A tale of David and Goliath?

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It is not just Apple which is testing the loyalty and commitment of the Irish to the European project. Ireland is now, along with Apple, challenging the European Union’s demand that this Corporation pay a double-digit billion tax bill to Ireland. Strange as it may seem – although it is not at all strange – Ireland sees much more value in the employment Apple and multiple other giant investors bring to its economy than it does in a once-off windfall. Add to that the dilemma which Brexit has confronted Ireland with and the unthinkable is beginning to become more and more thinkable. Where ultimately does Ireland’s interest as a thriving economy and as an independent nation lie – inside or outside of the European Union?

Yesterday, in the Dublin paper, the Sunday Business Post (see here), an Irish diplomat and former Irish ambassador to Canada, Mr. Ray Basset, wrote of his worries about the path of least resistance which the Irish administration seems to be taking on the question of the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union.

Irish economist and journalist, David McWilliams, comments at length on the implications of what Basset is saying, implying as he does that the Irish government has decided that there is no special relationship with Britain, and that our attitude to Britain and Brexit will be subservient to the EU’s attitude.

“The idea that there is no special relationship”, McWilliams says, “is not only patently false (I’m writing this from Belfast, for God’s sake!), such a cavalier attitude to our nearest neighbour is extremely dangerous economically, verging on the financially treacherous.”

“Insane” is his description of the view that Ireland’s position with respect to Brexit is in any way similar to that of France or Germany or, worse still, to the likes of Hungary. Why? There are multiple reasons: “There are 500,000 Irish citizens living in England. We have a land border with Britain and a bilateral international treaty, the Good Friday Agreement, with London.

“We are umbilically attached to Britain in our two most labour-intensive industries, agriculture and tourism, where the British are by far our biggest clients. One-third of our imports come from Britain. The Dublin/London air corridor is the busiest route in Europe and one of the busiest in the world. In fact, the Irish airline Ryanair is the biggest airline in Britain, carrying far more British people every year than British Airways.”

McWilliams’ very perceptive comment lays out some of the details of the folly he perceives in what appears to be the Irish States’ status quo on negotiations. For him it is tantamount to a  government acting against the interest of its own economy. Apart altogether from the social and economic rupture between Ireland and Britain which the hard line which European negotiators are currently taking on Brexit would cause, there is the risk of a potential trade war with Britain where Ireland can only be damaged immeasurably.

McWilliam’s analysis and fears make a great deal of sense – up to the point where he goes on to protest that he is not himself a eurosceptic – or anything like it. Admittedly he is worried about Europe’s federalist agenda and its implications. Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator on Brexit, is a committed federalist.

“Under his federalist vision, the Irish consulate in Spain would be scrapped – so that if an Irish lad got a battering from the Guardia Civil, for example, there would be no Irish consulate to listen to his case and help him out. He also advocated in this report to close down all (Irish and other) consulates in non-EU countries and replace these with one EU consulate.”

McWilliam’s argument, however, is that we should stay in the EU, but draw the line at the present EU. “We shouldn’t embrace any further integrationist stuff nor sign up to any further federalist projects. This means doing precisely the opposite of the Brits. Rather than following the British out of the EU, we should vow never to leave it. The EU can’t kick us out. There is no mechanism. We should simply opt out of Mr Barnier’s plans. This means we have full access to the EU, but we don’t need nor want to go any further – not because of some cultural aversion, but because it’s not in our interest.”

But surely there is a great weakness in that argument, a weakness which the history of Ireland’s relationship with the Union screams out to us. There is no stopping the European juggernaut. When Britain tried to modify it, to bring it to a more common sense position and one which would show more respect for the sovereignty of the nations which make it up, it was in effect sent packing.

Consider the  negotiations of David Cameron when he tried to head off Brexit. Like a famous predecessor he proclaimed that he had plucked a flower from a bed of nettles – but what he got turned into the nightmare which destroyed his political career.

Ireland’s history of two referendums on European treaties where it said “no” to the path Europe was taking speaks for itself. It was soft-soaped, sent back to think again and came up with the “yes” which the juggernaut needed to go forward.

There are many who think that the juggernaut has already gone down the path of self-destruction. It may be so – and this may be the only way that a little country like Ireland will be able to find it own way and exercise the self-determination it needs to make its way in the wider world – which is where its future must surely lie.

Which is what Nigel Farage is essentially saying here.

 

Cameron ‘does God’, but…

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Charles Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph about the attacks on David Cameron which followed his Church Times article describing Britain as a Christian country, noted some inconsistencies in the Prime Minister’s thinking. Specifically, he pointed out how Cameron has sold out on one of the country’s most valuable Christian institutions, marriage.

Of all the human institutions developed in the light of Christianity, marriage has been the most abiding. It is because of Christianity that marriage became a lifelong and increasingly equal bond between one man and one woman, chiefly in order to bring up children lovingly. Without Christian teaching, it was not much more than a property deal about women (with sex thrown in), made between men.

Because he wanted to be seen to modernise his party, Mr Cameron decided to introduce single-sex marriage. In rushing forward to do so, he made no attempt to reflect on the Christian heritage which he now extols. He never seems to have thought about why the relationship between a man and a woman might not, in fact, be the same as that between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

Although an exemplary parent himself, he did not consider how refounding marriage on a quite different basis could endanger the rights of children. The people who framed his new law started – too late – to consider what marriage law actually involves and found that the law of consummation, central to the definition of marriage, could not apply to any same-sex act. Quite unintentionally, marriage has been redefined, with sex taken out of it. The good Christian Mr Cameron has trivialised and de-Christianised our greatest social bond without meaning to. Not surprisingly, he chose not to speak about marriage at all in his Church Times article last week: he would not have known what to say.

Moore’s Telegraph article is here.

Adding once more to the follies of four thousand years

“What are they thinking”, we sometimes cry out in near despair as we look on at the folly of governments and their agents, here and around the world, dismantling and destroying before our eyes the very substance of our social and economic fabric.

