Equal Marriage: Not About Gay Rights vs. Religious Belief

The topic of equal marriage is a hot one in the UK at the moment (I call it "equal marriage" instead of "gay marriage" because I feel that that term describes it better). Earlier this year there was a government consultation designed to hear the public's views on how equal marriage could be introduced. There was a huge response to the consultation, but not just from the people who actually took part in it.

The consultation caused outrage amongst those opposed to equal marriage, and their disgust led to outrage against them from supporters of equal marriage. The battle lines were drawn. The people opposed to equal marriage went on the offensive in spectacular style. One of the most vocal people speaking out against equal marriage is Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the most recent recipient of the Bigot of the Year award at the Stonewall Awards. He has spoken publicly about how equal marriage is as immoral as slavery and how it would be "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right" if equal marriage became law.

When Cardinal O'Brien began voicing his views, I was invited to appear on a BBC radio show to discuss equal marriage, the cardinal's views and my own opinions on the subject. I like to think that I was quite sound in my views, stating that equal marriage isn't about gay rights vs. religious belief but about human rights and equality for all people, but if the response to my radio appearance was anything to go by, you'd think I had committed an act of sacrilege. The radio station received a number of telephone calls, all of which were from people opposing equal marriage and condemning my views. One listener was genuinely outraged that someone had spoken out in favor of equal marriage and was quick to brand it "unnatural." Another caller spun the old chestnut "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" and then went on to say that she had heard someone say that they didn't want "queers in the church." How delightful and enlightened those people were. I didn't get a chance to respond to the callers, which, in hindsight, was probably for the best.

From then the outrage continued and led to the conception of two petitions, one created by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M), which opposes equal marriage, and another created by the Coalition for Equal Marriage (C4EM), which supports equal marriage. To date, the C4M petition has been popular and gained 610,000 signatures as opposed to the 63,000 signatures that the C4EM petition has. Does that truly reflect the feelings of society, though? I'm not convinced that it does, and I think that we will have more of an idea of the level of support for equal marriage when the results of the government consultation are released. Until then, the debate rages on.

I recently read an article in my local newspaper entitled "Marriage should be between a man and a woman." I was horrified at such a title, so I had to read on. It was written by a Christian gentleman from a church in a neighboring town. He was sharing his belief that marriage should only be between heterosexual people and that the suggestion of bringing in marriage equality was an example of politics meddling with religion, which means that religion has a right to respond. The writer also detailed a rally organized by the Coalition for Marriage that he attended and was well-supported. The rally was aimed at promoting the "protection of traditional marriage and values." I felt compelled to respond to the article, so I wrote a letter to the newspaper to express my disappointment that they had given voice to a discriminatory view. I also set the record straight on a few points. For example, I explained that marriages between gay and lesbian people will not take place in religious institutions should equal marriage come into law; therefore, there was no attack or meddling in religion from our government. The letter was printed in the next edition of the newspaper, and I awaited the response that I was sure I'd get.

One week later, when the newspaper was next on sale, I bought it and turned straight to the letters page. There was a response to my letter written by the man who had composed the original article about marriage being between a man and a woman. He took exception to what I had written and again attempted to hammer home the religious point of view, as if that were the main authority on marriage and equal rights. He went on to say that gay people only have a barren future to look forward to and that the government consultation on equal marriage should have asked whether it should be introduced at all, not focused on how it could be introduced. I decided not to respond again, as I thought it is a debate that would continue and never be resolved.

It then got me thinking again about the consultation and the intentions behind it. The fact that it was about how to introduce equal marriage rather than simply asking whether it should be introduced or not is very telling. I perceive that as meaning that equal marriage will come into law at some point in the near future. It's a matter of when, not if, and indeed when it does eventually happen, there will be nothing that Cardinal Keith O'Brien, callers to radio shows, the Coalition for Marriage, people writing to newspapers or anybody else can do about it.