Greg Mulholland MP writes…A dangerous drift in the party

There is a dangerous and almost imperceptible drift that has taken place in the Liberal Democrats in recent years, a drift away from tolerance, of acceptance of religions and faiths, alongside secular belief systems like humanism, towards a moral conformity. A moral conformity that certain views are part of who we are; and that many faith based, Christian views are rather something to be reserved for private worship that should be kept firmly out of the political arena. It may not be as obviously discriminatory as the abuse I experienced during that election campaign, but it is nevertheless equally damaging and illiberal. The received wisdom amongst too many Liberal Democrats, from MPs and peers to the wider membership, seems to be this: believe what we believe when it comes to ‘moral’ issues or issues of conscience, or you are not a Liberal Democrat. The trouble with that view is that it is not only illiberal. It is the very antithesis of liberalism.

Let me be clear: as a liberal I believe everyone has the right to think that what I believe faith-wise is bunkum and nonsense. They have every right to say so publicly if they wish without fear of criminal prosecution for blasphemy or religious hatred (I am assuming any liberal would make their views on my faith in a temperate and respectful way even if they fundamentally disagree with my beliefs!). But nevertheless, as long as without threat, abuse or hatred, they are entitled to do so!  Indeed I would fight for their right to do so. But I fear that what we are heading towards now in the party is away from freedom of conscience and towards a new moral conformity, and it is a dangerous trend.

The paragraphs above are an extract from my article in the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum’s new publication, Liberal Democrats Do God. It is time we recognise the drift that is taking place within the party, and decide to put freedom of conscience back where it should be – and has historically been – at the centre of liberalism.

If this trend continues, the Liberal Democrats could no longer be seen as a place where people of faith feel comfortable; and if these people are pushed out, it will be a tragedy not just for all Christian liberals who would no longer have a home, but also damaging to a party that wants – and needs – to have a broad appeal electorally.

Liberalism must remain at the heart of the Liberal Democrats and therefore continue to be the reason why Christians, as well as those of other faiths and none, decide to join, to campaign, and to stand.

I am a liberal not in spite of my faith. I am a liberal not just alongside my faith. I am a liberal because of my faith. So anyone who denies me my right to believe in Jesus Christ is denying me of my right to believe in liberalism. That philosophical path is the road to intolerance, to undermining freedom of conscience, a road that no true liberal would proceed along.

This and other issues will be discussed at the LDCF fringe event on Saturday 14th September, 8.15pm – 9.30pm at the Shuna Room, Crowne Plaza, where the publication Liberal Democrats Do God is being launched.

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90 Comments

  • I’m an atheist. I have no problem with there being Christians (or Muslims or Jews or Pagans or members of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) in the party; that is, after all, what the line in the constitution on non-conformity was about. The problem I have is when they try to enforce their religion’s morality on the rest of us. Secularism means we ALL get an equal say, and neither religious folk nor atheists get to tramp the other down and I believe in it wholeheartedly. Thus the elision of secularism and atheism by the likes of Baroness Warsi is something that REALLY annoys me. Secularism is MEANT to be religious and non-religious living in harmony…

    Anyway, in the last few years I have had a growing respect for dear Mr Mullholland, as despite coming at this from completely the opposite direction to me, he appears to have arrived at similar conclusions. I hope that this thread will show him the respect he deserves.

  • Well said.

  • Andrew Emmerson 11th Sep '13 - 4:40pm

    I link back to my earlier review of this book as a starting point. http://www.libdemvoice.org/book-review-liberal-democrats-do-god-35902.html

    However, Greg’s chapter was pretty unreadable because every other word is “illiberal”

    What I tend to find though is that Liberals meat Christianity head on where Christianity has taken a leader in being thoroughly morally authoritarian. For example, on LGBT rights.

    Where for example it has acted relatively liberally – say on pay day loans – then I’ve yet to see what Greg hypothesizes in this area

  • Richard Marbrow 11th Sep '13 - 4:41pm

    There is no drift away from issues of conscience being issues of conscience in my opinion.

    There is a problem that we do not all agree on what an issue of conscience is. For example the civil rights of people (to be obvious for a moment such as the civil right to be civilly married to the person of your choice) are not a conscience issue in the view of most/many liberals. They are a matter of civil rights.

    Liberalism is a tolerant and inclusive ideology but it is not the absence of ideology and a commitment to equal civil rights for all is a core part of that ideology.

  • Light blue touchpaper stand well clear…

    Have a look at some of the comments on here..
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/book-review-liberal-democrats-do-god-35902.html

    Apparently Christians are not really that welcome to some sections..

  • This is the start of the “it’s not illiberal to discriminate against people if my god tells me to” fightback then.

  • I have friends in Oxford who are great big lefty-liberals but voted Tory in 2010 to unseat Evan Harris because of his anti-religious fundamentalism. They were successful.

  • paul barker 11th Sep '13 - 5:19pm

    I would also point to the comments about Sarah Teathers decision not to run again, a lot of those posts were very angry & some of them spilled over into intolerance in my opinion.

  • Zoe O'connell 11th Sep '13 - 5:45pm

    There is a tendency for some to complain of religious persecution when they’ve just tried to oppress the religious freedom of others, for example by voting against equal marriage. (Although I would note that Greg isn’t as guilty as some on this)

    And then there’s the “I can’t vote for this, even though it doesn’t affect me directly, because it’s against my religion” line, with a feeble attempt, if any, to justify the position on any grounds other than religious ones.

    For those who bring religion into politics in this way, it’s inevitable that their religious beliefs will come under scrutiny, just as their non-religious political beliefs will come under the same scrutiny. The alternative is that religion becomes an automatic get-out clause for any sort of discussion of an MP’s voting record, and that’s entirely undesirable in my mind.

    Religious views can be entirely compatible with and can indeed form the basis of a solid, well thought out political and moral argument. Just get into a discussion on ethics with a well-read minister of many religions and you’ll find some solid ethical and moral reasoning that don’t rely on historical laws and customs. The difference is that those discussions will be rooted in solid reasoning, not unreasoning adherence to faith, and politicians taking that approach will not be the ones needing to fall back on their religion as justification for voting a particular way, so we don’t hear about it.

  • Paul, yes, but I would humbly submit that happened with people on both “sides”.

  • Angharad Jones 11th Sep '13 - 5:53pm

    I’m a Catholic and a Lib Dem I’ve never had any trouble being both, never been told that I can’t believe in Jesus and believe in Liberalism.

    But MPs of faith HAVE told people I love that their, OUR shared faith means that they are not as equal as them and should not have the legal right to marry who they love.

