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Cardinal O’Brien: same-sex marriage would be a ‘great wrong’ like slavery

By on Monday, 5 March 2012

Cardinal O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh (PA photo)

Cardinal O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh (PA photo)

Cardinal Keith O’Brien has compared the introduction of same-sex marriage to the legalisation of slavery.

He made the comment in an article for the Telegraph in which he said the repercussions of such legislation would be “immense”.

The cardinal said: “Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that ‘no one will be forced to keep a slave’.

“Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?”

In his article Cardinal O’Brien said that “no government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage”.

He pointed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where marriage defined as a relationship between a man and a woman. He argued that same-sex marriage would be a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”.

He described the consequences of such legislation, saying: “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?” he said.

The cardinal defended his comments on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, saying: “I don’t think it’s inflammatory at all. I think it’s handing on the teaching of the Christian Church for more than 2,000 years and I am doing my best to hand it on in a way that many people can hear it.”

  • Mark Castilano

    Pope Pius IX the man who decreed the Popes infallibility had no objections to slavery and thought that Africans had no souls and were much like animals. In the Southern States of America many slave owners were Irish Catholics like Gerald O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind”. Throughout the ages the Catholic church had no objection to serfdom whereby people were treated like slaves with very few rights.I am very friendly with a gay married couple who live close to me and they are very happy. They have three wonderful, happy, contented children. The couple are successful practicing barristers, and they are not slaves. What does the Cardinal mean” He does not make much sense.

  • Lazarus

    He means that, like slavery, same sex ‘marriage’ would be an immoral institution. Just as we wouldn’t consider the introduction of slavery to be morally all right just because Catholics weren’t compelled to have slaves, equally, we shouldn’t consider same sex ‘marriage’ all right simply because we aren’t compelled to enter into it.

    Sensible argument, punchily expressed to get media attention.

    (And I’ll just ignore the usual nonsense on Catholic history. What other institution has consistently argued over two thousand years for the moral equality of all human beings?)

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

    “Pope Pius IX the man who decreed the Popes infallibility had no
    objections to slavery and thought that Africans had no souls and were
    much like animals. In the Southern States of America many slave owners
    were Irish Catholics like Gerald O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind”.
    Throughout the ages the Catholic church had no objection to serfdom
    whereby people were treated like slaves with very few rights.”













  • David B McGinnity

    You would have us believe that The Borgias, The Della Rovere, The Barberini, The Medici etc., etc,. thought of nothing else but the morality equality and concern for the freedom of all people. I have eleven textbooks on the history of the Catholic Church and the Vatican on my bookshelf that I have read them all. Your premise is very far off beam. Because most of these people were murderous monsters, rapists, homosexuals that perverted morality.

  • Anonymous

    Only 11?. Still I suppose thats your brain full. Probably a couple of hundred thousand you missed out on. But thats selective thinking and reading for you.

  • Trockfield


  • Alban

    Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!, Cardinal Keith. The demoralisation of the western world and elsewhere is making Soddom and Gomorrah look almost respectable.

  • Trockfield

    First of all, slavery is clearly an institution whereby one individual (the slave) involuntarily loses their freedom to another (the slave-owner); whereas marriage (same-sex or otherwise) is entered into – in this country at least – consensually.  O’Brien’s comparison is not so much inflammatory, as utterly moronic.

    Furthermore, O’Brien has accused the coalition government of attempting to “redefine reality” with its proposal for legalising gay marriage; look carefully at the above picture of this man (or better still, the ones of him wearing a dress and a pointy hat, and carrying a golden stick) and ask yourself two questions: 1) What must his definition of reality be like?  2) Would he look at all out of place at a gay pride festival? 

  • Fergus Strathdee

    Yes he got quite a lot of attention, but not all positive. Even in Glasgow, some priests and Catholic laity think that the Cardinal has been very unwise because some suggest that his reaction was pure hyperbole.  Some ungenerous Catholics have suggested that he has “gone off his rocker”. What he has done will play into the hands of the government and will gain government support.  In general, Catholics in the UK are still thought of with derision and suspicion.



  • Trockfield

    How can you have a ‘religion of secularism’? That’s an oxymoron. 
    And by the way, the plural of ‘donkey’ is ‘donkeys’, not ‘donkyies’.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry Mark – I clicked “Like” instead of “Reply” so you have one less “Like” than shown. You asked “What does the Cardinal mean?” That is the issue, and not the alleged past behaviour or attitude of certain members of the Institution.

