Marriage, a mere rite of passage?

The following article appeared on February 27 in MercatorNet’s new blog on the issues confronting the institution of marriage in the western world today. The blog, Conjugality, already contains a number of articles focusing on the challenge being presented to the integrity of marriage by the campaign to have same-sex unions recognized as marriage by legislatures across the world.

“This is about the underlying principles of family, society, and personal freedoms”, Miss Lynne Featherstone MP, Britain’s Equalities Minister, wrote in London’s Daily Telegraph last week, referring to her Government’s plans to introduce legislation enabling gay people to describe their civil partnerships as marriage. Reading those words you might think that at last someone is about to address this fraught subject on the basis of such basic things as principles, family, society and personal freedom. But alas, no. Clearly, what we are confronted with here is more of the same – phony principles, redefinition of that basic building brick of community, the family, and therefore a very wobbly definition of society itself.

One would have hoped for more from the mother of parliaments.

Lynne Featherstone

“Marriage [she maintained] is a rite of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part. Why should we deny it to people who happen to be gay or lesbian who wish to show that commitment and share it with their family, friends and everybody else? We should be proud of couples who love each other and a society that recognises their love as equal.

“That is why you will not find us watering down this commitment.”

Watering down? A mere rite of passage? Marriage is a state in which a man and woman live. This is nothing less than complete obliteration of the very concept of natural marriage. When Romeo and Juliet tried to grapple with the Capulet-Montague problem they bypassed names and solved the conflict – up to a point.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet…”

But this does not solve the marriage problem which gays have created for themselves. Call a rose an onion and it is still a rose. But it does not work the other way around – no matter how many things you call by the name of rose you will never turn them into roses. The onion which you call a rose remains an onion. It will look like an onion, smell like an onion and will still sting your eyes and, like an onion, make you. The exercise is sheer folly. So is the effort to make into marriages things that are not marriages and never will be marriages. This bond between a man and a woman which we call marriage is something “given”, as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey said when he wrote in the English and Irish editions of The Daily Mail on February 20. It is given by our nature and it has its own intrinsic and inherent meaning. We do not give it its meaning. It, of itself, like Romeo, gives us its value and meaning.

“The fierce debate over the past few weeks [Miss Featherstone wrote] has shown people feel very strongly about marriage. Some believe the Government has no right to change it at all; they want to leave tradition alone. I want to challenge that view – it is the Government’s fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better.”

Miss Featherstone is working by the notorious definition of the powers of the British Parliament left to us by Sir Hartley Shawcross, then British Attorney General, when he declared that

Lord Hartley Shawcross

“Parliament is sovereign; it can make any laws. It could ordain that all blue-eyed babies should be destroyed at birth, and because Parliament so declared it, it would be legal.”

Legal, but utterly immoral. It is not enough that Parliament “reflect” society. Parliament’s duty is seek justice and legislate according to the principles of that justice and right reason.

People who understand what marriage really is are calling on the British Government to bring this question to the people and in doing so are showing a much deeper trust in the good sense of the British people than the Government is showing. Is it another instance of the drive for statute law riding roughshod through the treasure-house of British common law, something noted and predicted over 60 years ago by a British legal expert, Richard O’Sullivan, Q.C., when he wrote,

“All around us here today…is a scene of material destruction. In a recent lecture on “Law and Custom at the University of St. Andrews, Lord Macmillan (not to be confused with former British prime Minister, Harold Macmillan) drew attention to what he called the suppression – and what we may call the spiritual destruction – of the common law. The lover of our ancient laws and institutions, which we have inherited from our fathers, cannot but look on with some dismay at the process which we see daily’ in operation around us whereby the customary common law of the land, which has served us so well in the past, is being more and more superseded by a system of laws which have no regard for the usages and customs of the people, but are dictated by ‘ideological theories’.”

This is not a question of “rights”. It is a question of possibilities. It is not simply a question a tradition which people wish to preserve for some sentimental reason. It is a question of a law of nature which is prior to anything we call tradition, which has its roots in our very being and on which the common good of our society depends.

We are not prioritising gay rights, Featherstone added, or trampling over tradition; we are allowing a space for the two to exist side by side. In other words, she wants to allow one group of people to continue to see roses where roses exist and she wants to facilitate another group to see roses in a field of onions and say that there is no difference between the two.

Lord Carey commented on Miss Featherstone’s article:

“Lynne’s logic implies the will of the people is sovereign. So let’s suppose that in 10 years’ time it is proposed that, as people are living in multiples of four, we may call that marriage also.”

Why not, we might add, should those people living in what we euphemistically call a ménage a trios not also be granted the right to call their union a marriage bond. The possibilities are endless.

Ms. Featherstone and others are muddying the waters when they make all this is a Church-State conflict. It is not. It is a matter of logic, epistemology and anthropology. Any parliament which sets out – as foolish legislatures across the western world are now doing – to redefine things “given” by nature is confusing, in this instance, the law written in men’s hearts and minds with the law written in their libido. In the process they are legitimising social chaos, not enhancing human freedom. They are surely taking us back over a thousand years to that moment at the end of the Dark Ages when on a shore on the east coast of England the legendary King Cnut tried to command the tide of the North Sea to change its ways. But at least he learned a lesson and did no harm. This foolishness, sadly, will have no such happy outcome.

Playboy at large…

Reading Charles Spencer’s recent Daily Telegraph review of “The Playboy of the Western World” – now running at the Old Vic in London – it is hard not to think of the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and his gormless blustering. Spencer tells us that the action of the play turns on the character of Christy Mahon, who turns up at a rural pub in the wilds of Co. Mayo and announces that he is on the run after murdering his bullying father. Instead of condemning his action the locals fete him as a hero. Is this an image of Kenny laying into the Catholic Church and the Vatican, as the cheerleaders around him – and his left-liberal coalition partners in Government – coax him on.

“Christy is a most unlikely murderer,” Spencer continues, “a point marvellously made in Robert Sheehan’s gormless, gangling performance, but the acclaim of his new companions puts an unfamiliar swagger in his stride, especially when the spirited daughter of the house, Pegeen Mike, takes a shine to him.” For many Enda was a kind of hero when he blusteringly, and with gross exaggeration of his case, set about putting the Vatican in its place on behalf of the Irish people last July.

But the shine on Mr. Kenny’s performances may be beginning to become a bit scuffed as the reaction to his most recent hostile action against the Vatican – the barely concealed insult of closing the Irish Embassy to the Holy See – begins to generate a growing resentment. Even his own back-benchers are now questioning his judgement. One wonders if the dramatic denouement of the Playboy might not also be in store for Mr. Kenny. As Spencer notes of the fate in store for Christy Mahon: “Suddenly this perennial loser in life’s lottery discovers hope and confidence for the first time. Then, in one of the great comic coups of modern theatre, his father turns up with a bloody bandage round his head, and the play heads off in a startling new direction.” Mr. Kenny’s hopes and unwarranted popularity of recent months may meet a similar humiliating fate.