The economic fabric is, in most if not all western societies, the patient currently in intensive care. The medical teams are furiously arguing with each other about the treatments being applied to bring the wounded subject back to some level of well-being. The austerity faction has the upper hand but no one is really sure – with the exception of the opposing team – what history’s verdict is going to be on that. We are hoping for the best.

What there is no doubt about in anyone’s mind is what the judgement of history will be on why we got here. Everyone now knows that the folly of greed brought the house down about our ears.

But while we worry and fret over this patient, a deeper and more sinister folly remains rampant and untrammelled in the corridors of the powerful and is tearing apart something which will be much more difficult to restore to health. Every day – and for some decades now – the people entrusted with the care of the common good are putting new measures in place which are one by one destroying the very core elements which sustain our human and social well-being.

Booms and busts have been and will always be, we are told, part of the economic cycle. They come and go and as we muddle through them we learn a little each time – and then promptly seem to forget it again, falling back to some earlier position as in a game of snakes and ladders. But generally our muddling along seems to work out on average like three steps forward and two steps backwards.

With our social fabric the story is frighteningly different. For some reason, probably because the process of collapse is more silent and slow-moving, we are being lead onwards blindly into what a a growing clamour of voices is warning us will be a morass of social dysfunction and disintegration.

How is this happening? Part of the answer may be found in a wise and sobering book by one of the great popular historians of the Twentieth century, Barbara Tuchman. In The March of Folly, she dissects the “wooden-headedness” of the world’s leaders – of every political persuasion, from tyrannical despots to dedicated democrats – in their pursuit of public policy. This is a book which makes sober but certainly not consoling reading and explains something of the riddle we are forced to contemplate in our own day and age.

 A phenomenon noticeable throughout history, she writes, regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggest? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?

 Tuchman wrote her book in the early nineteen eighties so she did not have a chance to witness or comment on the economic follies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She did not need to. Her case is watertight without them. From the lesson on man’s folly shown to us in the mythological tale of the wooden horse of Troy, through the follies of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, down through to the follies of any number of empire builders who ended up destroying their own work, to any number in our own day, the embarrassment of the powerful should be assured.

The mystery she puts before us is why can mankind, elsewhere than in government – and in government she includes all agencies engaged in the shaping of public affairs, like trade unions, representative organisations, and others – accomplish such marvels: inventions to harness wind and electricity, raising earth-bound stones into soaring cathedrals, construct the instruments of music, and so much more, and yet make such a mess of government. She quotes John Adams, the second President of the United States who had just witnessed one of the greatest follies of the 18th century – Britain’s blundering loss of her extension into the North American continent. Adams wrote in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, “While all other sciences have advanced, government is at a stand; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”

Indeed, if we look at the United States today and compare it with the achievement of its founding fathers, we would have to question whether its governance is a “little better” or a good deal worse than in John Adams’ day.

No country or state has a monopoly of the commodity we call folly when it comes to public policy. The Chinese state is forging ahead to economic world-dominance while at the same time it is cutting its own throat with a one-child policy which will cripple it in the not too distant future as pampered spoiled brats grow into selfish adult males who will wreak havoc on a limited female population brought about by the whole-scale culling through sex-selective abortion. India, another state promising itself great achievements in the economic sphere, is silently destroying itself with its unlimited sex-selective abortion on demand.

Meanwhile in Europe the old countries which began their domination of the planet a millennium ago are slowly dying under the weight of their self-indulgence, aided and abetted by governments at every turn. Rampant divorce rates are wrecking families. Marriage is being destroyed in the rush to facilitate homosexual self-indulgence in the name of a concept of equality rooted in an utterly flawed anthropology.  Marriage has been further weakened by fiscal arrangements which facilitate cohabitation without commitment. The unintended consequence of this: rampant child abuse – where mothers seek to nurture multiple children begotten serially by nameless fathers.

All of this is fostered in one way or another by governments.

Tuchman qualifies her concept of folly in a way which makes it more than just idiocy but makes it culpable. Idiots can be excused. Culpable fools should not be excused.

To qualify as folly the policy adopted by a government or a representative agency must meet three criteria, she says. Firstly, it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight. Judging a past era by the standards is a rampant modern practice which generates its own kind of folly. The injury which is perpetrated by the folly must be something recognised and predicted and warned against by contemporaries. Secondly a feasible alternative course of action must have been available.  Thirdly, to remove the problem from reasons of personality, a third criterion must be that the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.

The follies we fret over and predict above, as the harbingers of social disaster, fulfil all these criteria.

President Obama and his administration are constantly being warned of the legacies they are bequeathing to their society as a consequence of the destruction of the institution of marriage in which they are currently engaged. The same is true of the Dutch, the French, the British and now the Irish. David Cameron – with his government – is proceeding relentlessly with his redefinition of marriage in spite of a petition from well over half a million of his citizens to stop his folly – not to mention the wise and solemn warnings from the leaders of all the main religious denominations.

In relation to another folly, the world’s legislators were well warned by the teachers of the Catholic Church about the consequences, moral and social, which would follow the generation of a contraceptive mentality by the whole-scale ignoring of its teaching on human life and human sexuality in Humanae Vitae and the provision of contraception services to all and sundry. There are plenty of warnings on record to both the Chinese and the Indians about the folly of the abortion and semi-eugenicist practices which their policies are generating.

The governments of the world’s oldest states, and some relatively new ones, are verifying once again the truth placed before us by Barbara Tuchman and John Adams. Tuchman concludes:

 If John Adams was right, and government is “little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago,” we cannot reasonably expect much improvement. We can only muddle on as we have done in those same three or four thousand years, through patches of brilliance and decline, great endeavour and shadow.

 That is a worrying thought, for the stakes involved in our current follies seem much more serious than any since the follies she listed which lead to the tragic religious rupture of Europe in the sixteenth century. The injuries which mankind will sustain from our current follies will require much more than some geo-political adjustment or economic tweaking to put them right. The consequences may require much more than a bit of muddling on.

A web of deceit?

Two stories – at least – in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph in London puzzled over the mystery of David Cameron’s strange behaviour in the recent past. Janet Daley asked how Cameron could go from what looked like a possible triumph in his European Union difficulties to what looked like a scuttling of his own party on the redefinition of marriage legislation. Christopher Booker puzzled over the same thing but soon came up with an answer which might well be, for most of us, the solution to the riddle of Cameron’s folly.

