Monday, 20 February 2012

Carey: equal marriage is a "power grab".

In the news today is former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey (I won’t refer to him as Lord Carey, as he doesn’t merit that particular title). Like most retired clergy, he appears to have little to concern himself with other than an obsession with same-sex marriage – which probably tells you all you need to know about the motivations of his ilk.

Speaking to the Daily Mail (obviously the ideal forum for the supposedly politically neutral crossbencher), Carey addresses the issue of same-sex marriage; in particular he refers to proposals to change the status of marriage to make it inclusive and apply to same-sex couples as “one of the greatest political power grabs in history”. Clearly Carey knows little about either power-grabs, history or both.

Carey targets Prime Minister David Cameron rather than Liberal Democrats equalities minister Lynne Featherstone who is actually spearheading the government’s proposals. He is dismissive of Cameron’s contribution to the debate at his party’s conference in which he described support for “gay marriage” as “Conservative”: Carey claims to have been “baffled by this statement…Not because I begrudge rights and benefits to homosexual couples. I was baffled because this Government’s proposal constitutes one of the greatest political power grabs in history…The state does not own marriage... The honourable estate of matrimony precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way.”

Which begs the question – if the state, which legislates for and legitimises marriages and partnerships, does not “own marriage” who does? Society, which is broadly supportive of equality? I can’t see Carey promoting that one. The idea that God (as indicated by Carey as preceding both the state and the church) has a monopoly or ownership on the legal recognition of committed sexual partnerships can not be sensibly considered; it is both absurd and theologically flawed. As for the church, it’s certainly positive that Carey is happy to resign the “ownership” many of his fellow Christians believe the church should exercise, but perhaps he’d be better telling that to his friends in the Coalition for Marriage (C4M – sounds a bit like an American TV channel) who seem to share different views.

Carey tries his utmost to come across as tolerant and an advocate for LGBT rights but he fails miserably. His pseudo-intellectual critique fails to disguise his ill-veiled prejudices. He would like us to believe that he is not in principle opposed to equality legislation but simply the political process (the “power-grab” behind it). In that case, why side with the Coalition for Marriage; why oppose the legislation and take the opportunity to take cynical asides which have the potential to poison an already tense political atmosphere?

In regards “power-grabs”, Carey’s accusation demonstrates a curious lack of insight. Here is an unelected former bishop using our parliamentary system and his privileged position at the heart of it to champion views that are representative of a minority – both within society and the church he represents. When such unrepresentative individuals complain about their small-minded opposition not being imposed and legally enforced on the rest of us, it does make you ask who really is making an attempt to grab power. Not Cameron and Featherstone for sure. Nor the LGBT community.

Perhaps Carey is simply keen to demonstrate the irrelevance of his position and the urgent needs for House of Lords reform – quite timely given the announcement that a number of Conservative peers are threatening to rebel against the government’s entire legislative programme if such reform is given the green light. I have little difficulty in accepting that Carey has the right and freedom to express whichever views he wishes; however, he should not do so from the privileged and comfortable position of a seat in the House of Lords. And whether it's tactically wise for him to show how out of touch he is with mainstream opinion (both Christian and otherwise) is another matter entirely.

A spokesperson for C4M insisted that the proposed equality legislation was being “driven by the forces of political correctness and a handful of single-issue pressure groups.” Clearly he sees the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Labour Party, large parts of the Conservative Party, the Green Party and the predominant view of society as a whole as marginal voices of political correctness. Presumably Carey, while not expressing such views outright, shares them given his support for C4M. When will these people realise that this is not a minor concern of a few “single issue pressure groups”, but a vital question of equality, respect for diversity and the promotion of a fair society?

This isn't a "power grab" at all and it's a dishonest - not to mention socially divisive - tactic for George Carey to use. He udnerstands full well what he is doing and should, as a Peer of the realm, behave more appropriately. Many of us see no good reason to continue to perpetuate the inequality entrenched within current marriage law - we simply want the same rights for LGBT people as those who are heterosexual. There's no need to wrap in in dogmatic theology or intellectualise about it - it's simply a matter of fairness.

