Why liberals should oppose same-sex marriage

by on 20 November, 2013

197515_108482069234461_1417439_nWith such a provocative title, many people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate shall likely be upset, but there should be no apologies for stating the facts, writes Michael Smyth

People have made the comment that Marriage is not exclusively a religious institution, but while this may be technically correct, it is a highly disingenuous statement.  A friend of mine has pointed out that in the old Roman Republic, the State presided over ceremonies, but what he failed to point out – possibly out of genuine ignorance of history and the institution of the Cursus Honorum – is that the ceremonial head of the republic (or in modern political parlance, paramount leader) was an official known as the Pontifex Maximus.  This Pontifex was head of all of the religions within the Roman Republic/Empire, and as such, when Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, Christianity was included in those religions which he presided over as Pontifex Maximus.  This demonstrates that the State only authorised marriages permitted under those religions, not to mention the fact that Roman Law only recognised marriages between male and female Roman citizens.


[NB It is important to distinguish and recognise the differences between same-sex unions and marriages, with the formality of the institution of the latter as contrasted to the former, which lacked de jure formality or recognition]. 

If you look eastward to India, the system was different from the Roman model, but under the caste system the military rulers had to submit themselves to the religious authorities, i.e. the Brahmin caste.  The rulers had no authority without the blessing of the Brahmin's, and if they lost the Brahmin's support they would have no kingdom. Even recently, a homosexual aristocrat has been outed by his mother and disinherited from his title.

If you look at China, you see the system of the "Middle Kingdom" was that presided over by the "Son of Heaven", meaning that he was the religious leader of the nation as well as political potentate.  In reality, every ancient civilisation that existed had no concept of a separation between religious and secular affairs.  The King was also a priest, or in the cases above, subservient to the religious establishment. 

It is intellectually dishonest to claim that marriage is a State-based institution, when ancient polities were so tightly interwoven with religion it was almost impossible to distinguish between the two. 

Interestingly enough, and this will pique the attention and interest of post-modern Secularists who can't stand Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter) – it was Jesus of Nazareth, whose revolutionary statement of "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and unto God what belongs to God", laid the basis of the idea of the separation of "Church and State". 

Despite the teachings of Christ, the Church that rose to propagate the faith was co-opted into the apparatus of the Roman Empire (after having been persecuted for centuries), as one of the religions of the Empire.  It was only after the Reformation, and the subsequent Enlightenment, that Christians started to take heed of the words "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and unto God what belongs to God".

The State was thus separated from the government, but the religious liberties were guaranteed, except in Jacobin France, where aristocrats and clergy were murdered by the thousands during the Reign of Terror, and the State assumed responsibilities for marriage.  When religion was restored in France, civil marriages remained.

In the United Kingdom, the separation of Church and State was a bit more tenuous, given that the Sovereign was also Governor of the Church in England (as well as Scotland and Ireland), but laws were put in place to effectively sever the ties between the Church and State, and to protect the rights of those other minorities who did not share the official faith of the United Kingdom.

Here is a point that both liberals and progressives forget: in the Islamic world, there has never been a separation of Islam from the State.  The head of state (usually a Sultan, Emir, or other Prince) has also been a de facto spiritual leader, and in the Ottoman Empire the Emperor was both Sultan *and* Caliph (i.e. Successor to the Prophet Mohammed) – no separation of Religion there.  Nor was there anywhere else, for that matter.

Liberals, with all of their good intentions, point out that we should extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.  Let's take all of the religious arguments out of the equation, because this debate should not revolve around religion.  Let us consider, however, the precedent of marriage, and why secular states have not hitherto considered same-sex marriage. 

Same-sex marriages do not produce children, unless you want to adopt, and that is an entirely different discussion.  Same-sex marriages do not provide any material benefit to society as a whole.  Granted, they probably would not provide a material disadvantage either, but Marriage exists within the State to provide continuation of the State, not to allow people to make life-altering decisions on a whim. It is important to note, that even in societies that permitted or even encouraged homosexuality, the institution of marriage was always exclusively heterosexual, i.e. for the purpose of continuing society.

What is wrong with Civil Unions? There is nothing wrong with Civil Unions being extended to same-sex couples, especially since it would shore up the claim of the significant other in the event of death (and absence of a will).  In fact, de facto couples already have some legal standing when it comes to claiming property after only six months.  Marriage however, has been defined by both Religions and States as being "between a man and a woman" – until very recently, where that has been revised.

If other countries have revised it, why shouldn't we? Let's look at the countries or states where revision has occurred.  Religious ministers/priests have faced litigation for refusing to conduct ceremonies that go against the tenets of their religion. 

Massachusetts has had cases of ministers being sued, so there goes that religious liberty of being able to act consistently with their religion.  The Lutheran Church in Denmark is forced to find a priest to perform same-sex marriages, if the first priest refuses. More recently, a same-sex couple in the United Kingdom has threatened to sue the Church for refusing to marry them. What happened to religious liberty? Remember the second part of the quote, "Render unto God what belongs to God". 

There was a policy motion moved at the 2012 YLNP Convention, to grant all couples (regardless of orientation) the ability to have a civil union, but strip from the State all powers pertaining to "Marriage", thus returning it to the religious organisations.  At the time, I spoke in favour of this motion because I believed it to be a sensible accommodation not only of religious liberties, but also of those couples who wish to enjoy the functional benefits of being "married", without having to go to church/synagogue/mosque/temple.

There is also the fact that the existence of a Will establishes the intentions of the author of a Will. Freddie Mercury left a Will that bestowed his property in the United Kingdom and some money to his same-sex life partner, and the partner received everything that he was bequeathed. They didn’t require same-sex marriage, or even Civil Partnerships, to outline their wishes and legacies. People should have a Will, but I digress.

No liberal should ever support something that would crush the liberty/liberties of another.  What about the rights of the couple? No, marriage is not a right.  Marriage is a contract that you enter into, after serious consideration, under the auspices of the organisation offering marriage, and an imperative institution for the continuation of society.  But the State offers marriage.  Civil "Marriage", yes – it is essentially a Civil Union, regardless of the orientation of the couple. 

This debate seems to be over one crucial word.  For the Gay lobby to insist that religious organisations relinquish their rightful premium on marriage, and allow same-sex marriage (while refusing to settle for the legislatively equal "Civil Union") is selfish. 

Most people would be happy or indifferent if homosexuals could have civil unions, and the religious could retain marriage for themselves. You shouldn’t change the meaning of a word that has meant the same thing for over 5,000 years on a whim, especially not if the vast majority of nations and societies have retained the meaning.

Both sides could still have what they want, if only the Gay lobby would compromise, and for those readers who think it is only Christians standing in the way of same-sex marriage, think again. No religion has ever extended the institution of marriage to same-sex couples, even in societies that permit or encourage homosexuality.

Michael Smyth writes from Brisbane, Queensland

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