“The greatest puzzle about the ‘gay marriage’ furore” Booker wrote, “is why this issue suddenly erupted from nowhere to the top of the political agenda. Why has David Cameron been willing, as one commentator put it, to ‘trash his party’ in pushing so hard for something that, before the last election, he refused to endorse or to include in the Tory manifesto? And why, just as it was provoking the biggest Tory rebellion in decades, was it also prompting a similar row in the French National Assembly?”

Janet Daley, reading the conundrum in terms of keeping Cameron’s political scoreboard, confesses that she can’t keep up.

Was his European summit intervention a triumph over the EU budget, or not? She asked.  And if it was a success, does it cancel out the ghastly calamity of the earlier half of the week? That depends on whether the cleverness and determination of the second half was more revealing of the Prime Minister’s true character than the bloody-minded foolishness of the first. The same-sex marriage question should have been, she said, “on the scale of the country’s immediate problems, an issue of vanishingly small political import had been propelled into a five-star megacrisis of stupendous proportions”.

Was it, as one of Daley’s disgruntled and mystified confidants from the tory back benches said, a silly, off-the-top-of-our-heads gesture inspired by a half-understood observation of the US presidential election. She suggested that it might be a question of “a juvenile crush on the charismatic guy across the Pond.” Barack Obama, the epitome of “cool” in the eyes of star-struck Cameroons, had committed himself to legalising gay marriage – and he had won the election by taking states with largely urban, metropolitan electorates. Ergo, thought the great brains of Downing Street, endorsing gay marriage brings you electoral success in cosmopolitan conurbations of the kind that the Tories need to win, she said.

So what does Daley conclude? That Cameron may be too facile with language and arguments? She thinks that, maybe like a very bright but vaguely lazy student, while he can pull out a gifted verbal performance when it is absolutely necessary – when his political life depends on it – he then slips back into haphazard sloppiness when the crisis is past?

Booker’s analysis ultimately gives Cameron more credit, but if it does it is also more worrying for anyone with a modicum of democratic instinct. Ultimately, as well, it could signal an even deeper crisis for Cameron’s own party for it will be seen as signalling a subtle and sinister subversion of British sovereignty to the creeping hegemony of the European Union and the Council of Europe.

The real story behind this drama goes back to 2010, Booker argues. It has three main players, the Home Secretary Theresa May, our former Lib Dem equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, and that shadowy institution, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, with its controversial adjunct, the European Court of Human Rights.

In March 2010, ministers from the 47 countries represented in the Council of Europe agreed a “Recommendation” on “measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity”. Section IV focused on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, guaranteeing “respect for family life”. It proposed that where national legislation recognised same-sex partnerships, these should be given the same legal status as those between heterosexuals. There was no mention of marriage as yet, except in a proposal that “transgender persons” should be entitled to “marry a person of the sex opposite to their reassigned sex”.

Four days before the 2010 general election, the Tory party issued a pamphlet, signed by Theresa May, in which a section on “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] issues” promised that the party would “consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage”. But this was not in the manifesto, nor, after the election, in the Coalition Agreement.

In June that year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that, though there was no obligation on countries to recognise same-sex partnerships, Article 8 did not specify that the right to enjoy family life applied only to couples of different sexes. It could be taken as equally applying to same-sex couples. The court proposed that, when a “consensus” emerged among the member states, this could allow the right to same-sex marriages to be recognised under the convention.

Shortly afterwards, Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, set out new guidelines allowing “religious music” to be used in civil partnership ceremonies. She suggested that this should be regarded as a step towards allowing gay marriages. In September, the Lib Dem party conference backed her call for same-sex marriages to be legalised.

 In December a campaign group, Equal Love, helped a group of British same-sex couples to launch an action in the ECHR asking for civil partnerships to be given full marriage status. They were supported by Peter Tatchell, who told the BBC that banning gay people from marriage sent “a signal that we are regarded as socially and legally inferior”.

The campaign – with much conferring behind the scenes between ministers and gay lobby groups – was under way. In March 2011, May and Featherstone issued an official policy document, “Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality: Moving Forward”. It committed the Government to work “with all those who have an interest in equal civil marriage” on how “legislation can develop”. Furthermore, it committed the Foreign Office and the new Gender Equality Office to work for “full implementation” of the Council of Europe’s 2010 Recommendation, with a target date of June 2013.

In November 2011, when Britain took over the six-monthly chairmanship of the Council of Europe, it put this at the top of the agenda. (Featherstone had already committed £100,000 of government money to creating an LGBT unit in Strasbourg to plan implementation of the policy). Britain was so keen to take the lead that, on March 27 last year, the UK’s representation in Strasbourg organised the council’s first “closed conference” (ie, public not admitted), to agree detailed plans for the June 2013 implementation, with a keynote address from Featherstone. A speech by the British judge, Sir Nicolas Bratza, then head of the European Court of Human Rights, signalled that the court was ready to declare same-sex marriage a “human right”, as soon as enough countries fell into line.

Such are the real reasons that our Government needed to rush through last week’s vote on gay marriage. We are committed to “full implementation” of the Council of Europe’s policy no later than this June (and hence the similar law now being rushed through in France). It has been a brilliant political coup by the gay lobby, aided by Featherstone, May and those shadowy European bodies that, in so many ways, now rule our lives. But why weren’t we told more honestly and openly why it has all happened?

And that is the question which makes this whole issue a much bigger one than the sentimental journeys of some gay people or the sympathies of those who fail to see the importance of fundamental change in the definition of an institution which is at the heart of a stable society and which has such bearing on the welfare of children.  The calculated manipulation of political institutions, the manipulation of public opinion and the deceit at the heart of all this is what should really be disturbing us. If the political establishment is prepared to this in pursuit of one policy it will do it for any policy.

