Same-Sex Relationships and Civil Society

Posted on January 4, 2011


Marazion, West Cornwall

A court has deferred judgment in a landmark case involving hoteliers who refused to allow a homosexual couple to rent a double room at their Bed and Breakfast in Marazion, near Penzance in Cornwall.

Many may be tempted to dismiss this as another failure of the Cornish to ‘move with the times’, yet this case is likely to set a nationwide precedent as to how courts treat similar cases, and will perhaps have wide-reaching implications for religious liberty in Britain. Others may see the case as an example of the need for a ‘balance of rights’ between the liberties of religious groups and the homosexual community. But dividing the nation into a multitude of competing interest groups simply avoids confronting the fundamental issue of how we, as a society, view same-sex relationships.

The owners’ barrister, James Dinglemas QC, has stated that ‘[the owners’] policy is directed to sex and not sexual orientation’. They are willing to allow homosexuals to stay at their hotel in separate rooms, but not to share a double room, because this sleeping arrangement effectively means only one thing.

The gay lobby has tried to ensure that public debate about homosexuality avoids discussion of what goes on in the bedroom. Precisely because these sorts of things are (quite rightly) not a topic of polite conversation, gay activists have been able to secure an effortless victory. Despite this, it remains true that no meaningful discussion can be had about the morality of homosexual relationships if it excludes consideration of the morality of sexual acts between same-sex partners. Conjugal relationships between men and women are capable of producing new life, and bond the partners together in a complementary relationship which provides the most suitable setting for the raising of children. Sexual relationships between same-sex partners are incapable of providing these goods, and as such they have been severely censured by most civilisations throughout history.

Others have, therefore, tried to paint the central issue as being about ‘commitment’. The Prime Minister opined earlier this year: ‘I think it is essential to say loudly and proudly that commitment is a core value of a responsible society and that’s why we will recognise marriage, whether between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man’.

Lifelong union between a man and a woman 'provides the most suitable setting for the raising of children'

These comments are nonsensical. Before we can assess the moral value of a commitment, we need to ask: ‘commitment to what?’. Let us imagine that I and a partner in crime have been robbing banks together for thirty years. Should we receive a lighter penalty than bank robbers who have committed crimes with multiple partners because our partnership embodies the ‘core value of commitment’? Or suppose that I am committed to supporting local business by shopping at my local store instead of the supermarket. Unlike the first example, this commitment is simply indifferent – in itself it neither advances nor harms the common good of society, and therefore I cannot expect society to recognise and celebrate my commitment by, for example, giving me a return on the VAT I have paid on purchases in my local store. Then finally there are some commitments which are so crucial to the common good that everyone is obliged to recognise and celebrate them. Heterosexual marriage is the most important of these. Without it, none of us would even exist to begin with, and there would truly be no such thing as society, because there would be no human beings on the planet, no families to form the basis of wider society. Such a commitment, therefore, has special privileges (such as the right to share a double room in a hotel).

Historically speaking, most societies have placed the commitment to homosexual behaviour squarely in the first category of commitments: those which are morally reprehensible and ought to be punished in some way or another. It has generally been acknowledged that sexual desire is so strong in humans that without a firm hand to prevent its serious misuse, people will simply seek after base pleasure and stop procreating whilst society slides into oblivion (sound familiar?). It is easy to see how, amidst the confusion generated by the sexual revolution of the 1960s, some have fallen into the error of placing homosexual relationships in the second category of indifferent commitments, but to place them in the last category of commitments which should be recognised and celebrated is simply an exercise in idiocy which does violence to one’s powers of reason.

Back in 1967 when measures were put before Parliament proposing to decriminalise homosexual behaviour, the Earl of Arran – who co-sponsored the measures – stated in the House of Lords that: ‘Any form of ostentatious behaviour; now or in the future, any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they have done what they have done. . . no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision . . . That is their burden for all time, and they must shoulder it like men—for men they are.’ One suspects that Lord Arran and many others who supported decriminalisation had little intention of launching a project to redefine fundamental attitudes toward marriage and the family. Yet with the benefit of hindsight we are able to appreciate that this is exactly what has happened, and that it all began here. Had Lord Arran been able to see the infantile posturing of so many homosexuals today who are incapable of shouldering their burden ‘like men’, would he think again about having sponsored that bill?

(Photo of Marazion: CC: © Pam Brophy. No endorsement implied.)