Opinion: Talking at cross purposes about equal marriage

While it is tempting to be triumphal at success of the vote on equal marriage, I have some sympathy for some of the opponents. Not for the bigots of course – but while all bigots will oppose equal marriage, the converse isn’t true, and some opponents are genuinely unhappy at the idea of parliamentary vote to, as they see it, change the meaning of a word.

Now that may seem to many of us an odd thing to get upset about – although I would be quite unhappy if Parliament attempted to change the value of pi.

Behind this lies a philosophical difference in our use of language. To some words such as “marriage” or “chocolate” refer to a particular essence which is eternal and unchanging, and that human knowledge might form an encylopedia or dictionary where all the essences are listed and defined. If you muck about with the encyclopedia, you are just going to be wrong. The ratio of the circumference to the diameter will be unchanged and you will be perpetrating a deceit.

To others, things work the other way round. We make a delicious foodstuff out of cacao beans and we call it chocolate. That’s not the discovery of an essence, but of a recipe. Later somebody invents a horrible foodstuff using cacao butter and they call it white chocolate. It’s an obvious name for something that is like chocolate, but white. Nobody is really deceived more than once.

Creationists can get very bogged down disputing the concept of natural selection. What does “selection” really mean, they ask. Surely it means somebody is choosing, so in the case of life, that somebody is God. They are interpreting the word selection in an essentialist way, reading the entry for “selection” in the encyclopedia, and trying to understand the scientific concept of natural selection that doesn’t use the word selection that way.

What I’m saying here is that we invent names for things that we understand, using whatever analogies are to hand, and as our understanding evolves, the meanings rightly and inevitably accommodate our improved understanding, changing if necessary. The meaning of “natural selection” isn’t to be found looking up “natural” and “selection” – you read The Origin of Species, and you later use “natural selection” as a shorthand to describe the driving force of evolution that you have learned about. It’s an obvious name for something that is like selection, but natural.

It is not a coincidence that, generally, religious writing is essentialist and scientific writing is not. Religion is looking for the deep truth that lies under the surface; not how does it appear, but what is it really like? Science is adding new understanding all the time – about how things do appear and interact – and is constantly having to invent ways to describe it. Coin a scientific term, and what do you have to draw on but analogy? So planet, meaning wanderer, becomes the name for the stars that move across the background of fixed stars, which we later understood to be planets like our own.

To me it is natural, if I want a word to describe a committed intimate relationship between two people, to use the word marriage, because that’s what it means. Even if the dictionary were historically correct in saying “between a man and a woman”, it is still the closest word to the meaning I want. I and others will use it and the accepted meaning will change soon enough. This sort of thing happens all the time with other words. Whether I am literally correct or whether I am only using analogy is only a temporary question. Pretty soon marriage is between two people, and planets are planets not vagrants.

To the essentialist, this is terrifying. I am hiding the truth under another layer of misdirection, spreading ignorance and folly. Ultimately these are just two different ways of thinking, understanding and communicating. I think mine is much more effective, but others will say that theirs gives them access to a deeper kind of truth. This difference can make it hard for us to understand each other, and easy to think the worst.

Now I’d much rather not use the term civil partnership to mean something that is intended to be equivalent to marriage, but really only because it is such a clumsy term and the word marriage is perfectly adequate. But this follows from my preference to treat the question of what something is called as a practical one. The equal marriage debate is at heart – and aside from the importance of visible symbolic equality – between essentialists. That is between those who consider that straight and gay relationships are really the same or really different in essence, and that this reality must be reflected in our language. I don’t know much about essences, but I am happy to cheer on the struggle for equality when I see it.

* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield, and Friday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice

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145 Comments

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 5:17pm

    It seems to me that it is science that looks for the deep truth, not religion. A huge amount of religious writings are really about how the writers think society should be organized and regulated – the Ten Commandments are an example, as are most of the teachings of Jesus, and many of the words and most of the actions of Mohammed and other wise religious leaders.

    It seems to this scientist that one of the ways that religions support the rules they propose is by saying that a deity backs them. In essence, “God” is being used as a shorthand for “The Benefit of Having Society”, as well as being a personal motivator. This aspect of religion seems directly contrary to the Lib idea that people decide the rules they should follow, and the Dem idea that this decision-making process should involve everyone in some kind of equal voting system.

    Perhaps this conflict is at the heart of what seems to be an important omission in LibDem thinking, the idea that society is more than the sum of its parts – indeed society might be defined as the things that are the “more than”- and therefore that society should have some rights that may sometimes transcend those of the individual?

  • When people attempt to impose a biological imperative upon marriage, claiming that it’s really all about the children (which it’s never been as long as I’ve been alive) and that if you don’t have children, or can’t have children, or couldn’t have children in some hypothetical parallel universe where everything except sex is mutable, then the marriage isn’t real, then I think that they’re the ones trying to redefine marriage.
    As far as I’m concerned, if same-sex couples can marry, marriage will still be marriage just as it was, only without an absurd and archaic limitation on who can participate.
    Attempting to carry through the opponents’ theory of marriage in any logical way would result in invalidating the marriages of any couple that has no intention of having children, or where one of the partners is infertile, or where conception is sought by any means other than male-female sex. To avoid these obvious absurdities, the opponents have brought in exception after exception until their theory is as full of holes as a Swiss cheese. Why not just give up and accept the obvious: that in the 21st century, marriage really is about two people loving each other, not about children, not about property, not about dominant and submissive gender rôles? What is so wrong with that?

  • Richard Wingfield 9th Feb '13 - 6:53pm

    An excellent point, David, and I would go even further. There are many same sex couples who do have children either from a previous heterosexual relationship, through adoption, or assisted reproduction. If marriage is the best institution in which to raise children, then surely it makes absolute sense for marriage to be opened up to include same sex couples.

    The only possible argument against that is one that draws a distinction between children conceived by both parties to the marriage, and children not so conceived (e.g. children who have been adopted). To make such a distinction is, in my view, cruel and totally unsupported by any evidence to justify it.

    Richard, I disagree that the Liberal Democrats ignore the idea that “society should have some rights that may sometimes transcend those of the individual”. We are liberals, not libertarians, and therefore many aspects of our party’s policy reflect the common good over individual rights. We support progressive taxation. Indeed, taxation itself is the removal of an individual’s right to use their money how they wish in favour of the common good of having decent health, education, transport and all the other things government is better placed to provide than individuals. We support strict gun control which remove’s an individual’s right to own a gun in favour of the common good of public safety. We strongly support anti-discrimination laws which remove’s an individual’s right to trade and refuse to trade with whoever they wish in favour of the common good of equality and fairness for all. In relation to same sex marriage, the fact that the public good of opening marriage up to all couples (the majority of the public supports same sex marriage, after all) is in line with individual rights (the right to get married) makes the decision even easier.

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 6:56pm

    What is potentially wrong with that is that it re-defines something that involves a majority of the population, in order to satisfy the wishes of a minority of the population. LibDems ought to have principles about this kind of potential conflict, not least because there are many other conflicts of this type.

    In my view the principles ought to be separate from the nature of a conflict and the participants in it, so that they can be applied in some general way. For instance, we would reject a minority’s wishes for a racist society on grounds that those policies violate some principles, not because we don’t like the minority’s supporters.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 6:57pm

    @ Joe Otten: ” Behind this lies a philosophical difference in our use of language. To some words such as “marriage” or “chocolate” refer to a particular essence which is eternal and unchanging, and that human knowledge might form an encylopedia or dictionary where all the essences are listed and defined.”

    This is a particular 20th century philosophical interpretation of religious belief – basically what is going on with religion is ‘it’s just a language game’ or we’re basically talking about the same thing, just using different words or interpretations. At best however, this is extreme relativism or essentialism.

    This really is at odds with how religions understand themselves and the world , and this could be one reason why there is often misunderstandings between those of different world-views.

    Firstly, on essences – for a Roman Catholic, marriage as a state is part of the plan of God for the human beings. What do they mean by that? That human beings and indeed the whole creation is ordered or orientated towards God. This is not an essence but an orientation or intention (of God).

    Marriage, as the union of man and woman for the procreation of children is what is naturally orientated to ‘God’s plan’ – the family is considered to be a social good but also an intrinsic good. This idea of ‘God’s plan’ can easily be misunderstood – it does not mean that God is somehow ‘out there’ looking at the world and working the controls. It means he is ‘being itself’ so God is both intimately related to the world (immanent) and greater that can be grasped (transcendent). Therefore, for a Catholic, it is perfectly possible to have religious faith, free will and fully embrace scientific discovery – they are not mutually exclusive from Catholic perspective.

    In relation to marriage, this means that it is expression of that union which (normally) leads to procreation and bringing children into the world, ie: love and procreation as a principle of the natural order, go together. This does not mean there isn’t variation (childlessness, etc) but it is a state worthy of special status according to Catholic teaching. It does not mean that other relationships are not worthy of status – all are made in God’s image – and the two people love each other – this is central too – but it also means that a marriage without children isn’t as ‘complete’ as one with children, in Catholic thought.

    Can one can exist as a Liberal Democrat and a Christian (of the Catholic tradition)? Yes. One can accept changes in human understanding and ‘progress’ in general – so surgical operations, space travel,discovery of DNA, evolution, the large hadron collider, etc etc.. One can fight for civil rights and social justice in a vast number of areas etc..but still hold to the principle that the orientation of human beings in undertaking marriage is towards the union of one man and one woman for the foundation of the family.

    I hope this helps not hinders the debate…

  • Too much trying to understand the points of view of those opposed to equality on religious grounds!
    This one is so easy – religious people opposed to same sex marriage just need not marry someone of the same gender. The conflict is because they are casting about for arguments to impose their views on others – in this way they are very much like the racist minority trying to ban immigration. Of course they have none and instinctive Liberals should not be sensitive to their spoutings.

  • Helen – just what did Jesus say about marriage? I ask genuinely.

  • “for a Roman Catholic, marriage as a state is part of the plan of God for the human beings”.

    Roman Catholics think that homosexuality is a sin. So it’s not surprising they are opposed to SSM.

  • Liberal Neil 9th Feb '13 - 9:26pm

    @Richard – it doesn’t ‘re-define’ any existing marriage. I will be just as married when this legislation goes through as I am now.

  • Liberal Neil 9th Feb '13 - 9:28pm

    @Helen – I’m more than happy for Catholics to define Catholic marriages in that way.

    I’m just unhappy that some Catholics seek to impose their definition of marriage on the rest of us.

  • What @David and @Richard Wingfield said.

    @Richard Dean

    What is potentially wrong with that is that it re-defines something that involves a majority of the population, in order to satisfy the wishes of a minority of the population.

    Well, firstly marriage no longer involves a majority of the population – in the 2011 census married and civil partnered couples combined only comprised 47% of UK households.

    And secondly the polling evidence suggests that the majority of the population support same-sex marriage. It’s commonly argued by opponents that this is a measure that only affects a small minority, i.e. gay couples in relationships committed enough to consider tying the knot. But I personally know a straight couple (of about 8 years’ standing) who have said they wouldn’t get married until gay marriage was allowed (haven’t seen them since the vote, but presumably they’re more likely to do the deed now).

    And I admit even I’m a bit more open to the idea of marriage now that it doesn’t discriminate on grounds of sexuality. I’d still rather have a civil partnership, but I can’t see Julian Huppert’s amendment gaining enough support sadly…

    However, on a note of complete agreement, I couldn’t have said it better about science being the discipline that involves reaching for the deep truths! :)

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 9:53pm

    @ johnMc: He refers to the union of man and woman when teaching about divorce: Mark: 1 – 12. he goes beyond Jewish custom of issuing writs for divorce and makes his view clear: ” From beginning of creation he made them male and female (a reference back to the Torah), . This is why a man leaves his father and mother and …the two become one flesh. He adds..’So then what God has united, let no man divide (a reference to adultery – again an answer to Pharasaic teaching of the law.)

    @ Phyllis: On the contrary, every human being is made in ‘God’s image and likeness’ according to Catholic teaching. Each person is loved by God. However, a distinction is made between the orientation and the sexual act – that is regarded as not primarily ordered towards procreation or being open to life. As marriage is regarded by Catholics as the union of love between man and woman, the fruit of that love is a child, according to Catholic teaching and the two elements are part of the same intrinsic good.

    @ Liberal Neil: No one is ‘imposing’ their Catholic view on anyone else – if you mean the 4 MPs – they are in a minority in the parliamentary party anyway – they’re defending the current law , based on the principle of the protection of children and property.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '13 - 10:05pm

    @ catherine: ” on a note of complete agreement, I couldn’t have said it better about science being the discipline that involves reaching for the deep truths! ” Don’t agree with that, sorry. Science is one of a number of disciplines that search for deep truth.
    Science searches for answers to the physical workings of the universe, the chemistry of life etc.. but science will never answer adequately questions beyond physical processes. I guess if one’s starting point is : there is only the material and empirical from which I can derive any meaning, then one could subscribe to the notion that only science brings meaning and truth through its enquiry – Personally , I think there are deeper questions which other disciplines and enquiries illuminate powerfully literature, philosophy, music, art and religion.

  • Liberal Neil 9th Feb '13 - 10:22pm

    @Helen – those who argue that the civil law should be based on their religious definition of marriage are seeking to impose their religious definition of marriage in the rest of us.

    The fact that they are in a minority doesn’t change their intent.

    And in what way are they seeking to ‘protect children and property’? Equal marriage threatens neither.

  • Peter Watson 9th Feb '13 - 10:29pm

    I’m neither a theologian nor a scientist, but I’m pretty sure that humans had children before they had marriage (or religion for that matter) so I don’t really understand that particular justification for opposing same sex marriage.

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 10:41pm

    I would say that humans almost certainly always had something that we would recognize as marriage. People like a good thing, so if they find a mate they like they’re likely to stay together. Parenting and the protection it gives to children is what allows society to survive – we wouldn’t be here without it. And societies mostly develop with rules, and a rule against adultery is likely to be as old as human civilization because of the hurt it causes to people who like a good thing.

    The polling evidence that I repeatedly quote in the Parliamentary Briefing Note shows that opinion varies significantly over a timescale of seasons. A year ago, a majority disapproved, a month ago a majority approved, but support has gone down by 5% quite recently – who knows where it will be this summer! See http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/RP13-8, and click on the PDF symbol a little way down the page

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 10:45pm

    You should not be afraid of sin, Phyllis. It’s the religious word for “mistake”. People make mistakes all the time, it’s natural, what’s important is that mistakes should be corrected – by which I do not mean punished.

  • Mark Inskip 9th Feb '13 - 11:10pm

    @Richard Dean “You should not be afraid of sin, Phyllis. It’s the religious word for “mistake”……it’s important is that mistakes should be corrected”
    So now you’re suggesting we ‘correct’ homosexuality?

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Feb '13 - 11:15pm

    Richard: sin is most definitely not the religious word for “mistake”. Intention is absolutely key to the notion of sin, and not to the notion of mistakes. Plus the point of a mistake is that a reasonable person won’t blame you for making a one — which is not the same as forgiving a sin. (They may blame you if your mistake was due to your own negligence, but again that’s not the same thing.)

  • Richard Dean 9th Feb '13 - 11:37pm

    Perhaps the intention is the mistake?
    It seems to me to be mistake to claim that I wrote that homosexuality is a sin or that it needs correcting.

  • Mark Inskip 9th Feb '13 - 11:42pm

    @Richard Dean
    Phyllis wrote “Roman Catholics think that homosexuality is a sin.”
    You replied
    “You should not be afraid of sin, Phyllis. It’s the religious word for “mistake”……it’s important is that mistakes should be corrected”

  • @ Helen Tedcastle

    Personally , I think there are deeper questions which other disciplines and enquiries illuminate powerfully literature, philosophy, music, art and religion.

    Apologies, I didn’t mean to suggest that science is the be all and end all of human endeavour. Nevertheless, I would argue that science is fundamentally the only discipline that deals with the search for the deep truths about the world (and universe) in which we live. Other – equally important – disciplines such as art, literature etc deal with the interpretation of that world and what it means to us. I guess you could say the sciences deal with the truths while the arts deal with the meanings.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 12:17am

    Thanks for your generous apology, Mark. As you have amply shown, I did not write that homosexuality is a sin, nor indeed did I imply it. Apparently Phyllis believes that Roman Catholics do. Having lapsed, I can’t remember!

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 12:35am

    @ Liberal Al: ” The fact that they are in a minority doesn’t change their intent.”

    Perhaps but I’m sure that as Liberals we uphold their rights to dissent from the majority – there’s room for us all.

    “And in what way are they seeking to ‘protect children and property’? Equal marriage threatens neither.”

    Firstly, it’s not a question of threat – it’s a question of the definition of marriage – this is a point of principle for both sides. I think there is an important point here – in law right now, marriage is not defined as a loving and committed relationship but as a safeguard for children by contractual agreement – in a sense, it protects children who normally are generated by a union of male and female.

    As this union brings benefits to society over time, resulting children are protected in law. Of course there are variations from this norm but at the end of the day, the law is there to protect the vulnerable.

    I suppose one has to ask those who favour same-sex marriage – is breaking this connection a good thing for society in the long run or not? If it is, please explain.

    @ Peter – Marriage as a ritual(in the RC/Eastern Orthodox Churches) has the theology of marriage has unfolded and developed through time ( as a ritual approx. 3rd century AD but this is disputed), but biblical precepts are older – 4,000 years in the case of the Hebrew Bible . In fact in Judaism, it is a contractual relationship, including the protection of children -references to marriage in the Gospels – 2,000years. One can go back further if desired but our civilisation owes most to Judaeo-Christian traditions and Christianised Greek philosophy.

    @ Catherine: thanks for your clarification. I can see what you mean. I would also argue that like it or loathe it, religious belief. eastern and western has exercised and will continue to exercise enormous power and influence in humanity – I’m not sure it can be ignored altogether.

    I take the view that each human enquiry ultimately is part of the ongoing search for truth – obviously one needs to have the ‘tools’ to discern that which is good from the bad and that could mean acknowledging good, even in areas one might not normally care to look .

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 12:42am

    @ Peter: The first part of my reply to you is incomplete. It should read in the following way:
    Marriage as a ritual, (in the RC/Eastern Orthodox Churches) has unfolded and developed through time, as has the theology of marriage – ( as a ritual approx. 3rd century AD but this is disputed), but biblical precepts are older…

  • Paul in Twickenham 10th Feb '13 - 12:58am

    Science has historically been a reductionist methodology.

    Newton realised that the force that made an apple fall to the ground was also making a planet travel round the sun. Maxwell proved that electricity and magnetism as aspects of the same underlying phenomenon. Einstein applied Occam’s razor with great effect by requiring light to travel at the same speed in all frames of reference.

    Religions have long objected to this form of rational reductionism. Religions assert that there is something – call it a soul or an anima – that is beyond biology->chemistry->physics – that is irreducible and, perhaps, ineffable.

    Curiously, science has long ago reached a similar conclusion. Quantum theory shows that there are final, theoretical bounds on what is knowable, as was shown by Heisenberg 80 years ago.

    Science will apply reductionism as long as it works. Religion will make no such promise.

    Marriage is about two people committing to each other, for the benefit provided to themselves through mutual support and for the benefit of society through the stability that the institution provides. Any further qualification is redundant and arbitrary.

  • @Helen, just to let you know. I did not write that, Liberal Neil did. :) Easy to tell the difference; his posts are better and he has a cool cat for his avatar.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 1:11am

    Peter Watson

    I’m neither a theologian nor a scientist, but I’m pretty sure that humans had children before they had marriage (or religion for that matter) so I don’t really understand that particular justification for opposing same sex marriage

    If I look out of my window (well, not now because it’s dark, but most times in the day right now), I can see a cock and a hen blackbird, pecking around looking for nesting sites. They will co-operate and bring up a brood if all goes well. Evolution impels blackbirds to do this, it is why we have blackbirds because it is necessary to create more blackbirds. For a similar reason, most human societies have something like “marriage”, it is a codification of evolved behaviour, it is in humans what I observe in blackbirds.

    And yet for pointing this out I have been accused of being absurd, of making it all up, of having a private definition all of my own of “marriage” which is not as the rest of the world apparently sees it, which so I am told is two people who really, really love each other and want to have a big ceremony to demonstrate that.

    I’m not going to use the argument that homosexuality is unnatural, as it can indeed be observed in the animal world. The argument for using a different term for a marriage-like relationship between two people of the same sex is that the insistence that it is just “marriage” and marriage is JUST two people who love each other weakens the idea that it also involves a commitment to bring up children together. There is a concern, which I believe is legitimate, that this aspect has been forgotten. That is why in my case, the constant line “marriage is about two people who love each other, how can you make a distinction between same sex and different sex couples?” actually pushed me in the opposite direction, as to me the insistence on this argument and bafflement of many at the very idea that marriage might also historically and culturally have something to do with a joint commitment to child-rearing suggested to me the people raising concern on this matter (principally Catholics) actually did have a valid point.

    Making a token distinction by having a different names for heterosexual relationship is a reminder that such relationships have a tendency to result in children being produced, and therefore the commitment in such relationships should involve an acknowledgement of that and some sort of pledge of joint responsibility for those children which goes beyond romantic love. It does not mean the relationship between two people of the same sex is to be despised or regarded as meaning they are a lesser sort of person, as the pro-gay marriage people keep saying, it is simply an acknowledgment of this extra element.

    I felt a valid point was being made here. One does not have to agree to a point in an argument to make it valid. However, as liberals I think we have to accept the validity of arguments we do not ourselves support, rather than ignore them and abuse people making them because they don’t fit in with our assumptions. As time went on I became increasingly concerned at the arrogant and triumphalist behaviour of the pro gay marriage side. The more they insisted they were liberal and anyone who questioned what they said was an illiberal bad person who only said what they said out of prejudice so it could all be ignored, the more I thought they had lost some of what I regard as essential to liberalism – a tolerance and fair-mindedness which is at least prepared to listen to arguments with which it disagrees.

  • Matthew, what do you mean by “valid” and “validity”? I would have thought that “valid” meant “true”, but since you ask people to “accept the validity of arguments [they] do not support”, I gather that you mean something different by these words. At least, I hope that you’re not assuming that people routinely support arguments that they are privately convinced are false. But under what circumstances ought one to “accept the validity” of an argument that one is convinced is fundamentally erroneous, false, and flawed? What exactly would “accepting validity” mean in such a case?

  • “… the insistence on this argument and bafflement of many at the very idea that marriage might also historically and culturally have something to do with a joint commitment to child-rearing suggested to me the people raising concern on this matter (principally Catholics) actually did have a valid point.”

    Yes, you’ve said this dozens and dozens and dozens of times now.

    But what you need to do is to explain in definite terms what you think this “something to do with a joint commitment to child-rearing” criterion really amounts to, and in particular how it can disqualify from marriage a same-sex couple who are actually rearing children, while allowing a childless opposite-sex couple to marry – even though they may have a positive aversion to the idea of procreation.

    Although I’ve never seen you respond to this question, I did think at one stage that you’d finally acknowledged the problem with the argument, when instead of highlighting child-bearing as the criterion, you produced a definition of marriage as “a relationship which is characterised by the two people having different roles due to having different genders”:
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/equal-marriage-its-a-matter-of-religious-freedom-32067.html#comment-231579

    In that comment you developed an argument against same-sex marriage without referring to child-rearing at all, which makes me doubtful whether that really can be the basis of your objection to it.

  • “However, a distinction is made between the orientation and the sexual act”

    So Roman Catholics believe that practising homosexuality is a sin.

  • “For a similar reason, most human societies have something like “marriage”, it is a codification of evolved behaviour, it is in humans what I observe in blackbirds.”

    Unlike blackbirds, human beings choose to use contraception, have vasectomies etc, abortions. So we have evolved somewhat from what you describe. Marriage no longer means a commitment to raise children together.

  • Helen “in law right now, marriage is not defined as a loving and committed relationship but as a safeguard for children by contractual agreement – in a sense, it protects children who normally are generated by a union of male and female.”

    So you would have children of same same couple to be left without the same protection, even though they are no less vulnerable? It could be argued that they are even more vulnerable.

  • “So Roman Catholics believe that practising homosexuality is a sin.”

    Well, the Roman Catholic church does. But individual Roman Catholics posting here usually fall over themselves to say how supportive they are of homosexuals.

  • Why not have equal baptism for atheists as well? Why should religious institutions be allowed to define what constitutes baptism? ! This whole debate reminds me of the discussion in the Life of Brian when Stan declares that he want to have babies: “It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them”:

    For the uninitiated:

    Marriage is about children. It was instituted to ensure that (a) fathers knew who their children were and (b) that pressure was exerted to make sure they stick around to look after the kids. Children born outside of wedlock were referred to as illegitimate – i.e. the defining point of marriage was to ensure that offspring were legitimate. The modern construct that many people falsely ascribe to marriage (the lovey-dovey life commitment thing) is not consistent with the historical understanding of marriage.

    The reason the modern understanding has evolved is due to:
    1. Contraception – people can chose to have recreational sex without conception and even deliberately marry without the intention of having children.
    2. Longevity – people live past the age of fertility these days. Getting married in later life is still possible under the old rules even though it’s not likely to produce children.
    3. Economic growth – it’s now possible for a single parent to bring up a child in a way that was not possible in the middle ages.

    The three phenomena above have resulted from scientific progress. Marriage is now seen as a lifestyle choice and sex as recreational in a manner that was impossible when marriage was dreamt up by different societies. A significant proportion of the same-sex marriage lobby have decided that marriage is now something quite different and that anyone that opposes their re-definition is a bigot.

    Personally, I think religious institutions should be able to decide for themselves whether they conduct same sex marriages and I disagree with the CoE and Catholic church’s stance on preventing other organisations from conducting marriage services. However, I can see where they’re coming from. Taking the baptism analogy – if organisations that didn’t believe in Christianity (that existed outside of the established churches and weren’t Christian ) wanted to conduct their own baptism services then would it be reasonable for the churches to object because they felt their own services were being debased? If we don’t want organisation to own the meanings of words then we also need to remove all the copyright laws. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to call my drink Coca-Cola, etc?

    The religious institutions are simply trying to protect the historical definition of marriage – that it is principally for the raising of children and has a religious element. You can hardly blame them for doing that. Legally, civil partnerships are equal to marriage, so, what is it that the equal marriage lobby want? They want to take a word that has historically meant something else, apply it to couples that aren’t going to be able to have kids and have no religious interest. Some, and obviously not all, of that lobby denounce anyone that opposes them as bigots. I hope this intolerant and illiberal group that is a part of the equal marriage lobby is just a small minority. However, reading the comments on these pages makes me less sure.

    To my mind, the idea of a same sex couple wanting to get married is equally as absurd as giving Stan the right to have kids, but I’ll defend their right to be preposterous.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “If I look out of my window (well, not now because it’s dark, but most times in the day right now), I can see a cock and a hen blackbird, pecking around looking for nesting sites. They will co-operate and bring up a brood if all goes well. Evolution impels blackbirds to do this, it is why we have blackbirds because it is necessary to create more blackbirds. For a similar reason, most human societies have something like “marriage”, it is a codification of evolved behaviour, it is in humans what I observe in blackbirds.”
    Of course animals mate , but long term monogamous pairings are the exception rather than the norm. Only around 3% of mammals are socially monogamous. Bird are the significant exception where social monogamy is much higher, but that’s because they do not have the do not have the trait of estrus.

    So evolution certainly doesn’t support your definition of marriage.

  • “So Roman Catholics believe that practising homosexuality is a sin.”

