A Christian family bakery in Northern Ireland decided that they could not, in good conscience, decorate a cake with a slogan that promoted homosexual relationships. They were sued and lost their case this week and that provides the occasion for publishing this blog. The picture of Bert and Ernie, with its slogan is what they would not produce on the cake.
Phobia means fear. I am neither afraid of homosexuals, nor of homosexuality. So, I guess I am not homophobic.
So,therefore I must be in favour of same-sex marriage; I must think that homosexual relations are to be admired and promoted. Right?
Our news media assumes that all of us have to be one or the other–in favour of homosexual marriage or afraid of it which usually implies that such a person is hateful. But the issue does not fall neatly into those two categories. So let’s not use them. Let’s have the discussions on this complex subject without fear and without demonizing those who think differently than you or I do.
There is so much that could be said on this subject without stirring up hatred towards homosexual people. There is far too much of that. I would be wise for us to remember that no one has the ability to directly choose their sexual orientation. But, sexual orientation is not my primary concern here. Let’s, rather, think about how we decide what is right and wrong; what should be legal or illegal because in the case sited above it is about law, how it changes and why.
Doesn’t it seem odd to you that just a couple of decades ago most people in the UK, USA, Germany etc. believed that homosexual marriage didn’t make sense because marriage was between a man and a woman. If we still believe that now, are we somehow dangerous? Did we really all change our opinions in such a short time?
I think a significant percentage of us, whether we claim to be religious or not, still think that sexual morality is important and that homosexual acts are not what we were designed for. If that significant percentage of people had a choice, I think they would prefer that their children would not have same-sex relations. Some people think that way because of religious convictions–whether Christian or Muslim or otherwise–and some people think that way because of a range of issues that accompany wide-spread homosexual activities.
But that is not my point.
There is a bigger question behind this specific issue. What is the basis for law? Do we derive it from social opinions? If people change their mind about an issue, should the law change? If enough people vote one way on a moral issue, does that make all the others wrong and their opinions illegal–or illegal to express?
Let’s think about another example in my home state of Colorado in the USA. A sufficient number of citizens in Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, so the law changed. Now the consequences have begun to be felt, many of which were not anticipated. Driving under the influence of weed has been demonstrated to be dangerous, but unlike alcohol, there is no immediate way for traffic police to test if a person’s ability is impaired by marijuana. In light of that, it is still illegal to drive while impaired by consuming too much alcohol, but it is okay to drive while impaired by the effects of smoking marijuana. Neighbouring states are angry about trafficking of weed into their territory and are threatening court action against the state of Colorado. There is long list of consequences that most voters were unaware of when they went to the polls. Is a majority vote always good and right? Is morality determined by votes? Sometimes only 30-40% of voters turn out, so as few as 20% of citizens can change law. Is this the tyranny of the politically active and powerful minority?
If society’s opinion is the basis for law, then with the help of good funding for campaigns and the cooperation of key figures in the media, social opinion can be manipulated (that can happen quickly, or it might take a few years) so the law or laws can be changed to agree with those who have the power of influence.
Is there another more reliable foundation for our laws?
From the beginning of Western Civilizations, for the first 500 years or more, the laws of Western nations were grounded in “Natural Law”. Natural law was assumed to be universal values that were grounded in God’s nature and character as revealed in Biblical commandments. Of course, many people were not practising Christians, in fact active believers were rarely in the majority. But, people generally agreed about what was right and what was wrong. The values and opinions of society were based upon a higher source than majority opinion.
Michael Sandel, the philosophy professor, maintains that we must derive our morality from a “higher source”. He skilfully points out that without that higher source we are simply too vulnerable to manipulation followed by tyranny.
Yes, I think we have been manipulated, not just on the subject of same sex marriage, but on many moral issues and how the law reflects them. The recent decision in Northern Ireland confirms that the latest whim in relation to sexual behaviour has triumphed over long-held beliefs and, it is now illegal for citizens to act according to previously held normative beliefs.
If we stay on this path, where are we going? In most of our nations there is only one area of private sexual behaviour that is illegal–sex with children. But even that value is being subjected to the same erosive forces that swept aside all the previous laws relating to fornication, adultery, prostitution and same-sex acts…. Those forces will continue to persist until they have repeatedly reduced the age of consent and finally eradicated that idea all together. Eventually the idea that young children can give their consent will prevail.
The last 60 years of “legal evolution” have taken us in directions that would few would have predicted or wanted if we had “sampled public opinion” back then. Are we sure we want to continue with this dangerous experiment?