    That’s hardly a Liberal attitude is it?

    I’ll think that where you’ll find this rift has started to get larger than it was before or started to become a problem.

  • Steve, I campaigned for Evan Harris in Oxford for many reasons, but partly because of his secular principles. We were unsuccessful for many reasons, but partly because of people who micharacterise secularism as anti-religious. Voting Tory to unseat Evan Harris meant voting for an Evangelical Christian who signs up to Nadine Dorries’s views on abortion. I’m not convinced your friends’ votes were well used.

  • Richard Dean 11th Sep '13 - 6:19pm

    Adam is intolerant of people who are illiberal.
    Candice is tolerant of people who are illiberal.
    Which of Adam or Candice is liberal?

  • After reading the discussion regarding Sarah Teather and her decision to not to stand in 2015 I have been reflecting on being a Christian and a Liberal. A Christian because of their faith may wish to make society better. So which of the three main political parties should they join? If they are a conservative Christian they may be at home in the Conservative party, but if they are a liberal Christian while they may agree with Labour’s social justice agenda they may find it a very conservative party. They therefore may feel more at home in the Liberal Democrats.

    The problem seems to come when an elected representative takes a position guided by their faith and not guided by liberalism. There really should be no problem because Christianity believes in free will and does not believe society should force non-Christians to live as Christians therefore the laws of the land should not comply with Christian beliefs because these are a personal matter but liberals should work to ensure the laws are based on liberal principles.

    To answer Greg Mulholland when faced with something you consider a moral issue you should still base your vote on liberalism and not enforcing your faith based morals on others. If someone standing for selection as a Liberal Democrat can’t do this they need to make clear which moral issues they will vote against the liberal position so the members can know in advance what they are getting. These moral issues should also be made clear to the wider electorate and membership especially if help is needed to get elected from the wider party.

  • Richard Church 11th Sep '13 - 6:45pm

    Of course we all support freedom of conscience, if only it were so simple. For instance, will Greg or other religious MP’s vote to allow my freedom to be assisted in dying, if that is my wish? If your morals dictate that what I am doing is immoral I don’t suppose you will, so with the well rehearsed arguments on gay marriage, where some Christian MP’s don’t seem to apply the liberal principle of people being free to do as they wish as long as it does not affect the freedom of others.

    I think it is utterly wrong for the state to fund faith based schools, you might say I am impinging on your right to choose how your child is educated. I would respond that your choice is impacting on the free choice of others, including your own children. ‘Freedoms of conscience’ can clash.

    Religious people are no more a persecuted minority than are atheists. My taxes are spent on the promotion of beliefs that I don’t share, and religion has an undue influence in public life through both the established church and privileges granted to religions. That makes me angry, but it shouldn’t make me angry with Christians in the Lib Dems with whom I share much. It does make me angry though when people talk of ‘aggressive secularists’ when all secularists are seeking is fair and equal treatment of all beliefs with no special privileges to any.

    People of religions and those without religion in the party need to understand where each other come from, and I suppose this book is a helpful contribution to that. Shame about the title though, as ‘The Lib Dems’ as a party don’t do god, but many individual members do.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 11th Sep '13 - 6:56pm

    I have no objection to anyone believing whatever they like, it’s when they try to force their beliefs onto others, when they insist on special privileges for their beliefs, when they insist that others have to obey and follow their beliefs that I get irritated and fight back. It’s because far too many insist that they are right and I must conform to their standards that I want a secular UK where all beliefs have equal standing and none are set above others.

  • “We never seem to get further than the usual of dismissive comments such as, ‘they have no right to force their religious opinions on others’ …”

    Probably the reason we get no further than that is that it’s an unanswerable argument, no matter what convoluted logic people come up with to try to get around it.

  • Richard Dean 11th Sep '13 - 7:21pm

    You are forcing your opinion on me, to not force my opinion on others!

    Help!

  • Joe

    “I don’t agree with the argument, but it is not unanswerable.”

    Is that what you meant to type?

  • The thing I find quite difficult when debating with fellow Christians about discrimination and intolerance is that many seem to have a very different experience of intolerance to the people they feel are bullying them.

    For example, I don’t think you can really compare between “people accuse me of being a bad person because I (or the religious leaders I support) disagree with equal marriage” and “my civil partner and I don’t have the same legal protections as a married couple” or “I’m likely to be beaten up if I hold hands in the wrong street/don’t ‘pass’ as my legal gender” (or indeed as “my place of worship got firebombed” or “my employer won’t give me leave for major religious festivals”, given that religious discrimination is by no means dead).

    Yes, it’s uncomfortable, to use Greg’s word, to be accused of such things, but we Christians have been allowed to be comfortable for a very long time, and at the expense of those for whom laws and customs made by and for white, Christian, mostly straight people, were an uncomfortable fit.

    So I think we as Christians need to distinguish between discomfort and pain, and if we experience the former to save others the latter, then I would consider that no bad thing.

  • Peter Davies 11th Sep '13 - 8:28pm

    @Richard Dean
    Statistically probably neither but I could tolerate either.

  • What people who are not religious need to take aboard, especially in their dealings with people who are coming from a religious background, is that an argument or opinion is not dismissable simply because it comes from a religious source. Saying “Oh, you just believe that because of your religion” is not an unanswerable objection; religions can and do make persuasive arguments for their positions — though followers of the religions may not always know or understand what those arguments are.

    The converse of the above is that religious people in dialogue with people not of their religion need to remember that a religious argument is, of its own nature, not likely to be persuasive to people not of the same religion (and not even to all of those). If you want to convince somebody of the rightness of your views, and you’re not talking to people within your own church, you are most likely to be successful if you take away your argument’s religious aspects and present it as a philosophical or ethical argument. If, when you’ve done that, you’re left with nothing better than “I believe God says so,” then you are very unlikely to bring others over to your view. However, this is more likely the exception than the norm. If you’re not familiar with the reasons *why* your church has a particular view on a subject, you either need to familiarise yourself with its arguments, or avoid standing up as the representative of a particular religion; though if you believe you can argue the case on its own merits, as a private view of your own, then by all means.

    A serious error is dragging in a church to support your views, by way of saying “so many hundreds, thousands, or millions of people believe this way, as do I, so you should pay extra respect to my argument on that basis — I represent all these millions of people, you see.” In the first place, that’s not likely to do much more than get others’ backs up, not so much because they hate religion as because people dislike pomposity and pretension. Second, you really can’t represent anyone but yourself in an argument on this level. Third, this is particularly weak when the person gets the position of the church they claim to speak for *wrong*, as happens with some frequency.

