Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Same-Sex Marriage

I've not been blogging a huge amount recently, but this one has reared it's head often enough, and needs addressing.

There's been a lot of hyperbole on both sides of the debate. Some Christians seem dead-set against the introduction of same-sex marriage, whilst civil liberties advocates seem to support it unconditionally. With me being both a Christian and a libertarian, it's a bit of an unusual one for me. But, as ever, I will try to apply some perspective.

If we're talking about people of the same sex being married, it would probably be helpful to define what marriage actually is. At the moment, both in statute and in the Christian faith, marriage is described as a union between one man and one woman, where they agree to share all they have with each other. Christianity goes into a bit more detail, clarifying that marriage is a sacrament, instituted by God to provide for three outcomes:

  • The raising of children;
  • Protection against sin;
  • For the benefit of mutual society.
As far as the State goes, marriage is simply a bit of paper that means you can share certain tax allowances. Christianity doesn't really make any provision for marriage ending - the State does, and has numerous judicial procedures to account for division of assets and care of children.

So, although on the face of it, the Christian definition of marriage and the statutory definition of marriage are actually the same, when you look at it in more detail, they are actually not.

As a Christian and a libertarian, I firmly believe that the State has no business whatsoever in trying to change the Christian definition of marriage. That should be a matter entirely for the Church. However, it is perfectly at liberty to change the statutory definition of marriage.

Next, we already have a step towards same-sex marriage in the form of civil partnerships. So, what, exactly, is a civil partnership? Well, it has no religious definition, so it's quite simply a bit of paper that allows you to share certain tax allowances.

Hang on...

Isn't that rather similar to the statutory description of marriage?

There are few differences - you can only marry someone of the opposite sex, and you can only enter a civil partnership with someone of the same sex. And you can't do either to someone you're related to. But, aside from that difference, they are effectively the same thing, assuring the same outcomes, i.e. sharing of tax allowances.

So, the argument opposing same-sex marriage generally goes along the lines of it's not the Government's business to interfere in what is fundamentally a religious matter. But I've just demonstrated that the Christian definition of marriage already differs from the statutory definition. So if the Government chooses to change it's definition of marriage, that's not interference in religious affairs, is it?

Another argument of opposing same-sex marriage is that Churches are currently obliged by statute to perform marriage ceremonies, and therefore two homosexual people could legally force a Church to host such a ceremony, in contravention of religious convictions. But again, this isn't really true - the Church doesn't have to perform all marriage ceremonies. Try getting a Church wedding if you're a divorcee. It's generally down to the attitude of the local vicar. Some Churches probably would, some Churches wouldn't.

Of course, there is an argument that, given that homosexuals already have a statutory mechanism by which they can enjoy the same privileges of marriage, why change? It's outcomes that's important, surely? I am inclined to agree with this position, but I fail to see why we need a separate statutory definition. Why can't the legal definition of marriage and civil partnership be effectively the same thing?

Any other argument is basically, we don't agree with homosexuality, so we think the State shouldn't do anything to equalise people who are homosexual. Now, this fundamentally breaches two of my principles, the first being Christian, i.e. 'love thy neighbour', and the second being libertarian, i.e. it's no business of anyone else's what two consenting adults choose to do in their spare time.

This is none of my business, and really, no business of the State's, either.

So my proposal? Abolish the statutory definition of marriage, with provision that all existing marriages are converted into civil partnerships. Extend the definition of civil partnerships to include heterosexuals, and people that you're related to - two elderly brothers or sisters living together without any other family should be allowed to enter into such an arrangement to stop the thieving State from taxing their Estates. That's not condoning incest, it's just giving people freedom of choice.

This is perfectly acceptable to me as a libertarian. And it's also perfectly acceptable to me as a Christian, as I believe that marriage is something considerably more important - and different - than a bit of paper the State gives you.