The announcements by Barclays and Coutts that they shall no longer support Stonewall’s annual ceremony if the pressure group persists with its ‘Bigot of the Year’ award may indicate the beginning of a push-back by civil society against the gay rights lobby’s aggressive, bullying attempts to force through same-sex marriage (SSM) on a reluctant population.
Mark McLane, Barclays’ head of global diversity and inclusion, sees an obvious contradiction between the values he is there to uphold and Stonewall’s attempts to portray opponents of SSM as (to use the dictionary definition) people “obstinately or intolerantly devoted to (their) own prejudices” and who “regard the members of a group … with hatred or intolerance.”
Says McLane: “To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment.”
Writing in the Sunday Express this week, John Deighan, the Scottish bishops’ Parliamentary Officer, also highlights the incongruity of ‘Bigot of the Year’ awards hosted by an organisation that purports to champion tolerance. “In a society which claims to value equality and diversity should we be attacking and demeaning those who don’t share our views?” he pointedly asks.
Stonewall, of course, disagrees with Ken Maginnis, one of the architects of the Northern Irish peace process, or Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who has pledged £100,000 to raise to help preserve marriage (an insignificant amount compared to Stonewall’s annual income of more than four million pounds). But rather than take on their arguments, they seek to shut down debate and enforce conformity by smearing and labelling those who disagree with them. They do it, of course, because it is effective.
In September, Nick Clegg’s office swiftly corrected a statement which initially described as ‘bigots’ those who believe the government should focus more on the economy than ‘the equalities agenda’. In the ensuing uproar, Mr Clegg said he never intended to use that word – which is just as well for him, for he would have been labelling most British people as bigots. (A March ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph found that 78pc of British adults believe marital redefinition should not be a parliamentary priority, as the government has more important things to deal with.)
But then Richard Reeves, until recently Clegg’s director of strategy, said in the New Statesman that only bigotry can explain opposition to SSM. “Here’s the thing: they are bigots,” he wrote. “In the end, the only reason to deny a gay couple the right to marry is a belief that their relationship is in some way inferior to a heterosexual one. That’s bigotry. I have no doubt that the opponents of same-sex marriages will be seen, in fairly short historical order, in the same light as those who opposed mixed-race marriages.”
The comparison with anti-miscegenation laws is lazy, ill-informed and offensive. It is in the nature of marriage that any man and woman free to do so (who are of consenting age, and not already married) can enter it. Ironically, anti-miscegenation laws in America, Germany, and elsewhere were an attempt to redefine marriage by adding to it a requirement for racial homogeneity; they were attempting in other words, to do what Stonewall proposes to do with ‘gay marriage’ — to redefine marriage in one of its fundamentals, this time by eliminating the key element of male-female complementarity.
Reeve’s basic idea, borrowed from Stonewall’s own propaganda, that opposition to SSM conceals a prejudice against gay people, is revealing of the astonishing narrowness with which many SSM advocates view this question. They seem unable to conceive of the many, many good reasons – secular as well as religious, public as well as private – for believing that marriage as traditionally understood deserves to be supported and protected by the state; and that any redefinition of marriage would undermine those reasons.
Some believe that marital redefinition could fatally underminine the Church of England’s position as an established church; others argue that European law means government promises about protecting ‘religious marriage’ are worthless, such that legally-recognised church weddings will become a thing of the past; others worry about whether people will remain free to manifest their religious beliefs if the state demands that same-sex unions be recognised as marriages.
But many simply believe it would be folly to abandon the one public institution we have that exists to uphold the principle that every child should – ideally – be raised with the love of a mother and a father.
Just because the state does not recognise a relationship as marriage does not mean that it regards it as inferior. The state is not in the business of legitimating or not legitimating human relationships. Its involvement in marriage is for reasons of public good – something recognised by atheists as eminent as Bertrand Russell who wrote almost eighty years ago: “It is clear that marriage, as an institution, should only interest the State because of children.”
As our briefing paperIn Defence of Conjugality: The Common-Good Case Against Same-Sex Marriage points out, this debate is not about equality: under the civil partnerships scheme, same-sex couples can have the same legal rights as married ones. This debate is about marriage, and whether it should be redefined in law such that it is no longer legally recognised as a conjugal institution.
British law has long recognised marriage as an institution freely entered into by a man and a woman, primarily for the purpose of bearing and rearing children; although marriage has other purposes, the State values it because of its unique contribution to the common good through providing an environment that has evolved for the good of children.
As a ComRes poll for Catholic Voices in March showed, that is what most people believe marriage is and is for: 84pc of British people believe children have the best chance in life if raised by their mother and father in a stable and committed relationship, 70pc believe that marriage should continue to be defined as something people enter into as a lifelong exclusive commitment between a man and a woman, and 68pc believe that the social good generated by marriage, understood in this way, justifies it being promoted by the state.
Indeed, contrary to the picture Mr Reeves has painted, even Britain’s gay population is at best lukewarm in its support for the government’s plans. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given how as recently as September 2010 Stonewall had yet to declare its support for marital redefinition; even now Stonewall certainly doesn’t speak for all Britain’s gay people.
A ComRes poll carried out for Catholic Voices in April and May found that 35pc of Britain’s gay population say it’s not important to them that marriage should be redefined to enable same-sex couples to marry, 26pc believe there’s no need to change the law on marriage as civil partnerships give exactly the same rights, and 12pc wholly oppose marital redefinition.
These figures show how politically dangerous it is for politicians to dismiss opposition to SSM as bigotry. Such a contempt for well-founded, well-grounded, traditional understandings of the common good served by marriage points up an alarming gap between politicians and the populations they are elected to serve.
Stonewall’s ‘Bigot of the Year’ award is also contemptuously dismissive of throughtful gay people who oppose SSM. That gay commentators such as Richard Waghorne recognise marriage’s importance and favour supporting marriage as commonly understood is hardly surprising, given the value – as Matthew Parris recognised in the Spectator last autumn – of children being introduced to the world through the love of a man and a woman.
Given the demonstrable value of marriage as commonly understood, as well as the problems that marital redefinition would raise, the gay Conservative MP Conor Burns said earlier in the month that he believed compelling reasons were needed to justify the redefinition of marriage, and that he was not convinced such reasons existed.
Writing in the Washington Post last month, Doug Mainwaring wrote of a petition that Maryland’s new same-sex marriage law should be put to a popular ballot:
‘Many attribute homophobic motives to the signers. In some cases, that may be true. I am certain that the vast majority are others who, like me, simply view “marriage” as an immutable term that can only apply to heterosexuals. It’s undeniable that, from age to age, marriage has been humanity’s greatest success and source of prosperity, crossing all cultures and religions. We shouldn’t mess with it.
Full disclosure: I am gay. A few years ago, I was on the other side of the fence on this topic. But the more I read, thought, investigated and attempted to defend my position, the more I realized that I couldn’t. I feel very strongly that gay relationships should be supported by society. I have grown convinced, however, that the term “marriage” should not be altered or adjusted in any way.’
Most people in Britain agree that committed same-sex relationships should be supported by society, and the civil partnership scheme does just that, ensuring that same-sex couples have the same rights and protections as married ones. Most people – whether straight or gay –urge that marriage, as traditionally understood, should be supported and protected for the sake of what it – and it alone – can offer children and society, at the heart of which is the union of a man and a woman.
To dismiss such objections as backward reveals a mindset that is “obstinately or intolerantly devoted to (their) own prejudices” and who “regard the members of a group” – in this case opponents of SSM – “with hatred or intolerance.” Stonewall should give the award to itself.