    Having a view based on your religion is not a bad thing at all. But you can’t argue for it if you are merely repeating a talking point, and don’t understand the historical or philosophical reasons for the view you’ve adopted. Nor can you convince others if it’s clear that you don’t understand your own argument, or merely hold the view because it’s something that identifies you as a member of your religion. Nor can you be convincing if you can only found your argument upon articles of faith which others may not share.

  • Jonathan Walls 11th Sep '13 - 9:28pm

    On this issue, I defer to the former Archbishop of Canterbury:

    “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable.
    “I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers.
    “I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots – perish the thought!
    “But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.”

  • One of the truly radical things about the teachings of Jesus, is the lack of compulsion. In a time where religion was fairly rigid and had some truly draconian punishments for transgressors, he left the individuals who wanted to follow him complete freedom of choice. I believe it to be entirely possible to live as a Christian and to allow others to choose their own path.

    In some ways this is very easy for me, as I believe SSM to be entirely consistent with my faith. As I do many other issues including assisted dying where other Christians struggle.

    There are though examples where I am less comfortable from the perspective of my faith, but would not impose that on others. If we take abortion, I absolutely believe it is a women’s right to choose. That would include for example, where it was found that there was a birth defect, for example Downs Syndrome.

    However, my wife and I, when offered a second level of tests (as older parents) did not have them. We would not, partly due to our faith, have considered an abortion. That was our choice, I would never condemn someone for taking a different path, and I would never support a party that considered taking that choice away.

    If in the future either of my daughters found themselves in that position, I would like to think I would explain our reasoning, encourage them to seek advice from a wide range of sources, and ensure they knew the choice was absolutely theirs. Finally I would love them unconditionally whatever they chose.

    There is therefore, in my opinion, no justification for judging anyone for choosing a path that is contrary to your own interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. In fact I would say there are several points in the Gospels where such condemnation is explicitly highlighted.

    Christians have ample chance to convince others to join them, but they have no more right than any other group to compel.

  • William Jones 11th Sep '13 - 11:17pm

    Don’t agree there is any drift. I find it sad that some MPs with “a faith” in the party are still banging on about equal marriage. Equal marriage is law – move on!

  • “If you want to convince somebody of the rightness of your views, and you’re not talking to people within your own church, you are most likely to be successful if you take away your argument’s religious aspects and present it as a philosophical or ethical argument. If, when you’ve done that, you’re left with nothing better than “I believe God says so,” then you are very unlikely to bring others over to your view.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head.

    And in that situaion, beyond just being unlikely to bring others over to your view, if you are a liberal you simply have no right to impose that view on others.

  • @Helen
    “However, didn’t Jesus demand a great deal of his followers”

    Yep, but not of those who chose not to follow him, following and living by an interpretation of those rules (and we should honest that there is more than one interpretation available) is always a choice. He didn’t try to restrict those who didn’t follow him.

    I truly believe that as both a Christian and a liberal an MP could vote to allow the freedom to do something with a clear conscience even if they then try to convince people not to take up that freedom. My son is 21 and has the freedom to smoke, I hope he doesn’t and would try to convince him not to, but that is not the same as banning it. Therefore even if I didn’t feel SSM was compatible with my faith I would find no reason to vote against it…..

    To use a secular example, as an ex-serviceman I would never burn or deface the Union Flag, in fact seeing people do it makes me feel quite angry. However, apart from the obvious exceptions (where it could be an incitement to violence etc) I could never support a law that outlawed burning our flag.

  • I’m with Duncan Stott and Richard Church (great name considering the discussion). Campaigning for a level playing field for the religious and non-religious makes one an anti-religious fundamentalist? Please.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Sep '13 - 1:47am

    Hmm, ‘moral conformity’ – is this about faith based homophobia again?

  • Alisdair McGregor 12th Sep '13 - 2:08am

    This is the difference between positive & negative rights, and group and individual rights.

  • The Liberal Party was the party of church disestablishment.Church disestablishment was not motivated by a militant secularism but the view that no one church (or religion) should have dominance over others. I don’t care how nice the bishops are, they don.t speak for me.
    I tend to think there is not so much a moral conformity but a moral vacuum in Britain.Ethics are at the heart of liberalism whether they are informed by religion or a secular humanism.

  • Ian Hurdley 12th Sep '13 - 7:55am

    I’ve got tangled up in ‘religious’ debates ( or more properly, shouting matches) a few times on FB. Repeatedly, I find that I am castigated for believing in things that I don’t believe in ( the world is six thousand years old, there were two people called Adam and Eve, etc), and for doing things that I don’t do (ramming my beliefs down people’s throats, bible bashing, causing most of the troubles in this world, among other things). I had hoped that here on LDV I might find a more reasoned and thoughtful approaching the comments.
    For the record, to the militant atheists, funnily enough the god that you don’t believe in is the same one that I don’t believe in (and, yes I am a Christian), and if it helps I will happily give you some of my doubts if you will let me have some of your certainty

  • If being Liberal means letting the party turn into a forum or a vehicle for any particular member to pursue his or her views, no matter how inconsistent with they are with freedom and equality, and we can’t disagree because it would be illiberal to impose our own views on them, then there is no point working for or donating to such a party, because you would essentially be supporting random candidates yet to be determined. This is pretty much the view I have come to in letting my own membership lapse.

  • The principles underlining the interaction between faith and politics were set out perfectly by Chris a few days ago :

    If someone is simply imposing their own personal religious beliefs on those who do not share them, then that is clearly illiberal, and I would have hoped that all liberals would be clear in opposing it.

    If on the other hand someone is arguing against same-sex marriage because they genuinely believe it would be harmful to society – and not simply because it is contrary to their personal religious beliefs – then that is a different matter. But in that case there can be no special pleading about “matters of conscience”. It becomes a political issue like any other, and politicians must be responsible for their actions, with no special dispensations for their religious scruples.

    This is absolutelty right. You can’t keep your reasoning and argumentation a personal matter which others cannot touch at the same time as seeking to legislate for the general public.

  • “I can’t think of one occasion when someone has closed down a discussion by stating, ” I believe this because God tells me so” or ” I am going to force my view on you because God tells me to.” Can you?”

    No, of course people aren’t daft enough to say such things openly. They always try to produce non-religious arguments instead. But when people produce non-religious arguments that make as little sense as the ones against same-sex marriage have, then it’s natural to conclude that the real objection lies elsewhere.

  • Julian Tisi 12th Sep '13 - 9:07am

    When I saw this article my initial reaction was “Please God, no!!!!!!” – I was fully expecting another tedious round of religious bashing and secularist bashing.

