Tag Archive | Same-sex marriage

Graded Objectives in Modern Equality

Back in the early 1990s, I was studying for my GCSEs. The year before I sat my GCSE French exams, I sat another set of exams in French: a NISEAC Graded Objective in Modern Languages. The Graded Objective in French was essentially a GCSE-lite qualification. It was a subset of what GCSE French covered. After completing my GCSE in French, I never again used my Graded Objective qualification. It had been superseded.

In 2011, I formed a civil partnership with my now-husband. In 2016, I married him. Although the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are much smaller than the differences between a Graded Objective and a GCSE, the situation is similar. The marriage supersedes the civil partnership.

Has my relationship with my husband changed? No, but the legal recognition of that relationship has changed. The differences between marriage and civil partnership depend on which jurisdiction you are talking about (here are some examples for Ireland, and here are some for England and Wales). For us, the key issue is that we are no longer “separate but equal”; we are now equal. In the eyes of the law, our relationship has exactly the same standing as the relationship between my best friend, Rob, and his wife, Emma. That equality in the eyes of the law is both driven by and a driving force for being seen as equal in the eyes of society.

Marriage and religion

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John and Andrew McFarland Campbell. Photo: Rob Moir

In 2011, we formed our civil partnership. The next day, we married in church. We are both Christian, and as such we wanted to get married in church. That ceremony had no legal standing, but it is the one that we regard as being the official start of our married relationship. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is not currently legal, and there is a campaign to make same-sex civil marriage legal. That doesn’t go far enough, as the campaign apparently ignores people in same-sex relationships who want same-sex religious marriage. As well as being an issue of civil rights, marriage equality is an issue of religious freedom. In a country where an opposite-sex couple can choose to get married in a church or other religious venue (if the church or venue wants to marry them) but a same-sex couple can only be married in a civil, secular ceremony, there is still discrimination against same-sex couples, albeit significantly attenuated discrimination.

I believe that one day this discrimination will end completely, but until then we should all be aware that not everyone is allowed to progress beyond a Graded Objective in Modern Language.

Fencing Around the Gospel

I started learning to drive recently, and I am really enjoying it. There is something magical about controlling 1,500kg of steel with a tiny amount of pressure from my hands and feet. So magical, in fact, that it is very easy to accidentally use a little too much pressure on the right foot, and without even realising it, break the speed limit. So what do I do? When I’m driving, I usually aim to go slightly below the speed limit – say 28 mph in a 30 zone. That way, when I inevitably make a mistake and go too fast, I am still within the speed limit (and, at the same time, I’m not going so slowly that I cause problems for other drivers).  This additional personal constraint means I don’t break the speed limit.

This is not dissimilar to  chumra, a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of Jewish law. This is also known as building a “fence around the Torah”. You know what the commandments of God are, and where you think you might be prone to breaking them, you put in additional restrictions to help you keep God’s commandments. This is a good idea, as long as you know the difference between your fence and God’s commandments.

People have been building fences like these for thousands of years. In fact, the first fence in the Bible can be found in Genesis Chapter 3. The first recorded commandment of God is in Genesis 2:16-17:

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”(NIV)

Eve repeats the commandment in Genesis 3:2-3:

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”(NIV)

Adam and Eve were not to eat from the tree, but Eve had built a fence around that commandment: she said that it was forbidden to touch the tree. Now, I think it was quite sensible to decide that the tree should not be touched. After all, if you don’t allow yourself to even touch the tree, then you are avoiding some situations where you might be tempted to eat from it. The problem is, Eve forgot that the no touching rule was a human rule, not a commandment of God. It was, as Mark 7:7 would say,  “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (KJV)

Living as a Christian is not the same as living under the Law of Moses. We don’t have lists of commandments that we must follow. Nonetheless, there are ways that Christians ought to behave, and many of us build our own “fences around the Gospel”. The trouble is, it is very easy to forget that our fences are only our fences. Someone else may need a completely different fence. I know Christians who refuse to do any work on a Sunday, regarding it as the Lord’s day. That is fine for them. It works for them, but Christians don’t have to take this attitude. As long as we remember the “no work on a Sunday” rule is a personal fence, then nobody is teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.