(Posted earlier this evening on Conjugality)

Reason speaks to reason but questions remain unanswered

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It may be a pastoral letter – from a bishop to his church in a diocese in just one part of the world – but it speaks reason to reason and not just to faith to reason. What is more, it put questions to those who claim to be reasonable. Those questions have been asked before but have not been answered – they have just provoked abuse. The fear of many – and it is echoed in this letter –  is that this abuse will soon become judicial and violent, and the questions will still remain unanswered.

Thomas John Paprocki is the Catholic Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. He has written to the Catholics of his diocese, but his message can resonate around the whole of the Western world which is now in the grip of the campaign for the redefinition of human nature and the institutions society has forged from within that nature to help its own true fulfilment. He writes in the context of the state of Illinois’s consideration of a legislative proposal called “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.”

Without mincing his word’s, Paprocki says, “A more fraudulent title for this dangerous measure could not be imagined. The proposed law is, in truth, a grave assault upon both religious liberty and marriage.”  The bill as drafted would in the first instance, he says, be trying to legislate an untruth.

What is that untruth and why is it untruthful? He explains why, with rational precision, and in terms which can be transferred with very little difficulty to every legislature in the world which is contemplating similar legislation :

The pending bill would, for the first time in our state’s history, redefine marriage to legally recognize same-sex “marriages.” But neither two men nor two women – nor, for that matter, three or more people – can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be lying if it said they could.

 The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman, committed to a life which is fulfilled by having children, is given to us in human nature.

 

Notwithstanding the vanity of human wishes, every society in human history – including every society untouched by Jewish or Christian revelation – has managed to grasp this profound truth about human relationships and happiness: marriage is the union of man and woman.

 The bill’s sponsors maintain it would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility-roster for marriage. It would radically redefine what marriage is- for everybody.

 It would enshrine in our law – and thus in public opinion and practice – three harmful ideas:

  • What essentially makes a marriage is romantic-emotional union.
  • Children don’t need both a mother and father.
  • The main purpose of marriage is adult satisfactions.

 These ideas would deepen the sexual revolution’s harms on all society. After all, if marriage is an emotional union meant for adult satisfactions, why should it be sexually exclusive? Or limited to two? Or pledged to permanence? If children don’t need both their mother and father, why should fathers stick around when romance fades? As marriage is redefined, it becomes harder for people to see the point of these profoundly important marital norms, to live by them, and to encourage others to do the same. The resulting instability hurts spouses, but also – and especially – children, who do best when reared by their committed mother and father.

 Indeed, children’s need – and right – to be reared by the mother and father whose union brought them into being explains why our law has recognized marriage as a conjugal partnership – the union of husband and wife – at all. Our lawmakers have understood that marriage is naturally oriented to procreation, to family. Of course, marriage also includes a committed, intimate relationship of a sort which some same-sex couples (or multiple lovers in groups of three or more) could imitate. But our law never recognized and supported marriage in order to regulate intimacy for its own sake. The reason marriage is recognized in civil law at all (as ordinary friendships, or other sacraments, are not) is specific to the committed, intimate relationships of people of opposite-sex couples: they are by nature oriented to having children. Their love-making acts are life-giving acts.

 Same-sex relationships lack this unique predicate of state recognition and support. Even the most ideologically blinded legislator cannot change this natural fact: the sexual acts of a same-sex couple (regardless of how one views them morally) are simply not of the type that yield the gift of new life. So they cannot extend a union of hearts by a true bodily union. They cannot turn a friendship into the one-flesh union of marriage. They are not marital. This is not just a Christian idea, but one common to every major religious tradition and our civilization’s great philosophical traditions, beginning with ancient Greece and Rome.

But the Illinois bill, which is seeking to have its cake and eat it, is also deceptive in another important way – as are the proposals of David Cameron’s coalition government in the United Kingdom and every other legislature we know of trying to do to the same thing. It is pretending that this legislation, if passed, will not conflict with the religious freedom of the citizens of any country which adopts its model. Those legislators who are not inherently hostile to religion – and many are – are burying their heads in the sand if they do not recognise that this legislation is going to lead to a denial of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and ultimately to religious persecution.

Paprocki continues:

The pending bill is not only a dangerous social experiment about marriage. It is also a lethal attack upon religious liberty. This so-called “religious freedom” would not stop the state from obligating the Knights of Columbus to make their halls available for same-sex “weddings.” It would not stop the state from requiring Catholic grade schools to hire teachers who are legally “married” to someone of the same sex. This bill would not protect Catholic hospitals, charities, or colleges, which exclude those so “married” from senior leadership positions. Nor would it protect me, the Bishop of Springfield, if I refused to employ someone in a same-sex “marriage” who applied to the Diocese for a position meant to serve my ministry as your bishop. This “religious freedom” law does nothing at all to protect the consciences of people in business, or who work for the government. We saw the harmful consequences of deceptive titles all too painfully last year when the so-called “Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act” forced Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoption services in Illinois.

 These threats do not raise a question about drafting a better law, one with more extensive conscience protections. There is no possible way – none whatsoever- for those who believe that marriage is exclusively the union of husband and wife to avoid legal penalties and harsh discriminatory treatment if the bill becomes law. Why should we expect it be otherwise? After all, we would be people who, according to the thinking behind the bill, hold onto an “unfair” view of marriage. The state would have equated our view with bigotry – which it uses the law to marginalize in every way short of criminal punishment.

He proposes to the citizens of his state, and his proposal con be considered by every reasonable citizen of the world: The only way to protect religious liberty, and to preserve marriage, is to defeat this perilous proposal. Please make sure our elected representatives understand that and know that they will be held to account. We should all do the same when this campaign – as it certainly will where it has not done so already – puts pressure on our democratic representatives to consider similar legislation.

(Also posted to MercatorNet’s Conjugality blog this morning).

Two islands hand-in-hand on a path to moral and social chaos?

The Irish government, currently wriggling its way towards legislation to overturn its country’s pro-life laws without any clear mandate to do so from its electorate, will  also soon be trying to overturn its pro-family and pro-marriage laws in pursuit of the folly of gay “marriage”. It is now embarking of a review of the Irish Constitution which since the 1930s has kept Ireland’s laws in a framework friendly to all those values. This review is being driven by elements within the government who see their mission in Irish society as one of bringing it into line with the rest of the liberal world. In doing this they are doing no more than imitating their nearest neighbours in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, what is unfolding in the Irish Republic is nothing short of a mirror-image of what its former colonial masters have done and are doing to themselves – providing abortion on demand, destroying marriage and de-Christianinsing their society at a breakneck pace.

The terms “dismay” and “outrage” seem too mild to describe the reaction which is evident across Britain in the wake of the government’s decision there to press on with its redefinition of marriage. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph in its editorial comment decried the needles import to Britain of what it called America’s “culture wars” on this issue. Writing about the pitiable inadequacy of the so-called guarantees of religious freedom being offered by the government it went on to say:

Nor do the religious protections address another matter that vexes critics – namely the redefinition of marriage, understood by every human society through the ages to be a legal relationship between people of opposite sexes. Many Tory MPs and voters will simply not be reconciled to this, and neither will the churches, which have not even begun to organise against the Bill. They have millions of followers, and should they target vulnerable Conservative seats – as happened to Labour when the Roman Catholic Church forced the last government to retreat over faith schools’ admissions quotas – Mr Cameron may come to rue the day he embarked on this reform. Sad to say, but in a country that prides itself on its tolerance, he risks sowing division where none previously existed.

The latest onslaught on the government comes from the media response group, Catholic Voices, which this morning issued a statement describing the government’s announcements as shameful, undemocratic and cloaked in false legitimacy.

Their assessment and detailed analysis is as follows:

Tuesday’s Government response to its marital redefinition consultation, conducted earlier this year, has conclusively demonstrated that the entire consultation process had no purpose other than to shroud a shamelessly undemocratic exercise in a cloak of false legitimacy. It has made clear that it intends to redefine marriage despite opposition from the overwhelming majority of respondents to the  Government’s proposals.

Of 228,000 individual responses to the consultation, 53pc – fewer than 121,000 – said same-sex couples ought to be able to marry, according to the Government. However, with every single petition the Government received on the issue opposing marital redefinition, it’s clear that more than four times as many people contacted the Government to support the traditional understanding of marriage rather than to overturn it: the Coalition for Marriage’s petition alone bore 509,800 signatures when it was submitted. It now bears more than 620,000.

The Government, therefore, can claim no mandate for its plans, and Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith hardly exaggerate when they say “the process by which this has happened can only be described as shambolic”.

Marital redefinition went unmentioned in both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat election manifestos, and was absent from their 2010 programme for government. Parliamentary process has been scorned in the rush to redefine marriage: the Government has produced neither a green paper nor a white paper on this issue, which wasn’t so much as alluded to in the Queen’s speech at the State Opening of Parliament this May.

Despite lacking democratic legitimacy, Mr Cameron admitted last week that he intends to go even further than previously planned by facilitating the solemnizing of same-sex marriages by religious bodies. This U-turn makes a mockery of the already questionable consultation process, and is a profound betrayal of those who responded in good faith to the consultation – which a dozen times ruled out changes to what it called ‘religious marriage’.

Responding to Mr Cameron’s admission, the Anglican bishops drily observed that at least this suggested that the Government was starting to realise that, contrary to the chaotic language of the consultation document, the law recognises only one institution of marriage: “We welcome the fact that in his statement the Prime Minister has signalled he is abandoning the Government’s earlier intention to distinguish between civil and religious marriage.”

The Anglican bishops said that they looked forward to studying the Government’s response to the consultation, but will have found little comfort there. The Government boasts that it intends to introduce a ‘quadruple lock’ to protect religious institutions from being compelled to act against their principles in connection with the proposed legislation, but admits that churches and other religious bodies could still face legal challenges if they refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages.

The Government’s decision is probably motivated by a desire to evade challenges under the  European Convention on Human Rights , but it is difficult to have confidence in any planned safeguards; the Human Rights Act embeds the ECHR in UK law, and the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that if a state allows for marriage between persons of the same sex, it must do so on exactly the same basis that it allows for other marriages.

Leaving aside how later parliaments might rescind any safeguards established by this one, it seems clear that any religious body which declined to solemnize same-sex marriages would almost certainly be acting against the Human Rights Act and the ECHR, and would, at the very least, be seriously vulnerable to legal challenges.

The Church of England, uniquely to be banned from solemnizing same-sex marriages, will probably be proof against such challenges, but in this case it would be the state itself that would be compelled to stand in Strasbourg and justify why same-sex Anglican couples should be uniquely barred by law from marrying in their own churches.

The proposals raise important questions about the status of the Church of England as an established church; the Government recognises Parliament’s right to overrule Anglican canon law, but ignores how the basic definition of marriage in English law has for centuries been that embedded in the Church of England’s official prayerbook, licensed by Parliament and recognising marriage as a voluntary union of a man and a woman with the principle aim of bearing and rearing children.

The Government’s proposition would require the state to speak differently from both sides of its mouth, Parliament saying one thing, and the Church of England saying another. This raises a profound constitutional problem, as George Pitcher recognised on BBC this week:

 “If we’ve got the state having a completely different definition of what marriage is from what the Church calls ‘holy matrimony’ then it’s a bit difficult to see that the Church can continue with such a central area of our theology at variance with the state. We’ve got the Queen, who is not only the head of state but also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, presiding over our established church and – as a figurehead –  over the state, and it’s very difficult to see how that can cohere once we’re departing on such important institutions in our heritage and history.”

Not merely is Mr Cameron out of his depth on how redefining marriage could have serious repercussions for the British constitution, but the entire Government seems to have a grievously flawed understanding of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

The Government insists “no one should face successful legal action for hate speech because they preach the belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman,” but in using the word ‘preach’, it seems, as with cases currently being considered by the European Court of Human Rights, to reduce ‘freedom of religion’ to mere ‘freedom of worship’. The ECHR, however, guarantees freedom to manifest religious belief in “worship, teaching, practice and observance”.