    I’m actually pleasantly surprised at the quality of this debate. There appear to be more tolerant people than intollerant, more understanding people than bashers. I particularly like the contributions of Dave, Helen Tadcastle and the early post from Jennie. But one post that deserves response is the lovely one from Richard Dean…

    “Adam is intolerant of people who are illiberal.
    Candice is tolerant of people who are illiberal.
    Which of Adam or Candice is liberal?”

    My answer for what it’s worth is that Adam thinks he’s liberal, probably is, but is turning people away from the party (I take as my working assumption that Adam is a signed up Liberal Democrat activist!). Adam needs to consider that not everyone comes from the same starting point and perhaps like Socrates should try to understand first before condemning. Candice may or may not be liberal, though tolerance by its very nature presupposes disagreement (you can hardly be said to “tolerate” someone’s views when in fact you share their views”. I like Candice. She seems nice!

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '13 - 9:38am

    Jennie

    I have no problem with there being Christians (or Muslims or Jews or Pagans or members of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) in the party; that is, after all, what the line in the constitution on non-conformity was about. The problem I have is when they try to enforce their religion’s morality on the rest of us.

    There was a long discussion on these issues in the thread that was meant to be about Sarah Teather’s recent Observer interview. It rather hijacked what ought to have been the main point of that thread, but it stemmed from Sarah’s position on Single Sex Marriage. For me the problem seemed to be a big group of vocal opponents of religion who seemed to be assuming that anyone who has a religious connection must have a position which means they take the words of their religious texts in a simplistic literal way, and have no process of thought about them apart from that. Hence the accusation that they are “attempting to enforce their religion’s morality in the rest of us”. Those who tried to argue that it isn’t like this were largely unsuccessful in getting their point across, essentially because those they were arguing against were 1) Clueless about the sort of arguments within religion that have been going on for thousands of years 2) Insistent that they knew best, because they had thought these things through themselves, while the religious people were just mindless Bible-thumpers. It seemed a bit unfair to try to counter these misassumptions by, in effect, delivering a Religion 101 module.

    OK, Sarah Teather did not mention SSM in her interview stating her disaffection with the way the party is going, but she did mention welfare and immigration. What if her positions on these issues was also influenced by her religious connections? Almost certainly they were, her religion is very much about taking care for those who are poor, and treating people of all races equally. So wouldn’t any vote of hers opposing welfare cuts or opposing restriction on immigration also amount to imposing her religious morality on others? She is forcing others to pay tax for the welfare, and to have to deal with the extra immigrants. So shouldn’t those who castigate her for her position on SSM do likewise on these other issues?

  • Joe

    “We are in danger of using one of Bernard Woolley’s irregular verbs: I am trying to persuade you. You think you are right about everything. He is trying to impose his views on us.”

    I suppose in a sense giving someone a freedom which does no harm to anyone else is an “imposition” on people who don’t want the person to have that freedom. But isn’t that a very strange viewpoint for a liberal to take?

  • I don’t understand this talk of not imposing your beliefs on others – what are MPs there for if they’re standing up for their own beliefs (after being elected by people with the same beliefs). If the majority think murder is wrong and should be punished then they are inflicting their point of view on other people who would be quite happy to murder, whether their opinion on murder is informed by Moses or Mills.

    The problem with ‘thou shalt not kill’ and ‘thou shalt not do harm to another’ is that they are ridiculously simple philosophies that don’t always serve us well without further consideration of other factors. For example, abortion. Where is the boundary between the right of the unborn child not to be harmed and the idea that the an unborn child has become an unborn child with those rights? At the moment that limit is 24 weeks – a limit that is imposed on us by the beliefs of our elected representatives and a limit that is entirely arbitrary and based on a moral judgement. If you use scientific knowledge to inform that moral judgement you are still being selective, by your values, about which scientific criteria apply to your argument. If it is the ability of the foetus to survive outside the womb, it is an entirely arbitrary choice of criteria (and one without a fixed threshold since foetuses can increasingly survive earlier than 24 weeks), if you choose the perception of pain by the foetus then that would make the limit slightly longer and even fuzzier given the current state of knowledge on this is rather poor, etc.

    @Duncan Scott
    “meant voting for an Evangelical Christian who signs up to Nadine Dorries’s views on abortion. ”

    So, you’re not bothered about whether the candidate holds liberal views only that they are an evangelical Christian. That just highlights the point I was making. Furthermore, if you had substituted the word Jew for evangelical Christian would you have had second thoughts before posting?

    Again, with Nadine Dorries, you are assigning an opinion based on your own values that has nothing to with liberalism. You don’t even tell us which views of Nadine Dorries on abortion you disagree with – is it her attempt to ensure that abortion counselling is provided by independent bodies or is it her attempt to reduce the limit to 20 weeks? – the latter is a view shared by the majority of women in this country and about equally shared with those that wish to see the limit remain at 24 weeks regardless of gender (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/category/abortion).

    All I can infer from your comment is that you don’t think voting for a Christian (either Nicola Blackwood or Nadine Dorries) is a good idea. The surprising and rather contradictory thing is that in the sentence before you argue that people are characterising secularists as anti-religious.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 12th Sep '13 - 10:22am

    @Ian Hurdley: Please define militant atheist. I’ve never met one but I’ve met quite a few who, just like theists, are willing to stand their corner and argue their point. Does that make them militant?

    Also, not only do atheists not believe in the god that you don’t believe in, they also don’t believe in the god that you do believe in. In fact, they don’t believe in any gods.

  • I agree entirely that our party has principles or values which must be upheld – and it is important to remain civil to each other and indeed to those with whom we disagree totally. Being rash and intolerant is not what we are about. Recently I followed a link about Sarah Teather and visited another chat thread run by the Telegraph. You will not be surprised that our customary civility was not found when I posted in support of Sarah’s good work – as the thread members were intent on running her down in most unpleasant ways mostly on her views which concern many of her immigrant constituents. Most of the venom was about “my country” or “my homeland” and seemed to come from principles which are not like mine.

    The civility of the discussion here is very different to that of the Telegraph thread I visited but it has to be said that even on LDVoice there are those of us who occasionally abuse – maybe we don’t always read what fingers have typed and considered well before posting. I have resolved not to be drawn into rash statements but rather to show respect in a way which is probably more likely to hold me to my own principles and be respected by others. I certainly do not wish to become involved in verbal or physical fisticuffs about any issue.

