Some time ago, I met two men, both still quite young, who had nevertheless been together as a couple for almost two decades.
Under proposals now being considered by the government, and which are clearly receiving widespread public support, they will soon be able to enter into not just a civil partnership but a marriage.
And what, many of you will ask, could possibly be wrong with that? Surely it is irrational to deny same-sex couples the recognition we give to heterosexuals?
But the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that, far from being irrational, the objection to same-sex marriage is entirely rational. And that is because marriage itself is a fundamentally rational act.
Our sex-drive is something we share with the lowest of creatures. It is a basic and primitive urge. Our bodies want sex in the same way they want food or drink.
In feeling and expressing these urges, however, we display quite complex behaviours and emotions. We make ourselves attractive. We kiss and cuddle. We fall in love. We form pair-bonds for the purpose of breeding.
But look around the animal world and you will see similar things going on. The peacock’s tail and the teenager’s hairstyle are not really very different. And the affection of a human mother for her child is clearly similar in many ways to that of a chimpanzee, just as a troop of gorillas bears some resemblance to a human family.
That is why biologists think of these behaviours and feelings as belonging to the ‘middle’ parts of our brains, which are important to us, but not unique to human beings.
Where we differ from the animals, however, is in having a ‘higher brain’ where rational thought takes place. Human beings display not just sexual urges and behaviours, but sexual morality. And this is where marriage comes in.
In the Book of Common Prayer, the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage is expressed in blunt but clear language. Marriage, it says, “is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God”.
Marriage is where rational thought comes in to control our instincts and affections.
Now the Christian church has its own reasons for framing marriage in these terms. The problem facing society is deciding exactly what principles it will apply to ‘same-sex marriage’, if not the Christian reasons.
Two issues in particular demand our attention. First, if the definition of marriage can be expanded to include same-sex couples, why should the same not apply to other arrangements, such as for bisexuals? Clearly there is emotional support for the former. Should we allow emotional objections to the latter?
Secondly, marriage originally provided a rational and moral framework for the expression of our sexual instincts and affections. But in same-sex couples, whilst the affection is there, the instinct is clearly misdirected – it is ‘homo’ not ‘hetero’-sexual. Society has to decide whether such relationships really are no different from one another, and whether treating them as identical will have no unwelcome effect on our understanding of ourselves, of society and of morality.
One thing is clear. The Christian understanding of marriage is becoming ever more distinct from that held by society in general. And that could be a very good thing, for it will finally make it clear that being a Christian is not the same thing as just being a ‘good person’.
Some people are worried that the church’s stance on same-sex marriage may make evangelism more difficult. Actually it may just make it easier.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: