Opinion: Keith O’Brien’s real problem with gay marriage

In England, we haven’t really been following the debate in Scotland on equal marriage that started with the Scottish Government consulting on opening up civil marriage to same-sex couples. It’s been quite something and we’re finally getting a taste of how it went with Cardinal Keith O’Brien storming across the border to come rally the defence of marriage as he would like to see it.

People have written and spoken about the Cardinal’s views as if it’s about allowing same-sex couples to marry. It isn’t. For His Eminence it’s not about the marriage bit, it’s about the sex bit. It’s not so much the cooking, gardening and having rows about who takes the bins out this week that O’Brien objects to. He appears to have an unhealthy obsession with interfering what happens in people’s bedrooms – not unusual for people like him (it’s not a coincidence that missionaries lent their name to a sexual position).

He makes it very clear in his article: “[same-sex] relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved”. So this man is not to be convinced of the merits or otherwise of civil partnerships or equal marriage. He just thinks gays are plain wrong. And he’s entitled to that opinion. What is wrong is that the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland wishes to impose it on everyone else, people of all faiths and none, the majority of whom don’t share his opinions.

Not only that but he does it with such disingenuous arguments. Society might collapse! Well, apart from the fact that it hasn’t had that effect in the Netherlands, Catholic Spain and Belgium or Canada where same-sex couple have been marrying for more than a decade. Children may have to be taught about same-sex couples marrying! Yeah, so what? They’re a lot more accepting about these things than his generation is – as an interesting article in The Economist pointed out only last week.

This last argument drives at his real, underlying point and it’s the bit that offends me most. It’s the part where he talks about parenting: married gay couples would adopt and raise children and clearly that’s really bad because then they don’t have different-gender parents. He doesn’t make clear why that would be so. Apart from the fact that all the evidence suggests that stability of a parental home is much more important than whether both parents are the same gender (watch this amazing Iowan speak passionately on that very subject), the underlying point is about hinting at two persistent myths: LGBT people are here to recruit children and gay men are often paedophiles.

We can’t talk about homosexuality and same-sex marriage in schools because that might give children ideas. We can’t have gay people raise children because that will make them gay – after all, being gay is a choice according to some faiths. So according to their views and contrary to all the scientific evidence, lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people have to recruit to keep their subversion going. Hence, according to proponents of this belief, why so many of them fiddle children – another untruth. And that is what this man is driving at, but sneakily under a veneer of acceptability. Because in reality, it is complete nonsense.

As the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam recently said: the argument for heterosexual marriage only is no longer convincing. Marriage is an evolving institution, owned by us – the people. In its leader yesterday, The Times [£] reminded us that people once thought married women owning property was against God and nature. Bishop Holtam points out that contraception put an end to marriages being solely about procreation. These proposals for equal civil marriage will strengthen marriage, strengthen the rights and responsibilities of couples and give same-sex couples the recognition they deserve.

So in the words of Harvey Milk, I’m here to recruit you. Recruit you in the fight against scaremongering. Against this kind of trumped-up thin-end-of-the-wedge nonsense. And for equality for all people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a living document and isn’t universal for nothing. The time is right for equal civil marriage. Not because some activists want it, not because the majority of people are in favour of it according to opinion polls. But because it is the right to do for our society and Liberal Democrats have a proud record of fighting for what is right.

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  • His Eminence gave vent to his spleen in an interview with John Humphries on yesterday morning’s Today programme. About half an hour later Rabbi Lionel Blue delivered the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot. Chalk and Cheese. Needless to say the good R4 listeners’ tweets were trending heavily against the Cardinal. Can’t see him being on ‘Thought for the day’ any time soon. Can’t see him saying anything that would get my day off to a good start. Lionel Blue always does.

  • John Carlisle 6th Mar '12 - 6:01pm

    I tell you what: this is a democracy. Let’s have a referendum on it.

  • @Dave Page
    Spot on, I support equality on marriage not any “special” right or dispensation….

  • I think the Cardinal had a fair enough “thin end of the wedge” point when he mentioned abortion, which was supposed to be granted when there was a medical need. Everything else he said was nonsensical. Everyone is supposed to believe that the Sun moves round the Earth until the Catholic Church admits that it is the other way around. So it is with marriage – the Church lags behind.

  • jenny barnes 7th Mar '12 - 9:42am

    What’s all this about trans people “recruiting” others to be trans? First I’ve heard of it. Or did you forget that transsexual people have a difficulty with their socially assigned gender identity, not with their socially sanctioned sexual attraction?
    Most transbigotry is warmed over gender essentialism, not cardinals frothing on about how gay sex is bad for people.
    Of course, the existence of trans people destroys rainforests, according to the pope.

  • In fairness Jenny, I’ve come across a good few Daily Mail-esque comments such as that trans people shouldn’t be allowed to be teachers in case it “confuses” the children in their school. Could give them all sorts of funny ideas, Britain did not get where it is today through people being well-adjusted, etc 🙂

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