Catholic priests may be able to preach that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but will ordinary Catholics be permitted to practice what the Church preaches? Will those who believe ‘same-sex marriage’ to be a contradiction in terms be obliged to recognise it as a reality, rather than a legal fiction? The Government’s response is far from clear on such issues, and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth seems to have been fully justified in asking, “Will Catholic schools, societies and institutions be free (and legally safeguarded) to teach the full truth of Christ and the real meaning of life and love?”

Interviewed on Radio 4 this Tuesday, Culture Secretary Maria Miller displayed her fundamental incomprehension of such issues when she dismissed concerns about consummation and adultery as irrelevant to same-sex marriages. Responding to the fact that some see these issues as central to what the word ‘marriage’ means, she said, “this may well be why the Catholic Church does not want to opt into the system of being able to offer same sex marriage”. However, as Timothy Radcliffe says, it is less that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage than that “it considers it to be impossible.”

If the Government’s response to its consultation tells us anything, it tells us that it wasn’t listening.

Religious freedom, however, is not the immediate issue here; more urgent, as our briefing paper In Defence of Conjugality: The Common-Good Case Against Same-Sex Marriage points out, are the questions of what marriage is, why the state has an interest in it, and whether the state has the power to redefine it.

The Government’s response states that “At its heart, marriage is about two people who love each other making a formal commitment to each other,” but it is difficult to see why such a private commitment should be a public concern: the state is not in the business of legitimating private relationships, and cares about marriage purely as a matter of public good.

British law has long recognised that marriage provides a uniquely stable and balancedenvironment in which children can be born and raised; protecting it as the one public institution that exists to uphold the principle that every child should – ideally – be raised with the love of a mother and a father.

It is telling, therefore, that the Government’s 47-page response devotes just three paragraphs to children, relegating them to the peripheral ‘wider issues’, and rejecting outright the view of 84pc of British people, as found by a ComRes poll for Catholic Voices this March, that children do best in life when raised by a mother and a father in a stable and loving relationship.

Regardless of governmental cynicism, it is indisputable that many support this project for the best of motives. Unfortunately, such support is misconceived: the introduction of same-sex marriage would not correct any injustices, couples in civil partnerships already having the same rights as married couples, and can only be brought about if British law decrees children to be at best peripheral to marriage and the state to have an interest in regulating people’s private lives.

Few people in modern Britain, it is safe to say, want either of these things.

(A version of this post appeared earlier today on the MercatorNet blog, Conjugality, where you will find more posts on the issue of marriage redefinition.)

Are Obama and Cameron playing with electoral fire?

As was widely anticipated, President Obama’s “evolution” on the marriage question has now reached its final resting place in the gay lobby camp. But the political consequences are not so clear and the electoral rout which the other convert to the redefinition of marriage cause, Britain’s David Cameron, experienced at the polls last week might be worrying him. But really, given his imprisonment – not necessarily an unwilling confinement – by the ultra liberal caucus, he had little choice as to which side of the fence he was ultimately going to choose.

Political observers in Britain are already speculating that the coalition government there, following the disastrous showing in last week’s nation-wide local elections, rewrote the content of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the speech written by the Prime Minister but read by the Queen to Parliament and outlining the forthcoming legislative plans. “Gay marriage” was not mentioned in the speech…. Read more on the Conjugality blog.

Hitchens pulls no punches

Gunning for David Cameron

As posted this this afternoon to MercatorNet’s Conjugality blog where you can read much more and stay up to date on the issues facing the institution of marriage.

Sometime after David Cameron’s election as leader of the Conservative Party in Britain he began to make positive noises about the importance of the family – and of marriage as the institution which gave it stability in society. When the Tories won enough votes in the last general election to enable them to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats some thought things might improve.

The people to whom these things really matter were very hopeful that at last something might be done about the slippery slope on which they perceived both institutions were rapidly sliding into deep trouble. But not Peter Hitchens, London Daily Mail columnist and brother of the late-lamented Christopher. Hitchens says he saw through the real David Cameron from the word go. He pulls no punches in his reading of Mr. Cameron on the same-sex marriage issue.

Hitchens, whose pet name for the British PM is “Mr. Slippery”, in his column this weekend tells us a little smugly that “Hardly a day passes without someone ringing me up or writing to me to say that they now realise that our Prime Minister, Mr Slippery, is a fraud.” Many tell him that they are now sorry they are that they refused to believe him when he told them this, over and over again, before the last Election.

“Well, as the Scottish pastor said to his wayward flock as they called up to him from the flames of Hell ‘We didn’t know!’” Hitchens replies ‘You know now’.

Citing u-turns by Mr. Carmeon on other issues, he has no sympathy for his correspondents. The evidence was there and they should have known.

“But people would keep telling me”, Hitchens complains, “that he somehow ‘really means it’ about his (rather feeble) scheme to recognise marriage in the tax system. They seem to have thought that one day he would rip off his suit and reveal himself to be ‘SuperTory’.

“Well, as for marriage, he now claims to be much more concerned about helping a few hundred homosexuals get married than about helping millions of heterosexuals to stay married.”

As far as Hitchens is concerned, Mr. Cameron doesn’t care tuppence for homosexuals and he is just playing to a gallery which he thinks is important because it makes him look more “with-it”. “This is, in fact, a wind-up. I shouldn’t think Mr Slippery cares even slightly about homosexuals, and I wonder what he used to say about them in private before he learned how to be cool.”

But he knows that driving homosexual marriage through Parliament will enrage the suburban voters he despises. He longs to be assailed by them, because it will make him look good among the Guardian-reading metropolitans he wants to win over.

Read more Peter Hitchens here.

A “sham”, empty and profoundly undemocratic document

As posted this morning to MercatorNet’s Conjugality blog where you can read much more and stay up to date on the issues facing the institution of marriage.

The initial verdicts on British Government’s ambiguously entitled “consultation” on the  proposal to legislate for same-sex marriage in England and Wales is pretty negative, – not just on the substantive issue but on the very muddled presentation in the document itself. The “consultation” was issued on Thursday.

