Sunday, 16 October 2011

Before I was Distracted

I set off to write a blog about Gay Marriage. In the process I made a surprise discovery so I might blog about that later. But first, my originally intended discourse.

I was led to this subject by the fact that two of our most senior political commentators cover this territory in their columns today. While I agree with their ultimate conclusions, that Same Sex Marriage should be allowed in Scotland, I feel both are not sufficiently sensitive to the Scottish tradition of the separation of Church and State.

For all practical reality we already have Same Sex Marriage in Scotland since the introduction of Civil Partnerships. It is not simply that Civil partners have exactly the same legal status vis a vis each other as is enjoyed by traditional husbands and wives.  I don't know anybody who has ever referred to going to a gay "Civil Parnership Ceremony." The common usage is a gay wedding, or even to a wedding with the gay added as an afterthought. Equally, after the event, most gay people, of my acquaintance at least, refer, not to their "Civil Partner" but rather to their husband or their wife or occasionally, their spouse. I recently even had a fellow family lawyer referring to dealing with their first gay divorce. It wouldnt have crossed their mind to have cited the matter as relating to the dissolution of a Civil Partnership. That sounds more like a job for a commercial lawyer!

But the word marriage has two different meanings. One, the one at use in civil society, refers to an exclusive commitment by two people one to each other, with certain legal consequences. For that purpose it does not matter whether the actual establishment of that status takes place in a Church, a Registry Office or even a garage in Las Vegas. And, in relation to that civil understanding of the word, the married state, while intended to be permanent on its foundation, can nonetheless be brought to an end if the wishes of one or other participant changes. These circumstances in Scotland being as simple, in certain circumstances, as one year's voluntary non cohabitation.

The second meaning however has a religious significance. In this context, the married state is of a more permanent nature and is at least intended primarily for the procreation of children within a particular family environment. (I pause only to observe that even the most strict of religions departs in practice from this when it approves marriages involving those long past child bearing age or deathbed ceremonies). I am no theologian but I accept that for those of certain religious belief, such Unions are nonetheless peculiarly blessed by God.

The problem with the religious opposition to Gay Marriage is that by the same logic one should be opposed to those current marriages solemnified in a Registry Office and one should certainly be opposed to divorce. Now, I accept, some of those opposed to gay marriage are consistent in their views in that regard but they've come to live with  the inconsistency between their own religious views and the Law of the Land.

But, and there is a but, why then is the current proposal from the Scottish (and, incidentally, British) Government causing such outrage? Partly, and cynically,  as I say,  because some of the opponents would probably be opposed to civil marriage and/or divorce were the Government proposing to introduce these one time innovations for the first time. But also because some on my side of the argument have failed to make it clear that they respect religious space.

If the Catholic Church is free to refuse to remarry divorcees in Church, then surely they are free to maintain a similar opposition to same sex unions? I might not agree with them but then I don't agree with the Catholic Church about a lot of things. That's why I'm not a Catholic.

This is, of course, the position of the Governments both sides of the border and it is a position supported by the European Convention on Human Rights. Its enemies, who may, in reality be more illusory than real, are those who are assumed at least to seek to impose supposed civil rights on the territory of legitimate religious dogma.

It would be a fatal error for either the First Minister or the Prime Minister to retreat in the face of a vocal minority to the Same Sex Marriage proposals. It might however do no harm for them to make it clear that they are concerned with civil rights rather than state intereference with religion. A resistance to the latter is, in Scottish History at least, just as important as the promotion of the former.

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