Andrew Goddard on Gay Marriage

Andrew Goddard had an opinion piece published on the Guardian website on Friday, which Fulcrum have republished today.

Any attempt to redefine marriage so it need not be entered into as a life-long commitment – Rod Stewart once claimed that “the vows should be written like a dog’s licence that has to be renewed every year” – is therefore unacceptable. So are claims that marriage should cease to be exclusive and UK law should recognise polygamy, even though there are possibly thousands of UK residents who would welcome this. Similarly, a claim that marriage should not have to be between a man and a woman is also a denial of the reality of marriage as God made it.

Does this mean gay marriage is a “religious” issue? For many the most obvious religious aspect is the Christian claim that marriage points to God’s commitment to be in a life-long, life-giving, relationship of love with each person he has made. Marriage between a man and a woman is seen by many Christians as a sacrament – a special sign and means of God’s grace. To make such a claim for same-sex sexual relationships – which both Old and New Testament consistently portray as against God’s will – is therefore to declare holy what Christians have traditionally viewed as sin. But it is wrong to think these are the only “religious” beliefs about marriage or objections to gay marriage.

But surely Christians have no right to impose their own understanding of marriage on others? This argument fails to recognise that this is not some new imposition but a vision that has for thousands of years shaped diverse societies. Even advocates of gay marriage admit that historically marriage has always been between men and women. That should lead to great caution in radically and rapidly redefining marriage.

More seriously, the allegation of unjust Christian hegemony ignores the fact that any legal definition of a status or institution such as marriage “imposes” a particular philosophy or worldview on society. It should therefore be a definition which has overwhelming support, not something amended because of a vocal minority. Few seriously believe there is a groundswell of popular demand for marriage to be re-defined. Even among gay and lesbian people there is major debate as to whether or not “marriage” is a helpful term and framework for faithful loving same-sex relationships.

Western society has, over recent decades, seen major changes with the erosion and sexualisation of friendship, the weakening of marriage and the rise of alternatives to it, including gay relationships. One reaction is to affirm and encourage these developments by imposing a legal redefinition of marriage to fit this new situation. It would be better to keep marriage’s long-standing definition and privileged legal status while ensuring those in non-marital relationships have sufficient legal protections from abuse and injustice. In that context we may be able to find ways of having a serious and honest discussion about the good and the harm experienced by individuals and society as a whole through the major social and sexual experiment we are undertaking. Then we may discern together as a society – across various religions and those whose faith is not “religious” – whether recent developments and proposed redefinitions of marriage serve or undermine genuine human flourishing.

That’s a really interesting last paragraph. What Andrew is arguing is that we can’t simply assume that our current revisions of our national social framework are automatically good. We need to enter into a genuine process of reflection as a society, not just a vocal minority, into whether recent innovations actually have any benefit.

Interestingly, it’s the liberals on the Guardian website who are the least tolerant in responding to Andrew. Have a serious debate about gay marriage? No, let’s just shout louder and make accusations of homophobia and bigotry…

Dear oh Dear. No wonder religion is on the way out. The faithful hate being discriminated against, but can’t help turning on others.

Bloody hell, this again! Get over it, it’s so boring! Your entire argument is based on a FAIRY TALE!

Mr Goddard – you are deluded if you think you are not predjudiced against gay people – you are!

What a pompous, preachy, dishonest article typical of the twisted thinking of someone who makes his living translating ancient crap and wacky mumbo-jumbo into something plausible.

This guy is off his trolley. Again religious bigots picking parts of the bible that they want to adhere to while rejecting other parts as old fashioned.

See what I mean.

At least someone has the right idea:

Branding Christians and traditionalists “bigots” for being Christians and traditionalists and thus none too keen to fundamentally revise the definition of marriage is a highly unattractive exercise in liberal self-righteousness that makes Miss America look quite sophisticated. Not to mention something that puts you in mind of pots and kettles. It’s faintly absurd to have to even say this, but it isn’t bigoted to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s just being conventional.

I might not agree with Mark Simpson on most things, but at least he has the intellectual honesty to recognise the validity of the conservative perspective. Shame the same can’t be said about most of the Anglican revisionists.

2 Comments on “Andrew Goddard on Gay Marriage

  1. Hi again Peter,

    agree with you about the commenters on the ‘Guardian’ site, and Mark Simpson’s words. Also think you’re right about AG’s last paragraph – though perhaps for different reasons. As you say he suggests we discern together “whether recent developments and proposed redefinitions of marriage serve or undermine genuine human flourishing”. Seems to me interesting because of the criterion he’s putting forward – not least because applying it could potentially result in it being discerned that same-sex unions have served human flourishing…

    However, unsurprisingly I think his piece could be challenged at several points. AG says that “Few seriously believe there is a groundswell of popular demand for marriage to be re-defined”, but quotes no opinion polls to support this, nor ties his remark to any one country or state. Earlier he says of same-sex relationships that “both Old and New Testament consistently portray [them] as against God’s will” – I would challenge him to quote any condemnation of same-sex relationships from Hebrew Scripture. “And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman: it is an abomination” is something less than a blanket condemnation.

    Perhaps most importantly Dr Goddard doesn’t mention the question of truth – is it true that being gay is a pathology, or not? Is it true that there are no gay people, only essentially heterosexual folk a handful of whom have ‘a homosexual problem’, or not? Seems to me these questions are prior to a discussion about gay marriage as talk about gay relationships will depend on our view of those questions.

    OK, maybe that’s enough banging the same drum…

    in friendship, Blair

  2. Isn’t Andrew Goddard possibly hinting at the need for debate about the effect that changes in divorce law have had on the understanding of marriage as a life-long commitment ? The churches have remained quite silent about divorce, and tonnes of lay Anglicans think it’s OK for parents to divorce when their children are under 16. The sociological evidence shows that children whose parents divorce before those children turn 16 are far less likely to have positive attitudes to marriage as adults, and much more likely to get divorced.
    I don’t see much evidence of serious discussion about the tradition of exegesis of the Bible on marriage and divorce in British churches, nor on how this might relate to changes in the law of marriage and divorce. Should such a discussion take place, it would help the debate about gay ‘marriage’ and also the debates over Shariah law in this country.

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