What might Lincoln and Euclid have to say about same-sex marriage?

Last night I heard Bible verses quoted with abandon.

I heard God’s will invoked in defence of the cause.

I heard that some things are against how God created nature.

I also heard a man quote Euclid, “things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other”. I saw a man who for the greater good denied the strength of his commitment to racial equality: to free the slaves he was prepared to limit his conviction that all men are equal.

Last night I went to watch Lincoln after watching the parliamentary debate on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. And I’m well aware that Jennie Pollock has already made precisely this comparison, perhaps it was why my ears pricked up at the relevant moment.

tommy-lee-jones-linconln-thaddeus-stevens EJFAdvocates of same-sex marriage argue that this is an issue of equality on a par with the struggle for racial equality which won a huge leap through Abraham Lincoln and then lurched on in fits and starts for the following century. I do not, however, think this is an appropriate comparison, and maybe Euclid can help us out. Man, both black and white, equal a human, they are therefore equal to each other.

To achieve the same result with same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage requires some linguistic gymnastics. It involves emptying marriage of much of its meaning and then refilling the shell which is left with what ever we choose, only then can we suggest that the two are equal. If marriage was only about love and commitment between two people, then Euclid’s notion might provide some comfort, but to achieve that you have to remove much of what makes up marriage and turn it into little more than a contractual agreement. This is why I agree with those who say you can only achieve marriage equality by changing what it fundamentally is. For marriage to be extended beyond it’s heterosexual bounds it requires first turning it into something which it currently is not.

I would have a great deal more respect for the government if they were honest about this, what bothers me is the insistence that this is no great change, just the extension of something to a previously excluded group. But no one is excluded from marriage, people only become excluded from marriage when it is first changed into something different, something that is defined solely by love and commitment and not also by male and female, and conjugation and the potential for children. Only once you have changed this definition can the institution of marriage be considered to be restricted. But the government jump to the end and use their own definition of marriage to pretend their plans are no big deal, moreover that they are a vital step towards equality..

But as Philip Blond and Roger Scruton put it: “The pressure for gay marriage is therefore in a certain measure self-defeating: in seeking equality with something unlike yourself, the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined.”

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Maybe it was the experience of following the debate that made watching Lincoln immediately after a slightly strange experience. But I couldn’t help but watch the many scenes of the House of Representatives debating the thirteenth amendment and wonder whether future generations might look back at yesterday’s debate in the same light. I wondered whether those who oppose same-sex marriage would be viewed in coming years as behind the times, stuck in the mud, on the wrong side of history – as some observers have suggested this week.

I also wondered what I would have said and done had I been in either of those chambers. Whether I would have stood and spoke of the equality of man, or sought to protect my prejudice or financial interest. I wonder whether I would have compromised my beliefs in order to see a greater wrong righted. I wondered what constituted a greater wrong.

I wondered if I would have said what I believed despite the critics howling at the door, I wondered if I would have had the courage to make my own mind up and not hear threats of no promotion, or being ousted by the voters at the next election. I wondered if I would have taken the calls from the media, stood outside the steps of parliament and found the words of grace that did not deny what I believed to be true.

And I saw the hostility of the 1860s and the legacy it left in its wake stretching nearly a century until the 1964 Civil Rights Act achieved much and left much more to do. I saw the bitter wrangling over reconstruction as the Confederate leaders sued for peace.

If I was in that chamber in Washington DC 150 years ago I would hope to have been like Thaddeus Stevens. Many others thought peace was more important that equality but he stood for freedom and justice. But if I was in the House of Commons yesterday, I don’t think I would have been so strident. I wanted understanding, and I wanted peace. I wanted space for different views. And I wanted some understanding that just because something is claimed in the name of equality, that doesn’t automatically make it a good thing.

I didn’t pray enough for peace during the debate yesterday, but I will in the coming weeks. I know not what the weeks and months to come hold but I hope for a future where we can have civility and peace even if we think fundamentally different things. Perhaps I hope that those with the strongest of views can find a way that is better for all of us. Perhaps.

Freedom and consequence

What if you got everything you wanted? What if you were able to do all the things that you wanted to do? What if barriers were erased, consequences dismissed, costs discounted?

What would you do? What does it mean to be free?

I don’t think I want a world without consequences. I want what I do to have an effect, I want it to affect me, and to affect other people.

Trying to live in a world without barriers is a quest for the impossible. It is also a depressing endeavour. It suggests that we live in this atomised world that can only ever be a figment of our delusions. It would be a lonely life: I think it would be a life without much purpose. Because we live interlinked lives.

Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making about how the things that we do, the things that we create, change the horizon of the possible. By doing something we make certain things possible, but we also make other things near enough impossible. He uses the example of highways across the USA, they make travelling vast distances far easier, but they made travel by horse and carriage much harder.

Likewise, when I do something it has consequences, it changes things.

So when we try and live without consequences, when we try and make the most of this thing call freedom by throwing off restraints and doing whatever the heck pleases us in that moment we are caught in an infinite loop of impossibility. The things that we think will deliver the ultimate satisfaction in the end leaves us cold. They leave us in a lonely place because they have failed to deliver what they never had the power to provide.

Because with freedom comes consequences, and with consequences come responsibility. So we step back and we wait a moment before we embrace freedom for its own sake, or our own sake.

I write a lot for work, but when I write for work I write within certain parameters which restrict what I say and how I say it. In theory, when I write on this blog I can write about whatever I choose to, in whatever way I want. Except when I write something it has consequences. I could espouse views that would put my job on the line, even if I hid behind the ‘it’s a personal blog’ refrain. I could write in a way that would discredit my role or my employer, I could offend people I regularly work with. I have freedom to write what I like, but there are many things that would restrict my freedom were I to exercise said freedom in a careless way.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t write on controversial topics, or occasionally in a way that seeks to provoke a response. But what I choose to write about has consequences. When I write about dating and relationships, it changes the potentiality of any prospective relationships. I chose to say I disagree with Christian political parties, and maybe did so in an intemperate way, that has consequences.

Many of the best examples and stories come from those I am closest to, from my family and my friends. But if I were to write about these situations I would affect, and potentially damage my relationship with them. I had a couple of great examples I could have used in my previous post about women in church leadership, but they weren’t my stories, and it wasn’t my place to make them public.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about modesty with a few scattered thoughts about the challenges that guys, and girls, face in a world where sexuality is thrown around with abandon. And this question of freedom and responsibility is at the core of what we were talking about then. For girls who economise on the clothes they wear, there are consequences of that choice.

Here I’m making a slightly different point than I did in that previous post, and I’m very cautious about my choice of words. But guys will look at girls who are attractive and wearing clothes that make the most of that, and while this probably shouldn’t be the case, and it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the girl for what the guys look at, it is a consequence of that choice. So without excusing in any shape or form the leering looks or crude remarks guys might make, they are not detached from the choice that the girl has made in exercising her freedom to wear what she wants.

As I write this I’m conscious that I am exercising my freedom to write about a topic that I choose. And there may be consequences of that choice. Girls may think that I’m being a prude, encouraging them to cover up and spare a thought for the poor guys struggling with their beauty. While I’m content saying that there are consequences of the choice to wear certain clothes, I am far less confident to ascribe responsibility to the girl for the actions, because the way that guys respond is their responsibility, but that doesn’t mean it is unaffected by the choices that the girl has taken.

And the guys who look at the girls sunbathing on the grass? Well those looks have consequences too. It’s easy to think that a cheeky glance at the exposed skin on offer affects no one. But each time that you look, each time lust is stirred, each time you allow beauty to be read through a lens of sex you distort the way that you view women. And a counter intuitive consequence within the church is to adopt this mentality and to minimise an appreciation of beauty because we associate it with sex and with lust. So even in our mental thought processes about who we might be attracted to we view physical attraction as somehow wrong, and therefore look for more holy motives as ostensible reasons to justify our attraction.

Last night I read a fascinating first person piece in the Daily Mail (not a usual occurrence) from the former editor of Loaded magazine. After eight years dedicating his life to putting more bare breasts on pages than the competition he stepped away from that world, partly spurred by the birth of his son. He realised the consequences and ludicrous nature of what he had spent so much time and earned so much money doing.

When guys look at porn it doesn’t leave you unchanged. It affects the way that you look at women, it affects your expectation of relationships, it contorts and distorts the view of sex. And it makes you think you can have what you want without any of the baggage that comes with it. It promotes the idea of unattached satisfaction by pretending that is what it is providing. That it’s just you and your computer.

What a lie.

We live in an age with unprecedented freedom and an unenviable lack of accountability. I can do things if I want to and no one needs to know about them. But that doesn’t mean I should. And if I choose to use my freedom in ways that serve myself I shouldn’t be surprised to find that my freedom in fact becomes circumscribed. If my horizon of the possible suddenly becomes smaller.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, how do consequences affect how you act?