. I love him as a person not because what he does in bed. Why are you so interested? I have no qualms about his sex-life, but I’d worry that you might get off on hearing about it.

    Just for your vicarious knowledge, not all “homos” are sodomites. But many hetros are. People do things in bed you don’t approve of…… and it’s good!

  • Oconnord

    Ever heard of the term “Poe” ?

  • Charles Martel

    Dear Professor Devenish
    You somehow don’t come across as an Oxford and Harvard graduate; more like a sad creature of our Blairite universities. This is a Catholic website. I think it is you, old boy, who should be asking yourself why you, an avowed atheist, who is having so much fun not believing in God, is wasting his precious, highly educated time, attacking the followers of Christ. Surely shome mishtake…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697126564 Paul Halsall

    You are clearly going through the “guilt” phase.  I pray that you will soon escape that. Your homosexual nature (and dreams) will not change.  Whether you act on them is entirely up to you.  In the past many gay men who wanted to remain chaste simply went into the priesthood. But – officially at least – that is no longer allowed.

    But you can be chaste also in loving another man.  Forget about all that ludicrous talk (a la John Finnis) about the need for “finality” in sexual relations.  Sexual and intimate relations achieve their goal when the loneliness of the human condition is overcome and two become one.  This can happen between two people of the same sex just as well as it can happen between a man and a women.

    Here is St. Paulinus of Nola, writing to Ausonius:

    “To Ausonius”

    I, through all chances that are given to mortals, 
    And through all fates that be, 
    So long as this close prison shall contain me, 
    Yea, though a world shall sunder me and thee,
    Thee shall I hold, in every fibre woven, 
    Not with dumb lips, nor with averted face 
    Shall I behold thee, in my mind embrace thee, 
    Instant and present, thou, in every place.
    Yea, when the prison of this flesh is broken, 
    And from the earth I shall have gone my way, 
    Wheresoe’er in the wide universe I stay me, 
    There shall I bear thee, as I do today.
    Think not the end, that from my body frees me, 
    Breaks and unshackles from my love to thee; 
    Triumphs the soul above its house in ruin, 
    Deathless, begot of immortality.
    Still must she keep her senses and affections, 
    Hold them as dear as life itself to be, 
    Could she choose death, then might she choose forgetting:
    Living, remembering, to eternity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697126564 Paul Halsall

    They are not temporary.

    At least you are not imagining that you are a “bisexual”.  Coming out to yourself is a necessary first stage.

  • Fifi

    Whats that supposed to mean? Do bisexuals not exist in your little world?

  • Tridentinus

    Sorry to have to contradict you but ‘marriages’ between homosexual couples in Catholic churches will never take place as such ‘marriages’ are impossible. If under legal duress ceremonies purporting to be same-sex marriages do take place it will be through the cowardice of local bishops and clergy they will be sacrilegious calling down damnation on all involved.
    The early Christians stood up to 300 years of Roman persecution being impoverished, imprisoned, tortured and even laying down their lives for their Saviour. The Roman Empire has been dead for centuries yet the Christian church has more members today than ever were citizens of it.
    Now is the time not just for passionate language but for passionate action. When the bishops lead their flocks into civil disobedience against our Godless State, when they and all Catholics are prepared to face fines, loss of employment and imprisonment for the sake of the Kingdom, as their predecessors have done throughout history, then perhaps the State will take them seriously once again.
    How long could a modern government get away with throwing Christian after Christian into gaol, bankrupting their institutions, driving individuals and families into poverty and destitution before the community rose up against them? The Communist bloc did just this for half a century. Where are they now? The gates of Hell will not prevai!

  • Anonymous

    Don’t be silly! Read up on what the Church teaches about how homosexuals should be treated i.e. with respect and dignity. This does not mean they should be, or more to the point, could be married. Only you mention flogging or hanging. Ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    ‘Gay-Catholic’, another oxymoron, just like ‘gay-marriage.’

  • Anonymous

    Wrong. We do not have to obey immoral laws. We Catholics have a glorious history of obeying God’s laws first.

  • Anonymous

    So a marriage defined as a relationship between a man and a woman is a false statement? Now I’ve heard it all.

  • Anonymous

    And the sooner the ‘gays’ leave the Catholic church en masse taking all their priests with them, the better it will be for the one, true, holy and apostolic Catholic church.

  • Anonymous

    The Catholic church will indeed recover from this ‘fall of grace’ as you put it. We have our own dear Lord’s promise of that.

  • Anonymous

    The false statement was that Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains a definition of marriage. Article 16 does not define marriage and it is either a mistake or a lie to say that it does. 

  • Anonymous

    And you call yourself a Catholic? Do you think the Pope would agree with you?

  • Fifi

    Since the Pope can read, i’d say he probably would

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697126564 Paul Halsall

    Of course there are bisexual people, but it is also true that a lot of gay men, in coming to realise they are gay, try to go through a “negotiation” phase in which they say to themselves “well, I do have homosexual attractions, but I also fancy women, so I will just go ahead and get married.”

    Although, occasionally, marriages between gay men and straight women do work, especially if neither has a significant sex drive, too often such marriages wreck havoc on many lives.  This is especially the case if the woman does not know: when she finds out, she has to consider that all during all the sex she ever had with her husband that he was thinking of Brad Pitt.
    Such marriages are not healthy, not wise, and represent the very worst advice that priests used to give gay men in the confessional.

  • Romsbar

    I am not ‘coming out to myself’ I am fighting these disgusting, unatural thoughts with all the strength of my soul and with the prayers of the Saints.  I will emulate Sir Wintson Churchill in Never surrendering to the enemy, Hopefully I will soon be free of this disgusting disease

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697126564 Paul Halsall

    Apparently Winston Churchill did once surrender, as it were, to Ivor Novello.

