The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Clause 1 of Article 16 of the UN Declaration says: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.” Clause 3 then elaborates on the family: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.” That last clause is significant. First, it distinguishes “society” from the “state” and so immediately rules out the legitimacy of any totalitarian states (the state must itself be limited as well as putting limits on society). Secondly, it says that the state has a duty (so has society) to “protect” (and, therefore, not be destructive of) the family, which clause 1 ties to heterosexual marriage. The state, therefore, has no right to interfere with the marriage family, change it or manipulate it for its own purposes.
This not only reflects Christian teaching but, also, universal teaching. The anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss, sums it up when he says the family everywhere is “based on a union, more or less durable, but socially approved, of two individuals of opposite sexes who establish a household and bear and raise children.” So this marriage based family is “a social institution with a biological foundation”. And that biology is based not on government whim, but on hard “nature”. In the whole UN declaration the only one application of the word “natural” is to the family, which, therefore, has a “natural” right to protection and not a mere legal right passed by Parliament and which can be rescinded. The family is “prior” to the state.
“The First Society”
The 17th century philosopher John Locke called marriage, “the First Society”. It is the first building block of society – so no marriage, no families, no society and no state. For Locke, among other things, marriage is made up of sexual intercourse that is procreative, mutual support, and care for the couple’s common offspring. He would have agreed with David Blankenhorn who said that what children most need are “mothers and fathers, not caregivers, not parent like adults, and not even ‘parents’, but a mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and who love each other.”
But such a marriage family is under threat by the Government’s proposal to redefine marriage. As Douglas Farrow puts it: “in attacking ‘heterosexual monogamy’, same sex marriage does away with the very institution – the only institution we have – that exists precisely in order to support the natural family and to affirm its independence from the state. In doing so, it effectively makes every citizen a ward of the state, by turning his or her most fundamental human connections into legal constructs at the state’s gift and disposal.” That is totalitarian and raises serious legitimacy questions. Because the Government is creating a new form of marriage, it is destructive rather than protective of heterosexual marriage as required by the UN Declaration’s Article 16.
Theresa May, Lynne Featherstone and Andrew Sullivan
At the heart of the problem is a new understanding of the essential nature of marriage. In the “Ministerial Foreword” of the Government’s Equalities Office, Equal civil marriage: a consultation, Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone write: “We recognise that the personal commitment made by same-sex couples when they enter into a civil partnership is no different to the commitment made by opposite sex couples when they enter into a marriage.” This implies that “a personal commitment” is sufficient for defining the essentials of marriage. This could not be more wrong! But it goes back to the gay, same-sex marriage advocate, who was one of the first to define-down marriage to include homosexual couples, Andrew Sullivan. He wrote: “In the contemporary West marriage has become a way in which the state recognises an emotional commitment by two people to each other for life. And within that definition, there is no public way, if one believes in equal rights under the law, in which it should legally be denied homosexuals [italics mine].” But several things need to be said in contradiction.
First, the new proposals of the Government and of Andrew Sullivan that want to exclude procreative sex from the definition of marriage, is like defining Nissan simply as a commercial business but not making cars essential to Nissan. And to exclude procreative sex, as is being argued, because some couples are childless, is like excluding winning medals as essential to the Olympic Games, because some athletes go home medal-less.
Universally and fundamentally marriage is about socially approved sexual intercourse. That is why to “consummate” marriage is traditionally to have sexual intercourse (defined as penile-vaginal penetration). A failure of such consummation has been a ground for “nullity” – the denial that a marriage has taken place. So people do not assume that what is most distinctive of a newly-wed couple is that they are now “having an emotional commitment”, but that they are now “having sex” with one another and still for many, thank God, having it as a new experience. True, given the permissiveness of current Western morals and education, others have not reserved sex for marriage and with damaging consequences. It is therefore understandable why there are those among the secular Western-educated elite who define marriage without any idea of sex. But in the interests of a minority, then to impose this definition on the majority with its damaging consequences is very wrong.
The minority and the majority
The facts are as follows: according to the Office of National Statistics and the latest results from their Integrated Household Survey April 2010 – March 2011 (from over 420,000 individual respondents, the biggest pool of UK social data after the census), only 1% of the surveyed population identified themselves as Gay or Lesbian. That is a tiny fraction of the population of over 60 million. The same is true of the “steady rate of approximately 5,800 per year” civil-partnerships being conducted in England and Wales compared with marriages. The latest figures for England and Wales were 241,100 marriages in 2010.
This homosexual minority together with heterosexual amoral elites have bought into, what John Haldane, professor of philosophy at St Andrews University, calls the argumentum ad consummationem. It goes like this. “Major premise: sexual attraction and love are determinants of human happiness and should be consummated where sincerely felt. Minor premise: you cannot choose to whom you are sexually attracted, and you cannot choose with whom you fall in love. Conclusion: whether or not they are chosen, attraction and love should be consummated where sincerely felt.” And Haldane comments: “this simplistic syllogism (uncritical in its use of choice, love, sentiment, and sincerity) provides the rational foundation for a culture of often unrestrained, promiscuous, and unfaithful – yet indulgently sentimental – coupling. And it under-girds the push for same-sex marriage on both sides of the Atlantic.” He is so right, especially when marriage is seen simply in terms of individualistic adult fulfilment. But marriage is important for bringing children into the world in a secure environment with a mother and father from whom they came and whom they can love and be loved by. This is for the good of the wider society.
Furthermore, we all need to remember that marriage is an institution. But an institution not only has a relatively stable pattern of rules and structures to meet social needs; it also takes on a life of its own and to some degree controls those active within it. So the great value of marriage as an institution is that it gives stabilising support to the married couple and also to the children of the marriage family. That is why we need to strengthen the institution of heterosexual, life-long monogamous marriage. Instead it is being threatened by our “divorce culture” and, now, by its being defined down to the level of essentially non-procreative homosexual emotional relationships. But we do not have social institutions to support purely private emotional attachments.
Social institutions have a public and social good and the public and social good of marriage is child-rearing. For this you need not just “party A” and “party B” (as a husband and wife are called in Massachusetts, the first US State to have gay-marriages). Rather, you need a “wife” and “mother” supported by a “husband” and “father” where responsible fatherhood has social support. For a man to become a parent by impregnating a woman is instinctive; but to help a wife and mother look after the children is not instinctive but needs a husband and father who has institutional encouragement. And staying together for life needs institutional encouragement. All of this is in the interests of the children. So marriage is not there for the couple (or government) to shape. Rather it shapes the couple and helps them bond, giving security to the children.
The Bible is clear. Marriage is a “creation ordinance” and not just a matter for believers. It is for all. Marriage in a church is distinctive in that we overtly there call on God to witness our vows, we overtly promise to seek to live in our marriages as Christ intends, and we pray. The Bible is also clear that, one, marriage is a gift from God and not something we construct; two, it is the only rightful place for sexual intercourse (such exclusivity helps marital bonding and rules out all pre-marital, extra-marital and homosexual sex); and, three, the resulting family is essential for the nurture of children and for them to grow in the Christian faith.
So may the Government’s proposals be soundly defeated!
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights