Well, honestly! I have just been upstaged by the Pope.
Has the man no sense of timing? Here i am, putting the last minute touches to my new year’s address to the masses that throng outside my balcony – well, OK: the old lady with her dog, and the crew from the local hairdressers – when Il Papa has to start pontificating on subjects abuot which he clearly has no real experience whatsoever.
What’s a girl to do?
Alright. I was about to join the debate on marriage by suggesting, ever so politely, that i’m not actually in favour of gay marriage. On the other hand, i’m also against the Pope being against gay marriage. And if you ask nicely, i’d probably confess to being against marriage for a large chunk of the straight population too.
Its a little like the Tatchell position – which seems to be a shrug of the shoulders and a weary “if you must”. So i’d better explain. And i’ll also leave hanging that i’d very much like it if people could explain to me just what the various pro-gay marriage sorts are in favour of.
Lest it turn out i’m wrestling with straw men.
Too much state in the church
Let’s start with my difficulty with “gay marriage”. It strikes me that the demand is part born out of a misunderstanding of that dishonourable institution. part born from a rather pointless modern penchant for bullying religious folk.
The difficulty with marriage as concept is that it is one of those areas where religion and state collide: arguably, though, “marriage”, by which i mean the spiritual union of two folks with the blessing of their acknowledged deity, did belong originally to the church – while various schemes governing the form and obligations inherent in the union between two people belonged to the state.
Within the marriage ceremony, the only bit that counts, in UK law, for legal purposes is the registration bit at the end. All the rest, the dresses, the hymns and kitsch pop classics, the cake and the reception: they are so much froth.
And of course, you can “get married” without any of the religious trappings whatsoever. Its a bit like “baptism” and the “registration of a birth”: church and state, only here, the demarcation is absolutely clear.
Not so marriage, where a convergence of language has left the same word serving for spiritual and legal purposes. And that’s why i think some of the “being beastly to the church” is misplaced.
If you want to have a church marriage, what many overlook is that straight couples are required to undergo pre-nuptial religious counselling and the average priest (or vicar) reserves the right not to marry those who fail to abide by church doctrinal views.
OK. That’s more or less strict depending on priest and denomination. But its there, irrespective of the difficulty various folk may have with church doctrine. So short of a final takeover of all churches by the state, they are always going to be at variance, to some degree with what many would like them to be.
At least, spiritually, which is where the confusion sets in. Because when it comes to “marriage” the church is mostly (or should mostly be) talking about the spiritual side which it does, with some justification consider itself to have first dibs on.
Long story short? I don’t see the average gay couple any more capable of amending their views sufficiently to fit into the approved church view of marriage than the average, non-churchgoing non-gay couple. The simple solution? No (church) marriage for either.
And if we want to distingusih spiritual and non-spiritual, let the church call its “thing” marriage, and the state can call its arrangement “partnership”…with the latter available on equal terms for everyone, gay or straight.
(And besides, is there much difference on that front now? Is the argument mostly about the name of the thing, rather than the underpinning legal entitlements?)
Too much church in the state?
Meanwhile, the Pope leaps into the fray with a speech reported in the Mail as being an attack on gay marriage. Interesting, that: since reading the piece, i can see no direct reference to him condemning gay marriage at all. Only a suggestion that children and society do better if based on traditional marriage forms between a man and a woman.
Which doesn’t much endorse gay unions: but could as easily be taken as having a go at the unwed and single mums.
I don’t know. Having reported on Vatican stuff in the past – and read in full, in Italian, speeches that get exaggerated and misquoted in the UK press – i shall take this with a pinch of salt. I doubt the Pope said anything either as explicit or as inflammatory as the Mail gave hime credit for. That is mere wishful thinking on their part. Though i bet their subs were salivating as they came up with the headline: “Gay marriage is a threat to humanity, says Pope”.
Yeah, yeah. If he said that, where’s the actual quote?
However, i do take issue with the words he is alleged to use, which reference the “educational process” and “the development both of individuals and states” before going on to call for “policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue”.
No, Pope, no! Render unto Caesar and all that…
You are a spiritual shepherd, supposedly. So while i’ll be quick to defend you against gay rights activists over-concerned with the inner workings of a church which the majority probably do not believe in…i don’t think it helpful, either, for the church to be over-bothered with state policy.
Ebnough with the meddling. Both of you. Agnostics and atheists: please stop obsessing about stuff you clearly don’t believe in. And religious folk: stick to the spiritual.
You’ll both be so much less stressed, happier if you do.