Fortunately George Carey and the various single-issue pressure groups campaigning against equality are becoming increasingly desperate as their social irrelevance becomes more obvious. Their campaign is doomed to failure because it deserves to be; not simply because society has moved on from their narrow-minded prejudices, but because their objections are based largely on a fatuous and ridiculous logic.

Such opposition is likely to be counter-productive; if Carey’s comments prove anything it’s that neither Salmond’s government in Holyrood nor the coalition in Westminster can allow these fundamentalists to frame the debate or dictate the political outcome. I have every faith (no pun intended) that both governments have the necessary backbone to stand up and deliver for equality, and kick religious homophobia into the place it belongs (and I’m not talking about the benches of our second chamber either).

I eagerly await positive developments on the equal marriage front. I also trust that overdue Lords reform will finally rid parliament of these turbulent priests - if only turkeys could be persuaded to vote for Christmas!


Stephen Glenn said...

Pity most of those in power at Stormont seem to agree with him :-(

Andrew said...

It is indeed.

My faith in the UK's parliamentarians doesn't stretch as far as Stormont I'm afraid.

But I have a deep faith in humanity and I don't doubt that Ulster's politics will adjust to shifting attitudes in due course, admittedly perhaps decades down the line. I'm sure that isn't much consolation at the moment, but I sense that public views are changing and prejudices breaking down in Northern Ireland and what we're seeing now is something of a cultural struggle, as the Old Guard resist not only societal change but the erosion of their power base.

I'm sure that Ulster's LGBT community won't miss an opportunity to speak up for equality, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to say his views seem identical to those of the once leader of the SNP, Gordon Wilson.

Richard T said...

You might also make reference to the former Archbishop's championship of self designated martyrs for christianity (with the help of the Daily Telegraph and other similarly motivated organisations not to mention the grotesque Eric Pickles). He is trying to create a narrative of a triumphalist atheist minority lording it over the poor religious victims in a secular state.

Doug said...

The British church is growing in numbers for the first time in a long time and the leaders in the campaign you have taken such offence to are pretty main stream and generally well respected within church circles. If they using your words are “socially irrelevant” I would love to hear what you have to say about the relevance of the liberal democrats or your Tory partners in Scotland. I am very confident that there are far more people in Scotland who would be happy to say that they support the “socially irrelevant” church leaders than the lib dems. Just as an aside some of these “single issue” church leaders are exactly the same people working with your coalition on the big society. I might personally take a different view on the issue of marriage but your description of them as socially irrelevant and single issue is hopelessly out of touch..........

Andrew said...


The words "socially irrelevant" were not used to describe the church, but some simgle-issue groups.

And, again if you read more closely, it was the ideas they were expressing that I was mainly concerned with.

You can not justify that stance by arguing that more people take a different view on me in regards marriage than vote for the Lib Dems, therefore by definition the ideas held by my party are irrelevant. That is a facile argument. The Greens only have two seats but their lack of electoral support doesn't make them irrelevant.

On the other hand, these anti-equality groups are very much single issue and also out of touch with public opinion. It also is not mainstream Christian opinion, or at least not in any church that I've attended in recent years.

Do you really think that - on this issue of marriage equality alone - more of the public support church leaders than the Lib Dem leadership? I doubt that very much. Of course, they might not approve of everything we are doing as a party or in government, but that is a seperate issue. People may not like Nick Clegg (many Lib Dems included) but at least if we dislike our elected representatives we can vote them out of office. Not so with bishops in the House of Lords.

As for "our Tory partners in Scotland" - I didn't know we had any! If you're referrign to the coalition in Westminster however, then yes, they are relevant. They're the largest party in government unfortunately (and have 14 seats in Holyrood, let's not forget). I wish they weren't quite so relevant, but that's what happens when people vote Tory!

If you'd taken the trouble to actually read more of what I've written elsewhere you would understand how I feel about my own party. You might be surprised to discover I'm not the party tribalist you seem to think I am.