by Elias Blum
The pre-legislative consultation period has now closed, but the debate on same-sex marriage in Scotland rumbles on.
My own stance on this is quite clear: call me a tweedy old traditionalist if you like, but I’m unashamedly pro-marriage.
As someone who has been married for ‘more than a while’ (in that very old fashioned, ‘one man, one woman’, way), I believe that the legal-social institution of marriage is worth defending.
It is good to encourage stable, committed relationships. I see marriage as an institution through which we learn to love with patience and constancy, to put others before ourself, and, ultimately, to achieve the telos of a virtuous and flourishing life. Marriage encourages mutual reliance, it transcends the hollowness of individual gain and consumerism, making us both responsible for others and dependent upon them. Marriage is the legal and ethical foundation of the ‘household’ as a unit within which norms of caring and sharing are developed and a form of domestic solidarity is practiced.
Thus marriage serves as a foundation and as a model for all other types of social structure – the local community, the trade union or the professional association, the social club, the political party, the religious or charitable institution, and ultimately the res publica – through which we associate with others to achieve common goods and to pursue the good life together.
And, of course, marriage is the proper place for sex. By promoting sex within the context of enduring, loving relationships, marriage helps to ensure that sex is physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy.
But I’m one of the vast majority of people whose sexual desires are, quite naturally, directed solely or chiefly towards those of the oppose sex. I didn’t choose to be this way. I never had to decide between attracted to the soft curvy humans with lumpy jumpers and the big hairy ones with lumpy trousers. It just happened. It is as if the instruction ‘Insert piece P into grove V’ were hardwired into my system.
There are some people don’t turn out this way. Their wiring is a little bit different. But it is not so easy for them. Society has, for a long time, denigrated and marginalised them for their slightly different (but still perfectly natural) inclinations, and in some parts of the world they are still subject to criminal penalties if they act on their desires. Religions have told them that their sexual acts, far from being pleasurable expressions of human love and connectedness, are necessarily gross and disgusting.
[Incidentally, my advice for those who find homosexual sex-acts disgusting is not to do them. Don’t even think about it. Spend your whole day not thinking about it. You’ll enjoy life more that way. Of course, if you really cannot stop thinking about it, and if your mind keeps on wandering back to how perfectly filthy it is for two men to get it on, then maybe your brain is trying to tell you something.]
The point is this: that if we are to argue that marriage is – at least in essence and principle – a good thing, and if we are to be pro-marriage because of its personal and social benefits, then we need to extend the right to marry, on equal and non-discriminatory terms, to those who happen to be homosexual.
If we are unashamedly pro-marriage, then that means for everyone.
I got married in the ‘one man, one woman’ because I’m a man who happens to be attracted to women. But there are men who are attracted to men, and women who are attracted to women, and they should be able to get married too.
And yet, for all that I suppose same-sex marriage, I don’t regard it as a big issue. It’s not the issue that should define our times. It’s an issue that should be resolved quickly and quietly, so that the equal rights of homosexual couples are guaranteed, and then we can all go back to focusing on the real issues: building a fairer economic system, strengthening the social safety net, improving public services, protecting the environment, and reclaiming democracy from corporate funding and unaccountable powers.
Same sex marriage is only an issue at all because it is being opposed, vociferously, by an angry and reactionary religious minority. These people, with their Leviticus 18:22 signs* and their rants against ‘sodomites’ (yes, I heard that very word being used by a man objecting to the new law) are the public face of Christianity in the media. Sadly, they have a privilege-beam in their eyes so big that they cannot see the harm they are doing.
But who are the real Sodomites? As people who actually study the bible (critically and contextually) know, the ‘sin of Sodom’ had nothing to do with homosexuality, or any other form of sexual excess. According to Ezekiel 16:49, the problem with the Sodomites was that they were ‘arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy’. Modern-day sodomites are not homosexuals, but bankers, corporate capitalists, monopolisers, loan-sharks, sweatshop owners, slumlords. These are those who practice the ‘sin of Sodom’.
To those who look for the big arc of the bible’s moral narrative, this should be unsurprising. The bible has much, much more to say about money than about sex. ‘Biblical morality’ is, in its essence, ‘don’t engross or abuse wealth, help the poor, remember the stranger’ – or, as expressed by Jesus, ‘love your neighbour’. And again, it is worth nothing that the one who was chosen as a demonstration of ‘neighbour-loving’, the ‘good samaritan’, did not pray for or convert anyone, or go around campaigning against homosexuality: he lifted someone out of the gutter and paid for housing and healthcare so he could get back on his feet.
If only those who go around screaming ‘It’s in the Bible!’ and who insist on legislating ‘biblical morality’ would actually read and understand the Bible – if they would, as Jesus encourages us, stop straining the gnat and swallowing the camel – then we could all stop obsessing about sex, get this same-sex marriage bill passed on the nod, and focus our energies on building a more equitable and democratic society for heteros, homos, and all in between.
* Funny how we never see protestors with Leviticus 25 signs.