The Ethics of Same-Sex Marriage and the Illogical Church

In a motion long overdue, the government has recently launched a 12-week consultation on allowing gay couples in England and Wales to marry. This latest development comes almost eight years after civil partnerships for gay couples were introduced. As ever, it did not take long for the Catholic Church to react, and recently the two most senior archbishops in Britain have spoken against it, with Cardinal Keith O’Brien calling the plans “grotesque,” claiming that they “shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world.” These are strong moral condemnations from the same Church which has been found guilty of covering up child abuse and paedophilia within its organisation for years. However, many other leading religious figures, such as Archbishop John Sentamu of the Church of England and Farooq Murad, leader of the Muslim Council for Britain, have attacked the government’s plans as well. Both men have accused the plans of potentially destroying the ‘sanctity of marriage,’ and attempting to ‘diminish the importance of religion in our society.’ So, are they justified in their claims? Do gay couples really have a right to marry? Or is it finally time to recognise that the validation of homosexuals as equal members of society can only be fulfilled by granting them basic social privileges such as this?

The standard religious responses to gay marriage and to homosexuality in general have always been the same over the years, mostly prevalent in America, but now they are being reflected over that big pond in the UK too. For Catholics, they point to passages from the Old Testament such as: [Leviticus 18:22] “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; that is an abomination,” as evidence of the divine condemnation of homosexuality. However, it seems strange to uphold this principle so fervently, when most Catholics fail to uphold laws such as: [Leviticus 20:9] “All who curse their father or mother must be put to death,” and [Exodus 31:15] “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.” I smell hypocrisy.

But fear not, confused Catholics! We fortunately have moral guidance from the Magisterium – the wise council of priestly sages, who act as the ethical teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Due to the fact that we, mere commoners, lack the divine insight to interpret the bible properly, the Magisterium helpfully does this task for us. Under the most recent edition of their 1983 Code of Canon Law, homosexuality is condemned for being “Contra Naturam” (contrary to nature). So, homosexuality is ‘unnatural.’ Unfortunately, it seems that yet again, this reasoning is somewhat illogical. Let me introduce you to what is known as the Naturalistic Fallacy; first proposed by David Hume. It simply states that we should not get confused between what something is and what it ought to be. Just because certain behaviour is unnatural, that does not mean to say it is morally evil. After all, isn’t driving a car, cooking meals and wearing shoes all examples of unnatural behaviour? Yet we do not see Christians running through the streets barefooted in search of their next meal.  Even worse for the Catholic Church, a 1999 review by researcher Bruce Bagemihl shows that homosexual behaviour has been observed in close to 400 species, ranging from primates to gut worms. It looks like homosexuality is not as unnatural as the Church would have us think.

But back to the main debate- same-sex marriage. What’s the point? With many gay couples happy in their civil partnerships and enjoying the same rights as married couples, one might wonder why even bother to change the law at all. Well, for one, whilst a heterosexual marriage can take the form of either a religious or civil ceremony, the formation of a civil partnership is an entirely civil process. This is the case even if the religion involved does not condemn homosexuality. Yet, the main problem is that civil partnerships are entirely and wholly for gay couples. The term ‘civil partnership’ in itself labels homosexual couples as something separate from society. It reminds them that they are not allowed to even be associated with the ‘heterosexual-only’ term of marriage. Why is a gay couple’s love and commitment for one another any less special or less ‘holy’ than that of a heterosexual couple? After all, homosexuality is not simply a lifestyle choice.

Nevertheless, the debate rages on. The opposing ethical viewpoints, as ever, remain arbitrary and illogical at best. It seems that the main arguments against gay marriage appeal to the idea of the ‘sanctity of marriage.’ However, I question whether such a thing exists, especially with people like Britney Spears able to get drunken 55-hour marriages. The very fact that anybody can get ordained as a minister online seems to clearly suggest that any ‘sanctity’ that a heterosexual marriage once had has been lost. Marriage is now a commercial institution. The wedding industry in the UK alone is worth £5.5billion, yet in 2010, for every two marriages, there was one divorce.

Perhaps it is time for Christianity in England to finally admit that it does not own the concept of marriage. With people getting married in hotels, town centres and civil courts, all without a mention of religion, it is clear that the Church does not get to define marriage. As a political issue, which concerns the civil union (not spiritual union) between two people, it is time for the Church to step down, grit their teeth and accept the inevitable outcome – that marriage is finally redefined to include the homosexual community.

Contributed by Louis Mercier

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *