Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

With each defeat we recommit to evangelisation

I was saddened but not surprised by tonight's vote in the Commons in favour of same-sex marriage. I won't analayse the Parliamentary debate here - that's not the purpose of the blog. The one comment that it does occur to me to make is that the debate has shown that the Catholic Church is figuring more and more in the public consciousness. We have become the force in society to defeat. This is extraordinary given that our congregations are dwindling, that so many of our young people are so confused about the faith and that, with regard to legislation, as this evening's vote showed, we are actually rather easy to defeat. It is as if those without have noticed a strength in us that we had almost forgotten about.

My disappointment at the vote was tempered a little because yesterday I received an invitation to a discussion on the issue which the Head of Student Support here at Leeds Trinity, Tim Leadbeater, has organised for Valentine's Day. I'm looking forward to it. It will be good to listen to the views of students and other members of staff and to engage with them. I hope that it will be an important moment of evangelisation.

I have done what I can to promote the case for rejecting the Bill: I wrote to my MP, Stuart Andrew, ten days ago, requesting a meeting and specifying my objections to it (he voted in favour of it, I notice); I encouraged Mass-goers in the Chaplaincy to contact him as well; and I wrote an 800-word article to get things clear in my mind, which I have attached below [it was published afterwards in the Yorkshie Post].

I was very taken by the intervention of Sarah Teather MP, (pictured) a staunch defender of gay rights, in today's debate: she argued that the consequences would be gradual but grave: the new legislation would represent the definitive "uncoupling" of marriage and family life. Other good things that I have read are the following: Catholic Voices Briefing Paper: In Defence of Conjugality: The Common-Good Case Against Same-Sex Marriage; and a recent paper by Gilles Bernheim, the Chief Rabbi of France.

Here is my essay:

Many people do not understand how anybody could object to same-sex marriage. What is not to like about a Bill that would extend a right to one section of the population which was formerly denied it?  The values of equality and justice would seem to require corrective legislation.
The students with whom I spend most of my time are especially sensitive to the welfare of minorities and are full of inspiring idealism. Many are rather hurt by my oppostion to the Bill. They imagine that my arguments must be based on an objection to homosexual acts; they are not. Alternatively, they think that I must be arguing from theological first principles which most people do not share: I am not.
I just think that the arguments in favour of the proposed legislation are thin and that the long-term consequences for our nation could be serious. We can immediately dismiss the idea that same-sex marriage would make our society more equal.  It would not confer any benefits upon same-sex couples which are not already available to them through civil partnerships.
How about freedom? Should not all citizens be free to participate in any institution? Yes, unless there is a good reason why not. Here, there is such a reason. It is that marriage, which as a human reality predates the state, has a “givenness” which the state does not have the right to destroy.
The students I have spoken to find this idea difficult. Surely progress means that every institution needs to evolve if it is to retain its significance. To oppose such evolution strikes them as both futile and wrong.
 Is it true, however, that nothing stays the same? If I look at myself, I see somebody who will always be male. Astonishingly, even such a seemingly self-evident statement is being challenged in some intellectual circles. Gender theory, at its most radical, proposes that our gender is a mere construct. And building on this, queer theory proposes that sexual orientation is always a question of choice. Underlying such theories, insofar as I understand them, is a sense of righteous anger at injustice within society.
Yet they do not correspond with most people’s sense of themselves. Men and women remain men and women. Might not marriage be similarly unalterable? I think that it is and hence that it cannot legitimately be used as a vehicle to correct injustices suffered by homosexual people. Indeed to understand marriage properly, I suggest that we have to forget about grown-ups for a moment: marriage is fundamentally about children’s rights.
Marriage is ordered to the procreation and bringing up of children. It always has been. This does not exhaust marriage’s meaning – lots of marriages are childless –but it is a feature of marriage which cannot be deliberately excluded if a marriage is to be authentic.
Against this, one could argue that marriage may formerly have been understood in this way but that it need not be so in the future. Modern developments such as contraception, some forms of fertility treatment and surrogacy have provided a new frame of reference for understanding marriage vis a vis children. The introduction of same-sex marriage would constitute another such development; or rather it would mark a definitive moment when the intrinsic connection between marriage and children was formerly severed.
Yet before we assent to this, would it not be good to ask why in previous generations this connection has been so celebrated? The answer, I suggest, is that marriage as hitherto understood upholds precisely those values of equality and freedom which the Bill also seeks to foster (but which it would in fact, if passed, undermine).
My sense of this proceeds from a reflection on our ordinary experience. The child of a married couple generally knows that his/her father and mother entered into marriage with a view to conceiving a child. This helps such children to understand themselves as both beholden to their parents and as the equals of them. If the meaning of marriage were to be reduced to it being a committed relationship, any children who were the fruit of it would de facto be perceived to be of less significance than adults. Their existence would be characterised by a certain arbitrariness.
Of course, the love of good parents and foster parents compensates for all sorts of difficulties as we grow up and I do not wish to be alarmist. What I do want to underline however is that marriage currently acts as an institutional reminder of the importance of children. It has a paradigmatic value that helps all of us – according to our many varied personal circumstances – to understand our responsibility towards them. We should be wary of dismantling something which is a source of such good however noble the motivation of supporters of the Bill may be deemed to be.

1 comment:

  1. I feel that it is your argument that is 'thin', I'm afraid. Firstly, I point to the fact that the mere difference in name of the union for same-sex couples as 'civil partnership' is marginalising.

    Marriage does predate the state: correct. It also predates religion. It is not, therefore up to religion to decide on it (which, thankfully is the case), it is up to the members of the society who wish to be a part of that society. This, of course, means listening to the religious folks point of view and letting a democratic process ensue.

    You won't be surprised to learn that I do not find the division of gender as unproblematic as you do. I would recommend some of the interesting literature on Intersex people, particularly with relation to religion in Britain (I think conducted by a lady from De Montford University).

    Aside from the obvious point that marriage is not, and never has been, solely for procreative purposes, (this would require a promise that no protected, anal or oral sex would take place before it could be religiously blessed, surely?).

    I'm afraid I don't follow your argument in the latter stages of the essay. Is it that a child who was not explicitly planned for is not worthwhile because they are therefore seen as arbitrary? Again, we differ ideologically as I believe that all of our lives are arbitrary, but by no means less valuable for it.
    What about a Catholic family who do not use contraception? I feel fairly certain that some parents wish to have sex even after 8 children and do so whilst hoping that they do not conceive as they cannot properly support another child. Is the child born of this union then 'arbitrary' as you say - aka; less valuable?