I really shouldn't do the whole "woolly lefty outraged at stupid statement by the Daily Mail" thing, since 1. it's a bit predictable, 2. It's been done by better minds than mine and 3. it will only give the bastards traffic.
But this opinion piece by Melanie Phillips on gay marriage proposals, in which she all but outright says being gay is as bad as being a paedophile certainly merits some sort of response.
Phillips is almost certainly trolling for page views. At least I'd like to think so: I like to maintain a positive view of humanity wherever I can, and the views expressed are so odious, so cartoonishly over-the-top that they read more like a parody of a Daily Mail story than... an actual Daily Mail story. Melanie Phillips must be auditioning to play some as yet unannounced villain in the Spiderman musical- Bigoto, or something. But I can't dismiss the nagging suspicion that she might honestly believe what she says: I'm sure most people can think of at least one vile homophobe they've encountered int heir lives. For me it was the self-proclaimed "vicar of Jesmond", David Holloway, a man who might politely yet technically be described as snooker loopy. One year, after he had delivered a sermon claiming that "homosexuality is a disease and AIDS is the cure", the lads at my school, myself included were delighted to see someone had painted giant dicks on the church windows the same day we were due to hold the founder's day service inside...
At any rate I'm sure that I need to say much in response, since any right-thinking left-thinking tree-hugging do-gooder can see this as the deliberate provocation it is, and I've no doubt a more eloquent critique will be forthcoming. In essence it represents the fallacy that the European (or should I say British?) religious tradition that marriage should be between a man and a woman because it legitimises their exclusive sexual relationship and allows them to produce and raise children (she doesn't put it quite so succinctly: I am paraphrasing for the purposes of making her look bad).
Now, there is an awful lot wrong with that supposition, and it would probably take a doctoral thesis to examine everything that is wrong with it. Some of the criticism, won't mean much to the Daily Mail, of course, since they assume that married heterosexual couples are indeed better at raising children than unmarried gay couples (or unmarried straight couples and single parents, for that matter).
But some of the criticisms are still valid: the comparison between homosexuality, polygamy, bestiality and paedophilia is not only inaccurate but vile and criminal, whether or not one prefaces it by saying that you are not drawing comparisons. After all, claiming that one is "not racist, but" in no way dilutes the racism of your subsequent racist remarks, you racist. If it looks like a homophobic duck, swims like a homophobic duck and quacks like a homophobic duck, I'm going to call it a fucking homophobic duck. And then stick it in a misogynist pancake with some intolerant spring onions and.... sorry, that metaphor got away from me a bit. It's lunch time and I'm hungry.
It's also bad history to suppose marriage is based solely on aiding reproduction, rather than its role as a means of controlling the reproductive functions of men and women, to say nothing of its use as a means of joining families, tribes, even nations together for mutual gain. Henry V married the daughter of the (Valois) French king, Charles VI, primarily to legitimise his own claim to the throne of France. Did his men suffer through the mud at Agincourt, outnumbered six to one by the Valois pretenders yet delivering a victory so famous it would be shrouded in legend, just so Prince Hal could get his leg over? Probably not, but I'm getting distracted again...
What interested me, (and, it appears, the Twittersphere) was the appeal to the "Biblical" traditions of Britain that would be undermined by allowing gay people to marry in a religious context. It's interesting that she states "Biblical" tradition instead of "Christian" tradition. Presumably this is to create as large a consensus against the homosexual minority as possible: this way, she can include Jewish and- shock, horror!- Muslim readers in the "us" column against the godless pagans, sodomites and necrophiliacs in the "them" column with me.
The problem with appealing to "Biblical sexual standards" is that there are so many interdictions in the Bible against so many different aspects of human life written by so many authors, each with so many people commentating on them over and over again for over three thousand years that it is completely ridiculous to apply the morals they demand to modern society. Frankly it would have been impractical to apply them to first century Judea. This might allow Melanie Phillips to pick and choose which "Biblical sexual standards" are applied, but she must be careful in presuming the inherent superiority of those standards: she might be thrilled that gay people cannot get married in a church, but would she be so happy if she were forced to keep her head covered in church? Is she aware that David had seven hundred wives when she condemns polygamy along with homosexuality? Does she expect women to avoid church if they are menstruating or pregnant? Does she seriously expect adulterous women to be stoned, or have their faces mutilated? Does she advocate compulsory male circumcision (dammit, back on that again!)? Does she believe that pain in childbirth is punishment for being a woman? Does she think fantasising about someone other than your spouse is adultery? For that matter, does she ever eat pork or shellfish?
I don't wish to seem like I am picking on the Bible, since I realise it is dear to the hearts of many people. But it is clear that Melanie Phillips is totally ignorant of the religious tradition she claims to defend beyond scripture: since there are countless examples of Christian non-Biblical practices that I doubt she wants to see returned. I assume, for example, that she does not believe, as the emperor Justinian did, that sodomy causes earthquakes. I hope she does not believe, as Byzantine law did, that a woman who is raped should marry her rapist. I presume that she does not believe, as Martin Luther did, that if a woman conceived while menstruating her child would be born lame, crippled, blind or ginger (I am seriously not making that up). I pray no one shows her this penitential flowchart and she takes it upon herself to save us from having a blowjob at lunchtime on Fridays. I must admit I can see her sympathising with Theodora's solution to prostitution:lock them in a nunnery until they kill themselves.
This whole argument is clearly a reductio ad absurdum: I am trying to portray Melanie Phillips as an out-of-touch relic of a bygone age to reduce her credibility. She hasn't made it hard to do so. My point is that you cannot claim that gay marriage is an attack on a tradition when there is much in that tradition that is odious,antisocial and outdated. Gay marriage is not an attack on Biblical tradition any more than romantic love itself is. There's also a whiff of hypocrisy about a press that dedicates itself so thoroughly to denouncing wicked traditions among druids or "The Muslims" yet gets defensive when the relics of its own barbarous history are questioned.
More to the point, there is much in that tradition that needs to be challenged- indeed, much that has been challenged and jettisoned as no longer appropriate, even harmful. If the opponents of gay marriage want to make a case that is taken seriously it cannot be based solely on tradition if the tradition is itself faulty. Otherwise they will just be.. .well, conservatives.