Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Opponents to same-sex marriage not all bigots

New legislation: gay couples will
now be able to marry in England
and Wales
New legislation: gay couples will now be able to marry in England and Wales

When people ask me what I do for a living, I reply that I write regularly about religion, but that nowadays it is often about sex.

Anyone watching the furore over the new legislation providing for same-sex marriages in England and Wales might believe that this is one of the major topics of our national life.

In reality it applies to a relatively small proportion of the population, but it raises important points about religion and politics.

Commentators remain puzzled why Prime Minister David Cameron forced the Westminster vote on same-sex marriages and therefore split his Tory party. Was he bowing to populism, or did he really think that this was the right thing to do?

Either way I fail to understand Cameron's claim that same-sex marriage in England and Wales will "make the nation stronger". It will leave the nation still divided.

Some people believe that this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

Peter Lynas, the Northern Director of the Evangelical Alliance, says: "This is about a small but vocal minority trying to force its views on the majority. David Cameron has persevered with a piece of social engineering which will have massive consequences."

Mr Lynas, a former barrister, also points out shrewdly that civil partnerships already give equal rights to gay couples, but that under the new Bill the laws relating to consummation and adultery will not apply to same-sex couples, but only to man and wife relationships. So the Bill, as its stands, will not lead to equal treatment anyhow.

The real point about same-sex relationships is not equality, but the fact that they are different from traditional relationships between men and women. I believe that gay people are totally equal in law, and in their essential humanity, just like you and me. However, they are different in their sexual behaviour and in their family set-up.

A child with two 'Mummys' or two 'Daddys' has a different start in life compared to other children, no matter how much they are all loved and cared for.

It is this difference which people who do not automatically back same-sex marriage are trying to point out.

Some may have closed minds on the subject, but many reasonable and compassionate people cannot accept the idea that same-sex marriage should be treated exactly the same as traditional marriage. However, many people are afraid to speak out in case they are branded as bigots, which they most certainly are not.

The new legislation which will apply only to England and Wales will eventually create pressure in Northern Ireland, where there is strong opposition to same-sex marriage. The politicians say that the churches will not be compelled to bless these marriages, but it is only a matter of time before someone takes a case to the unpredictable European Court of Human Rights, which may indeed back gay marriage.

It is important the churches and their members keep to their principles, even though some are confusing populism with Biblical teaching. Recently I heard an English bishop say that the church must keep pace with "modern thinking", but this attitude of mind is steadily eroding the authority of the Church of England.

Very many of those opposing gay marriage are not narrow bigots, but are thoughtful people who have made up their own minds about the fundamental value of traditional marriage, and its crucial role in society. Just because something like gay marriage is deemed to be "modern" or "progressive" does not mean that it is automatically right.

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