Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest ranking Roman Catholic in the UK and the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has unfortunately decided that he has the right to preach morality to the country and in doing so has exposed his unacceptable levels of bigotry and intolerance. How has he done this? He has criticised the government’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage (as opposed to the civil partnerships that are currently allowed in law). These plans WILL NOT force churches to allow same-sex religious ceremonies. They DO NOT have any effect on the religious institutions in the UK. Surely, I hear the logical among you cry, that means it’s got nothing to do with the church then!
Apparently, he disagrees.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, O’Brien calls the proposition “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Let me highlight what I see as an important part of that sentence: “a universally accepted human right”. Unless you’re gay, in which case the implication is that you don’t have the same human rights as the rest of us. You are somehow less than human. He asks “what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?” The answer, of course, is that nothing will happen, because teachers are currently not allowed to tell pupils that. Teachers have to teach the curriculum, not their own personal opinions. Teachers aren’t even supposed to talk about their own personal political views, in case they unfairly influence the children in their care. He suggests that teachers and pupils will be “the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs”. Well, as a Catholic cardinal, he’d know all about crushing dissent from orthodoxy.
The cardinal continues by considering “the point of view of the child”. He suggests that same-sex marriage would rob the child of the right to start life with a mother and a father. Much like prison. Or death. Or divorce. I don’t want to get onto the whole “when Catholic priests stop raping kids I might listen to their views on morality” trip (there’s already plenty of that on the internet already), but there is an element of logic to it. Until the Catholic church has its own house in order, they have no place interfering in the running of the country. The Catholic church has a long and despicable record of child abuse within its ranks, so it is repugnant that they would dare to consider “the point of view of the child” or dare to take the moral high ground on issues of childcare. I know that not every Catholic priest is a child molester, but the record of cover-ups is as long and despicable as the record of abuse, and it is unlikely that a high-ranking official (such as cardinal O’Brien) was not aware of such behaviour. I am not for a moment suggesting that O’Brien was involved in either abuse or cover-ups, simply that they existed, as O’Brien’s apologies to the victims over the last decade have proved. In fact, one of His Eminence’s Irish colleagues, Cardinal Seán Brady, was revealed to have been involved in an official church cover up of Father Brendan Smyth’s sexual abuse of dozens of children in the 1970s.
At this point in his article, O’Brien’s prose blossoms into full fantasy as he asks if marriage can be redefined from a man and a woman to a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, what is to stop three men all getting married to each other, or two men and a woman?
Well, so what? If three people decide that they love each other and wish to live like that, who’s to say they shouldn’t be allowed to get married? It may not be your cup of tea, but it would be a bloody boring world if we were all alike, wouldn’t it? Some people find that swinging keeps their marriage fresh and exciting, some people have their marriage ruined by swinging. It’s swings and roundabouts (sorry – couldn’t resist). As long as it is done with the informed consent of all parties, whatever people choose to do to/with/for each other is entirely their business, and if they want to show their commitment to several people at once, why should anyone want to stop them? It isn’t morally degenerate to admit that you are able to love more than one person, so why should it be frowned on? Bigamy is illegal, but why? There is no reason that it should be as long as all parties are aware of, and agree to, the situation! It’s certainly less morally objectionable than rape, or abuse, or using your position as a leading member of a prominent religious group to preach hate and intolerance in an attempt to dictate government policy. There is, or should be, a separation of church and state (especially between the Catholic Church and the state – Just ask Henry VIII). Religious groups can certainly comment and offer their opinion on government decisions, but O’Brien is as guilty of preaching intolerance as Abu Hamza, after all, both used religion as a basis for their messages of hate. Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration. O’Brien has not, at time of writing, shown support for a medieval theocracy determined to subjugate women, homosexuals, other religions… Oh, hang on…
O’Brien claims that the fact that churches would not be required to perform same-sex marriages if they did not wish to is “staggeringly arrogant”, and states that “no Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage”, presumably because the “moral authority” belongs to him. As I understand it, as far more than the “small minority of activists” that he alludes to understand it, marriage is the union in law of two people who are willing to publicly declare their love for, and ongoing commitment to, each other. I’m sure that you have noticed the lack of gender-specific terms in my definition. Cardinal O’Brien, on the other hand, is adamant that marriage has “only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman”. Tradition is obviously important, especially to such a venerable institution as the Catholic Church. After all, they have not changed anything for many centuries. Except their attitude to slavery. And the age of the earth. And that atheists and heretics should be executed, as should anyone who translates the bible into English. And a few more things, now that I think about it.
This man is entitled to his opinion, of course, but he should be very careful about the message he is conveying. It is very easy to read his article (available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9121424/We-cannot-afford-to-indulge-this-madness.html) as a direct attack on homosexuality, rather than an attack on same-sex marriages (although this is a largely semantic distinction). He describes marriage as a universal human right, before going on to explain why he thinks homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to have that right. O’Brien has never been afraid to court controversy, and this may simply be a way to convince his followers that he and his institution are still relevant in today’s society. And so they may be, to their followers, but they are not to me. They have no right to preach morality to me: I do not live in a Catholic state. I do not subscribe to their dogma. I do not believe their stories. I do not want them to try to tell me what i can or cannot do, who I can or cannot marry.
And neither should you.
UPDATE: The Coalition For Equal Marriage (C4em) has a petition to sign if you are in favour of same-sex marriages. Please take a few minutes to sign up at http://www.c4em.org.uk/. Thank you.