In the midst of the growing discussion of marriage (or more precisely, the discussion on whether marriage between same-sex couples should be allowed) I caught a bit on BBC News that UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, is under fire from George Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury for “persecuting Christians”. Why are they being persecuted? Because the UK government is considering legalising full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
There are loads of things to write about how illogical such statements are, and I expect to write more about such “persecution”. But today I’d like to focus on something else: who owns marriage?
In The Daily Mail, Dr Carey wrote, “The danger I believe that the Government is courting with its approach both to marriage and religious freedom, is the alienation of a large minority of people who only a few years ago would have been considered pillars of society.”
Religious freedom. Is Carey saying that those who do not believe in the Christian traditions of marriage, or those who accept there are many other belief systems surrounding it, are oppressing Christians and preventing them from exercising their religious freedom? If that’s what he’s saying, then maybe he also feels that the presence of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and all other non-Christians in the United Kingdom is somehow an affront to his religious freedom and are oppressors of his beliefs.
Dr Carey is using the phrase “religious freedom” as though it were a carte blanche to accuse the government of oppression. But not liking Christian stances of marriage is as “oppressive” as not liking gangster rap music is “racist”.
On the BBC News report someone (maybe Dr Carey himself) said that marriage was around since Creation, and that it was affirmed by Jesus Christ himself. This is the point I am making: that for some reason, Christians are claiming ownership of the concept of marriage, as if it was only invented 2,000 years ago, or whenever the Christian God created the world.
Immediately, I was reminded of a post I saw on Buzzfeed earlier this week, where 20 young people were asked their opinion on marriage.
You’ll see on that article that the vast majority of people say that marriage between two people of the same sex should not be allowed because of some reason to do with God.
What these young people and what Dr Carey seem to forget is that marriage was around longer than the Bible or the concept of an Old or New Testament God. Much longer. In fact, maybe up to four million years before the Bible was even compiled (Ash & Robinson, 2010). Certainly, about 20 millenia ago, humans were practicing monogamy.
Clearly, marriage has been around for much longer than Christendom, and it’s safe to say that Christianity cannot claim any ownership or monopoly over the concept of marriage. But believe it or not, the Catholic Church also performed marriage rites for same-sex couples in the past. John Boswell wrote in 1994 (Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe) about this practice, and it was outlined in a book by other authors on the topic which you can read online.
Boswell found that same-sex Christian unions took place in 13th Century Greece, 14th Century Slovakia, and even the Byzantine emperor Basil I appears to have married his companion John in the 9th Century. He found records of a Christian marriage between two women that took place in Croatia in the 18th Century.
The fact is that two gay people getting married is not oppression of Christian faith, simply because Christians don’t believe in it. If that was the case, then Muslims in the UK would be up in arms because Christians are oppressing their right to have more than one wife at a time (Islam allows up to four). Marriage between people – any two people – is not an affront to religious freedom. The concept of marriage is not owned by any faith or religion, and if and when religion comes into the ceremony of marriage, it must only be a matter for the people getting married, and nobody else.
People of one faith have absolutely no right to force their opinions or beliefs on those of another or to claim that their right to religious freedom is being threatened because the others are doing something different. Why? Because oppression works both ways.
- Reference: Ash P, Robinson D (2010) The emergence of humans: an exploration of the evolutionary timeline. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, West Sussex, UK ; Hoboken, NJ