Tuesday 20 March 2012

A challenge to Patrick Harvie on same sex 'marriage'

I've had previous occasion to note the tactic among same sex 'marriage' proponents to pretend that there are no arguments against their modest proposal to destroy the existing institution of marriage. Patrick Harvie, Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and co-convenor of the Greens in Holyrood has previous form on this, but repeats the challenge in Friday's Herald:

I have frequently asked if anyone can provide a coherent reason why same-sex couples should be treated as inferior to mixed-sex couples.

I have heard arguments based on ignorance or plain old-fashioned bigotry, and others which amount to imposing a religious view on those who don't subscribe to religion.

I have never heard a reason which doesn't fail on one or both of these grounds. If there is such an argument, let's hear it.

I've previously blogged on this argument, but since he keeps making it, let's try a different tack.

The fullest defence of natural marriage against the same sex innovation that I've come across is Richard Waghorne's (although I'd give an honourable mention to John Milbank's article as well). Waghorne's original article is from the Irish Daily Mail and is followed by a posting on his blog which takes up the various objections he's received. 

The support and status that marriage entails is not a societal bonus for falling in love and agreeing to make a relationship lasting. That is not, of course, to say that love and romance are not an important part of marriage. But they are not the reason it has special status. If romance were the reason for supporting marriage, there would be no grounds for differentiating which relationships should be included and which should not. But that is not and never has been the nature of marriage.

Marriage is vital as a framework within which children can be brought up by a man and woman. Not all marriages, of course, involve child-raising. And there are also, for that matter, same-sex couples already raising children. But the reality is that marriages tend towards child-raising and same-sex partnerships do not.

I am conscious of this when considering my own circle of friends, quite a few of whom have recently married or will soon do so in the future. Many, if not most or all of them, will raise children. If, however, [
my] gay friends form civil partnerships, those are much more unlikely to involve raising children. So the question that matters is this: Why should a gay relationship be treated the same way as a marriage, despite this fundamental difference?

The full argument from the first article is here. The follow up response to objections is here.

Now, I've read both of these a few times and I struggle to see anything in them from Waghorne which is 'based on ignorance or plain old-fashioned bigotry' or 'amount[s] to imposing a religious view on those who don't subscribe to religion'. You might think his arguments overwhelming; you might think you have answers to them. But they seem to pass the Harvie test.

So here's my challenge to Patrick Harvie: show us the ignorance, bigotry or religious view in Waghorne's arguments, or stop pretending that there are no reasonable arguments against same sex 'marriage'.

And while you're thinking about this, remember that Richard Waghorne is himself gay.

[Update 25/3: Well, that's about a week and no sign of a response yet. In the proud tradition of the Skibbereen Eagle, Mr Harvie, Lazarus will be continuing to watch you!]


  1. Interesting argument; but it only works if you predefine marriage as fundamentally about child-rearing. If, on the other hand, you regard marriage as primarily about faithfulness and commitment and matters of social stability, then it collapses completely...

  2. OK.

    1) Let's assume that we can make any institution we want to. What is the common good that is served by your understanding of marriage? Why should we privilege the encouragement of stability in a two person romantic relationship rather than in any of the other types of relationship that human beings form?

    The answer in the case of traditional marriage is that stability serves the purpose of the institution: the common good served by the institution is child rearing and this is facilitated by stability. But why, in the absence of that purpose, does society have any interest in promoting stability between couples?

    2) Let's assume that you can identify a common good served by the stability of a same sex partnership. This common good will be different from that served by a different sex partnership which is child rearing. The current social arrangement of civil partnerships for same sex couples and marriage for different sex couples avoids confusion between these purposes, and allows the mores of each institution to develop along their own lines. (For example, there is no obvious social need for same sex couples to be monogamous (and indeed, the evidence appears to be that they generally are not http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/29/us/29sfmetro.html). On the other hand, there is a social benefit in the monogamy of heterosexual couples.)