Three concerns about same-sex marriage.
by Elias Blum
1. I have a concern about process, constitutional propriety, and democratic legitimacy. I am not yet convinced by the argument that same-sex marriage is a human right. I agree that homosexuals should not suffer any form of discrimination – in employment, housing etc. It is of course entirely correct that the sort of protections extended on grounds of race and gender should also be extended to homosexuals. However, changing the definition of marriage, as we recognise it in our laws and society, from one that necessarily implies and opposite-sex union to one that may include a same-sex union is, in my view, a policy change. As such, it should be debated through political institutions and decided democratically. My own view is that we should, subject to certain safeguards, make that policy change. But imposing major changes to social institutions like marriage shouldn’t be done by judicial fiat, but should be decided either in parliament or by referendum. Everyone has a stake in how we define and understand marriage in our society, and everyone has a right to participate in that debate. In short, I think Ireland made the correct decision (allowing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right by a referendum to amend the constitution), and the USA might have made an incorrect decision (imposing same-sex marriage by a judicial decision).
2. I have a concern that gay rights issues are drowning out other causes – and, moreover, I think it is being used as a way of appearing progressive while ignoring much deeper issues of economic inequality that effect the lives of many more people (even the Tories are in on this game). On the list of things that I think are urgent and important to address, same sex marriage probably wouldn’t make the top-20. That’s not the say I’m against it – not at all – but it is to say that I regard it as a lower priority than homelessness, fracking, austerity, collapse of bee populations, global water shortages, the plight of refugees fleeing conflict, or a host of other issues.
3. I have a concern about the free-speech rights, the freedom of religion rights, and the non-discrimination rights, of those who disagree with same-sex marriage. Although I do not agree with them, I would not wish to live in a society where religious or social conservatives are excluded from public debate, or are labelled as ‘uncaring homophobic bigots’ simply because they maintain, for sincere reasons, a different view. An open, tolerant, pluralist society has room for them, too.
Other than that, I’d like to congratulate several friends who have just upgraded their civil partnerships to marriages. Congratulations!