The Coalition for Marriage (C4M), which now has a quarter of a million signatures to its petition to save marriage, proclaimed the whole process to be a “sham” and profoundly undemocratic. “The institution of marriage is not the play thing of the state; it belongs to society and therefore cannot be redefined by a few politicians obsessed with appearing ‘trendy’ and ‘progressive’ C4M says.

After reading it he Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, told BBC Newsnight that it was “utterly astonishing  that the document made no reference to children throughout its 20 pages: “Marriage is about bringing difference together. Different sexes, sometimes different families, different tribes. It’s been used to bring kingdoms together. It’s about bringing difference together, out of which comes a new start and a new life.

“The gender difference is essential for its creativity and its complementarity.”

“It is excluding things that are of the very nature of marriage.

“What society says, I believe, is the best circumstances for conceiving and bringing up children is the partnership between two natural parents. That’s why the law is there to protect marriage and that’s why the change in the definition of marriage affects everybody” Dr. Nichals added.

The Coalition for Marriage accuses the government of not only “trying to change the meaning of ‘marriage’, now they’re trying to redefine the meaning of ‘consultation’.

“Consultation means listening to people before making up your mind. But Lynne Featherstone (Equalities Minister) has a new definition – she is going to bulldoze ahead with the plans whether the public like it or not. Some consultation. Yes, she’ll ask the public if they agree. But she says she’s already determined to push on. Asking isn’t the same as listening – unless the meaning of those words has been redefined too.”

Coalition for Marriage campaign director, Colin Hart, said:

“The Government has today launched a consultation on redefining marriage. After initially relenting and promising to include a question on the principle of introducing same sex marriage it is clear from the written statement given to both Houses of Parliament by the Equalities Minister that she will simply ignore any answers to this question.

“I always thought that a consultation was about listening to people and asking them their views, before making a decision. Not only are they redefining the meaning of marriage, they’re redefining the meaning of consultation.

“This consultation is a sham. It is being pushed through despite the public never having a say on this change. None of the main political parties proposed redefining marriage in their manifestos and the impact assessment misses out many of the possible problems that could occur if this institution is redefined, for example how this change will affect our schools.

“The institution of marriage is not the play thing of the state; it belongs to society and therefore cannot be redefined by a few politicians obsessed with appearing ‘trendy’ and ‘progressive’.

“It is also bizarre that Lynne Featherstone says that she wants to end the current two tier system’, yet wants to replace this with an even more complicated system that has two options for gays, and only one for heterosexuals. That’s equality for you.

“The plain truth is marriage is marriage and should not be redefined by politicians.

“C4M and the people who have signed our petition believe that this change is profoundly undemocratic, will have massive consequences for society and is simply unnecessary as civil partnerships provide all the legal rights of marriage.”

Meanwhile the blogs are putting in their knives as well. “Regardless of where people stand on the issue, they should quickly realise that (this document) is a shoddy piece of work, undermined by the fact that its authors clearly don’t know what they’re dealing with” writes The Thirsty Gargoyle, one of the more incisive social values inhabitants of the blogosphere.

He begins at a very basic level pointing out that weddings and marriages are not the same thing.

“A wedding — otherwise referred to as a marriage ceremony — is an event. This event gives access to marriage, that being an institution.

“There is no legal distinction between civil and religious marriages. There are legal distinctions between civil and religious marriage ceremonies, but that’s it. In English law, it is legally meaningless to speak of either civil or religious marriage. There is only marriage. That’s it.

“Bearing that in mind, you should realise that the document is misnamed. It’s impossible to speak of ‘equal civil marriage’ in a meaningful British context; one can only speak of ‘equal marriage’.

“Of course, those of us who subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are already signed up to the concept of equal marriage; men and women, it says, have the right to marry and found a family, with both men and women being entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage, and at its dissolution.  Calling ‘same-sex marriage’ ‘equal marriage’ is an Orwellian hijacking of an established term.”

Questions five and six in the annexe at the end of the document, he says, are an example of the nonsense which fills the document, for instance.

“’Question 5: The Government does not propose to open up religious marriage to same-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree?’

“’Question 6: Do you agree or disagree with keeping the option of civil partnerships once civil marriage is available to same-sex couples?’

“Yep, utter gibberish. Questions five and six make no legal sense unless the Government is planning on legislating to create new institutions called ‘religious marriage’ and ‘civil marriage’. As it stands, there’s only the one institution, which we call marriage, and which has been defined, since at least 1662, as being the union of a man and a woman primarily for the purpose of bearing and rearing children.”

There is a great deal more in The Thirsty Gargoyle exposing what he – or is it she or it – sees as the folly of this whole project.

The tail wagging the dog – again?

This week the British Government begins a 12-week public consultation on its proposal to legislate for gay marriage.  The battle lines are drawn and a Sunday Telegraph opinion poll at the weekend showed that for populist politicians, the issue is fraught with risk – which they don’t seem to recognise yet. While  45 per cent support the proposal in principle, 36 per cent oppose it, and the rest say they do not know, the more significant finding for the Conservatives, the larger of the two political parties in the governing coalition, is that among their supporters 50% are opposed.

Even more significantly, a majority of voters are saying to the Government, “stop wasting your time on this issue and get on with the job we elected you to do.” Asked whether the Government is right to prioritise this issue – with other issues such as the economy and public-service reform battling for parliamentary time – voters overwhelmingly disagree.

More than three quarters – 78 per cent of all voters and 88 per cent of Tories – think it is wrong to fast-track new laws ahead of 2015 while only 14 per cent say it is right to do so, in the ICM survey for The Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Cameron is driving this, with many Tories believing a large part of the reason he is doing so is a desire to prove his party has changed,is now more “modern” and is no longer the “nasty party”.

Meanwhile the newspaper and magazine columns of the nation are keeping the pot on the boil, for and against. Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator remarks that “Consultations are, for the prudent, an exercise you only engage in when you’re quite sure of the outcome.”

Perhaps the Government has miscalculated on this one and that the outcome of the battle which both sides are now galvanised for will not be what they had hoped for. Charles Moore, a former editor of The Spectator, suggested this in his column in London’s Daily Telegraph on Saturday that the Tories are out of touch with voters on this issue.

