Saturday, 14 September 2013

"Religious Sacrament" Doesn't Mean What Shirley Williams Wants It To Mean #equalmarriage #ldconf

At the Lib Dem Conference Shirley Williams has decided that voting against LGBT freedom wasn't enough. Now she needs to defend her views with ridiculous statements.
It all sounds so reasonable doesn't it? I don't think LGBT people deserve liberty because marriage is a religious invention. Well it sounds reasonable if you lack the imagination to think outside of your tiny little cultural box.

The word "religion" is often used in society as a shorthand for whatever flavour of religion dominates in your country. Here we tend to use it to mean "Christianity" (itself a word that means different things to different people). But religion, as a word and concept, is far too wide-ranging to be used for a limited concept. The diversity of religious thought and belief, just in my small little town, makes a mockery of any attempt to present a "religious sacrament" as some sort of monolithic thing.

Religions have a wildly differing views of sexuality, sex and gender. Some religions, I kid you not, have been founded by gay people! Yes, religions are pretty diverse.

And LGBT people are pretty diverse too. Some actually believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Mad, I know.

So what could Williams mean? Could it be that she meant to say "marriage is a Catholic sacrament"? Because that is the only possible thing that makes sense in the light of the fact she, as a Catholic, is unlikely to describe it as a "Mormon Sacrament" (which would actually be communion because sacrament is also a word with lots of meanings) and Catholicism (ooo.... another open word I accept, I mean the Roman variety) is very much opposed to LGBT freedom. And what does that really boil down to? She didn't vote for same-sex marriage because she believes that her God doesn't approve of it.

Of course if she said that, she'd sound pretty disturbing in our secular world. Instead she implies LGBT people aren't religious, and that some religions don't consider same-sex marriage just as much of a "sacrament" as opposite-sex marriage. Sigh. Failing at religious freedom 101.


Paul Brownsey said...

According to STV, what Williams said was: "It is an issue of conscience. I do regard Christian marriage as a sacrament, and as a sacrament it is quite clear that it says it's a marriage between a man and a woman."

This suggests a rather different interpretation from yours. The legislation is not requiring any Christians to offer same-sex marriage so they can continue to offer marriage only to mixed-sex couples and to regard the marriages as sacraments.

Her remark only makes sense if she thinks that civil marriage is Christian marriage; or that ALL marriage is a Christian sacrament.

It is, alas, a pretty common confusion to think that even civil marriage is a sort of religious-marriage-but-not-in-a-church, bearing all the whom-God-hath-joined connotations. I was shocked when even an activist for the Equality Network declared that he and his partner were not personally interested in equal marriage "because we are not religious". It is a measure of the extent to which churches have succeeded in their claim to own ALL marriage that one frequently finds otherwise intelligent people refusing to get married because "we aren't religious". This silliness is one source of the demand that straights should be allowed to enter civil partnerships, too--this silliness of thinking that all marriage is religious and that even civil marriage is sort of carried out under a franchise arrangement with the churches. Williams appears to be in the grips of that confusion--the confusion of thinking that all marriage is a religious (=Christian) institution.

Ian Sanderson (RM3) said...

Marriage is one of 7 sacraments to Roman Catholics, but at Presbyterian Sunday School I was taught that there were only two - Baptism and the Lord's Supper.

On Paul's point on civil marriage, my nephew's marriage conducted by a deputy mayor in a French Town Hall was full of personal and family history and good moral advice - the sort of thing we would only find in the UK when a couple are married in their own church in their own community.