4 February

Beyond Gay Marriage

As MPs enter the House of Commons this week the press is flush with arguments for and against the proposed new legislation on ‘same-sex marriage’. There has been much talk of whether or not there is public support for this Bill. But, in spite of multiple surveys and polls commissioned across the political, social and moral spectrum it is impossible to claim any democratic mandate when the electorate has never been given an opportunity to vote with such a policy on any party’s slate.

This is emphatically not, however, simply a matter of democratic mandate. After all, a majority – whatever its mandate – has no right to tyrannise a minority. If it could be shown that homosexual couples really had a basic human right to marry, no democratic mandate against it could ever justify a government that pushed through a vote violating it.

Human rights, like morality, are not simply a matter of consensus. They entail also an appeal to a kind of ‘higher’ law. If advocates and opponents of gay marriage are to justify characterisation of this issue as one of rights they must recognise such a position requires appeal to a universal law that precedes legislation, one that is in some way embedded in human nature itself. In tandem with moral philosophers, theologians and serious thinkers they must make this ‘higher’ law intelligible to politicians, civil officials and the electorate at large so that legislation may be enacted in a coherent, rational and humane way.

Natural Law theory has long taken such an approach to morality. In the words of Prof. Robert George, ‘Natural Law begins with experience, but it does not stop or even tarry there’. It is intelligible to all because it draws on the experiences of all, beginning with observations of human beings and the natural world, and proceeding to give a rational account of how they relate and fit together. Crucially it takes the world and humans as they appear and makes no attempt to identify hidden motives that drive a person’s ‘true’ intentions. Nor does it privilege a person’s will over the body, the body over the mind, or the mind over the will. It takes us as whole and seeks to make connections between our faculties and characteristics intelligible, rational, sustainable and, ultimately, more fully human. Since its starting point is a universal conception of human nature it is possible for Natural Law to provide foundations for a universal morality and for the human rights that prevent tyranny by a majority over a minority.

To claim this is not to argue in general against democratic forms of government or popular consensus, but rationality, coherence and intelligibility are key components of any such theory and this makes it unresponsive to whims of fashion and passing sentiments.

While advocates of gay marriage have carefully portrayed theirs as a cause of basic rights – one justified even in the face of ‘bigotry’ and popular opposition – they have manifestly failed to link it to any comprehensive account of human nature. There has been, of course, some emphasis on love, property and society, but the biological and procreative elements have of necessity been played down. It remains to be seen how the House of Commons will react in the end to a conception of marriage that explicitly adopts unequal definitions of marital consummation and of infidelity in treating of heterosexual and homosexual couples.

For those who hold to a traditional conjugal definition of marriage this Bill is unintelligible. It requires that we adopt a notion of marriage that separates not only sex and procreation, but even love and the human body. It atomises the human person, and with it the institution of marriage. For all of David Cameron’s talk about how this Bill will help to build up society by strengthening marriage it is difficult to see how this could ever be the case.

3 Responses to Beyond Gay Marriage

Robert says: 4 February 2013 at 6:22 pm

This is an interesting angle to take on the subject.

However, it would greatly help my understanding if you could add explanation to the last few statements. Specifically, how does the Bill require us to have unequal definitions of consummation and infidelity and how does it separate out the state of love from the human body?

These details may be evident in the text of the Bill but it would be of great help if you could summarise the basis of your statements here.


Father Peter Farrington says: 5 February 2013 at 10:40 pm

Robert, the Bill is proposing that while in the case of heterosexual marriage there is a requirement that the union be sexually consummated by intercourse, and also that adultery continue to be defined by sexual intercourse with a person other than one’s partner. In the case of the homosexual marriage being proposed (although forced upon us would be a better term) there has been a hesitancy to define any sexual activity which might act as an analogue for heterosexual intercourse, and therefore no sexual component of these homosexual marriages is being required. Two men could simply live in the same house and be married, where a man and a woman would not be because they had not consummated their union.

Likewise in the case of adultery, the framers of this Bill wish to avoid any unpleasant descriptions of sexual acts and have not allowed that any sexual activity between a member of a homosexual marriage and some other person can be construed as adultery.

These are in fact not equal unions at all, but the meaning and content of marriage will certainly be subverted even further by the deliberate absence of any required sexual component in the new description of marriage.

thomasmoreinstitute says: 11 February 2013 at 5:48 pm


Thank you for your comment.

Thank you also Fr Peter for clarifying where the inequalities relating to consummation and adultery lie in the proposed legislation.

As regards the seperation of love and the human body in a heterosexual relationship the love of a man and a woman is normally part and parcel of their capacity to have children. The kind of love they share finds one essential part of its expression in sex, which itself is ordered towards procreation. This is not the only expression of this love but sex is clearly part of the goal (telos) of heterosexual love.

By writing sex out of homosexual relationships the bill indicates that there is no intelligible telos for a homosexual couple’s love, or at least, none that 3rd parties have any interest in or can legislate for. Their bodies are nothing to do with the consummation/completion of their marriage. For same-sex couples love need not be any more than a sentiment, or at least, that’s how the law construes it. There may be same-sex couples who feel differently about this but that is how the proposed law is currently framed.


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