    I know that some LD members spoke too strongly against our MPs who could not support every part of the civil marriage voting. However, most if not all of the MPs had valid reasons for not voting along the clear path which others saw before them – it depended on where one was coming from. I support totally the framework of the civil marriage bill and now Act because I am an Equalities activist and an Anglican who appreciates all the thought which has gone into preparing what, for me, is an excellent LD Act – showing tolerance to all sections of the community.

  • “Chris, I’m glad you mentioned the ‘does no harm’ test. I would agree, with perhaps the odd exception. But is a peculiar modernism that morality is taken to be only about issues where no harm is done”

    Maybe it is peculiar (in the sense of particular) to the modern world, but that’s where we’re living.

    If you agree with the ‘does no harm’ test, then I really struggle to see what point you’ve been trying to make in your last few comments – which seem to be suggesting there is some kind of equivalence between those in favour of allowing same-sex couples the freedom to marry, and those that would like to deny them that freedom.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “Almost certainly they were, her religion is very much about taking care for those who are poor, and treating people of all races equally. So wouldn’t any vote of hers opposing welfare cuts or opposing restriction on immigration also amount to imposing her religious morality on others? She is forcing others to pay tax for the welfare, and to have to deal with the extra immigrants. So shouldn’t those who castigate her for her position on SSM do likewise on these other issues?”

    Not necessarily the position itself, which someone might support for a variety of other reasons. However, if she blindly supports a particular approach to immigration or welfare as an article of faith rather than because of having weighed up the arguments (e.g. individual freedom of the migrant vs. the expectations of the state which educated him / positive or negative effects on the cost of or earnings from particular types of labour etc.) then absolutely we can certainly attack her line of reasoning.

    However the difference is (as described by Chris and requoted by me above) that she does not see those policy areas as conscience issues about which others are not allowed to challenge her view (but about which she is allowed to vote for legislation affecting others), she puts them in the second category of normal political issues open to normal political debate, so she does not attract criticism in this area.

  • I wrote my last comment, referring to the majority imposing their moral view of murder, before reading Joe Otten’s at 9:30am. I have to agree with everything Joe has written on this thread.

  • @Steve

    Murder is different because to SSM because prohibiting it is about protecting an unwilling person from harm, so it is a legitimate use of state power. Regulating abortion is also legitimate, because certainly the day before birth, abortion would be murder, and preventing it would be a legitimate use of state power to protect the unwilling person from harm. In my opinion at 6 weeks we are not talking about a person and abortion should be legal at 6 weeks. Where, between 6 weeks and 36 weeks, the line should be drawn (in other words, where personhood begins) is another discussion, but it does legitimately belong in the realm of politics and legislation.

    With SSM, drugs, page 3, or many other areas where our representatives just don’t understand what free choice is about, there is no unwilling participant.

  • I personally think it is time that we removed the option for an MP being allowed to vote according to their conscience.
    Now, before I am inundated with screams and shouts, please let me explain.
    When an MP is elected to parliament they have been done so by the democratic will of the people. They have been elected to parliament to represent their constituency. They have not been elected by their constituents for them to vote in the house according to their own personal beliefs or conscience. Therefore at all times, on all matters, the democratic will of the constituency should be represented above that of personal conscience.
    We have laws today in Britain that protect people from being discriminated against on the grounds of Religion, Sexual orientation, Disability, etc. etc. These laws (referring to the religious aspect) mean that people with faith from any religion or religious organisation cannot refuse service to someone based on their religious beliefs. We have seen many examples of this, (e.g. Bed & Breakfast owners that refused to allow same sex couples to share a room as it goes against their own religious beliefs) An MP who has been elected to the House of Commons, has been done so to “serve” the whole community for which they represent. Therefore an MP’s vote must always reflect the will of the people and not be a matter of personal conscience or religious beliefs.
    I also believe that in the 21st century, religion should play no part in making or changing the laws of this country. Religion is a matter of personal choice by an individual; therefore it is highly illiberal for non-religious people to have laws passed in parliament based on the religious beliefs/writings of the Church of England and Christianity as a whole, when they as individuals do not carry this belief.
    Furthermore, I firmly believe that a government who bases it’s laws on (therefore governs it’s people by) a specific religion (in this case the Church of England), is in itself being raciest simply by the fact that according to the http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/facts-stats.aspx only 40% of people in Britain regard themselves as belonging to the Church of England, and according to the 2011 census, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-for-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/rpt-religion.html 25% of people today living in Britain reported themselves as having no religion at all.
    Law should be Law based on “fact”, not on an ideal.

  • @Helen Tedcastle, How likely is it that sarah would ‘blindly support’ immigration without weighing up the evidence and the effects?

    Not very. That is why (paraphrasing the M Huntbach post I was referring to, which perhaps you have missed) those who castigate her for her views on SSM do not take the same approach to her views on immigration.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '13 - 11:49am

    Richard S

    Where, between 6 weeks and 36 weeks, the line should be drawn (in other words, where personhood begins) is another discussion,

    Why stop at 36 weeks? Why not 100 weeks? In the ancient world it was common for new born babies who were considered defective in some way to be subject to exposure. To the ancient Romans, this was natural – a baby was its parents’ property (or more likely its father’s), if they did not want to keep it, they could let it die. They would have regarded it as an outrageous imposition on personal freedom for someone to tell them they could not do this. One of the aspects of early Christianity was opposition to this, so the ancient Romans would have seen this as Christians trying to impose their religious beliefs on people who did not share them.

    The point I am trying to make all along here is that the division between religious and non-religious issues is not nearly so simple as is being supposed.

  • Joe

    But what you seemed to be suggesting is that in some sense the supporters of same-sex marriage were trying to force their views on others, in a way that was equivalent to the behaviour of religiously motivated opponents.

    My point is that that’s not true, because the opponents are trying to restrict other people’s rights, while the supporters are trying to extend them, and only the most tenuous arguments have been advanced to suggest that anyone will be harmed by that extension of people’s rights.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '13 - 11:53am

    Helen Tedcastle

    The assumption appears to be that people of faith don’t think.

    Indeed – this is the heart of the problem. There is a big group of people who just assume anyone with a religious connection is some simple minded scriptural literalist, and attacks them on that basis. The response then of those attacked is either to remain silent (and silence is treated as consent) or to attempt to engage in long discussion on why it is not so, during which they are mercilessly attacked by their opponents who continue to work on the basis of their original assumptions.

  • “The rest of us force our views on the general public in this sense whenever we support any kind of law.”

    I thought at several points in the discussion that you had agreed that wasn’t so in the case of same-sex marriage. Perhaps we’d better leave it there.

  • @Helen
    “The argument is then – to be a Liberal, one must parcel out or compartmentalise one’s own beliefs, values and motivations in order to conform to a secular agenda.”