    Er, yes. ‘They’ also believe that masturbation is a sin, sex outside of (mixed gender) marriage is a sin and that using contraception is a sin. If you’re going to argue they are homophobic then they are equally masturbatorphobic. That is, if you decide that masturbators are a distinct group within society defined by their sexual practices. However, the Catholic church doesn’t recognise such discriminatory groupings.

  • Surely, David, valid does NOT mean “true”. Valid is something much more scientific than true. It should refer to an argument that can be made logically. Truth, particularly in matters of opinion, is a moveable feast. On issues like this, opinion is paramount, and all Matthew seems to be saying is just that, that there could be several valid arguments to consider, because much of the input to them is not “unchallengeable fact” but subjective opinion.

  • Helen “As this union brings benefits to society over time, resulting children are protected in law. Of course there are variations from this norm but at the end of the day, the law is there to protect the vulnerable.

    I suppose one has to ask those who favour same-sex marriage – is breaking this connection a good thing for society in the long run or not? If it is, please explain.”

    The point is, children of unmarried couples also bring “benefits to society over time” . The link between being married and bringing up children has been broken already.

  • As T S Eliot complained ” words slip, slide, ….will not stand still.”
    To dig into your chocalate metaphor, the original word was in the Aztec language & meant “bitter water”. It was only effete Europeans who started adding milk & sugar, contradicting the original essence. I favor a homeopathic approach, the less actual chocalate the better.
    The division between “essentialism & pragmatism” exists within science as well with most arguments about Quantum mechanics being about the interpretation of the Theory, what it “means” or whether it can “mean” anything. Einsteins famous objections to “God playing dice” & “spooky ” action at a distance were to to the standard “Copenhagen” interpretation rather than the Theory itself. The arguments are, by definition, untestable & come down to philosophy.

  • “Richard Dean 9th Feb ’13 – 10:45pm
    You should not be afraid of sin, Phyllis. It’s the religious word for “mistake”. People make mistakes all the time, it’s natural, what’s important is that mistakes should be corrected – by which I do not mean punished.”

    I said that Roman Catholics believe that homosexuality is a sin. It’s since been made clear that they think practising homosexuality is a sin (which you define as ‘a mistake’ (not sure that’s much better tbh). . I don’t see anything about “afraid of sin” so I think you are mistaking me for someone else.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 11:06am

    A few broken links does not break a net

  • @Tim13 “…all Matthew seems to be saying is just that, that there could be several valid arguments to consider, because much of the input to them is not “unchallengeable fact” but subjective opinion.”
    Fundamentally I think Matthew is struggling to reconcile the conflicts between his catholic beliefs and liberalism. However rather than simply stating this, he is trying to frame elaborate arguments to deny any such conflict. I’m not sure that really adds to the discussion.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 11:17am

    According to Wikipedia, “The amount of social monogamy in animals varies across taxa, with over 90% of birds engaging in social monogamy while only 3% of mammals are known to do the same. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monogamous_pairing_in_animals

    So what? Most mammal species do seem to have a dominant form of social organization. For us humans, the family unit headed up by a male father and female mother seems to be pretty widely established globally. Why should exceptions be taken as proofs of rules?

  • Matthew Huntbach “the people raising concern on this matter (principally Catholics) actually did have a valid point”

    The Roman Catholic Church also has a view on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Do you think these are valid too?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 11:21am

    Denials are always revealing!

  • @Richard Dean ” the family unit headed up by a male father and female mother seems to be pretty widely established globally. Why should exceptions be taken as proofs of rules?”
    Perhaps because for Liberal Democrats a fundamental principle is that no one should be enslaved by conformity?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 11:38am

    A broken link invites repair.

    Conformity does not enslave. Why should it?

  • I have to say I’m genuinely surprised, and frankly a bit disturbed, by the number of comments affirming the production of biological offspring as being central to marriage. Many couples, both straight and gay, choose to adopt children – why is marriage not an appropriate “framework” (how romantic!) for those couples to bring up their children in? There are Catholic adoption agencies, so it can’t be against Catholic teaching for children to be brought up by other than their biological parents.

    And that’s even leaving aside the implication that couples who choose not to have children aren’t properly married. Would a Catholic priest refuse to marry a couple in their 70s, for example?

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 12:14pm

    @ Catherine: ” There are Catholic adoption agencies, so it can’t be against Catholic teaching for children to be brought up by other than their biological parents.”

    There are no longer Catholic adoption agencies thanks to Harriet Harman – her form of equality , (effectively forcing agencies who follow their religious principles to deliberately go against these principles to meet new ‘anti-discrimination’ regulations), has led to inequality for religious minorities in England and Wales.

    Catholics are not against adoption and rearing of children by step-parents etc..but they have a clear view on the best model for child-rearing, – the rearing of children by their own biological parents. It is never ideal for children not to be brought up by their own parents – it happens due to sad, tragic or other circumstances usually. I’ve never met anyone who aspires in life to bring up step-children rather than their own children.

  • @Richard Dean “Conformity does not enslave. Why should it?”

    J S Mill gives a good explanation in On Liberty, he has a good phrase “the despotism of custom” which is very appropriate to this discussion.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 12:19pm

    Isn’t this whole bill about same-sex couples wishing to conform? They wish it so badly that they are willing to argue for a re-definition of what they want to conform to.

    There is no implication that childless married couples aren’t properly married! Where does that false logic come from?

  • @Helen Tadcastle

    Same sex marriage doesn’t break or in any way damage legal protections for children. Changing the words ‘a man and a woman’ to ‘two people’ changes none of the dependent legislation, it simply stops repeatedly checking the genders of the two partners in a marriage.

    @Richard Dean

    People living their lives differently from you do not constitute society’s broken links in need of repair. Your insistence on ‘repairing’ the gay ones, the single parenting ones, the unmarried and the single ones and so on is a pretty clear example of enslavement by conformity.

  • “The religious institutions are simply trying to protect the historical definition of marriage – that it is principally for the raising of children and has a religious element. You can hardly blame them for doing that.”

    On that basis we could “hardly blame them” for trying to prevent atheists from being married! But of course marriage existed before Christianity, so the churches have no business imposing their own understanding of marriage on others.

    But in any case, this stuff about marriage being “principally for the raising of children” is demonstrably wrong even in the very narrow sense in which the Church of England defines marriage. If you look at the Book of Common Prayer you’ll see three reasons given – only one is to do with procreation; the other two are to do with companionship and the regulation of sexual activity, and apply just as much to same-sex couples as to opposite-sex ones.

    Even setting aside the question of why a liberal would want to impose a particular religious belief on society at large, one has to wonder why people are making this claim about the religious conception of marriage, when it’s so clearly not the case.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 12:35pm

    @ Phyllis: ” The Roman Catholic Church also has a view on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Do you think these are valid too?”

    In what why are these principles not valid? I disagree with the same-sex married bill but it’s valid for those who support it to advocate their opinions, even if I profoundly disagree.

    “..practising homosexuality is a sin.”

    That’s your take on it but that’s not actually what I wrote. There is a distinction made in Catholic teaching between being homosexual or heterosexual and sexual practice – because sex and love is not divorced from procreation in the Church’s view. Of course sexual practices in society have changed but we’re talking fundamentals here – just because there are variations, different lifestyles, does that make the the natural biological family simply one variation amongst many or something to be safeguarded for future generations.

    For instance are we accepting in society now that a child generated in a test-tube and born to a surrogate for money and handed over to a couple, one half of whom, from the start is not the biological parent ‘is the same ‘as a child born in a loving union of two biological parents? Is it good for society in the long run if a child has three even four ‘parents?’

  • And, Richard again, the logic follows on from your opposition to same sex marriage based on the impossibility of conceiving children within a same sex couple.

    If same sex unions are to be prohibited on those grounds, or regarded as holding a second grade status, then if we’re going to be consistent all the other unions that don’t or can’t have children are likewise substandard.

    There are people who believe this, that childless marriages are less successful, less meaningful. And there are people who marry solely because they want kids, or perhaps more accurately because they’ve suddenly generated kids and feel they have to. But they don’t really have the right to set this down as the metric for success of everyone elses’ relationships. Enslavement by conformity again.

    A certain amount of conformity is part of being a member of a social species. But conformity that blocks people from living their lives as they choose without causing harm, based on some really rather arbitrary rules and conditions, is excessive and becomes oppressive.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 12:42pm

    The idea of enslavement by conformity has got nothing to do with repair.

    A set of standards exists. People come to them, and some people interpret them as optional and make free choices about whether to adopt those standards. If the standards are reasonable the choices will often be yes, but that does not mean that the choice has not been free. Other people come to them and misinterpret them as constraints. If they then accept the constraints, they have been enslaved. But it is not the standards that have enslaved them, it is the misinterpretation.

    Quoting J.S.Mill as if the Word of God is a wonderful example of the despotism of custom. “Let’s not think for ourselves, we must follow Mill!!!” The poor guy is probably turning in his grave at how people have chosen to misunderstand him! Quoting Keynes is often just as bad. Mill and Keynes are old guys who were arguing tactically in their times, who are now a bit out of date, and who in Mill’s case at least, never wanted to be regarded as God.

  • Picking up a different theme in Joe’s piece, about the changing meaning of words.

    I find it interesting that it is acceptable and expected that some words like ‘marriage’ and ‘gay’ to change in meaning, but not others, particularly those which have had ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’ labels attached to them.

  • @Richard

    There is no implication that childless married couples aren’t properly married! Where does that false logic come from?