    Sex is not love, and you cannot “make” love by having sex. It is a pleasurable activity, which for good reasons should only be shared by a man and woman in marriage. Outside of that, it becomes a form of addiction or idolatry, which ultimately makes the addicted person a slave – just like gluttony which causes obesity, we become the opposite of loving human beings.

  • Trockfield

    How can you have a ‘religion of secularism’? That’s an oxymoron. And by the way, the plural of ‘donkey’ is ‘donkeys’, not ‘donkyies’.

  • Anonymous

    The family is the cradle in which human love can grow and be learnt so that the faithful can aspire to share in the Divine Love through following the example and teaching of Jesus Christ and praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Romantic love is aimed at bringing men and women together for the purpose of marriage. It is not the same as physical or sexual attraction. Sharing sexual pleasure is the means by which married men and women who are already in love romantically speaking, bond powerfully together for the sake of the children who are likely to be born as a result. It provides extra assurance that they stay together to look after their children and to support each other by growing closer through life. In today’s over-sexualised society men and women often do not get the chance to fall in love with each other. The process of falling in love is cut short or eliminated by lust. This is one reason why divorces are rising. People who marry for sex never fell in love, and so more easily fall out of lust with one another. That and promiscuity generally results in widespread family breakdown, social disorder, illness and unhappiness, as people who never knew what even romantic love is, search in vain for the real thing, only to fall into lust again and so on. It is a treadmill, and elevating homosexual sex on a par with heterosexual sex merely continues the trend to side line romantic love in favour of lust. True Love has nothing to do with sex, because, as Paul says, it never seeks its own advantage, and self-indulgence is the opposite of the Holy Spirit.

    This is why the Anglican Church in Britain and America needs to get its act together. Until it admits that all sexual self-indulgence tends towards sinfulness, it will continue to muddy the waters and give the more crazed politicians scope to interfere with nature – a battle man can only lose big-time (as global warming and AIDS clearly demonstrate). God loves all human beings and that is why sin is wrong – it causes suffering, which the God of Love wants to save us from. All people can be saved from the scourge of a life enslaved by sex and discover true love – but we need to recognise that all sex outside of marriage between a man and woman is ultimately harmful, and stop cynically promoting it for selfish reasons. It really isn’t Gay Rights versus Religion, but it is Christian Love versus Sexual exploitation of ALL people, and yes – by the controllers of wealth who worship and are slaves to that other idol – money.

  • Oliver

    The Cardinal’s comments were absurd, here are some of my thoughts —

  • John Byrne

    The world is not ending – but, in addition, may I point out:
    Cardinal states: “Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership,
    believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and
    spiritual wellbeing of those involved…”

    One might ask why he believes that. This is
    an outrageous insult to those in Civil Partnerships and is simply not true. But
    what does he know about this?   Many
    heterosexual marriages, including some of those between Catholics, might be
    well-described in the intemperate tones he uses.


    The Cardinal says: “Since all the legal rights of marriage are already
    available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about
    rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society
    at the behest of a small minority of activists.”

    the Church itself on Earth was once a small minority of activists.

    And yes, a broader definition of marriage will indeed be the outcome; but this
    matter IS about rights: it’s about the right of homosexual couples to equal
    treatment.  Marriage will (again) have
    evolved/changed – such evolution or change being the very mark, in the longer
    term, of all living “things” and institutions.


    Cardinal says: “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?”

    it is virtually certain that it WILL be enacted into Law. If the teacher tells
    his pupils that marriage can only mean union of a man and woman he will at best
    by lying and, at worst, be committing an unlawful act.


    Cardinal uses the phrase “state-imposed orthodoxy” when he clearly means
    “The Law” of England and Wales.


    Cardinal O’Brien should ask himself the question: “why?”

    does Cameron see this as a probable major achievement of his Premiership?  Cameron says that heis doing this not “in
    spite of being a Conservative”, but because he “is a Conservative”.

    The Labour and Lib.Dem. Parties both strongly support this bill.

    There will always be back-woodsmen – but the Cardinal should not be one of them.

  • David Wilkinson

    Your implication, of course, being that two males cannot love each other. My implication thus, being, that you are an uneducated, insular individual who has never met a real gay couple in your life.

    If gay people just wanted sex, they wouldn’t be wanting to get married. These people love each other. Let them get married. Don’t deny loving couples the right to publicly commit to each other in a manner that you take for granted.

  • David Wilkinson

     Or ass’. I think that may be more appropriate.

