The question answers itself, but here’s the context.
More than 1,000 priests have signed a letter to the Telegraph protesting against same-sex marriage. They maintain that the Government’s forthcoming Equal Marriage Bill heralds a return to religious persecution. The Bishop of Portsmouth maintains that “it is quite Orwellian to try to redefine marriage”, and terms the proposed reform “totalitarian”.
It’s tempting to dismiss this as inflammatory nonsense, because that’s what it is. Even so, two points are worth drawing out.
First, the clerical opponents of gay marriage continually commit the logical fallacy of begging the question (ie, assuming in their premises the truth of what they’re arguing for). They complain that the Government’s proposals “redefine marriage” – a redefinition that they are conscientiously and by Church teaching bound to oppose.
Yet the argument of the proponents of reform, including The Times, is explicitly that we are not redefining marriage. We merely seek to extend marriage rights to couples who are now barred from them on no better ground than that they are of the same sex. Reforming marriage to enable a woman to own property independently of her husband was a change of far greater scope than same-sex marriage will be. It was opposed on similar grounds of its supposedly being contrary to natural law. And it was obviously right and just. Same-sex marriage is a modest reform of similar type.
Second, because of that point, the Church will damage itself by the vitriol and hyperbole of its campaign. That’s a prediction, not a complaint – indeed it’s a scenario that I welcome and look forward to.
Damian Thompson, the prominent Catholic journalist, comments on his Telegraph blog that “David Cameron is at war not just with fundamentalists, but also with middle-of-the-road clergy and lay people from Britain’s largest and, arguably, best-integrated religious minority”.
I see no reason to doubt this, but draw the opposite inference. The war has been declared by the Church. Religious liberty is an axiom of a free society; but on public policy, the Church is a lobby like any other. It is not a repository of wisdom about the right and the true. Numerous Catholics implicitly acknowledge this by ignoring Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, proscribing artificial contraception.
The history of civilisation is to a large extent bound up with separating religious from civic authority. By its obduracy, the Catholic Church is hastening the process.