    From those not in favour of SSM saying that the reason for their opposition is that marriage is to provide a framework for procreation and therefore gay couples don’t qualify because they can’t biologically procreate. If that’s really how some people define marriage then non-procreative straight couples should also be excluded.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 12:47pm

    @ T-J: ” it simply stops repeatedly checking the genders of the two partners in a marriage.”

    I think that is not a simple change but a profound one – as has been explained – those who oppose the bill argue against breaking the link in law between a mother and father and their biological children. This union is specific because it introduces safeguards for their children – this is why society has, until now, upheld marriage as a social good. – the link between biological parents and offspring.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 1:01pm

    Society’s rules are very blunt instruments – any rules we may care to have will be so, because of the diversity of human beings. So society needs simple tests about when rules should apply – without simplicity all sorts of unintended consequences can arise.

    The simple tests for eligibility for marriage seem to have been – are the pair of opposite sex (potentially capable of creating children through the traditional method), willing (choosing freely), and not closely related (to prevent the conception of damaged children)? These tests don’t imply that childless opposite-sex couples are not properly married.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 1:06pm

    It seems that same-sex couples wish to reduce the number of tests to just one, are you willing? I many people’s view, that would be throwing away all of the benefits that the institution of marriage attempts to bring.

  • “The simple tests for eligibility for marriage seem to have been – are the pair of opposite sex (potentially capable of creating children through the traditional method), willing (choosing freely), and not closely related (to prevent the conception of damaged children)?”

    You forgot “never been married to anyone else”. The most important way in which the state has redefined marriage. But we’re all cool with that so long as everything remains strictly heterosexual, right?

  • “That’s your take on it but that’s not actually what I wrote.”

    I think the reason this argument has been so interminable is that there has been so much dancing around the central issue.

    This is what the Roman Catholic Catechism has to say:
    “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

    The Church’s attitude is very much NOT “homosexual relationships are worthy of respect but they’re also different”. It’s “under no circumstances can they be approved” – not unless they practise total abstinence.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 1:16pm

    @ Richard Dean: ” The simple tests for eligibility for marriage seem to have been – are the pair of opposite sex (potentially capable of creating children through the traditional method), willing (choosing freely), and not closely related (to prevent the conception of damaged children)? These tests don’t imply that childless opposite-sex couples are not properly married.”

    Well put, Richard. The point is that those of different genders who enter into marriage go into it with the full knowledge that children may result – there is always a possibility – and therefore marriage without resulting children is perfectly valid – in the vast, vast majority of cases, no one can predict in advance what may or may not happen.

  • in the vast, vast majority of cases, no one can predict in advance what may or may not happen.

    I think a couple in their 70s can very safely predict that no children will result from their union. They are entitled to marry none the less. Do such marriages weaken the link between marriage and family and if so why are they allowed?

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 1:51pm

    @Helen Tedcastle “The point is that those of different genders who enter into marriage go into it with the full knowledge that children may result – there is always a possibility – and therefore marriage without resulting children is perfectly valid”

    Really?

    What about Catherine’s question above which you’ve not yet addressed?
    “Would a Catholic priest refuse to marry a couple in their 70s, for example?”

    I think its a pretty safe bet to say that children wouldn’t result.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 1:55pm

    A couple in their 70’s can satisfy all three blunt instrument tests, viz

    1. of opposite sex
    2. willing
    3. not closely related

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 2:14pm

    @ Mark Inskip – Richard answers you question clearly. Also, I don’t think you can make law based on tiny variations – we are talking about the bulk of marriages which involve younger age groups. As i have repeated ad nauseam, of course there are variations – one will find examples to every rule – that does not mean that the general principle becomes invalid – unless I suppose men and women stop having children.

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 2:19pm

    @Richard Dean “A couple in their 70′s can satisfy all three blunt instrument tests”

    Only once you’ve redefined your first test which at 1.01pm was;
    “are the pair of opposite sex (potentially capable of creating children through the traditional method)”

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 2:21pm

    You have misunderstood the brackets, Mark. The brackets are explaining the reasoning behind the test, they are not describing the test itself.

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 2:22pm

    @Helen Tedcastle “Richard answers you question clearly”

    Only but redefining his tests, because with his original definitions they would not have been allowed to marry.

    It does look like you are both making your arguments up as you go along!

  • @Richard
    But you stipulated that your point number 1 was only required so that they were “potentially capable of creating children through the traditional method”. If that’s the reason why the couple must be of opposite sex, then an age restriction should be included as well. It doesn’t require any sharpening of the law, which checks age anyway to ensure the couple are both over 16 (or 18, whichever it is now).

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 2:33pm

    @ Mark Inskip: Do you think parliament should create a new law which defines marriage for everyone i.e. the vast majority of people, based on a tiny minority’s variation from the ‘norm?’

  • @ Helen

    As i have repeated ad nauseam, of course there are variations – one will find examples to every rule – that does not mean that the general principle becomes invalid

    But if you have no problem with one type of couple, e.g. an elderly, infertile, or deliberately childless straight couple, being a “variation” in the usual framework of marriage, then what’s the problem with gay couples being another variation?

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 2:36pm

    @ Mark: ” It does look like you are both making your arguments up as you go along!” Hardly. Read the marriage service and that includes civil marriage.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 2:37pm

    You are quite correct Catherine, many cultures apply a fourth test – a lower limit on age – which is partly to do with ability to determine willingness (telling called the age of “consent”), partly ability to give birth safely, and perhaps partly to do with ability to nurture children steadily and wisely. That means that three of the four tests are about having children – kind of shows what the institution of marriage is about, doesn’t it?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 2:40pm

    On a separate note, I must say that the debate we are having here on LDV seems far superior to anything that happened in parliament or in the consultation process. I think we should all congratulate ourselves, if this is allowed within the blunt instrument rules :-)

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 2:42pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle: “Do you think parliament should create a new law which defines marriage for everyone i.e. the vast majority of people, based on a tiny minority’s variation from the ‘norm?’”

    Can I also refer you to J S Mill’s arguments on the “the despotism of custom”?

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 2:45pm

    @ Catherine: ” But if you have no problem with one type of couple, e.g. an elderly, infertile, or deliberately childless straight couple, being a “variation” in the usual framework of marriage, then what’s the problem with gay couples being another variation?”

    There is potentiality through their union that the couples you mention (elderly, who have ‘normally’ had their children when younger, infertile, and childless) could have a family. The cases of 70-80 years olds getting married is tiny. However, they may still have grown-up dependents such as disabled sons/daughters to support. I know of cases of older couples where this is the case. The message sent out with gay marriage is that children are not intrinsically part of marriage – it’s about a personal commitment . This changes the definition of marriage as understood by society in the law.

    Why should the minority tail way the majority dog when this is not a question of civil rights?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 2:51pm
  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 2:52pm

    @ Mark: ” “the despotism of custom”? In what way is marriage in our society a despotic custom when , as has been pointed out, there are many variations ? It seems to me that although society is more openly diverse since Mill’s time and that marriage as a social good has not been dis-proven.

  • There is potentiality through their union that the couples you mention (elderly, who have ‘normally’ had their children when younger, infertile, and childless) could have a family.

    Yes, infertile couples could have children via IVF, adoption or surrogacy, but these don’t satisfy your “natural biological family” criterion. 

    Elderly or deliberately childless couples do not have potentiality to have a family under your biological definition.

    The cases of 70-80 years olds getting married is tiny. However, they may still have grown-up dependents such as disabled sons/daughters to support.

    Yes, indeed they may, but these dependents will not be the biological offspring of both parties. Plenty of gay couples satisfy that criterion – either by having children together via adoption or by one or both parties having biological offspring from previous heterosexual relationships.

    What about a straight couple who intend to spend the rest of their lives together but are so certain they never want kids that the man has had a vasectomy – would you want them to get married? The union of a gay couple with adopted kids would be far more to do with  children than theirs.

    @ Richard 
    I find most LDV debates are superior to those emanating from the HoC :)

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 4:06pm

    @Helen Tedcastle “In what way is marriage in our society a despotic custom when , as has been pointed out, there are many variations ?”
    I haven’t described marriage as a despotic custom, and certainly the willingness of parliament to extend it to same sex couples reinforces my view that it is not and is a step towards a more liberal society.

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 4:10pm

    @Richard Dean “@Mark Inskip. Can I also refer you to my argument on quoting Mill?”

    You mean;
    “The poor guy is probably turning in his grave at how people have chosen to misunderstand him!”

    Perhaps you could elaborate on how I have misunderstood his arguments?

  • Saying that an infertile opposite-sex couple can be married because, in some hypothetical parallel universe, one or both of them might not be infertile is, I suppose, acceptable — if you’re willing to also accept that in some hypothetical parallel universe, same-sex couples might be able to biologically procreate with each other. This is what I was referring to when I said that in the anti- arguments, everything is mutable and malleable except gender. The same magic which could fertilize a woman who has had a hysterectomy could also endow a man with a womb and the capability of bearing children. Why is gender the one irreducible if everything else is up for grabs?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 4:56pm

    Mill’s “despotism of custom” refers to the argument that rejects change on the grounds that things have always been that way. That is not at all what the opponents of same-sex marriage are arguing. Quite the reverse, they are putting forward reasons why the present arrangements are best.

    Perhaps we need a new phrase, the “despotism of novelty”. This would refer to the argument that promotes change on the grounds that things have not been that way previously. Some of the supporters of same-sex marriage may perhaps be thinking along those lines.