  • Jane Brady

    You are deeply inconsiderate and ungenerous in your attitude and you are quite unchristian, not to mention that you a supercilious ass. Several of your posts denote your sarcasm rudeness, and brusque retorts. It is clear that English is not Father Poovathinkal’s mother tongue and you choose to mock him. Nothing you have to say about anything is worth listening to.

  • Jane Brady

    One thing for sure is that you have not read much of anything. Your comments are  always hostile and insulting and are totally unwarranted. So what are you trying to prove? The prose and syntax of your posts denote that you are virtually illiterate.  Mr McGinnity’s posts always promote thought and contribute something interesting, whereas your posts resort to sarcasm, venom and invective. Are you a catholic priest? you sound like one.

  • David B McGinnity

    I would like you to justify your comment because all the books on the history of the Catholic Church would not fit in my library. If you are a Catholic and a Christian, and you believe in the tenets of the teaching of Jesus Christ, please explain the reason for you being discourteous and offensive particularly in keeping with the code of the eight commandment about bearing false witness. How do you know that my brain is full? You know nothing about what I have read. As I said: Please justify your rude and offensive comments.

  • Dave Corrigan

    I think that I know which book you lifted the content of your post from, and it would be courteous if you referenced the source. I anticipate that you are a cleric and have never engaged in coitus, otherwise you would not write about love or sex in the manner that you have done. Your concept of love and sex, although well intended, is not very realistic

  • Trockfield

    Seems a bit harsh…

  • Trockfield

    Seriously though, if people talk nonsense (religion of secularism?) then they deserve everything they get.

  • Annie

    Legalizing homosexual marriages and civil partnerships abrogates children’s rights to their biological heritage.  Human nature is set up to provide both a male and a female parent to human offspring.  We’re hardwired to receive the parenting of both sexes.  Babies and children are being adopted/invitroed to same-sex couples without their consent.  This is slavery of the most base kind because it denies to our youngsters their natural law rights to be raised by a mother and a father.                     

  • Batmanmick

     Who is this “god”?
    How do we know he’s the good guy and Satan is the bad guy?
    History is written by the winners, not necessarily those that are right.

  • Batmanmick

     or is it “Donki”?   lol

  • James

     Yes, Mr. McGinnity knows nothing useful about Catholicism and is wasting his time on this website.  Moderator, why don’t you just delete his posts?

  • Anonymous

    I am astounded by Paul Halsall’s comment that some well-connected gay couples have had nuptial masses. What on earth does he mean?

  • buckingham88

     Last saturday night was the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras,with people coming from all over the world to show gay pride and to demonstrate equality in marriage.Thousands watched.Many of the parade were wearing little more than their birthday suits,let alone liturgical regalia.Things have changed with the gay movement over the last few years.Its not a good debating point to argue against someone’s ideas by describing their clothing.After all, if this were done for this gay pride parade you could come away with the idea that its all about sex,not marriage.

  • Anonymous

    The Cardinal has been very foolish on this issue. Equating a loving couple of the same sex getting married to one of mankind’s most egregious practices such as slavery will simply make most people think the Cardinal has not an ounce of love in him. I am still at a loss as to why the Church is so obsessed with other peoples’ sex lives. The Bible teaches a number of things in Leviticus which we now have abandoned – we are no longer stoning women for adultery, quite rightly. So why does this issue, which affects nobody else, keep on getting such air time? It is time for the Church to move on, on this issue too.

  • Trockfield

    You’re right – it was a cheap joke.  But he does look very silly.

  • Benedict Carter

    I am delighted that at last a Churchman is speaking out. Well done Your Eminence. 

    Archbishop Nichol’s insipid contribution should annoy Catholics though – as usual, he does not speak as firmly as he should. He did not say that marriage is a SACRAMENT given to each other by a man and a woman for the purposes of mutual care and the bringing into the world of children. 

    Wittering on in secular terms is no good, Your Grace. But you are a past master at it,aren’t you? And given your support for the sacrilegious homosexual “Soho” Masses, we know where your true sympathies lie. After all, “We don’t know what’s coming down the road”, do we?

    In general, the Church has left all this far, far too late. For fifty years since that unnecessary and useless Council which has caused such chaos, we have pandered to secular values and forgotten the spiritual ones. If the clergy had constantly and strongly taught Humanae Vitae for the last half century and organised constant civil disobedience against abortion from the moment Steele initiated the parliamentary bill, then the people of Britain would be listening now. As it is, they aren’t. Too little, too late.

