‘Same sex marriage: bad for marriage, bad for equality’

The equal marriage storm continues to rage over King’s College London this month. On 18th October, King’s alumnus and Director of Catholic Voices Dr Austen Ivereigh delivered a controversial lecture entitled ‘Same Sex Marriage – Bad for Marriage, Bad for Equality’ to around 50 students at the Strand Campus. The lecture was organised by the Catholic Chaplin Father Joseph Evans and promoted by King’s College London Catholic Society. Students had the opportunity to respond in a Q&A session at the end.

Dr Ivereigh began by criticising what he saw as the ‘thin’ account of marriage equality in Simon Callow’s Evening Standard article, which was printed three days earlier. Callow wrote: ‘Religion, and indeed God, are both inventions — glorious inventions, at their best — of the human mind but they must serve our human needs, not decree certain kinds of love as second class.’ Ivereigh also criticised the Prime Minister’s position on gay marriage, arguing that marriage entails more than mere commitment from two parties.

Ivereigh proceeded to summarise aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and argue that its doctrine relies heavily on the Christian narrative. He proposed that the idea of human as a higher being gives us the power and authority to challenge the state and governments, particularly when our rights are compromised or violated. However, he argued that implementing equal marriage in Britain would entail a misuse of human rights doctrine.

When discussing the components of marriage, he claimed ‘At the heart of marriage is gender complementarity.’ This, he argued, is an essential characteristic of marriage and in fact pre-dates the Church and the Bible.

Ivereigh argued that it is reasonable to exclude people of the same gender from marriage because allowing gay marriage would alter the fundamental nature of marriage. He posited that married gay people would change the conditions of marriage, rather than meet them. He then likened gay couples to incestuous siblings and polyamourous couples, in order to illustrate that the core component of marriage is to provide the best possible environment for children to be brought up.

Further, he referred to psychological studies, of which he hadn’t prepared citations for, to argue that married heterosexual couples provide the best environment for children. He called other forms of being raised – by adopters, gay couples, and single parents – ‘defective’ forms of being raised.

In the Q&A session, a student from the Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society enquired as to how a re-definition of marriage would affect straight couples, to which Ivereigh replied, ‘Well, what happens is that it re-defines marriage for everyone. So, it re-defines my marriage. It re-defines everyone’s marriage. It’s a new definition of marriage… Mainly my point was that it does violence to an institution which is beyond the state, outside the state and should be protected by the state.’

Another student asked Ivereigh to clarify what he meant by gender complementarity ‘because surely if you’re not attracted to the other gender, then it’s not complementary.’ He responded by saying, ‘Gender complementary means two different genders together – a union of two different genders. And the gender complementarity element is that marriage is always being made up of this twin male and female thing and that of course is at the heart of understanding marriage in Western society.’

Another student said, ‘I think you are in a privileged position because you’re aiming to talk about these lovely abstract things like values and the meaning of marriage. And actually, this debate is about the concrete experiences of people who are either gay or bisexual. These are very real experiences that they have as a result of the fact that they are only able to enter into civil partnerships, the fact that people do not think that their relationship is as legitimate as a heterosexual relationship. These are very real things. You do not experience these things. And this is why you are able to stand up there and say, ‘there is this institution of marriage that we must protect.’ Actually, what matters are the experiences of these people on the ground and we should make their experiences better by giving them marriage.’

Ivereigh replied, ‘I think you’re completely wrong. Marriage is not a series of subjective personal experiences. Marriage is an institution, which has evolved over time. And some gay people… do not feel oppressed and discriminated against because they’re not a part of it. The fact that some people do – and obviously you do – does not persuade me at all, that we need to radically re-define a major cultural institution to accommodate a series of feelings.’

Thomas Clayton, President of KCLSU, said, ‘I think that your views on what might be labelled as ‘defective’ ways of bringing up children are deeply, deeply insulting. And I was wondering whether that extended to the right for gay couples, as they now have it, to adopt children.’

Ivereigh responded, ‘I’m sorry you were offended by the term I used but all I meant by ‘defective’ was, that there is missing an element which is desirable in the upbringing of children. I was raised by divorced parents. It would have been better for me – even though I was raised extremely well and extremely lovingly and I turned out well – but it would have been better for me if my parents had not divorced. And I know that from experience… If you are brought up in an adoptive family, there is a quest for your identity… It’s quite well documented that children [of single parents] are looking for the missing parent. There is an instinct in children for both mother and father.’

Clayton replied, ‘A desire for knowledge does not mean an imperfect upbringing.’

Ivereigh responded again, saying, ‘I meant ‘defective’ only in the sense that it is missing something, which were it to be there, it would be better. I didn’t mean to imply that somebody raised in those circumstances was an imperfect being… I think you’re being absurdly hyper-sensitive.’

Following Roar!’s campaign to remove the image of Lord Carey from the Strand Campus windows due to deeply offensive comments made at a Conservative Party fringe conference, this lecture, hosted by the Catholic Society, has reignited the debate on same sex marriage.

In light of Roar!’s campaign, Student Council passed a motion on 23rd October for KCLSU to lobby the College to remove the image of Lord Carey from the Strand Campus windows. Please sign and share the KCLSU petition: http://bit.ly/Tco2R6

You can follow Ben Jackson on Twitter at @bjacksonuk

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