  • “This is what I was referring to when I said that in the anti- arguments, everything is mutable and malleable except gender. … Why is gender the one irreducible if everything else is up for grabs?”

    Because the point of the anti- arguments is to support a pre-conceived opposition to homosexuals and lesbians being allowed to marry?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 5:50pm

    It does nothing, Joe, unless and until your new technology becomes widely used. Which is probably not going to happen. Is it really possible though? What is this new technology called – it’s presumably different from cloning?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 6:08pm

    Lots of things are easy in concept – personally I like the concept of living forever and visiting the entire universe. Easy to imagine magic machines to let me do it, a bit harder to make the machines work! Doesn’t the DNA have to be different in some way, in order to be able to achieve the appropriate matching up of molecules?

  • No Richard, what Joe talks about has already been achieved in experimentation for simpler species. The law currently forbids such experimentation for humans in many countries, but expect to see some scientist produce it in a country where it isn’t illegal in the next decade.

    Note that the replacement of a fertilised nucleus into an fertilised host egg from a donor mother has already been used in humans and effectively gives the embryo 3 different parents: one for Y, one for X, and one for the mitochondria. In all natural circumstances the mitochondrial parent has to be the same as the X parent (i.e. the mother), and this procedure is used when the mother has mitochondrial abnormalities.

  • ^^ “an unfertilised”

  • The Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage should be seen in the context of it’s opposition to contraception, abortion and homosexuality. It is not liberal in any way.

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 6:40pm

    @Richard Dean “Mill’s “despotism of custom” refers to the argument that rejects change on the grounds that things have always been that way. That is not at all what the opponents of same-sex marriage are arguing. Quite the reverse, they are putting forward reasons why the present arrangements are best.”

    You’ve lost me there! One of Mill’s fundamental arguments is that there is no ‘best’ way to live you life, that diversity of lifestyles and paths that makes society more progressive and avoids the “depotism of custom”.

    If reads to me as if you are trying to fit Mill’s phrase to your argument rather than understanding his broader arguments.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 7:16pm

    @ Catherine: It is precisely because there are exceptions and variations that at some point one has to establish a starting principle ( I think I have been pretty clear on mine); otherwise one allows free reign to potentially unintended consequences. I have already explained the principle of potentiality, plus I go with Richard’s criteria in his post of 1:55pm, which satisfies the reason for marriage of elderly couples.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 7:17pm

    Liberalism isn’t the same as “I want it, therefore I should have it”. And Mill is not the end point of a philosophy, but a starting point. He would likely agree that there are ways of living that are very bad for the people living them, and other ways that are better. Examples of very bad ways would include extreme poverty, extreme ignorance, and extreme self-absorption. Society can provide freedom from at least the first two. Mill would also likely agree that society needs a few simple rules in order to support the freedoms that allow people to live better.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 7:19pm

    @MBoy : “The law currently forbids such experimentation for humans in many countries ”

    Good.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 8:33pm

    @ David:
    ” Saying that an infertile opposite-sex couple can be married because, in some hypothetical parallel universe, one or both of them might not be infertile is, I suppose, acceptable — if you’re willing to also accept that in some hypothetical parallel universe, same-sex couples might be able to biologically procreate with each other. This is what I was referring to when I said that in the anti- arguments, everything is mutable and malleable except gender. ”

    Arguing from hypothetical parallel universes is not a good point to start from in relation to marriage, so I can’t accept the thrust of this argument.

    The principles at stake in the arguments of earlier on, are to do with ‘intention’ of the spouses and ‘potentiality,’ not hypotheticals – there is a massive difference – which is why it’s always a good idea to attend marriage preparation classes and to go into marriage after reflection and real thought about the ‘state’ one enters.

    So for me, marriage is not just about a rather nebulous view of ‘love and commitment’ but a solemn promise, including intention, to foresake all others and be accepting of any resulting offspring.

    The disturbing aspect of this debate , is how some people equate unfettered freedom of choice with Liberalism ie: the attitude that,’what really matters is my personal relationship and not my duties and obligations to others in the rest of society or to any future children – I think Mill distinguished Liberalism as the balance between self-regarding freedoms and other-regarding freedoms. In my view, the bill as configured, tips the balance in favour of self-regarding freedoms.

    In terms of advances in science, this balance also needs to be struck – simply accepting the ‘inevitability of scientific research on infertility’ – and the axiom – because a scientist is undertaking research on women ‘fathering’ children it must be okay as it’s ‘progress’ – it gives people what they want -as if children are commodities – is a rather dangerous and fatalistic line of argument – and certainly not Liberal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 8:43pm

    David

    Matthew, what do you mean by “valid” and “validity”? I would have thought that “valid” meant “true”, but since you ask people to “accept the validity of arguments [they] do not support”, I gather that you mean something different by these words

    No, it is not case of truth and falsehood. If I am considering a particular policy I might put together the points in favour of it and the points against. By “valid” I mean an argument, on either side, which I believe is worth bearing in mind when one makes a decision as to which side you will come down on. It may be that the valid points on one side our outweighed by more valid points on the other.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 8:45pm

    Phyllis

    Matthew Huntbach “the people raising concern on this matter (principally Catholics) actually did have a valid point”

    The Roman Catholic Church also has a view on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Do you think these are valid too?

    Please see what I have written just above for what I mean by “valid”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 8:57pm

    Mark Inskip

    Of course animals mate , but long term monogamous pairings are the exception rather than the norm. Only around 3% of mammals are socially monogamous. Bird are the significant exception where social monogamy is much higher, but that’s because they do not have the do not have the trait of estrus.

    So evolution certainly doesn’t support your definition of marriage.

    Long term pairings, not always monogamous on the male side, seem to be the evolutionary norm for the human species. We find it in most human cultures. I think there may be a few isolated human cultures which lack the idea of some sort of long-term commitment between a man and a woman to jointly raise in some way children produce by their sexual relationship, but it is pretty much universal. It is fairly obvious why – in our species children take a long time to raise. We don’t have lifespans where we can raise one brood, let them leave the nest, then form new partnerships to raise another brood.

    Historically and culturally that is what “marriage” has primarily been seen to be about, which it seems to me is a codification of behaviour that has evolved. Whatever it is that has made us what we are, call it “God”, call it “evolution” (and it may be social rather than purely biological), “marriage” has been understood to be a relationship in which the raising of children is a key element. That is why I find it odd for people to accuse me of having made this idea up all by myself.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    “The Roman Catholic Church also has a view on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality”

    And what are your views on these issues?

  • Matthewhuntbach. ” , “marriage” has been understood to be a relationship in which the raising of children is a key element”

    We’ve given you countless examples where this is simply not he case. You and others above have a “wishful thinking” ideal of marriage. Normal people are not behaving that way in this day and age.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 9:02pm

    Tim13

    Surely, David, valid does NOT mean “true”. Valid is something much more scientific than true. It should refer to an argument that can be made logically. Truth, particularly in matters of opinion, is a moveable feast. On issues like this, opinion is paramount, and all Matthew seems to be saying is just that, that there could be several valid arguments to consider, because much of the input to them is not “unchallengeable fact” but subjective opinion

    Thank you, Tim, yes, you have put it better than I did – that is EXACTLY what I meant. It seems to me that the liberal position needs to be that we accept there are valid arguments on both sides of most issues, and that as liberals we need to listen respectfully to the arguments on both sides.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 9:12pm

    Phyllis

    Matthew Huntbach

    “The Roman Catholic Church also has a view on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality”

    And what are your views on these issues?

    That the RC Church’s arguments on these things are “valid” in the sense I have explained. Let us take abortion. If I said I was a vegetarian, I believed it was wrong to kill animals, would you say that is a valid position? I think and I hope you would, even if you were not a vegetarian yourself. We almost all accept it is wrong to kill human beings, some people are scrupulous about this and extend that to other animals, other people are scrupulous about it and extend it to unborn human beings. In other cultures, the scrupulosity about killing young human beings goes the other way – it is considered acceptable to kill your own children if they are defective in some way, maybe born with a disability. I think it would be valid to argue this is acceptable for very young children, after all is it very different from late abortion, just a few week later, that’s all. I wouldn’t agree with this argument, however.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 9:18pm

    Phyllis, I hope you will accept I have answered your question and leave it at that . I do not want to get into long arguments about these issues, it’s hard enough finding time to try and explain an alternative viewpoint on the one we are discussing without starting on the others. I’m afraid is part of my being a liberal that if I see a viewpoint being ignored, I tend to jump to its defence to put the other side, because that’s how I am – someone who believes both sides on all issues should get a fair hearing. It’s a bad habit that has it me into trouble many times. It would be much easier to be someone who takes the position “It’s the party line, that’s it, anyone who disagrees with it must have something wrong with them”. By “party” here I do not necessarily mean political party.

  • Mark Inskip 10th Feb '13 - 9:28pm

    @ Richard Dean ” Mill would also likely agree that society needs a few simple rules in order to support the freedoms that allow people to live better.”

    How do rules forbidding homosexual couples from marrying allow people to live better?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Feb '13 - 9:36pm

    Phyllis

    Unlike blackbirds, human beings choose to use contraception, have vasectomies etc, abortions. So we have evolved somewhat from what you describe. Marriage no longer means a commitment to raise children together.