    Another rotten fruit of Vatican II. Opening up to the world’s values hasn’t helped, has it?

  • Matt

    Note that Gays always talk about THEIR rights, but never the rights of children. If you ask any child, of course they would like a mother and a father.  Marriage is about children.  Children need, and deserve, the very best from a mother, and a father.  The two genders have distinctive, and complimentary properties, that are needed by children to best develop their own personalities, and to have a normal, understanding of life.  This is a very straightforward fact – that children are best raised by a Mother and Father – but it is not accepted by the Media!    Instead, they talk about “rights”, and interview Gays who repeat comments that elevate gay life to the status of sainthood.  A typical remark: “Children will get a better life from a gay couple, than from John and Jane Doe, down the street, who are both immoral and drunks”.  Notice how Gay couples always compare the worst behavior of straights, against the very best (and very unusual) gays.  
    There’s a real problem with this. It’s easy for straights to see, observe, and understand gay culture. It’s only too obvious.   In San Francisco, we observe the “Best Gay Behavior” - the nudity of the Gay Parade, the sex at the Folsom Street Fair, and the “Up your Alley” fun fest. And yes, this is exactly what you would think – open, frank sexual behavior, men coupling in public, on streets which have families!   Unfortunately, this behavior is condoned by the media, in fact, they brag about it, and there are commercial sponsors, and there are online videos and pictures of this open sex.  It is a fact. 
    This is the real life that Gay men are living!  So Gay men, here’s a question – do you really believe that it is proper for you to have children, and to expose them to this type of conduct?  Don’t you think children prefer, and deserve, a normal life, away from this hypersexuality?  And, why is it so difficult for Gays to understand that Marriage means children first?  Gays now have civil rights, so it is difficult for them to make the case that they are “prejudiced against”, or lacking equality.   No, Gays, you don’t lack equality. You don’t need marriage.  Children need marriage. 

  • Anonymous

    Hip, hip hooray for Cardinal O’Brien for speaking out for the silent majority.

  • Anonymous

    Whatever you say Mrs Brady.Straight from the adult comic Oh well at least your funny.

  • David Devinish

    So you would like the moderator to bowdlerize anything with which do not agree. It seems if you would prefer that any debate or discussion be stifled. He must know something about the catholic church otherwise he would no be able to make mention of papal families, he seems to know a great deal. He may not understand Catholicism with the same perspective as you, but his opinion is just as valid as yours. What a pity he cannot be flogged or excommunicated.

  • David Devinish

    Luke 18:11 “I thank you God that I am not like the rest of men”. I imagine you are the sort that has already been to Mass to give thanks for your virtues, and that you are not imperfect like Jane Brady or Mr McGinnity. Perhaps you should be like James and appeal to the moderator to censor all posts that do not agree with your point of view. The church have tried that for several centuries and it has backfired badly, just as Cardinal O’Brien angry outburst has backfired. The catholic church used to pride itself with its ‘sang-froid”: cool headedness and imperturbability, but now we have an intemperate (ranting and raving) cleric without any hope of changing anything in society because no sensible person will listen to his dogma.

  • Mark Castilano

    For legal reasons one cannot mention names. However Paul Halsall is quite correct that some influential gay couples have enjoyed a Nuptial Mass conducted by a bishop and his retinue.The one thing that the Catholic Church loves more than God is money. If a gay multi-millionaire celebrity wants to have a Nuptial Mass and a Catholic Church wedding, dogma goes to the dogs.

  • Brian A. Cook

    Are you saying that Folsom Street Fair respresents every single solitary homosexual person?  Are you exploiting it to promote cruel stereotypes?  Are you reducing homosexual persons to demonizing stereotypes?  There is a difference between restating Church teaching and attacking living human beings, is there not?

  • Brian A. Cook

    Are you saying that the Church is never to open up to real-life human beings who want justice and peace and freedom?  Are you saying that the Church is supposed to be a Dark Ages, altar-and-throne cult?   I’m afraid comments like this play straight into the hands of the Church’s enemies. 

  • Anonymous

    So you decline to provide any evidence for your assertion. The idea that wealthy gay couples have already had nuptial masses is impossible to believe, I’m afraid, especially as mere hearsay.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the cardinal’s argument was made as well as it could have been, and it has been somewhat counterproductive. The letter from the English bishops looks far more cogently argued.