    No, not at all. One must however consider each situation on it’s merits. In simplistic terms I would suggest that where there is no harm (and in some cases where there is no risk of harm other than to the person knowingly taking that risk) then there is no justification in prohibiting it even if you would not promote it.. Your belief is not compartmentalised, but you are not imposing any restrictions on others because of it.

  • Helen Tedcastle Of course she disagrees with you on SSM but that does not mean she lost her ability to reason through the arguments. On the contrary in fact. Her decision and the decisions of the other MPs were very carefully weighed and very fully explained in statements on their websites. You did not agree. Your conclusions came down on one side, theirs on the other.

    Then it what way is this an issue of conscience, deserving of special protection and understanding for those who disagree with me then? Surely it’s like the Syria bombing or tuition fees where those who voted against the views of a lot of the people who worked to elect them caught a lot of flak for it and are going to find that those same people won’t work to get them re-elected. Why is any of this a problem then?

  • As a longterm LD voter and a mderately conservative Christian, I do think there are flaws in the coalition position on marriage legislation, and these will mean the issues has not been resolved and will recur. I also think there is a danger that until the issue is resolved, the LD position may (perhaps unconsciously) become that Christians in particular, but also all religious people, should butt out of politics full stop, or not make it overt that they are taking up their political positions on religious grounds because that is ‘imposing their faith on others’. This is becoming a generally held view of many of my generation (I’m 35) so maybe that’s not surprising anyhow.

    Let me make it clear that the flaws I thnk there are are NOT that there is a law passed proposing that Gay or Lesbian people be able to marry. The devil (maybe unfortunate phrase!) is instead in the detail.

    1) this law only applies to England, not to Scotalnd or N Ireland, so there is an inequality unaddressed.
    2) The Church in Wales and the Church of England are still conducting legally binding marriages in England and Wales on behalf of the state but have been given protection from having to conduct same-sex marriages to protect them from prosecution. This is an obvious area of future debate and controversy.

    How could this be better addressed? I would personally wish the LDs to follow Gladstone, that almost obscenely conservative Christian, in feeling that conservative religion is best protected by a liberal consitution. Options would be:
    - remove the rights from churches to conduct legally binding marriages, as is the situation on the continent. Then churchs can conduct Christian relgious marriage vows without fear of future prosecution, and there is no inequlity. This removed the possibilty of an Erastian government telling the church of England (in particular) what to do just becuase it is the state church, which is the position the Tories moved towards at times during the debates leading up to the legislation.
    - This is even more secured by full church disestablishment in all the nations of the UK, which is what Christian and non-Christian LDs should be aiming for in the longterm; no other party will see this as an issue because Labour can’t be bothered and the Tories want a biddable church that is about state ceremonies and good schools. As a Christian, this is a position I can’t morally tolerate much longer (am I being intolerant?)

  • Ian Hurdley 12th Sep '13 - 6:25pm

    @ Graham Martin Royle. I do not share the views of atheists regarding the non-existence of any god, but ai accept that they are entitled to that position, and. I realise that from this perspective they will hold different opinions to me on a whole range of issues. I have no problem with any of this.
    What I find offensive is a common atheist stance that not only are my beliefs offensive to them, they necessarily define what my response must be on contentious issues, that in expressing my own view I am seeking to force my (illegitimate) views on others, and that I am fair game for abuse and ridicule. These are the people to whom I refer by the shorthand term “militant atheists”.
    At the risk of confusing people, let me state that I am an active member of the Roman Catholic Church, and I am delighted that marriage has been extended to same sex couples.

  • We expect our elected representatives to vote for the things in their party’s manifesto and follow their political parties policy’s unless they have clearly stated they disagree with their party’s policy. The reason why someone disagrees with their party policy is interesting but the important thing to know is where they disagree so the electors know what type of person of they are electing.

    I have debated with Helen Tedcastle on another thread her conservative interpretation of the Christian tradition and put forward liberal Christian ideas in favour of same sex marriage. I support her right to hold her position even if I wish to change it, but she ignores the issue of elected representatives. If she was an MP she would be wrong to vote based on her view if she had not made it clear at the time when she was standing for election. This is not about a Christian conforming to the view of the liberal it is about the transparency of those who stand for election.

    I wish all Christians could share Steve Way’s view that laws do not need to be compatible with their faith and so could support laws that are not compatible with their faith. When an MP votes for or against something because it is not compatible with their faith they are imposing their faith view on others. Helen Tedcastle and Matthew Huntback are correct that this can also agree with the political philosophy of their political party but it is a justifiable for members of the party to question the views of their elected members when they do not agree with the political philosophy of their party.

  • @Helen

    “a belief is compartmentalised when it is not allowed to be expressed due to groupthink”

    You are not understanding my point, Of course the view can be expressed. All people have the right to freedom of expression. At no point did I state that people should not put their argument. There is a difference between making an argument and forcing a restriction on those who do not share your views.

    Of course everyone has a starting point, and of course everyone has a personal worldview that is made up of many factors. My view is that if you truly believe in a liberal society, you have to allow people to do things that you may not agree with, even some things that make you angry.

    It’s the flag burning example again. I could passionately talk about why burning of the Union Flag disgusts and angers me. I have been to too many funerals of friends and colleagues where the coffins have been draped with that same flag. I believe those who burn it, especially if they are British Citizens, are insulting the very institution that protects them. But, were I an MP, I would never vote to make it illegal in spite of my worldview, partly formed through joining the services straight from school. There are Conservatives MP’s (and some Labour ones) who share my views about the flag but would gladly make it illegal, there was even an early day motion in the last parliament calling for this. That to me is the difference, I would allow something that offends me.

    There is an absolute place for Christians in politics, but there should be no favoured position. There is nothing wrong with someone making passionate arguments based upon the teachings of their faith. I just believe that when it comes to restricting freedoms of others, the bar should be higher than “I don’t personally agree with this” or “it is against the teachings of my faith”.

    And this is where I would bring it right back to Jesus, he did not put rules in place for everyone, he gave people an option.

  • Steve asked of me:

    “So, you’re not bothered about whether the candidate holds liberal views only that they are an evangelical Christian. That just highlights the point I was making. Furthermore, if you had substituted the word Jew for evangelical Christian would you have had second thoughts before posting?”

    I’m bothered when the collision faith and politics creates an attempt to place restrictions on people. I would never say don’t vote for someone just because they are a Christian, an Evangelical Christian, a Jew or an Orthodox Jew. However I think it is fair comment to mention the faith of people who are pushing for restrictions on personal freedom. The Evangelical Alliance were one of the faith bodies that pushed for Nadine Dorries’s changes to abortion counselling, and that was the Bill supported by Nicola Blackwood, an Evangelical Christian.

