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The controversial case of Lord Carey

By Henrique Laitenberger

Before engaging in such a sensitive topic, two general assessments must be made in order to avoid any misunderstandings. First, it is unquestionable that Lord Carey’s likening of the criticism of opponents of gay marriage with the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany was inappropriate and an apology on his part should not only be sensible, but indeed self-evident. Secondly, it is equally understood that homosexuals, just as heterosexuals, should enjoy full equality of fundamental civic rights, implying thus the possibility to live one’s sexuality without fear of discrimination of institutional, social or any other kind. This is not a ‘I’m not homophobic, but’-article. This article deals with the essential question of: does the entitlement to basic rights include the right to marriage?

LGBT activists as well as political parties of the left-winged spectrum have ever since argued for this position and under the current Conservative government, active plans have been put out in order to legalise marital unions between homosexuals. This has had profound consequences, as those rejecting the idea of homosexual marriage suddenly found themselves deprived of any public platform sustaining the legitimacy of their position, particularly if religion was involved. Christian dignitaries arguing against these positions, such as Lord Carey, were rapidly defamed as ‘bigots’ and automatically denounced as homophobes. So did Ben Jackson and Laura Frater in the last issue of Roar!, in a striking attempt to take the moral high ground on the issue, arguing that ‘The route to equality for all those lucky enough to fall in love is not complete yet’.

Whatever the view one defends, regarding the issue of gay marriage as an essentially moral question simplifies an issue, which is a lot more complex than one likes to think and proves a profound error in reasoning. In this respect, another assessment has to be made, which may seem outrageous at first sight: scepticism of gay marriage does not necessarily imply homophobia. Though it is true that every homophobe is most likely to oppose gay marriage, an opponent of gay marriage does not have to be homophobic. Even a religious element is not required, there are perfectly secular arguments to question the theoretical basis of gay marriage. This is the crux of the issue, as it does not lie with the acceptance of homosexual partnership, but the theoretical meaning of marriage per definitionem. In contrast to many views defended by activists, marriage is not the mere formal union of a loving couple, but actually a legal framework providing fiscal and legal security for a couple in order to forge a (biological) family. If one accepts this definition of marriage, then the entire argument for homosexual marriage suddenly rests on a much less evident foundation: contrasting with earlier ‘fights for equality’ (inter alia women’s voting rights, mixed-race marriage) listed by Kirsten Johnson, KCLSU Vice-President Student Activities and Facilities, which implied a moral (if not genetic) inferiority on the part of the disadvantaged, this argument does not doubt the legitimacy of homosexuals to express their sexuality and does not regard them as ‘inferior beings’.

The natural argument against such a definition would be that most contemporary marriages were not primarily intended on forging a family – but this is factually wrong: 70 per cent of all children are born within the framework of marriage and only 10 per cent of all married couples between the age of 35 and 49 years do not have children. Admittedly, these are the statistics for Germany, but there is no reason to believe that the rates for Britain would be substantially different. Germany is indeed a prime example for an alternative way of dealing with homosexual couples: since 2001, Germany provides the legal framework of civil unions for gay couples and the parliament recently rejected a motion to introduce homosexual marriage– the parties voting unanimously against it were the CDU, which counts numerous homosexuals in its ranks (such as former Hamburg mayor Ole von Beust) and the FDP, which had, with Guido Westerwelle, an openly homosexual chairman for ten years. Another point would be that homosexuals could still resort to adoption, and indeed this is a valid argument. Yet, the question whether adoption should be considered as a normative way of having a family, instead of an ultima ratio for unwillingly childless parents, is a separate question. It is above all not the question of this article.

If there are indeed sensible arguments to at least question the idea of homosexual marriage – why is the fervour in advancing this idea still so severe? One reason for this is the fact that, especially on the left side of the political argument, “equality of rights” is usually equated with “levelling”. However, in a democratic society, one should not only embrace human individuality and diversity, but recognise it, instead of effectively treating humans and their way of life as a uniform, collective entity.

The question of homosexual marriage is not a straightforward one. There are good reasons to argue for it, but also valid argument to scrutinise it – in other words to have a ‘sensible debate’ on the topic, as Lord Carey demanded. By playing the moral card and arguing that any reaction on the part of King’s, which was not uniform with the demands voiced by the KCLSU as well as Jackson and Frater, was equal to ‘tacit support’, they show, that they are unwilling to accept different viewpoints on an issue, no matter the motives. In effect, one could even go as far as saying that they have in effect partially confirmed Carey’s claims by acting in a manner contrary to their own standards, namely tolerance and avoidance of fanaticism and polemic.

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