There is another fence that many Christians put around the gospel, but they don’t realise it. Matthew 19:4-6:

 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”(NIV)

Someone recently said to me, using this passage as proof, “God made only one plan for human sexuality: one man and one woman in a covenantal marriage relationship for life.” Nobody could read that passage and think that God somehow disapproved of one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship, but it is a fence around the Gospel to say that is the only way to live, and it is teaching for doctrines the commandments of men to say that God says this is the only way to live. Paul actively discourages marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, but we don’t even have to leave Matthew 19 to find out that not everybody can live in that way, “but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11, NIV)

When a Christian takes the teaching of Matthew 19 and decides that they are one of those to “whom it has been given” and they will lead their lives accordingly, then that is a good thing. They have built themselves a little fence around the Gospel. When the same Christian decides that their fence should apply to everybody then it ceases to be a fence, and it becomes “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.” That is a sin that is as serious as the one that Eve committed, all the way back in Genesis.

Why I’m Not Going to See Ender’s Game

A few years ago I read the novel Ender’s Game. It is a good, if somewhat odd, book about a child soldier in the year 2070.

There is a movie based on the book, which is currently on general release in the UK. I’m not going to see the movie.

Why? Because Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game, is a homophobe. He isn’t just a run-of-the-mill homophobe either. He’s quite an extreme one. Up until recently he was on the board of the National Organisation for Marriage, a US body that opposes same-sex marriage, and he has said that same-sex marriage marks the end of democracy in America.

Even though it turns out that the money that Orson Scott Card will make from the film will not be affected by the number of people who see the film, I’m still not going to see it. My reasons for not seeing the film are not primarily economic. I don’t want to see the film because I don’t want to be associated with Orson Scott Card and his deeply offensive views, even indirectly by seeing a film based on one of his books.

 

Support for Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland

Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey recently asked

Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognised by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

57% of people surveyed agreed they should be valid, with only 32% saying that they should not be. That means that in Northern Ireland, nearly twice as many people support equal marriage as oppose it.

As a Liberal Democrat, I support equal marriage, and it is encouraging to see that there is such broad support for it even in Northern Ireland, which is traditionally a socially conservative part of the United Kingdom. It is common for Northern Irish politicians to oppose marriage equality on grounds such as “the people of Northern Ireland don’t want it”. Thanks to this survey, we know that this is not the case.

See also

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A New Ulster Covenant

It is just over a hundred years since the Ulster Covenant was signed. There was a small celebration of this in Belfast yesterday. Reading the text of the Covenant, I was struck by how powerful the language was: it talks about civil and religious freedom, and equal citizenship. These are issues that are at the heart of the marriage equality debate.

It may be because I have lived in East Belfast for my whole life, but it sometimes seems that there is strong opposition to equal marriage from the Unionist end of the political spectrum. This got me thinking. Can the fundamental principles of the Covenant be used to argue against marriage inequality as powerfully as they argued against Home Rule?

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that continued marriage inequality would be disastrous to the material well-being of Northern Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the United Kingdom, we, whose names are underwritten, men and women of Northern Ireland, loyal subjects of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, humbly relying on the God whom our mothers and fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all legitimate political means which may be found necessary to bring about marriage equality in Northern Ireland. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names.

And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

You can download a copy of this Covenant to sign and return to me for collation.

Who is Harmed by Same-Sex Marriage?

Imagine that the law was changed tomorrow. Instead of  the law defining marriage as being a union between a man and a woman, the law changed its definition of marriage to being a union between two adults. The rules regarding everything else—age, degree of consanguinity, and so on—remain as they are now. The only change is that now two people of the same sex can get married, not just two people of the opposite sex.

Now, ask yourself this question: who is actually harmed by this?

Every existing marriage continues as it was before. Nobody’s relationship is harmed. Nobody’s family is harmed.  No religious group is harmed: those religions that had been allowed to perform marriages on behalf of the state (as long as the couple meets the religion’s requirements for marriage) will still be able to perform marriages on behalf of the state (as long as the couple meets the religion’s requirements for marriage).

Sure, some people may feel uncomfortable at the thought, but am I harmed because you make me feel uncomfortable? True, there will be some people who hold a religious objection to same-sex marriage, but not allowing me to impose my religious views on you is not harming me. Yes, it might become harder to discriminate against same-sex couples, but making it more difficult for me to be prejudiced is not harming me.

So, who is harmed by same-sex marriage?