    Saying that an aspect of marriage is a commitment to raise any children produced form it does not mean saying it is a commitment to raise as many children as biologically possible. Those are two separate issues.

    We do not have any other word which describes a commitment to raise children together. So if we throw away the word marriage to mean that, or the last aspects of it which suggest that may be part of it, we have thrown away the very concept that two people who have children together ought to have some sort of commitment to raise them together.

    Very well, in the Brave New World, that is it. You may think I am an old fuddy-duddy even to note there are concerns about that, even to suggest it’s a valid point of view. Yes, there is a bit of a conservative streak in me, it’s a small-c one, it is what pushes me to the political left, because I see he greatest enemy of conservatism to be the Conservative Party, with its support for destructive extreme free market policies.

    You may think in the Brave New World we should destroy old values, old ways of thinking, that we should destroy old ideas of social commitments, old institutions, old co-operative ways of doing things, and instead have a society based solely on personal greed and personal desires. I don’t think like that, sorry, if you think that means I must be drummed out of the Liberal Democrats, go ahead, start banging the drums.

    OK, now it just happens that this very morning I was talking to a friend whose son-in-law walked out on her daughter with the usual “we don’t love each other any more” line. I think this idea, which you now say is the norm and I am some old fuddy-duddy even to think it valid to argue against it, that marriage is JUST about “two people who love each other” encourages this sort of thing. My friend described how the children are being hurt by this. I don’t say that anyone should stay living with an abusive partner, but I do think there is value in making a bit of an effort to stick together when children are involved, and thus I do think there is value in keeping up some reminder that historically this has been a big part of what “marriage ” means.

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 9:47pm

    @Mark Inskip. How would not allowing them to do that, but providing them instead with an arrangement that has a different name and that could be arranged to be better suited to their livestyles, harm them?

  • @Richard Dean “How would not allowing them to do that, but providing them instead with an arrangement that has a different name and that could be arranged to be better suited to their livestyles, harm them”

    What do your homosexual friends tell you?

  • Richard Dean 10th Feb '13 - 10:12pm

    The one I know well seems quite happy not being married.

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '13 - 11:12pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach: I couldn’t agree more. It’s interesting that in your last post you equate being on the ‘left’ of the party with having also a streak of small-c conservatism – This is about where I am too. I think that this viewpoint is the great antidote to the appalling free-market Conservativism present in the Tory party and also in Blairism – it’s destructive and oddly enough, fatalistic even though advocates claim it brings more freedom through’choice.’

    @ Phyllis: ” We’ve given you countless examples where this is simply not he case.” About three, just repeated quite often (elderly, childless, infertile), which have been perfectly clearly answered by more than one person.

    “You and others above have a “wishful thinking” ideal of marriage.”

    Quite a few people still have children the biologically original way and they love each other. Marriage is there to protect and safeguard property and children – the fact that less people marry is not because marriage is a bad thing in itself i.e: the rights enshrined in law, it’s for other factors which vary from relationship to relationship. Often people co-habit and then get married a bit later in life than in previous generations – often if they have had one or two children. Perhaps they realise that marriage brings safeguards for their family which co-habiting doesn’t.

    “Normal people are not behaving that way in this day and age.”

    Does this mean you think people who do choose to get married in this day and age aren’t behaving normally?

  • Matthew Huntbach “I do think there is value in making a bit of an effort to stick together when children are involved, and thus I do think there is value in keeping up some reminder that historically this has been a big part of what “marriage ” means.”

    I see that that is the ‘ideal’ but in practice we have very different scenarios. For instance, we have heard in detail recently about what was seemingly a very happy family, with a father, a mother, and children. The man in question publicly proclaimed himself to be ‘a family man’ and had photos of himself with his family distributed saying how committed he was to his wife and children. In reality, the man had been having an affair with his colleague for some 18 months and was waiting for the right time to leave his wife, when their youngest child had started university. It then transpires that this seemingly ideal marriage was far from that, with * claims * that the husband had successfully coerced the wife into having an abortion once and tried to do so a second time. Other details suggested a highly dysfunctional relationship. The son is clearly traumatised by all this, the other children, we are to,d,, no longer speak to tneir father and ine has changed her surname. Now you may think this is a one-off but I suggest to you that it is not. Watch the Jeremy Kyle Show any weekday and you will see the harm that heterosexual couples do to their offspring. So while it is good to have a historical perspective on what marriage is, the reality we see day in day out is very far removed from that, present company excepted.

  • Helen “Marriage is there to protect and safeguard property and children – the fact that less people marry is not because marriage is a bad thing in itself i.e: the rights enshrined in law, it’s for other factors which vary from relationship to relationship. Often people co-habit and then get married a bit later in life than in previous generations – often if they have had one or two children. Perhaps they realise that marriage brings safeguards for their family which co-habiting doesn’t.”

    Then why would you deny the children of same sex couples this safeguard?

  • Helen “Does this mean you think people who do choose to get married in this day and age aren’t behaving normally?”

    I am saying that it is quite normal these days for people to marry without in any way wishing to procreate, even going as far as to have a vasectomy etc to prevent pregnancy.

  • Matthew Huntbach

    In other words, both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples can be good or bad parents, can be committed, mutually-supportive etc and can stick together for the kids, . or they can equally well can be abusive and dysfunctional. It’s a question of personal integrity, not the gender of one’s partner, which is the critical factor in whether there are good marriages or bad marriages.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Feb '13 - 12:02am

    @ Phyllis: ” Then why would you deny the children of same sex couples this safeguard?” Firstly same-sex couples are unlikely to have their own, joint biological children, therefore safeguards for their children, I presume fall under adoption policy. I don’t see the reason to change the definition of marriage to sort that out.

    @ Joe: Firstly, thanks for writing this article – it has provoked much debate! Second, the problem with using Darwinian theory of natural selection on which to ground one’s ethics, has inevitable pitfalls. Firstly, one realises that there is one common ancestor – so we’re all related (religions have told us that for millenia by the way!) – there is much good in that in terms of environmental awareness, causing less harm to living beings etc.. but then one sees the world in terms of brutal struggle with the fittest surviving. In ethical terms this has potentially dangerous outcomes – unscrupulous scientists, eugenics, experiments on humans (eg: Dr. Mengele) as one seeks to ‘improve’ the species.

    However, a purely scientific materialist perspective must surely acknowledge that humans have developed ethical systems to deal with the bad, unhelpful and unscrupulous – it’s a matter of applying ancient wisdoms or well-tried philosophical principles to these modern dilemmas. I’m not convinced that inventing new principles is the answer – there are some good ones already around – do unto others as they would have done to you for instance or ‘do not kill’.

    On same-sex marriage and harm – it’s the redefinition of marriage which is the issue – the potential harm over time to society of breaking the link in law between male-female unions and resulting children and of course, the state intervening in love and commitment, not just rights.

  • Helen, I agree with you about not attempting to found ethical principles on natural selection, though perhaps not for your reasons — it’s just that it’s about as pointless as a theory of ethics based on cell theory, or gravity, or the speed of light, or the mass of the Higgs particle. One can hardly evolve (pun hardly intended) a set of imperatives out of a series of declarative and unalterable facts about the current state of the universe.
    However, I must take issue with the notion that the concept of natural selection leads to “see[ing] the world in terms of brutal struggle with the fittest surviving”. It’s true that, for some animals, the need for species survival has led to the evolution of claws and fangs and various techniques for ripping other animals to bits. But that’s only true for a fairly small group of animals. For others, natural selection is about evolving the means to run very fast. Or evolving scales, spikes, and armor plates for defence. Or evolving elaborate forms of camouflage and/or display. Or interacting with other species in modes beneficial to both. Or — as in humans — evolving an integrated, multi-rôle social system which allows the species as a whole to do things which would be impossible for an individual. Natural selection isn’t all “Nature, red in tooth and claw”; a lot of it is cooperation and communication, within and sometimes between species.

  • @David. Thank you for skewering the old “nature, red in tooth and claw” meme. If Nature were a person, she’d be the victim of a vicious bigotry..

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Feb ’13 – 12:02am
    “@ Phyllis: ” Then why would you deny the children of same sex couples this safeguard?” Firstly same-sex couples are unlikely to have their own, joint biological children, therefore safeguards for their children, I presume fall under adoption policy. I don’t see the reason to change the definition of marriage to sort that out.”

    You’re wrong in your presumption. . Children of same sex couples can have one of the couple as their biological parent – that’s the case with our same sex friends. So my question again is : why would you deny these children the same rights?

  • Mark Inskip 11th Feb '13 - 3:58pm

    @Phyllis “You’re wrong in your presumption. . Children of same sex couples can have one of the couple as their biological parent – that’s the case with our same sex friends. So my question again is : why would you deny these children the same rights?”

    Absolutely, and that’s no different to step-children in opposite sex marriages.

  • Richard Dean 11th Feb '13 - 4:27pm

    Given that there appear to be some significant differences between what same-sex couples need in a marriage contract and what opposite-sex couples have, which I think were mentioned by John Pugh, what benefit is gained by having the same contract?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Feb '13 - 10:28pm

    Joe Otten

    Really? Are you really saying that unmarried parents have no regard to commitment? And are you saying that the commitment does not apply when the children are adopted?