    You said: “All I can infer from your comment is that you don’t think voting for a Christian (either Nicola Blackwood or Nadine Dorries) is a good idea.” I think that’s all you wanted to infer, but what I actually said was far more reasonable/dull. Sorry about that.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    So what does “going with conscience” mean to you then? How is it distinct from MPs or members of the public making a decision on normal issue which is a legitimate target for debate?

    I read Sarah Teather’s statement on her website. She mentions she is a Catholic in the first paragraph and then in later paragraphs, proceeds to advance the kinds of argument that would also exclude the medically infertile from marriage. It is hard not to escape the conclusion that the real reason for her vote is the one she mentions in her first paragraph (even though the point about the Christian lifestyle is that it must be freely chosen).

    @matt – Yes the law passed in London doesn’t apply in Scotland, Japan nor in Namibia. Those are foreign countries which have a separate democratic process to determine their own laws. For historical reasons Irish people resident in England and also Scottishh people, even those resident in Scotland, get a vote on our laws too.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 13th Sep '13 - 12:10am

    @Ian Hurdley: You state that you do not share the view of atheists regarding the non-existence of any god. I find that puzzling. Atheists regard all gods as non existent, including the likes of Thor, Zeus, Ra,, Mithra, etc. Are you saying then that you believe that these gods exist? If you say that you don’t believe they exist then you contradict your statement above that you do not share the view of atheists that these gods don’t exist. Which is it?

    “(What I find offensive is a common theiststance that not only are my beliefs offensive to them, they necessarily define what my response must be on contentious issues, that in expressing my own view I am seeking to force my (illegitimate) views on others, and that I am fair game for abuse and ridicule. These are the people to whom I refer by the shorthand term “militant theists”.)”

    Doesn’t make much sense does it?

  • @Duncan Scott
    ” I think that’s all you wanted to infer”

    No it isn’t – that’s why I worded it exactly the way I did. All I could infer from your comment was that you thought that voting for Nicola Blackwood was a bad idea because she is an evangelical Christian, because that is the only reason you gave. I did presume that there might be more to your opinions than that, but taking the comment in the literal sense that is all I could infer without resorting to assumption. Can you please explain to me why I should assume that your comment was actually more highly minded than the simple anti-Christian statement you made ? What is it about you that we should assume that you are more highly minded than your comments suggest and, whilst your at it, can you please explain why you presume that I am motivated by something more basic than my comments suggest (“I think that’s all you wanted to infer”)?

    “However I think it is fair comment to mention the faith of people who are pushing for restrictions on personal freedom. ”

    You only commented on their faith, nothing else. You didn’t look at the beliefs (whether religious or non-religious) that informed those opinions and, besides, are you really the sole arbiter of what constitutes personal freedom? The limit on abortion, as I’ve discussed, is not a simple, black-and-white issue. The issue of counselling services for women thinking about abortion is a complex issue and one for which Dorries held what to me seems like a perfectly reasonable and liberal viewpoint. She was against organisations such as Marie-Stopes (named after a woman that advocated the forced sterilisation of people she didn’t think were fit to be parents including the grounds of race, amongst many other profoundly anti-liberal views) counselling such women – an organisation that takes money from the state for each abortion it performs and lobbies for abortion is hardly disinterested in the counselling advice it gives to women in a vulnerable position. Dorries view was perfectly reasonable and liberal, but fell down partly because of her inability to demonstrate how alternative, independent, counselling services could be provided, but mostly because she is a Christian, which allowed her opponents to characterise her as some kind of unthinking fundamentalist.

  • Matt (Bristol) 13th Sep '13 - 1:11pm

    This is my second post inthis thread; I am amending my name as there are at least 2 other Matts with differing and distinct perspectives.

    Richard S:
    “@matt – Yes the law passed in London doesn’t apply in Scotland, Japan nor in Namibia. Those are foreign countries which have a separate democratic process to determine their own laws. For historical reasons Irish people resident in England and also Scottishh people, even those resident in Scotland, get a vote on our laws too.”

    That is a very ‘interesting’ statement which will be very good news to Alec Salmond, as he doesn’t have to waste time on the big referendum campaign he’s involve d in right now; money could be saved all round. Have you heard of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or indeed have any working knoweldge of British constitutional history? Some time ago, I did an MA in History which involved studying the politics of British-Irish government and the debates over home rule in the 1880s and 1890s; I suspect (although I could be wrong) that I appreciate moderately better than you do that the ‘historical reasons’ you refer to re: Irish people in the UK involve several hundred years of British rule in southern Ireland, an awful lot of hurt, anger and several bl**dy awful civil wars, uprisings, etc.

    Yes, Marriage is under our current constitutional framework reserved to the devolved governments in N Ireland and Scotland. But Civil Partnerships are not, as of the act setting them up in 2004. This is the inequality I referred to; this is why the issue is not as resolved as it suits the coalition to pretend it is as Scotland will be debating its own equal marriage bill soon, and goodness knows what will happen in Belfast.

    The reason that marriage is reserved in those issues is because something called our religious history; each nation of the UK has a separate religious settlement. I N Ireland there is no established church, in Wales there is no established church but the Church in Wales can conduct legally binding marriages, in Scotland there is a ‘national church’ (as Presbyterian one) which is proclaimed as independent from the state and secured legal safeguards in 1921 (I think) to protect its independence form state interference in its affairs (other churches in Scotland do not have this protection so it has privileged status).

    So Labour’s Civil Partnerships bill started unravelling (or if you prefer, restarted a desperately needed debate about) the delicate and messy state of church-state affairs in the whole UK, which the recent legislation on same-sex marriage has not resolved, but has moved forward and made potentiall more heated (I still do not say the idea behind the legislation was wrong in principle, please note this).

    To add to the stew, in June 2010 (I cannot find this document now and I am aggrieved about this but I can prove it existed) the DPM and PM of the UK (messrs Clegg and Cameron) issues a statement in which they appeared to encourage church leaders to consider allowing same-sex marriage in churches. This gave some Christians in all parts of the UK (rightly or wrongly) the jitters as it smacked of the state assuming the right to be prescribing what the actions of churches, and even more crucially their teachings,should be. This was a bad note to begin a good debate on.

    So my point is that until there is some kind of UK-wide settlement on marriage, which is not about to occur soon, I’m afraid, many Christians will continue to be jittery, however many safeguards there are in the Bill recently passed because the same issues will be being re-hashed just over the border. Sorry, this may not be rational, but there it is.