    It’s not a disease. It won’t go away, and you would be much better accepting it even if you decide, as is your right, not to pursue it.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Mark: You say ”
    You have no way of knowing, any more than anyone else what the intention of the act meant. ”  Is this some new legal principle you are enunciating?  If so lawyers will have to pack up shop and go home.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    What about the Scots? Heat? Sandstorms?  I suppose they have midges but I have always found midges pretty indiscriminate as to which portion of the body they bite.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Unfortunately Catholic Voices still seems to be reluctant to see this issue as an attempt to further institutionalise homosexual sexual relationships and this attitude is reflected in the Archbishops’ letter to be read out to-morrow.  I am afraid their arguments are too ethereal to move many people.

  • Macker

     And let he who has not sinned cast the first sone!!!!

  • Trockfield

    Many heterosexual couples indulge in sodomy – is that wrong too?

  • Anonymous

    The Early Christians were NOT persecuted by the Romans.  The Romans did not even register the existence of Christianity until much later and regarded them as a Jewish sect.  Hideous atrocities were committed by the Romans but not only to the Christians.  These were dangerous times and, sadly, grisly and appalling fates were met by people from all walks of life.  There is no evidence that Christians were specifically targetted.

  • Anonymous

    It is the Vatican that is obsessed with sex.  Sin causes harm and it is hard to see what harm is caused by loving couples making a lifelong committment to each other.  Promiscuity, rape, irresponsible procreation, grooming, harrassment and sexual bullying cause harm.  Loving couples don’t.

  • Anonymous

    Of course that’s what he’s saying. Gay people are sub-human scum who should be exterminated in case they destroy the human race – that’s right, isn’t it ? ROFL

    Presumably, given how the Martians died in “War of the Worlds”, gay people are to be gassed – again. Just as Hitler did it, first time around. Or is the preferred mode of liquidation to be burning alive, as per the various Church tribunals ?

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post

  • Anonymous

    FYI, if you look at books of a certain age, you will find in them phrases like “perverted to Popery”. That’s right: there was a time when to be Catholic was regarded as a perversion, because it was obvious to Protestants of a certain sort (& in some quarters, it is still is) that no sane sensible decent person could possibly be Catholic.  Just as the same idea betrays itself now, in regard to gay people. Perversion is in the eye of the beholder – Catholicism is perverted, for so long, and only so long, as people think it is. The same applies to being gay.

    Some people, it is clear, are still at the stage in thinking about gay people. It is no more perverted or sick or wrong or sinful to be gay and act accordingly, than it is to be Catholic. The two are moral equivalents, in every way. At least Catholicism can be chosen – but to convert someone to being gay is a daft idea, which only someone who was either not gay, or who hated being gay,  could imagine had any meaning.

     

  • Anonymous

    That’s not as strong an argument as it may seem – for the Church has never had any qualms about passing laws that go against the consciences of others. If it had had qualms of this kind, Jews & other non-Catholics would had a much easier time in many Catholic states. The Church has consistently taken the position that no matter how or what others in society may believe, the Church is right – & should, if the Church can manage it, be accommodated. The rights & consciences of others have never been of any importance. Until now. If, that is, the Church is not using the appeal to conscience  as a shield for her own purposes, which is possible – she can be very Macchiavellian.

  • Anonymous

    How is that plea to be distinguished from a declaration of anti-social stroppiness ? That argument is never admitted hy the Church – because that would not suit would the Church. Why should the State be any more impressed with it ? God has long been an excuse for conduct that is far from Godly.

  • Anonymous

    That’s why gay people should not shut their traps, Church or no Church. Clerical tyranny is no better, & arguably far worse, than that of any state. It must therefore be resisted with all the more determination, as a far greater evil. A bad Church law has not a jot of obligatory force. Our duty to God – something Churchmen of all people ought to understand – must always take precedence.

  • Anonymous

    “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.”

    ## That’s a good argument for keeping persons of melanin-rich skin colour as slaves. Wilberforce had to work for the end of slavery until the end of his life. Especially as slavery had ample support in the culture, the Bible, Christian thought, and the Christian tradition. His position was the anti-Biblical novelty. Which is why Christian opposition to it on principle as a thing bad in itself had hardly any supporters before him and his circle (notwithstanding a supposition of Chesterton to the contrary).

    Why are you arguing for slavery ?  Most cultures have had a place for it – that form of the “argument from the consensus of the nations” works better for slavery  than for marriage. 

    “Gay “marriage” is quite simply against the grain of human history and human nature.” Abolishing slavery is vulnerable to the same argument. No one is saying people who are *not* gay must contract gay marriages – that would be against the grain, and absurd as well as unjust; the case is that gay should be allowed to marry other gay people. For them, it’s not “against the grain” at all.

  • Darsoot

    what utter tosh! Never will any priest of the Catholic Church conduct a same sex marriage ceremony even if the Government tries to require it – Reformation?

  • Darsoot

    Remember the Reformation and how the Church has stood and still remains..

  • Darsoot

    You seem to have no regard for the history of the Catholic Church in this country. We have stood up against legislation and persecution
    for the the love of our faith and nothing and I would repeat nothing this government tries to do will ever overcome the faith of our fathers! 

  • Darsoot

    Not on God’s good earth will it ever happen so don’t try to convince yourself blindly that it will.

  • Darsoot

    Thank you for your comment. Such legislation will never take part and if it does the RCC will simply come into confrontation with the state again – Reformation? I hope so!

  • Darsoot

    Gooness me! Have you noyhing better to focus on than clerical clothing? Corporal works of mercy or jihad? Don’t be so pathetic.

  • Darsoot

    No such thing.  You are lying to yourself and I absolutely defy you to find  and publish one such Nuptial Gay Mass.