    No. Are you or any supporter of gay marriage saying gay people can’t love each other unless they are married?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Feb '13 - 10:35pm

    David

    Or — as in humans — evolving an integrated, multi-rôle social system which allows the species as a whole to do things which would be impossible for an individual

    Yes, that was the point I was making, humans evolved a social system which involved some sort of commitment between a man and a woman in which raising children was a key aspect. When I made that point I was accused of making it all up, of it being just some private opinion of mine which had no supporting evidence.

  • @Matthew Huntach “…of it being just some private opinion of mine which had no supporting evidence…”

    I don’t think anyone has suggested that. I was assuming it was something that you had been taught as part of a roman catholic upbringing which has helped frame you views on marriage and homosexuality.

  • Matthew Huntbach “humans evolved a social system which involved some sort of commitment between a man and a woman in which raising children was a key aspect. When I made that point I was accused of making it all up, of it being just some private opinion of mine which had no supporting evidence.”

    Not at all. What we were pointing out was that since the advent of contraception, humans then continued to evolve into what we are now, where having and raising children is no longer a key aspect of marriage, and where men and women no longer stay together ’til death do us part, nor does one partner’s infertility mean that the couple has to remain childless etc etc. I understand all of these recent evolutions are challenging for some faiths but we cannot deny that it has happened, for good or ill.

  • Richard Dean 11th Feb '13 - 11:29pm

    Well this is a right mess!

    Many people on all sides are willing to give same-sex and opposite-sex marriages the same respect, but the proposed law does the exact opposite!

    The law means that same-sex couples may now legally enter into a marriage contract. But it now seems that the supporters of gay marriage are not interested in contracts, but in esteem. And by keeping the civil partnership, the law will ensure that the two arrangements will be viewed as different and unequal. If they are to be regarded as equal, the law would say so, but the proposed bill explicitly avoids doing that!

    So the supporters have been supporting something that they don’t want, in the mistaken impression that it is something quite different!

    Talk about talking at cross purposes!

  • @ Helen
    “About three, just repeated quite often (elderly, childless, infertile), which have been perfectly clearly answered by more than one person.”

    The reason these examples have been repeated so often is that none of the replies have shown how such couples differ in any way from gay couples with regard to procreation. The problem I have in understanding your argument is that you seem happy to make exceptions for every type of straight couple in order to allow them to marry despite no prospect of biological procreation, but are unwilling to make the same exception for gay couples.

    Yes, elderly couples may have pre-existing children or adult dependents. But so may gay couples. Yes, infertile couples may have children via IVF, surrogacy or adoption. But so may gay couples. The only way infertile couples might biologically procreate is, as David pointed out, in some hypothetical parallel universe in which they are not infertile. In this universe they have no “potentiality” to procreate. No more do couples who don’t want children – not with contraception, sterilisation and abortion all legal and readily available methods of preventing procreation (regardless what anyone thinks of the ethics of those methods, which are separate debates).

    Now, you may well consider heterosexual marriages which do not result (or even have any potentiality to result) in biological offspring as being inferior, or “less complete”, or whatever the Catholic Church teaches. But no opponent of SSM (AFAIK) is suggesting they can’t marry or that their marriages should be called something else.

    As others have noted, the argument keeps coming back to the only difference left – not biological procreation, but gender. I profoundly disagree with a distinction based on gender, but to be honest I would actually consider that a more valid – or at least, a more coherent, argument than “it’s all to do with children, except when it’s quite obviously not”.

  • Catherine “The problem I have in understanding your argument is that you seem happy to make exceptions for every type of straight couple in order to allow them to marry despite no prospect of biological procreation, but are unwilling to make the same exception for gay couples.”

    Yes absolutely right! It seems as though some contributors are approaching this issue from an ‘ivory tower’ from which they extol the importance of historical traditions without knowing what goes on in everyday reality, mostly because they have never met any any same-sex parents (though they come out with a variation of ‘some of my best friends are homosexuals’ as though that meant anything!) . I know that their position stems from ignorance and a fear of change , and from a restrictive faith-upbringing so I do not judge them too severely, as others have done. But you are spot on when you say that their arguments do not stack up.

  • Richard Dean 12th Feb '13 - 12:28am

    The problem I have is that none of its supports seems to be claiming that the law confers any benefit on anyone! Or to put it less politely, quite a few of its supporters have been conned into thinking the proposed law is something which it isn’t.

    The law would allow same-sex couples to enter into a marriage contract, but it seems that this is not what they want. It also seems that traditionalists don’t want that either, and that most of the electorate don’t think it’s a big issue anyway.

    So why are we arguing? If we actually look at what law is being proposed, we will find ourselves in agreement that the law is not going to provide anything any of us actually want!

  • @Richard
    “The law would allow same-sex couples to enter into a marriage contract, but it seems that this is not what they want.”

    That’s exactly what many gay couples want. At the moment, they can enter into the contract but have to call it something else, in other words “separate but equal”. And even many gay couples who don’t intend to get married are far happier to have the option than not. It’s a question of their relationship being accepted in society and in social institutions on an equal footing.

    “most of the electorate don’t think it’s a big issue anyway.”

    Well no argument there – but then the same is true of Europe, electoral / Lords reform, fox hunting and a myriad of other issues that aren’t top of most voters’ list of concerns yet nevertheless occupy about 70% of the space on political blogs. If anyone thinks the number of gay marriage threads on LDV is excessive, they should take a look at the number over on ConHome! And even that is dwarfed by the number of threads they have on Europe…

  • Richard Dean 12th Feb '13 - 1:13am

    Catherine
    I wish you supporters would get your act together! According to the following post, it’s to do with esteem, not to do with contracts
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/liblink-5-33156.html#comment-239688
    Esteem does not come from contracts!

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Feb '13 - 12:42pm

    Phyllis

    Not at all. What we were pointing out was that since the advent of contraception, humans then continued to evolve into what we are now, where having and raising children is no longer a key aspect of marriage,

    “No longer”? I am talking about people who in response to my comments suggested it was something I had made up all by myself that it ever was. Your comment here suggests you misunderstand what is meant by “evolution”, but I shall leave it to you to work out what I mean by this.

    You appear to be ignoring the point that there may be some who think this change you point out is not necessarily a good thing, on the grounds that we have not yet invented a system whereby new people may be produced from thin air, indeed it seems production of them still requires a man and a woman and some sense of commitment to work together over the time needed. That leads to concern over the purely symbolic issue of labelling of state registered relationships. As I keep saying, the case on BOTH sides is a symbolic one, but the pro side here takes the arrogant position of making its own argument on symbolic grounds while castigating its opponents for their symbolic concerns.

    I am sorry, but I reject the line that if some case is labelled as “modern” then it is beyond discussion, and any opponents of it should be dismissed only with abuse. That line has and is being used to push extreme free market policies on us, as in the past it was used to push extreme dictatorial policies under the names of “socialism” and “national socialism”.

    It is very easy to remain silent and accept the “party line”, particularly when one feels one’s own career may be damaged by taking an unpopular side and saying “Hey, I think they may be making a point here which needs to be considered”. Would you prefer politicians who always say and do whatever they feel will advance them personally to power, whether that be adopt neo-liberal economic policies because that’s the fashion and what brings in financial support, or force other people to take on one;s speeding points because accepting them is a barrier to that power one seeks?

  • Mark Inskip 12th Feb '13 - 2:25pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Unfortunately I see Godwin’s Law is alive and well ;-(

  • Richard Dean 12th Feb '13 - 3:29pm

    Godwin’s Second Law states that, sooner or later in any online discussion, someone will mention Godwin’s First Law.

    Godwin’s First Law occurs because in many discussions, one side is not prepared to see the points made by the other. The side that is making the points continues to hammer them home successfully, while the side that is not seeing goes to ever more bizarre lengths to not see. Eventually people realize that the side that is not seeing is behaving in a way that puts its own benefit above all else, just like those nasty people that Godwin’s First Law refers to. Someone that is on the side of reason then mentions something that triggers the predicted 2nd Law reaction – the side that is refusing to see sense cries “Godwin’s Law!”

    I see that Godwin’s Second Law is indeed alive and well! :-)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

  • Richard Dean 12th Feb '13 - 3:54pm

    Godwin’s Third Law states that, on those occasions where Godwin’s Second Law is mentioned or quoted, someone will then try to invent something they think is Godwin’s Third Law. Usually, however, what they are in fact referring to is Godwin’s Fourth Law, because what they invent is rarely what I have just enunciated.

    Unfortunately, no-one is quite sure what Godwin’s Fourth Law is, so no-one can deny it. In Popper’s terminology, it is not “falsifiable”, which means that, in its present formless and uncertain quasi-state anyway, it can be neither true nor false. Explorers searching for a Fifth Law have to date made no progress whatsoever!

  • @Phyllis
    “Not at all. What we were pointing out was that since the advent of contraception, humans then continued to evolve into what we are now, where having and raising children is no longer a key aspect of marriage.”

    That’syour definition of modern marriage, but it is one that you have just made up. Why should your definition take precedence over the definition that various organisations have been using for centuries? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to keep their word? As long as same-sex couples have the same legal rights as married couples then why bother about taking and applying a name to that partnership that is currently used to describe something else? Why not call it something else such as ‘I can’t beleive it’s not marriage’, or ‘better than marriage’ or whatever branding you choose (as that’s what we’re talking about here)? Why are you trying to force everyone to conform to your definition?

    “I know that their position stems from ignorance and a fear of change”

    I could equally come up with such a meaningless ‘argument’, stating that your position stems from ignorance and a fear of tradition.

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