22 February 2012

Redefining Marriage

The evangelical fundamentalists are at it again. As a society we have grown up quite a lot - and we still have a long way to go. One of the greatest achievements of modern civilisation is the discovery of the principle of equality, even if the implementation of that remains somewhat short of ideal.

I am very happily married to my wonderful wife, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm a very fortunate man to have found the woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life, and we've been blessed (if that's the right word for an atheist to use) with three marvellous children. I am a big fan of marriage - when it works, it is a brilliant thing. I would wish for everyone to experience the joy and challenges that go along with it.

And that includes same-sex couples.

If same-sex couples are allowed to marry (and why shouldn't they?), they (at least the lucky ones) have the chance to experience the same joy of finding their life partner and building their family and identity around themselves as a couple, on the same footing as everyone else. It's only right.

However, as you might expect, some people are not happy. Writing in the Daily Mail a couple of days ago (where else), former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey was quite clear that allowing same-sex couples to marry would be the undoing of our civilisation. Ooooh, get her.
Look out! Britain's stability is crumbling,
according to Lord Carey.
Those dangerous lesbians!

And of course the other religious punters have weighed in also. I'm sorry, but I really can't see society collapsing if we allow people who love each other to get married. If anything, it will strengthen our society, and I very much welcome the prospect for the sake of my gay friends.

However one of the funniest arguments that the religious homophobes have in their pathetic argument is this. I laughed, sort of. You may not, if you're not familiar with the theology here, but trust me..

Marriage, they state, has always been defined as between a man and a woman. Any other definition undermines marriage, fabric of society etc etc yawn. If you change the definition, you weaken the whole concept. The imagery and the concept of marriage are inviolable, unalterable, and inapplicable to any other situation. It's not much of an argument, but, sadly for Lord Carey and his pals, it turns out that Christianity has already redefined marriage away from man/woman.

In Christian theology, the union between Christ and the Church is a marriage. Jesus is frequently referred to as "the bridegroom" and the Church as the "bride", and it's pretty obvious that since Jesus was male and many members of the church are male, it's a same-sex union. However, it's not that that's the point - the redefinition is the point. Some Christians seem quite happy to redefine marriage when it suits them.

It's worth mentioning as an aside that Jesus is never referred to as the bride, and the church the bridegroom - there seems to be a certain amount of sexism there, and that shows up the anachronism that is the pond Carey is ribbiting from. What lies behind these latest fulminations from the loony fringe is not concern for the stability of society or families, but simple homophobia. In modern marriages, we expect and insist on a partnership between equals, not dominion of one partner over another. I don't expect my wife, for example, to "obey" me, and nor does society. So, wow, look - Christians have already redefined marriage, and society has not collapsed.

It's fair to say that the nay-sayers do not represent all Christians - many Christians have fully embraced equality in the area of sexual orientation and gender identity. Indeed, it's far more likely that by including same-sex couples in the category that we (generously) allow to get married, we are strengthening marriage.

We should abandon the hypocrisy of Lord Carey and shadowy bigoted pressure groups like the "Coalition for Marriage". If Jesus can marry churches, we can allow men to marry men and women to marry women if they are so inclined. The world won't fall in. If we want to reinforce the stability of our society and the families within it, we do that by supporting people who want to be together and by setting an example to our children of loving one another and showing respect to all (even crazy religious loonies).