Monday 27 August 2012

How we Catholic bigots spent Marriage Sunday

                          The special National Marriage Sunday blessing...

Trying not to be overcome by the clouds of smug emerging from some quarters, how did we bead rattling Catholic bigots actually spend National Marriage Sunday?

Well, this is what happened in my Parish Church. The letter from the Catholic Bishops was read out. (The text on the Scottish Media Office site, though the one actually read in my Church, clearly isn't the one that Tom French of the Equality Network et al. have seen, as it contains absolutely no encouragement of bigotry towards homosexuals, but only a defence of the institution of marriage as traditionally understood.) The Parish Priest then gave a brief commentary on the letter.

So what did he say? An encouragement in future to read what the Bishops have actually said on the subject rather than accept the headlines of news reports. (Again, this was clearly a mishearing on my part as it smacks of encouraging Catholics to think for themselves.) A clear statement that everyone, including homosexuals, is welcome in the Church. A reminder that we are a Church of sinners, all of us struggling in various ways to follow the difficult teachings of Christ. And a rather striking reminder that, only a few years ago, what is now being described as the foulest form of bigotry (ie thinking that marriage should be about the lifetime commitment of one man to one woman) would have been the merest commonsense. And then on with the normal Mass.

Anyway, I clearly misunderstood what was said or have gone to a very atypical Church. I'd be delighted to hear more representative accounts of dancing round a fiery cross whilst chanting Lady Gaga songs in Latin backwards...

Saturday 25 August 2012

Happy Marriage Sunday!

          Christ misunderstanding the nature of marriage according to the Scottish government

The Catholic Church in Scotland will inaugurate "National Marriage Sunday" on Sunday 26 August 2012. In a Pastoral Letter to be read out in 
all of Scotland's 500 Catholic parishes, the Bishops' of Scotland will "place a special emphasis on the role of the family founded on marriage" 
and stress that "marriage is a unique lifelong union of a man and a woman".

Full details of press release and pastoral letter here

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Gerry Hassan, Cardinal O'Brien and the future of Scotland

As has been widely reported, Cardinal O'Brien is refusing any further direct contacts with the Scottish Government on same sex 'marriage'. I've no idea whether or not this is a sensible tactic, but it's perfectly understandable as a response to his having been banging his head against the brick wall of political indifference to the deeper issues involved here.

For example, the Scottish political commentator, Gerry Hassan, has been regularly writing about the need for Scotland to be more imaginative and reflective about its future nature.

In his most recent excursion, he questions the widespread assumption that Scotland really possesses a social democratic consensus (implicitly, in contrast to you raving Thatcherites down south).

There is a widespread assumption across most if not all of Scotland that this is a land of the centre-left; that we don’t vote Tory, didn’t buy into Thatcherism, and that we are all the children of social democracy.
Leaving aside the Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys on Scots/English differences (which show there aren’t that big differences), there is a prevalent belief that centre-left, left and collectivist values percolate through and define our society.

I think he's right to question such lazy assumptions: in truth, there are several competing tendencies in Scottish society -and perhaps one of the strongest arguments in favour of independence is that complete responsibility for our own political life would force Scots to bring these tendencies to reflective awareness rather than letting them trundle on unnoticed and unchallenged. 

But perhaps, from a Catholic point of view, the most interesting aspect of this piece (and earlier ones) is that it tends to be essentially focused on what might be described as statecraft: what the government should be doing and what party politics should be doing:

A Scotland that was a social democracy would prioritise a number of key areas about the values we wish to champion. It would ask: to what extent are we becoming a more egalitarian society? Are we becoming more inclusive reaching out to those left most behind and vulnerable? In what ways is this a place where the state and government shifts power away from vested interests?

It would ask what kind of partnerships are we creating between government, business and civic bodies which are widening opportunity and social justice? How are we nurturing the inter-generational compact which society is based on, supporting children and early years and not just the votes of the retired? And is all of this aiding a different kind of society and capitalism which points away from the Anglo-American model?

Perhaps the key blindness in such analyses is the role of institutions other than the state. In Hegel's Philosophy of Right, the State as such mediates the tensions between the market place and the family and the communities (such as guilds) of civil society: here, there is an organic picture of society where not all questions of the polis are questions of government. Moreover, the nature of life within the family and guild and even within the individual is not fully articulable: unlike the public, transparent dictates of law, the reasoning and controls of these other spaces cannot fully be spelled out, and certainly not in any immediate timeframe.