  • mitsy

    Since when are straight men the bastians of faith marriage, most of the sex industry is aimed at straight men. Many married,family men use porn, use escorts and cheat on their wives.
    It is male behaviour which is catered for by the sex industry whether gay or straight and is lucretive because men pay for it. Many divorces happen because the men leave the family home, they are often the ones to give up of family life, if the media doesn’t portray being raised by a mother and father as the best way to raise a child, it might be because many in the media came from broken homes and survived.  Or suffer a marriage breakdown themselves.
    How many children in “normal families” are raised by their mother and father? If they are rich, the children are often raised by nannies or boarding school…in fact through the Seminaries, the RCC encouraged the break up of families by taking small boys away from their fathers’, to be raised by Priests and nuns, even if they came from good homes.

  • John Byrne

    Vatican II was one of the last hopes for the Catholic Church. If another such opportunity presents itself in the not too remote future, it is to be hoped that the Church will grasp it as a drowning man might grasp a rescuing hand. 
    Cardinal O’Brien has, in his recent Telegraph article, done the Church immense damage – his words show so clearly that he fails to understand the matter in question, and is genuinely afraid and distressed by his bewilderment.  
    He will gain nothing by listening to the indignation of ignorant cradle Catholics (themselves as bewildered as the Cardinal).

    “The world’s values”, of which Mr Carter speaks, do not exist.
    The world is riddled with many different, so-called “truths” and “Universal Values” peddled by various religions and factions. The clashes between them even pose risks to the existence of life on the Earth, and, on a day-to-day basis, cause death and misery around the globe.

    All the hot air, indignation and fury from the back-woodsmen who presently run the Church, and their followers, constitutes totally wasted energy.
    They must accept the reality that no political party will ever again bend to their wishes. They “… don’t know what’s coming down the road”, and would be advised to look out for it.
    If they rinse the ignorance, prejudice and nonsense from their brains they may even begin to understand it.  

  • Matt

    Hey Brian, Mitsy just got finished demonizing straight men, not so?  Typical gay response – straight men are evil….Mitsy advances exactly what was said – He excuses the conduct of Gay society, and implies they are much, much better than “married family men who, use porn, use escorts, and cheat on their wives…”  The typical response of the gay advocate – gays are sooo much better!  Why don’t you (meaning those reading this), go online and look at the pics and videos of Folsom Street Fair?  There are thousands of gays who attend this fair, and approve of this open sexual behavior, and celebrate it in newspapers.  Are you denying that this conduct is endemic in Gay society?  And do you know the factual medical statistics of the Gay lifestyle?  That gay men are responsible for 84% of HIV cases, compared with 2 to 3% for straights?  And that the statistics for STD are even worse?  Gays have chosen their lifestyle.  Please, don’t try to advance the concept that it is equal to normal married family life with children. We understand that gays must be treated with decency, and that they have contributed a great deal to society.  We are not all alike as humans.  Every human has an obligation to understand that there are some places we do not go, or don’t have the capacity or talent for.  If we can’t sing, we can’t be a tenor in an opera.  If we aren’t athletic, football is not for us.  If we aren’t beautiful, we probably won’t be a success at acting, or get on TV.  And, if you can’t cook, get out of the kitchen.  It’s life, it is part of the makeup of every human.  It doesn’t mean we are less equal, if we don’t have this, or that talent.  So, please don’t advance the concept that marriage is a right for gay people.  No, it isn’t. 

  • Anon

    Cardinal o’Brien was effective on the Today programme; who would wish to contend with John Humphries as a Lenten penance! Regarding the willing slaves of evil, surely a Cardinal should reference the supernatural in addition to legal arguments.His comment about Article 16 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights was correct, and reveals him to be a just man of the people; use of the term ‘slavery’ may well apply further, to innocent children created as commodities and fostered.
    Our Morningside Cardinal would make a good Pope.

  • Jane Brady

    He said “For legal reasons one cannot mention names”; that does not make it hearsay. If you bother to open your eyes and ears, and talk to the “right’ people, it is easy to discover who has done what, with whom, and when. I suspect that you do not know who are the right people.

  • Anonymous

    It’s hearsay if it cannot be substantiated. There is no legal reason not to name names unless it’s untrue and in consequence defamatory, or there is some kind of injunction in place.

    In any case, don’t you mean the “wrong” people? If these claims are true, then the priests involved would have broken Church law and quite possibly have incurred excommunication latae sententiae.

  • Mark Castilano

    I knew that you did not have the character, moral courage, intellectual capacity or integrity to give a cogent answer to Mr McGinnity. You are a bag of wind.