Melanie McDonagh

McDonagh notes that leaders of the Catholic Church are in the vanguard on this one. She says that in a pastoral letter issued by two of its London Archbishops this weekend it is “wisely make clear is that this is not a religious question at all. It’s about human nature, or what Catholics would call natural law.”

Objections to gay marriage, she suggests are best based on respect for the inherent nature of marriage, not the religious conception of a sacrament. She supports civil partnerships on the basis that they do away with inequity. Previously, if one member of a gay partnership died, the other had to pay inheritance tax on their property. “Objection to gay marriage isn’t about religion at all and the letter that the bishops are sending to Catholic churches does, to do them credit, make that clear.”

“It’s all to do with the nature of marriage”, she says. “And that is, a natural institution providing the optimal situation for raising children. It’s vulgarly biological, marriage — a state for bringing up children in. And that’s how it’s been for almost all of human history. Even in ancient Greece, which practically invented homosexuality — alright, it was especially about the Socratic master-pupil relationship — reserved marriage for men and women, for the conceiving and bearing of children. And it’s that fundamental character of marriage which makes it essentially heterosexual. It’s to do with the complementarity of the sexes. Men and women fulfil different roles when it comes to the rearing of their offspring, and even in an atypical family like my own, in which I’m the sole breadwinner, those complementary roles make sense. Children relate differently to mothers and fathers; they pick up cues about how the sexes work, even children who go on to become gay. And departing from that biological foundation for marriage is a radically new departure.

“Obviously, there are infertile normal marriages, which are no less valid and exemplary for that. The most perfect Catholic marriage I know is involuntarily childless. Some people marry post-menopause, and their marriages aren’t second class, just exceptional. But these are the exceptions to the norm. The Anglican marriage service, which gives an excellent account of the purposes of marriage, talks about the mutual comfort that the couple give to each other and the function of the institution as an outlet for sexual urges, as well as for the raising of children. But those purposes, in heterosexual marriage, complement the basic utility of the thing. They are meant to accompany the essential role of marriage in raising children, not become an alternative for it.

“Of course, homosexual relationships share important aspects of heterosexual marriage, though the element of permanence may not be quite what it is in conventional marriage because children — the reason so many people stay in unsatisfactory marriages — are absent from the equation. Plainly gay partnerships can be committed and loving, and civil partnerships recognise the commitment. And on the margins, post-IVF, gay men can now father children by surrogate mothers and raise them with their own partners, and gay women can use surrogate gametes to do the same. But that parental relationship is always going to have something absent at its heart, the complementarity of the sexes, which means that sons and daughters learn about gender from how it’s lived out in their own family. And a relationship cannot be a marriage, as traditionally and everywhere understood, where children cannot naturally be part of the equation.

“What I’m saying, and what the bishops are saying, is that marriage is child-centred, even though children may be involuntarily absent from good marriages. We cut that anchor at our peril. For the optimal environment for raising children you need a stable environment with parents of either gender. And even in a reluctantly childless marriage, the complementarity of the sexes, the very fact of sexual difference, gives the institution its nature, its charge. To say as much isn’t to advance a religious argument. It’s to work from nature, from history, from human experience. The very definition of a marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Let’s leave it like that.”

Charles Moore, also a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and later, the Daily Telegraph, came to more or less the same conclusion.

Charles Moore

Accepting that the Tory party needs to update itself, he still feels that doing so on this issue and in this way is a shortsighted way of doing so and betrays nothing more than its old tendency to just go on talking to itself – populism with an abysmally narrow focus.

With “modernisation” in mind, Moore wrote, “Mr Cameron said from the first that his party should become gay-friendly, in its policies and its selection of candidates. In his first party conference speech as leader, he equated, morally, the ‘commitment’ that man makes to man or woman to woman with that which men and women make to one another.

“To Mr Cameron and most of the people with whom ministers spend their time, this will seem logical. Indeed – for it is the chief subject about which self-consciously “modern” people feel extremely righteous – it will seem unquestionable. The Government’s current “consultation” will not, despite its name, pay heed to anyone who disagrees. Ministers have adopted the language of equality and rights, and any other language is, to use an unmodern word, blasphemous.

“But let me play back at the Tory leadership the very thing that worried it in the first place – the danger of talking to oneself. The orthodoxy in favour of gay marriage is an iron one if you are well off, well educated, live in central London and wish to hold political or public office. By adhering to it, Mr Cameron ensures that he will not be insulted in BBC studios or at Downing Street receptions for the creative industries. It does not follow, however, that it is a legislative priority for the general public, or the way by which they judge a politician’s virtue. If you talk to the wider public, you get a very different perspective.”

“The number of civil partnerships contracted in this country “, he poined out, “is less than one per cent of the number of marriages each year. You can sell to most people the proposition that such small minorities should be fairly treated. You will encounter sales resistance if you insist they be allowed to redefine something which belongs to us all. That something, in this case, is marriage. And on the ‘what matters to voters’ index, which rightly worries modernisers, marriage comes high; the precise situation of homosexuals comes low.

“Marriage has never meant simply the right of all people who believe they love one another to have their relationship legally recognised on demand. There are qualifications. You have to be adult. You cannot be married to somebody else. You cannot be closely related by blood to the person you marry. And the person you marry must be of the opposite sex.

“You could say that these are restrictions. The decision to permit only monogamy was controversial at the time, and upsetting for lots of people, particularly men. After all, you may genuinely want to have three wives at once and claim that you can truly love them all. I do not know how Mr Cameron, if he opposes discrimination, can possibly sustain the view that Muslims, who are much more numerous in Britain than homosexuals, should be forbidden the polygamy which their faith sanctions.

“If you talk to ministers just now, they say, “Gay marriage is like the smoking ban. People thought they were against it, but when it happened, they just accepted it.” I cannot prove this wrong, but the triviality of the comparison makes me suspicious. Marriage is a great, big, deep subject. There is no crying need to change it just because a vociferous lobby says we must. I recommend a policy which should surely unite all conservatives, trad or modernising – masterly inactivity.”

For this and more on the issue of the future of marriage, go to MercatorNet’s Conjugality blog.