One of the reasons that the Catholic Church has been so exercised about the issue of same sex 'marriage' is that it regards, as does Hegel, the family as a key element in human flourishing: it is that space within which we reflect on and live out some of the crucial elements of our lives, but within that erotic slushiness of day to day life rather than within the cold transparency of public, legally regulated life.

Religion in many ways is about the creation of spaces within society where we live out lives which are rich, reflective, but not fully articulated: in parishes, in guilds (such as the Knights of St Columba) and, perhaps especially, in the family. As Aristotle puts it (EN. I. 7:) 

And we must also remember what has been said before, and not look for precision in all things alike, but in each class of things such precision as accords with the subject-matter, and so much as is appropriate to the inquiry. For a carpenter and a geometer investigate the right angle in different ways; the former does so in so far as the right angle is useful for his work, while the latter inquires what it is or what sort of thing it is; for he is a spectator of the truth. We must act in the same way, then, in all other matters as well, that our main task may not be subordinated to minor questions. Nor must we demand the cause in all matters alike; it is enough in some cases that the fact be well established, as in the case of the first principles; the fact is the primary thing or first principle.

So there's a paradox here. In one sense, the demand for serious thought about the nature of the Scotland we want is quite unobjectionable: we shouldn't be sleep walking into either the specific challenges of independence or into the challenges of the general fate of any western European in a world where economic power is shifting towards the East. On the other hand, serious thought about Scotland should throw up the conclusion that there are limits to such serious thought, or, perhaps more precisely, that that nature of such serious thought is less like the weekend brainstorming session with a concrete list of proposals on the desk by Monday morning that Hassan seems to envisage, and more like a slow, culturally deep reflection undertaken over the course of generations. Again, Aristotle (in EN I 7): 

Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it roughly, and then later fill in the details. But it would seem that any one is capable of carrying on and articulating what has once been well outlined, and that time is a good discoverer or partner in such a work; to which facts the advances of the arts are due; for any one can add what is lacking. 

That's the general point: that good reflection on government should produce the conclusion that there are limits to government, and that perhaps its chief challenge is to ensure that the institutions of civil society and the family are in good shape. And in fairness to Hassan, there are hints of this in his piece:

 It necessitates a different kind of political class [...] And it means we have to have a more pluralist notion of what politics, change and what being a political actor is.

 But here's a specific point -and a specific point that makes me think we're still focused here on statecraft rather than the other institutions of the polis. Hassan asks:

It would ask what kind of partnerships are we creating between government, business and civic bodies which are widening opportunity and social justice? How are we nurturing the inter-generational compact which society is based on, supporting children and early years and not just the votes of the retired? And is all of this aiding a different kind of society and capitalism which points away from the Anglo-American model?

Well, the obvious, Catholic but generally conservative answer to such questions would involve a focus on the family, and its re-invigoration as counterpoise to the atomizing tendencies of the marketplace -the sort of positive social advantages that the Marriage Foundation is talking about. Yet the current discussion in Scotland on same sex 'marriage' studiously avoids any consideration of the benefits or the purposes of the family: it's all just about love, apparently. Now, I know that many -perhaps most- of the readers of this blog will disagree with a conservative understanding of the importance of family life in the organic balance of the polis. But even that disagreement has not been faced up to and discussed. There is a clear, coherent, conservative case (and frankly, a progressive one as well insofar as these labels have much meaning beyond their initial function as fighting talk) for the family's role as the prime institution for raising children, and thus for reflection on its characteristics. There is a clear radical case against the family having that role. But instead of a long, careful reflection on the nature of institutions other than the state, we are sleepwalking into a major revision of the institution without any serious thought.

And there is the more general problem. Let's think about the future of Scotland. But when doing so, let's remember the limits of such reflection in grasping the depths of human flourishing. And let's remember that the polis, and thus a truly political reflection, is concerned with institutions other than the state and its powers.

Perhaps that's the most depressing thing about Scottish -and indeed UK- politics. Everything seems to boil down to moving pieces around the board, either for short term party political advantage or, at best, to gain a national economic advantage. Almost nobody seems to have any sense of what deeper understandings of human flourishing might involve, and what implications they might have for politics, even when narrowly construed as statecraft. Cardinal O'Brien's forceful interventions need to be seen for what they are: desperate attempts to shake people out of a superficial complacency and into a deeper, fuller conversation about politics in a wider sense.

