Despite their historical differences on issues of scripture and power, the Catholic Church and major protestant denominations, both mainstream and evangelical, are currently united on one issue – their opposition to gay marriage. Indeed, in a prime example of interfaith cooperation, the Christian blocks have been joined by British leaders of the Sikh and Jewish faiths in registering their opposition to the extension of marriage rights to homosexual couples.
Lord Singh, the head of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said: “In the pursuit of equality one shouldn’t dilute and distort another’s beliefs” with Rabbi Schochet, once considered a front runner to become the next chief rabbi of Britain, describing the proposals as “pure politics” and an assault on “traditional values.” Rabbi Schochet explained it was hypocritical to impose such a far-reaching “secular” change when religious leaders would be condemned for imposing their values on others.
While the Sikh and Jewish response to this question has been based on explicitly religious terms, an alternative strategy has been adopted by the Christian authorities. This tactic has been to argue the danger of “changing the definition of marriage”.
In a letter from two UK archbishops, read to parishioners at 2,500 masses across the country, the church argued:
Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step
Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage.
I suspect that the church may indeed have a point here. Allowing consenting adults, to marry – in particular two adults previously restricted from marriage to each other – can have consequences for society.
Unfortunately for the archbishop’s argument we have a fairly recent precedent where exactly that situation occurred.
Until relatively recently there remained bans in interracial marriage in many parts of the United States. The famous 1967 ‘Loving versus Virginia’ decision resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court removing a Virginia statute barring whites from marrying nonwhites and led to the overthrow of similar bans in 15 other states. Today interracial marriage is commonplace in the US. While it is still opposed by significant parts of the US population – recent polls showing that over 20% of Republican voters in some southern States believe it should be illegal – there is little popular opposition to this change in the previously accepted version of marriage.
Repeating what the Archbishops said, the law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage.
And that can be a good thing.