    I fear that this will create a polarised environment in which rational discussion with and understanding of the Christian tradition in our country (and it is one country, just with several nations in it, at least until next year) will be impaired, particularly in the LibDems, which party contains many people who care very strongly about securing equal marriage and are clearly struggling to see why some Christians oppose it, or are worried about the wider implications of the processes that were used to secure it. This is sad, because the LDs claim to be inheritors of the traidtions of the Liberal and SDP parties, which were strongly shaped by Christians and Christianity at various times, and because the LDs want to be a party of government, broadbased and able to work with a range of people. I can’t see how you can do this without listening intelligently to and trying to understand the Christian tradition (note I say ‘understand’, not ‘kowtow to’ or ‘obey’).

    I suspect this may be so much obscurantist mumbo jumbo to many of you on here. Ho hum.

    For the record, let me give a brief, nontheological summary of my (current) position on this matter. If I were given a vote in my church on whether we should marry or bless same-sex marriages, I would vote against. If I were given a vote in my town on whether the local authority could conduct same-sex marriages, I would vote for it. Is that clear enough? We need church-state separation, but we don’t need the state prescribing to the church what it should teach and do. For some people, this debate has raised that spectre; I presonally think the only longterm way to kill it is disestablishement and new UK-wide, church and state settlement which protects all relgious groups from state interference in their teachings, not privileging some over others. I may be waiting some time for this…

  • Can someone explain how it’s possible to be both an atheist and a humanist? Humanism seems to involve a lot of conclusions (eg, that there is some moral value to human happiness) which are impossible to rationally derive from an atheistic premise (if there is no purpose behind the universe, why would the universe care about human desires?).

  • @Helen “What is wrong with her stating she is a Catholic? Sarah made it plain where she stood. She explained it. Just because not everyone in the Lib Dems is a Catholic, does not mean that Sarah has a less legitimate view.”

    The main reason this is a problem is that in the kind of politics I believe in (which I call liberal) the default position is that something is allowed. That can only be overridden if harm is caused to a non-consenting third party. This is why argument by reference to the personal autobiography of legislators doesn’t belong in debates about laws relating to the general public at all.

    Now I recognise that there can be grey areas, for example whether a non-consenting third party suffering harm can mean an unborn child at 20 weeks, or someone walking in a park who doesn’t like that the young people having a picnic have brought a portable radio with them, or whether a heroin addict is able to consent or not and so on.

    SSM is not a grey area in terms of whether or not there is a third party harmed and (apart from some bizarre social-engineering based arguments which would also bar the infertile from getting married), the only reason in Sarah Teather’s justification for suspending the normal liberal way of deciding upon the issue was that she personally was a Catholic. So if other people then conclude that religion is incompatible with liberalism then its because Sarah Teather herself has effectively said so. Actually there are plenty of other people posting here who say that their relationship with their religion does not preclude them from allowing others the freedom to marry, so it seems that Catholicism is perfectly compatible with liberalism, if the particular person allows it to be.

    @Matt Bristol
    Devolution creates these inconsistencies in policy. The same laws don’t have to apply in two different places so I am not bothered, and the fact the Scots haven’t done this yet is irrelevant to what the laws should be in my country (if the Scots did it first then the position would also be inconsistent, so if that is a winning argument hten nothing would ever change).

  • ‘SSM is not a grey area in terms of whether or not there is a third party harmed’

    Depends on how direct you consider ‘harm’ to be. If you allow ‘future generations’ to be the ones harmed (and this is usually the justification for environmental policies, that people can be stopped from doing things not because they are harming any individual directly, but because pollution builds up and harms future generations, so it’s certainly a point some and some in the Liberal Democrats believe) , then if you think that:

    1. Family breakdown harms people
    2. Allowing same-sex marriage will weaken the institution of marriage (even more than it has been already weakened by increasingly easy divorce etc)
    3. The weakening of the institution of marriage increases the rate of family breakdown

    Then putting those together, allowing same-sex marriage will result in harm, due to increased rates of family breakdown.

    Now, all three of those points are contentious (except the first one) but they are not obviously false.

    So there is an argument that allowing same-sex marriage could cause harm to future generations who would have to suffer increased rates of family breakdown.

    I’m not saying this argument is correct: crucially, it depend son whether you think that points 1-3 are in fact true. But it is a valid argument to make (and to argue against, by providing evidence that suggests 1, 2 or 3 is false).

  • Tim Costello 16th Sep '13 - 1:24pm

    My difficulty is that the statement, “Allowing same-sex marriage will weaken the institution of marriage ,” is to me obviously false. No one has satisfactorily explained how the existence of same sex marriage will have any effect at all on opposite sex marriages let alone contribute to their breakdown.

    Liberal Democrat members of parliament may explain that they did not vote to support same sex marriage because their religious beliefs required them to act in this way. If so, I disagree with them and oppose their position. However this does not mean that I consider that they are not entitled to have those beliefs.

    Those who oppose same sex marriage do not accept that gay people have the same rights as the rest of society. There is no way round this.

    The objectionable part of Sarah Teather’s statements around the time of the parliamentary votes was that she boasted of a spotless record on equal rights without apparently recognising that her vote was inconsistent with this. She appeared to think that, because she had religious objections to same sex marriage, she should escape criticism for the way she voted from those who did not share her beliefs. Would she feel entitled to take the same position if the issue had been about mixed race marriage? I do not think so.

  • ‘My difficulty is that the statement, “Allowing same-sex marriage will weaken the institution of marriage ,” is to me obviously false. ‘

    Statistics from countries which have legalised same-sex marriage show that after its introduction more and more couples have their first (and, increasingly, second) child without bothering to get married.

    Of course, correlation is not causation, and in some countries (eg Sweden) the decline was already happening, though in others (eg Denmark) it wasn’t.

    ‘No one has satisfactorily explained how the existence of same sex marriage will have any effect at all on opposite sex marriages let alone contribute to their breakdown’

    The suggested link is that allowing same-sex marriage increases the cultural message that marriage is simply a lifestyle choice, not something one ought to do before having children. With it no longer seen as ‘the right thing to do’ but merely an option, fewer couples bother. Thus is the institution weakened.

    As mentioned, it’s a controversial point. There is statistical evidence that allowing same-sex marriage weakens the institution of marriage and there is a plausible method by which it could be happening. Neither of these means it must be true, but their combined existence means it is not ‘obviously false’ either.

  • Andy Boddington 16th Sep '13 - 5:18pm

    Thanks for your comments folks. This debate now ends on this thread, but there will be other opportunities on LDV to debate these issues I am sure.

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