Friday 17 August 2012

Children, withdrawing treatment, and religion

                                            What do you mean you've got theological objections?

The Journal of Medical Ethics article 'Should religious beliefs be allowed to stonewall a secular approach to withdrawing and withholding treatment in children?' (press release here courtesy of Echurch blog (with full text in combox)) is an odd fish.

The main substantive conclusion, tucked away in the middle of the paper, appears to be:

We suggest it is time to have a default position in that it is presumed that parental religion is not a determining factor in decision-making for the child until the child is ‘Gillick competent’ to choose to consent to be part of the parent’s religion; thereby recognising that religion is important to the parents but should not influence the management of their child.

The conclusion at the end of the paper is:

We suggest it is time to reconsider current ethical and legal structures and facilitate rapid default access to courts in such situations when the best interests of the child are compromised in expectation of the miraculous.

I draw from this that the main substantive conclusion of the paper is that:

1) In end of life care, parental views based on religion should be disregarded.
2) Where parents disagree with doctors on the management of a child based on a religious belief, especially that in the miraculous, legal procedures should be in place to avoid extended dialogue in favour of a rapid decision overriding the parents' views.

I think that's what they're arguing, although it's a rather muddled, badly argued paper (which is worrying in itself). As the 'ethics review' comment puts it at the bottom (ie the Journal's description of the type of paper):  'Not really a ‘study’ but a review of cases referred, and no identifiable clinical details provided.' It's more of a think piece, not much engagement with academic literature; no attempt to engage with the details of the cases referred to.

The cases under discussion are those where 'withdrawal or limitation of invasive therapy was recommended' (by medical staff). These amounted to 203 cases over 3 years. Of these, 186 were resolved by agreement (92%). Of the remaining 17, 'extended discussions' did not result in agreement:

We reviewed the case notes and found a predominant theme of expression of strong religious belief influencing the family’s response to the critical illness of their child. Of these 17 initial cases, 6 were resolved by considering the best interest of the child, further time for the families and ongoing multidisciplinary discussions. However, 11 (65%) involved challenging protracted discussions, largely based upon the belief in the sanctity of life as a result of the parents’ religious convictions.

Of course, a 'review' which finds a 'predominant theme' is highly impressionistic particularly where (as I shall go on to argue, the bias of the reviewer is evident): did all the cases display this theme? Or was it just particularly striking given the forcefulness of a few cases? Who knows?

Anyway, of the 11, 5 were ultimately solved  ultimately 'with the help and support of hospital and local religious leaders'. Pause there. Nearly half the cases were solved by religion playing a positive role in the resolution of the conflict. So by taking account of the parents' religion, by thinking through and using the authority structures and language of the religion, half of the really difficult cases were solved, quite apart from the positive role it may have played in any of the other cases. That fact merits careful consideration -but it ain't getting it in this paper. On it trundles.

That leaves 6 cases. Less than 3% of cases. 2 per year in what is the major centre (Great Ormond Street Hospital) for dealing with severely ill children in the UK, and one based in a cosmopolitan city where the possibility of cross cultural misunderstandings (the relevance of which I'll make obvious below) is likely to be at its greatest. So a handful of cases. Not really analysed. No examination of the positive role of religion. And yet we get the general conclusion: advocating that, 'it is presumed that parental religion is not a determining factor in decision-making for the child'.  Hhmm.

Anyway, back to the six cases. These all apparently involved 'fundamentalist' religious beliefs. ('In cases in which religion was not a fundamentalist factor all ultimately had successful local resolution.') Of these, most were evangelical African Churches. ('Of those in which resolution was not possible, Christian fundamentalist churches with African evangelical origins featured most frequently, though other religions also featured.') Of the (indeterminate) number which involved Christian 'fundamentalists', 'the parents did not engage in exploration of their religious beliefs with hospital chaplains and no religious community leaders were available to attend meetings to help discuss or reconcile the differences. The parents had their own views or interpretation of their religion and were not prepared to discuss these tenets.'

So we really have absolutely no idea why families acted the way they did, because they weren't prepared to discuss them. Clearly, extremely awkward for a doctor, but hardly a good basis for a medical ethicist to construct an argument. However, not daunted by any lack of information, the paper goes on:

All these families were explicit in their expectation of a ‘miraculous cure’ for their child, and as such all felt the medical scientific information was of limited use. Although ongoing daily dialogue continued between the family and the teams there was no change in the family’s view that aggressive support must always be continued waiting for God to intervene.

