Letters responding to: Why gay marriage is a very bad idea, by Brendan O’Neill
I was intrigued by O’Neill’s views on the gay marriage debate. I’m a gay man considering the future form of my relationship with my beloved. But, like O’Neill, I’m rather baffled by the sudden clamour for gay marriage. I can’t see what problem gay marriage solves that was not solved by the introduction of civil partnerships. I also agree with O’Neill’s central point about the artificiality of the debate and the way it is being used to create cultural divisions.
However he apparently then goes on to spoil that insight by describing how he thinks gay marriage would devalue and demote the current status of marriage. He doesn’t explain why or how. I have heard similar points being made by other opponents of gay marriage, and in the end most of them seem to believe that other peoples’ committed homosexual relationships are, in theory or in practice, of lower value than the equally committed heterosexual relationships of others. This is just unreasonable prejudice, of course, which I hope he doesn’t share – and from reading his other contributions to spiked I’d find it surprising if he did. So what other reason could he have for thinking that gay marriage would devalue or demote the institution of marriage?
The many bad arguments of people opposed to gay marriage have so far been driving me into the opposite camp. O’Neill’s central point is, by far, the best ‘anti’ argument I’ve yet seen, but I don’t know yet if he’s making that argument from a reasonable and unprejudiced position.
Richard Buckley, UK
Two words are conspicuous by their absence in most of the gay marriage debate, ‘procreation’ and ‘children’. The Prayer Book Service for the Solemnisation of Matrimony is quite clear that marriage was ordained for the procreation and nurture of children. Those words, or some variant of them, have been used when people were married in church for 350-odd years, and even those who prefer civil ceremonies often see their marriages as including the intent to have children.
For all these people, the term ‘gay marriage’ is simply an oxymoron because gay relationships do not lead to the birth of children. This inconvenient fact seems to have been forgotten in all the fuss. Mind you, the government is in such a state of hubris over gay marriage that it may be planning to repeal the laws of reproductive biology.
I am happy to affirm the equality of gay people in other ways but I cannot logically affirm an oxymoron. I am sure that O’Neill is right in saying that saying that gay marriage would be a poor deal both for gays and straight married folk alike.
Tom Addiscott, UK
There may well be some good points in O’Neill’s article about the elite’s attempt to use this issue to justify itself, and the general lack of popular support for it, but he completely misses one major reason why so many gay people now are looking to marriage – the enormous legal privileges married couples have always enjoyed over cohabiting ones (even ones in civil partnerships) and still do.
If one partner in a cohabiting gay relationship dies, the other partner has no legal rights at all if their right to inherit property from the deceased person’s estate is challenged by the deceased’s previous spouse. I once had a gay friend who couldn’t even claim her dead partner’s ashes after she’d been cremated.
Graham Giles, UK
O’Neill’s title, ‘Why gay marriage is a very bad idea’ turns out to be hyperbolic. The only genuine objection, along with a faux caviat, to equal marriage seems to be here:
‘Yes, some couples enter into it for other reasons – for companionship, larks, a party or whatever – but we are not talking about individuals’ motives here; we are talking about the meaning of an institution.’
For this to matter, it is important we exactly define that institution. And neither O’Neill nor anybody else seems to have done this in a way that both applies to all existing marriages and could not apply to same-sex marriage.
Marriage is an institution. It is, however, a fractured one. We already have different ways in which marriages are begun (and that is what’s really being debated). While churches are licensed to marry, we also have civil weddings in this country - civil weddings from which all religious content is currently banned. So marriage is not, in this country, a religious institution for all. Only religious marriage can be said to be a religious institution.
The gay marriage issue is complex because it is about two things. Equality of rights (for example, civil partnerships do not have quite the same pension rights, though that is really because of an outdated gender anomaly in marriage, and could easily be fixed in a civil partnership); and symbolic equality, the legal recognition of the ‘name’ of marriage.
What concerns me is that spiked raised many of the same objections to civil partnerships which suggests that it is not only the symbolic equality to which spiked objects, but equality of basic legal rights too.
Jon Bradfield, UK
I am continually amazed by the hysteria in the UK and US over gay marriage. We have had gay marriage in Canada for a few years now because banning it was found to be unconstitutional. At the time almost all Canadians reacted the way I did: ‘I’m not gay, so what do I care?’ Gays were already receiving the rights of spouses in private contracts (survivor benefits, for example) so giving them full spousal rights wasn’t a big stretch. Civil marriage is a property contract, and extending it to gays has not affected Canadian society one bit. Brendan needs to worry about real priorities, not his fevered imaginings of others’ condescension.
John Fitzgerald, Canada
That ‘women in treehouses’ analogy is desperately weak. Women are already allowed to live in treehouses, just as men are. There’s no one whining about allowing women to live in treehouses being an assault on traditional treehouse living or spoiling the nature of treehouses as an ‘institution’. See the difference?
Indeed, if there was a law preventing women from having equal rights in terms of treehouse living, I presume spiked would be on the side of those who wanted to change the law in favour of equality for women.
If gay relationships are in every important sense equal to other relationships, then they should have the same options about whether or not that leads to marriage.
Chris Kelsey, UK
I am a fan of spiked but O’Neill’s article misses many points about gay marriage.
First of all, the reason why Cameron and the elite which O’Neill mentions are so in favour of gay marriage is not because they really support it. It is because Peter Tatchell has launched a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights.
Because it looks as though the EU courts will side with Tatchell’s case, Cameron and Co. are looking to push through the gay marriage legislation themselves instead of having their hands forced by Europe.
Secondly, while he is right that there are no really strong feelings from the gay community, O’Neill fails to acknowledge the role of civil partnerships today. If two men want to be together and want the same legal standing as a straight married couple, then these partnerships pretty much fulfil that purpose. There is a minimal difference between marriage and civil partnerships, so what does the gay community gain from it?
Thirdly, doesn’t O’Neill agree that this is just an inflammatory and confrontational step – with both the church and straight married couples who feel that the standing of their relationship is being corroded? If churches refuse to host gay weddings, then they are liable to be sued on ‘human rights’ grounds. Why should they feel under threat in this manner?
However, I do fully agree with O’Neill’s argument on the simple premise that it only makes a modicum of difference to a minority group, while it may be disorientating and upsetting to a much larger cross-section of society.
I say this as a homosexual myself in a happy long-term relationship. Society is largely accepting of my sexual orientation and should I get a civil partnership later in life then I am happy with the law as it is. In all seriousness, what is there to gain except the ‘label’ of marriage?
This debate would not be taking place if we were not having to bow down to pressure induced by Peter Tatchell through the European Courts.
Adam Crawford, UK
spiked ‘wages a culture war of words against misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism’. Oh yeah? In a long rambling article (no word limits in the internet!), O’Neill twists himself into knots to explain why he doesn’t support something that spiked, if it takes its tenets seriously, has no alternative but to support.
Some couples choose to marry; some don’t. It will be the same with same-sex couples. There is nothing to say about this, other that they should have the right to do as they choose. Near the end of the article, we get to the substance of O’Neill’s objection: ‘It doesn’t benefit gay couples, whose “marriage” will have little historic depth or meaning…”. If this means anything, it is that O’Neill believes same-sex marriage is a false marriage.
And further, ‘...it doesn’t benefit currently married couples, some of whom may feel a corrosion of their identity’. Is this not the same argument as that of the Roman Catholic church that gay marriage would reduce the significance of marriage (between men and women)?
‘spiked absolutely [sic] supports the right of people to live their lives as they see fit’, says O’Neill, unless they are gays wishing to marry.
Les Hearn, UK