19 December 2012

Marriage for all or for no one

That marriage should be open to same sex couples seems to be unchallenged enough now as to allow a conservative PM to pass a bill in Parliament. Whether religious marriage should be open too or not does not seem so clear. A group of senior tory leaders showed their support last week. However, no religious institution would be forced to do so. Some important moves have been done to allow what would be an unheard of step forward for marriage equality in the world. Whitehall wants to “legalise” religious same sex marriage too but on an opt-out basis so each institution can choose. For this is not sufficient enough, under the new proposal, the Church of England and the Church of Wales will be banned for such ceremonies and so want to be other religious institutions from different faiths. A "quadruple lock" will be secured so no one will have to go through the traumatic experience of making some people happy.

Since all this fuss about gay marriage came in, some are worried that religious institutions could be forced to marry homosexuals by some eccentric court on the basis of discrimination. All in all, in the end this is proving to be not only a step forward but the re-assurance of  discrimination and the deeply rooted prejudice behind it. For many people religious same sex marriage is simply out of the question. And this is not even a conclusion. It's just a “natural” thought even before thinking about it. But if you think about it, this is excluding people from an institution on the basis of who they are. On that respect, it is equal to banning interracial marriage or banning women from public office posts... And allowing it for civil marriages but not for religious marriages is forcing homosexuals to sit at the back of the bus (until one refuses). To what extent can a society based on the rule of law and civil institutions allow itself to discriminate people on that basis? How can we reconcile having civil same sex marriage and heterosexual only marriage in religious institutions? If marriage is important enough, if marriage is such a great institution, wouldn't it be reckless to allow those discriminatory institutions to host it?

Let be clear about the battle that is being fought here. On one hand, there is morality (set up by religious authorities) on the other hand there is the law (set up by Parliament and the courts of Justice). The track record in the Western world over the past 200 years is that morality has been losing the battle. In the end is a matter of legitimacy: who should define the law -once defined, applied equally. On this end though many assume that morality should have the last word and discrimination should be permitted -law being applied unequally on a moral basis. Religious despise of homosexuality is therefore deemed more valuable to society than the inclusive non-discriminatory approach of civil marriage. From my perspective, if religious institutions are incapable of marrying homosexuals, then they shouldn't be able to marry no one at all. Since marriage is and should be above all a civil institution enshrined by law, let not allow those who do not abide by the same principles to host such institution.

Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 11 December 2012