So, on the one hand, we have a description of the inability of the family to engage in exploration of their beliefs; and on the other hand, we have a claim that dialogue continues. (It really can't have been much of a dialogue.) Anyway, of these six cases, one survived with profound neurodisability, four died after leaving the intensive care unit (were they booted out?) and one died after the hospital went to the High Court for suspension of treatment.

What are we to make of this? First, I have complete sympathy with the medical practitioners involved: if I were a doctor, confronted by a family who were making completely irrational decisions, and who continued to despite an extended attempt to engage them in dialogue, I would be looking round for a solution. But none of that removes the fact that, as far as a piece of ethical reflection is concerned, the paper is muddled, and erects on the basis of a very few extremely difficult cases, a proposal to disregard parental beliefs that would impact on a great many more cases in ways that the authors seem to have no concern for.

It's very difficult to imagine a more fraught scenario. A child is seriously ill and dying. You are a family with a very different cultural background with no advocates able to articulate your concerns in a way that mediates between the NHS secularized culture and your own ('no religious community leaders were available to attend meetings').   It's difficult to imagine such a position ever going well, and certainly never easily. I'm surprised that there are only a couple of cases like this every year. So one thing that needs to be said is that we shouldn't expect any system in such circumstances to work without problems. If change is being advocated, then there has to be a sense of what the moral costs of that change will be. No sense of this sort of realism in the paper.

Second, despite (because of?) the involvement of a Chaplain in writing the paper, the understanding of religion is simplistic. A favourable reference to Richard Dawkins ('As Dawkins suggests, should we refer to the ‘child of Christian parents’ rather than a ‘Christian child’?') as an interpreter of the complexities of these issues is not promising. Moving on, there is the category of 'fundamentalism' that is bandied about: 'Fundamentalism is defined here as the expectation that specific theological doctrines will be maintained.' I guess that means I'm a fundamentalist, but being quite a cunning, educated one, I bet I could disguise it far better than a family of African immigrants. (I even disguise it from myself since I believe that my ethical position is based on the exercise of reason applied to human nature.)

Given the lack of dialogue already noted, nuances are going to get stripped out. (No sensitivity to this in the paper.) But even within the limits of what is said, it's quite clear that the authors are overlooking nuances present in the families' positions. They equate, for example,the  'expectation of a ‘miraculous cure’  with 'waiting for God to intervene'. Well, I expect, with absolute confidence, God to intervene, but I only hope for a miraculous cure. If the authors can't even notice this difference when writing up the work for publication, then what hope is there of noting it in the fraught conditions of a dialogue that is not a dialogue?

It's hard to read this paper without concluding that a massive conclusion is being erected on the flimsiest of argument. It's hard to read this paper without concluding that the authors have a cloth ear when it comes to cultural sensitivity and religious sensitivity. What, for example, are we to make of the following:

Yet followers of one of the world’s largest religions within our society, which is accused of
being secular, would defend this proclamation from their spiritual leader and expect to have their view accepted and consequently this particular practice is condoned. So in this alleged secular society in the UK, we have a tendency to be more accepting of some religions and their practices more readily without questioning them.

Yes, fellow bead rattlers, it's us and our bonkers Pope again:

Numerous healthcare groups in this secular society might feel empowered to criticise any religion that in their view advocated illogical practices, for example, prohibiting the use of condoms in the face of the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Add that to the Richard Dawkins' remark, and it's difficult to see the authors as anything more than hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with what is, in any case, going to be an extremely difficult set of cases.

The general run of medical ethics is much, much more sensitive to the difficulties of ethical decision making in cases like this. (See eg here for a summary of current methodologies.) Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the paper is the way that practising clinicians seem to have let an understandable impatience with what may well have been families making poor decisions prompt them towards a dismissal of religion from any sort of rational exchange.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The Authorized Version and the Spirit of Vatican II

                                  The Spirit of Vatican II, even. At your service... *

The good people at The Anglo-Catholic (which is the main online worldwide forum for Ordinariate reflection) have been mulling over the issue which I raised before: the place of the King James Bible in the Ordinariates.

