Invoking Christ and conservatism in the cause of gay marriage
Yesterday, President Obama declared himself a supporter of same-sex marriage. He announced:
“This is something that, you know, [Michelle and I have] talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated…”Back in 2004, as a candidate for the US Senate, he said: “I’m a Christian. I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.” And this is the view he reiterated throughout his 2008 presidential campaign. Fair enough: he’s changed his mind. Unless you’re born with infallible theological insight, a reconsideration of some immature beliefs is inevitable as one matures: the milk is exchanged for meat. That is clearly the President’s latest view.
Yet it is to be observed that he invoked Christ and the Bible to his electoral cause in 2008, and he is doing so again in 2012. And it is the name of Jesus which is dragged through the mud.
And when Daniel Finkelstein and Tim Montgomerie compose their apologies for ‘gay marriage’ being a fundamentally conservative pursuit, it is evident that they are not merely content to set aside the traditions of their own Jewish and Judaeo-Christian worldviews; they elevate their subjective feelings on the matter to a place above nature and reason. They appear not to be familiar with the philosophical writings of Scruton, let alone Burke, who observed that while society is organic, change must be evolutionary, not revolutionary; consonant with social mores and sensitive to national traditions.
David Cameron is effecting a revolution in the state by imposing a new definition. Marriage does not belong to the Church, we are told by Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone. But she appears oblivious to the indisputable fact that neither does it belong to the State: the institution precedes both the Judeao-Christian religion and the advent of the nation state. It appears to exist in nature, as Aristotle observed: complementary union is necessary for procreation, which is necessary for the continuance of society and civilisation. The fact that some heterosexual couples opt for contraception or are unable to have children is utterly irrelevant: marriage is the term we use for the union with procreative potential. That is the definition.
But the Conservative Party in sterile union with the Liberal Democrats is revolutionising this understanding, and that is a fundamentally un-conservative pursuit. Burke observed:
When great multitudes act together, under that discipline of Nature, I recognize the PEOPLE. I acknowledge something that perhaps equals, and ought always to guide, the sovereignty of convention. In all things the voice of this grand chorus of national harmony ought to have a mighty and decisive influence. But when you disturb this harmony, when you break up this beautiful order, this array of truth and Nature, as well as of habit and prejudice, when you separate the common sort of men from their proper chieftains, so as to form them into an adverse army, I no longer know that venerable object called the people in such a disbanded race of deserters and vagabonds.The conservative is concerned with ‘national harmony’ and the ‘beautiful order’. But the Tory ‘beautiful order’ which exists under the benign paternalism of the ‘proper chieftains’ is directly challenged by the instincts of revolutionary ‘deserters and vagabonds’. The conservative order manifests itself in patriotism, custom, respect for the law, loyalty to a leader or monarch, and in the willing acceptance of the privileges of those to whom privilege is granted. For Burke, to revolt against these is to pursue empty promises since they can be understood only by presupposing the social arrangement that revolution is intended to destroy. Echoing this, Disraeli later observed:
In a progressive country change is constant; and the question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines.Gay marriage rides roughshod over manners, customs and traditions. To redefine it in accordance with the Rights of Man is to flirt with the abstract and cohere with the arbitrary: if marriage ceases to be a union of one man and one woman, why should it not adapt again and again, as the state wills and redefines?
There is, however, a reasoning from conservatism that can be made in favour of same-sex marriage, but the Conservative Party is not pursuing it, and neither Daniel Finkelstein nor Tim Montgomerie are making it. The reasoning is simply this: if, years and decades or generations after the introduction of civil partnership it were observed that the people are routinely referring to such couples as being married; and if, years and decades or generations later, it were observed that society has shifted and custom adapted, then the conservative would, in pursuit of ‘national harmony’, acknowledging a new ‘beautiful order’, simply recognise this fact. There would be no engineered social change, no revolution in the state, and no imposition of a new definition. The change would have been incremental, barely perceptible, and the conservative would accept the new social arrangement.
But we seem to have a Conservative Party which is seeking to impose a relativist orthodoxy and secular 'equality' upon us all. In such a state, tolerance of difference is diminished, and liberties are lost. No longer will parents and schools be free to educate children in accordance with their worldview - placing God at the centre of the formative process, teaching morals and spiritual values, with purity outside of marriage (which is male and female) and fidelity within. For that framework is otiose; those definitions anachronistic; it has become a form of abuse.