(This post is an abbreviated version of the last of 6 posts on the book “Who owns marriage?”on Patrick Mitchel’s blog www.faithinireland.wordpress.com and is posted with permission. )
Nick Park, Evangelical Alliance Ireland Executive Director, has written a short book which was published recently called Who Owns Marriage? as part of a dialogue leading up to the Same-Sex Referendum in Ireland on May 22.
Alongside his four chapters are contributions from a pretty wide range of other people including Atheist Ireland, LGBT activists and Christians of various perspectives (including me).
I said in my comments in the book that, in effect, the state is wishing to affirm homosexual identity by extending the right to marry.
I’m not persuaded that this policy is a necessary or good solution by which to affirm LGBT identity.
Here’s why I don’t think that same-sex marriage is a good idea.
It represents a radical retreat from a ‘maximal’ role of the state in actively legislating ‘for’ the family based on a marriage between a man and a woman from which children emerge (1937 Constitution) to a ‘minimal’ role where the state is now saying it has no interest or role at all in affirming marriage as between a man and women.
The rights of the individual of whatever sexual identity are now to be recognised and affirmed over and above established notions of marriage. Indeed, marriage as traditionally understood as being between a man and woman will be legally erased as a result of the Referendum. The words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ will become legislatively redundant.
I’m not against change, nor do I think that just because the state took a particular position in 1937 is should be set in stone for ever more. Nor do I assume that the state has a duty to legislate according to Christian morality.
But it should be recognised that the state, via the Referendum and recent Family and Relationships Bill, is now demonstrating a remarkable form ‘gender agnosticism’.
The wording of the amendment to the Referendum says:
“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”
This means that the state has now legally has no interest in the gender of parents.
It means that it, in effect, has no vested interest in how children are conceived or brought into a family and indeed is encouraging and affirming alternative artificial methods of procreation since a homosexual couple cannot produce offspring.
It means that there is no value placed on male-female difference: this will inevitably contribute to an increasing erosion of gender norms and acceleration of the normalisation and societal approval of a wide spectrum of sexual identities.
Logically, in light of this legislation and if consent, romantic love and commitment are all that are required for marriage to exist, it is hard to see a reason why marriage should not be extended to a variety of other arrangements.
As I said in my comments in the book, traditional heterosexual marriage is already in deep trouble. This legislation will, I think, only speed up the erosion of marriage and the family in Irish society. It continues a process of the hollowing out of marriage with negative implications for society.
And, also as I noted in the comments, the overall direction of the legislation carries with it significant threats to civil and religious liberty.
To be perceived to ‘belong’ to the anti same-sex marriage camp is to be labelled as someone who has an regressive agenda to control the individual, promote unhappiness, endorse inequality, restrict freedom, reinforce oppression and maintain intolerance.
A new intolerance is in the air for those accused of promoting ‘homophobic’ ideas (not being supportive of same-sex marriage or holding to Christian teaching about sex and sexuality).
Over time those outside the new legal consensus will likely be increasingly marginalised.
How far that marginalisation will go is unknown, but it is obvious from experience elsewhere that changing the law on same-sex marriage will have profound implications, not all of them foreseen or predictable.
Dr Patrick Mitchel is Director of Studies and lecturer in theology at Irish Bible Institute in Dublin.