Putting aside for the moment the specific issue of the KJV, the whole area seems to me to be one where modern Catholicism has shown itself to be frightened of two important virtues: a love of beauty, and that sense of respect for the past and ancestral inheritance that forms part of the Roman virtue of pietas

As many Scots, we used to live in a Victorian flat which had been 'done over' sometime in the seventies. 'Doing over' in this case meant ripping out cornice work, covering up mouldings on doors, blocking up fire places etc. In general, this sort of seventies' aesthetic was motivated by two considerations: a desire for efficiency (cut down on the dust traps and make everything wipe clean) and a desire for modernity (achieving a way of life that symbolized progress). Now, at the same time as the previous owners of our flat were engaged in their redecoration, the Spirit of Vatican II  was sweeping through both the liturgy and Church architecture. Out went all the clutter. In came efficiency and a material reflection of the search for modernity. As one author puts it:

[in] the movement for liturgical renewal since Vatican II [...] the practices surrounding Christian symbols were rationalized, individualized and became more austere.

Now, I certainly don't think that, in themselves, rationalization and austerity are necessarily bad things. There is something to be said for decluttering and simplicity. There is even something to be said for 'modernity'. But where we go wrong is in thinking that these are the only values: that anything which is baroque or complicated, anything that is organic and old, all this must be swept away. There is a particular temptation to this in Christianity as a result of the First Commandment (that's the Second to  most Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) prohibiting material representations of God: material things get in the way of God and we need to clear them out. Well, again, that's sometimes true. Anyone who has been around some Anglo-Catholics will be aware how the material complexities of religion seem at times to become the main focus: we can get obsessed with minutiae of ritual and church architecture and forget about God. In the end, there is no substitute for prudentia: the practical wisdom of the wise person who gets the balance between competing goods right.

In the Catholic tradition, beauty is an aspect of God, not a distraction from him. If the King James Version is an example of beautiful English prose -and it surely is- then it should be seized and used by the Church. Moreover, that love for the past, that pietas which expresses the human need for faithfulness to past generations and to the depth of value in that faithfulness is again not something to be rejected. If King James Version is an example of an historical document that is at the heart of much Anglophone literary culture -and again it's hard to see that it isn't- then once more let the Church seize it and use it.

The only arguments against such a conclusion seem to me to be these:

a) That the KJV is tainted by Protestantism. This seems to fall into two aspects: i) that the text itself puts a Protestant spin on the original; ii) that it has become 'associated' with heresy. On i), I've struggled to find much more Protestantism here than you'd find in (say) the Revised Standard Version. For Catholics, we always need to read the Bible in the light of the Church's interpretation -and that means a constant awareness of the shortcomings of any particular translation and of the need for the teaching authority of the Church. On ii), if this is the case, then Anglicanism as a whole has become thus tainted and we shouldn't have an Ordinariate. Since the Church -rightly- has taken the decision that there is good within the Anglican tradition which needs to be reclaimed for the Body Catholic, I see no reason why this shouldn't apply to that aspect of the Anglican tradition which is the KJV.

b) That liturgical use of Scripture needs to be in comprehensible language. There is clearly something in this point. But the KJV is perfectly comprehensible, if not as easily comprehensible as (say) the Good News Bible. There is a trade off here been immediate comprehensibility and the need to have a version one can live with for one's entire life and take forward into future generations: drench children in the KJV and they will gradually understand it and be able to drench the following generation in its language. Anyone think this is likely to be done with any other modern English version?

Beauty and respect for the forms of the past are goods. They are not the only goods, but they are important ones and have a place in Christian culture. On these grounds, the King James Version needs an honoured place within the Church -and that means within the Ordinariate.

[*For those too young for this reference: here.]

Thursday 9 August 2012

Gay and bisexual parenting

A really interesting article here by a bisexual American academic and father who was brought up by his mother and a lesbian partner:

Many have dismissed my story with four simple words: “But you are conservative.” Yes, I am. How did I get that way? I moved to the right wing because I lived in precisely the kind of anti-normative, marginalized, and oppressed identity environment that the left celebrates: I am a bisexual Latino intellectual, raised by a lesbian, who experienced poverty in the Bronx as a young adult. I’m perceptive enough to notice that liberal social policies don’t actually help people in those conditions. Especially damning is the liberal attitude that we shouldn’t be judgmental about sex. In the Bronx gay world, I cleaned out enough apartments of men who’d died of AIDS to understand that resistance to sexual temptation is central to any kind of humane society. Sex can be hurtful not only because of infectious diseases but also because it leaves us vulnerable and more likely to cling to people who don’t love us, mourn those who leave us, and not know how to escape those who need us but whom we don’t love. The left understands none of that. That’s why I am conservative.

