A Progressive Case Against Same-Sex Marriage

Posted on April 13, 2012

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From a guest blogger: During an exchange with a friend earlier this week about the Government’s plans to allow same-sex couples to marry, I objected to his suggestion that support for gay marriage was the province of the political left.  After all, the measure has been introduced by a Conservative-led government, enthusiastically supported by the Prime Minister.  I suggested that advocacy of same-sex marriage was the logical outcome of the selfish individualism espoused by many on the political right, and that most of the members of the 1945 Labour Government – perhaps the most thoroughgoing socialist administration this country has ever known –would have balked at the idea that their passion for social justice required them to allow homosexuals to marry one another.

Most modern-day Labour supporters might argue that this was because Mr. Attlee and Co. were conditioned by the times in which they lived.  Yet I hardly think this suffices as an explanation.  Attlee was a member of the Homosexual Law Reform Society which campaigned to repeal the (admittedly draconian) penalties for homosexual behaviour which existed prior to 1968, and his Government implemented a series of wide-ranging reforms which would have been unimaginable to prior generations.  The genius of progressivism always lay in its ability to ‘have a dream’: to think past the prejudices of its own age to a more just and equitable future.  If the idea of same-sex marriage did not occur to previous generations of progressives, this might say less about their being sticks-in-the-mud than it does about the fact that many modern ‘progressives’ are unable to look beyond the decayed moral attitudes which characterise our own age.  This is amply illustrated by the recent outcry of many on the left against sex-selective abortions.  They are justly outraged that babies are being aborted in the UK just for being female, but why have they failed to speak out against the ongoing scandal of babies being aborted up until birth just for being disabled?  The modern left is often characterised by its substitution of an unthinking defence of the status quo inherited from the 1960s in place of genuine progressive values.

I would suggest that, far from requiring us to support same-sex marriage, some of these core progressive values require us to be extremely dubious about it, if not to oppose it.  One of these values is the keen awareness of the communal nature of man.  The purpose of marriage is not simply the satisfaction of individual preference; rather, it has a crucial communal dimension.  The interest the State takes in regulating marriage derives from the fact that the community relies on heterosexual marriage for its own continued existence.

I do not approve, morally, of the sexual expression of affection between people of the same gender.  But I do not oppose same-sex marriage for this reason.  I oppose it, and Civil Partnerships, because I do not think they make a contribution to the common good which warrants legal recognition.  Even granting, for the sake of argument, that entering into a same-sex relationship is a morally legitimate choice, it will always remain a private, voluntary, association of citizens which lacks the characteristics of a vital social institution which ought to be protected by the State.  Progressives ought to be scandalised that Britain has a tax system which penalises hard-working families trying to raise children while giving a host of benefits to same-sex couples in legal partnerships, some of whom already enjoy the benefit of two male incomes!

But though man is a social animal, the individual does not belong to the community, much less to the State.  The purpose of strong communal institutions is precisely that they provide the basis for human flourishing, for the realisation of the potential of each and every person and for the protection of his or her dignity.  The virtue of the political left is that it has held doggedly to the belief that each person has an important contribution to make to society which ought to be valued, and therefore that he or she ought to be given the opportunity to develop potential regardless of gender, social background, ethnic origin, or disability.  It is for this reason that those on the left pioneered, for example, universal healthcare and other benefits: people should not be prevented from realising their potential simply because they are too poor to afford basic medical care when this might be provided by the community which will, in turn, benefit from contributions they will go on to make to society.  I do not hesitate to add that those of a homosexual orientation also have genuine contributions to make, though these will not be made through entering into so-called gay marriages.

But what do children have to do with same-sex marriage?  Well, there is little arguing with the fact, upon which almost all social scientists agree, that the best thing for the flourishing of children is that they be raised in the context of a stable marriage by their own mother and father.  Raising children well requires sacrifice and it is for this reason that society recognises and celebrates the commitment that men and women make to each other by marrying.  Homosexuals constitute a minority of the population and can hardly be blamed for ‘wrecking’ the institution of the family.  If anything, this has been done by the introduction of easy divorce.  But the introduction of same-sex marriage, and the final breaking of the link which has always existed between marriage, childbearing, and stable family life, will do further harm to an institution which is already in grave peril.  If it is an injustice to future generations of the human race to continue harming the natural environment, how much more so to undermine the institution of the family which forms the very basis of human society.  It is a matter of keeping solidarity with the present generation of children, and a debt of justice to future generations, that we refrain from doing anything that might harm this most precious institution. We should, rather, do all we can to restore it and pass it on in a decent state.  David Cameron has said: ‘I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative’.  Pace Mr. Cameron, I do not oppose gay marriage in spite of being progressive; I oppose it because I am progressive.

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