Whatever your final views, the story emphasizes the way that modern narratives are crowding out more nuanced discussion of less neat realities and their consequences.

(The Regnerus study referred to in the article is a recent American study that suggests that homosexual parenting leads to less favourable outcomes for children. (Peter Ould chews over the results of that survey here. In short, it raises questions about some of the easy assumptions that the sexuality of parents makes no difference to the welfare of children and highlights some of the inadequacies of previous studies.) )

(H/T 'Crude' in Ed Feser's combox)

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Sexual identity: reply to a reader

                                                       A reader asks...

Having been deprived of regular contact with the Scottish media for a while -not a great hardship perhaps- I've missed much of the detail of the fun about same sex 'marriage', Bishop Tartaglia etc etc. Lots I could blog about, but perhaps too much: the myriad possibilities of commenting on the theology of the body and the Olympics, historical research and the Church archives and so on whirl and dance before my well sunned brain and do not resolve into a compelling need to utter forth.

So a bit of tidying up instead. Patrick Wright left a substantial comment on my post about strategic essentialism which deserves more attention than it would get from a combox reply:

What you say is highly dubious.

You have confused 'identity' with innate human sexuality. Human sexuality is neither a choice nor can it be changed, and it has a biological, not socially constructed origin.

I agree that identity is socially constructed, and because of this the way in which sexuality is expressed varies according to social and cultural circumstances. 

You state that questioning and ultimately undermining homosexuality as a unifying identity relegates it to nothing more than a desire, not unlike other desires, which I presume could include pedophilic or zoophilic desire. 

Even if homosexual 'identity' is consciously adopted and a 'choice', homosexuality as a basic attraction is not. Homosexual desire is not a paraphilia or abnormality, and homosexual acts do not include non-consenting sex. Human desires do not sit on a common continuum- they all have very differing features, and for this reason some desires are criminalised while others are 'facilitated'. 

I can see how our case for marriage equality might even be improved and certainly not undermined by deconstructing homosexual identity- what basis is there to discriminate against a hard working, tax paying, law abiding couple whose only distinguishing feature is a minor variation in their sexualities?

Now the first thing to say in reply here is that the context of my original post is important. In it, I argued that the debate about same sex 'marriage' in Scotland was being conducted exclusively on essentialist lines: that is, that the dominant -indeed exclusive- public narrative was that there are two identities -gays and straights- and just as straights can marry who they want, so should gays. Moreover, failure to adopt such a position is tantamount to discriminating against another group with a clear identity (say) blacks or women. My point is primarily that such a narrative is not the only one -and indeed not the dominant one- outwith the specific debate on gay marriage in Scotland, and indeed, seems to have been adopted not because it accurately reflects best thinking in this area, but because it is a convenient political tactic.

So my main message -as so often it is in this blog- is that public debate in Scotland needs to be more nuanced and thoughtful than it currently is, and, in particular, in the area of same sex 'marriage', to take more account of queer theory and the construction or performance of sexual identity.

Now I'm not sure if Patrick would object to that general conclusion: I suspect he might simply on the grounds that the issue of same sex 'marriage' is clearcut and doesn't need these complexities. I'd simply reply here that, unless the public debate has really thought through the issues using the best intellectual tools that are available, then there's a good chance that something will go wrong in its conclusions. Crudely, until I see the First Minister publicly reflecting on Foucault's lessons for same sex 'marriage', I ain't going to even begin to trust the process.

Putting those contextual points aside, I suspect that Patrick would actually reject the sort of construction of identity that you find in queer theory:

You have confused 'identity' with innate human sexuality. Human sexuality is neither a choice nor can it be changed, and it has a biological, not socially constructed origin.

I agree that identity is socially constructed, and because of this the way in which sexuality is expressed varies according to social and cultural circumstances. 

So, two points here: a suggestion that I am wrong in regarding sexuality as an identity; and a suggestion that sexuality is biological, and not constructed. I'm not quite sure what to make of the first point: if someone says, 'I am homosexual (and give me my right to marriage)' that seems fairly straightforwardly to be an identity claim. I'm suspicious of such claims -which lie at the bottom of the essentialist narrative- and I can only assume that Patrick is too in some ways. (But I'm loath to attribute an absolute rejection of homosexual identity to Patrick as an implicit acceptance of homosexual identity seems to me to be at the core of his comment.) Anyway, assuming that we agree that homosexual identities are constructed, we then push on to the question of sexuality which Patrick suggests isn't constructed because it is biological.

Now a quick reply here would be that it is a standard claim in queer theory that biology and the body are also constructed or performed -so biology cannot be taken as unconstructed. Moreover, from something being biological or innate, it does not follow that it is permanent: all my children were born babies; none have remained so.

However, this still leaves open the question of what precisely sexuality is.

I tend to follow the three tiered analysis I've noted before, making the distinction between an identity, an orientation and an attraction. If we're not talking about identity here ('I am a homosexual') perhaps we are talking about orientation ('I am generally and predominantly attracted to my own sex') or to an attraction ('I am attracted (sometimes) to my own sex'). Now the first point to make is that even the most straightforward stage here is not that straightforward: an attraction to one's own sex is (of course) an inevitable part of human flourishing so 'sexual attraction' has to be replace 'attraction' tout court. But when is an attraction a sexual attraction? This is not clearcut, not self interpreting (an attraction doesn't spring into mind labelled 'sexual' or 'non-sexual') and not immune to evaluation (see previous post). But in any case, even if I have same sex sexual attraction, that doesn't make my orientation same sex: that's a further step. I'd assume that the most plausible analyses of this step would include a) the making of an act of will; and b) the assessment of the preponderance of my attractions as same sex. Neither of these are unproblematic if you're wanting to sustain an essentialist narrative.

So I'm still struggling here to make sense of a 'sexuality' which is not in some way constructed.

Even if homosexual 'identity' is consciously adopted and a 'choice', homosexuality as a basic attraction is not. Homosexual desire is not a paraphilia or abnormality, and homosexual acts do not include non-consenting sex. Human desires do not sit on a common continuum- they all have very differing features, and for this reason some desires are criminalised while others are 'facilitated'. 

If homosexual acts don't include non-consenting sex, then this would distinguish them from heterosexual acts. Some heterosexual acts are rape; some are not. It used to be a regular (and not totally foolish claim) of feminism that all men are rapists: even if this claim is evidently and literally false, it does emphasize the fact that part of the formation of a virtuous heterosexual agent is learning to express one's desires with respect for the other person. Men have to learn to relate to women without violence: it's not something that comes innately and without social pressure. Moreover, even putting aside extreme cases of paedophilia, sexual desire for fairly young girls is something that has been allowed in some societies: again, the fact that modern heterosexual men have learned not to rape and not to pursue very young women is indeed a matter of social construction. If homosexuals have somehow managed to learn these lessons innately -well, that's quite remarkable and frankly I don't believe it. (And note that the point here is not that someone with a homosexual orientation is a paedophile or a rapist, but rather that, as in the case of a heterosexual-but-not-paedophilic-or-rapist orientation, the homosexual-but-not-paedophilic-or-rapist orientation is constructed and canalized by society.)

All in all, I see nothing here a) to suggest that queer theory is wrong in suggesting that 'sexuality' is heavily constructed and b) a fortiori that, at the least, the sort of essentialism that both Patrick and the current narrative of same sex 'marriage' engage in is so unproblematic that no perspective from queer theory need even be considered.

Where does that leave the question of same sex 'marriage'? Well, as argued before, it leaves the essentialist arguments (gays are like blacks or women: stop treating them badly) highly problematic: sexuality just isn't uncomplicated biology or skin colour. Where the debate then should go is how we should construct sexuality and how the tool of the institution of marriage might or might not have a role in that. But here's where it gets interesting. Why should we want to create a homosexuality which mimics traditional heterosexuality: life long commitment, fidelity etc? For heterosexuality, there is a reason: it's what's required to raise children adequately. But absent such a reason, why does Scottish society think it important to encourage people with same sex orientation to form an identity which, frankly, seems unnecessarily disciplined?

Foucault I think says somewhere that liberalism has two aspects to it: a liberationist strand and a disciplinary one. (Even if he didn't, I'll say it.) Homosexual law reform up till now has been in the liberationist strand: freeing men and women to pursue their desires as they see fit. Now, with the imminent introduction of same sex 'marriage', we're entering into a disciplinary phase where homosexuals are being encouraged to see themselves as having set, consistent desires for only one person, one sex etc. Although this is being touted as a liberation, I suspect that, from the perspective of history, it will be finally seen, not as the logical outcome of sixties liberation, but as part of a twenty first century backlash of control and conformity. (And moreover, a an imposition of a conformity and discipline that serves no useful social purpose and indeed is positively harmful.)