March 11th, 2012

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"Marriage is Single" (but looking for love)

A week ago, Cardinal Keith O'Brien made himself a laughing stock by comparing same-sex marriage to slavery (it's worth clicking on the link at the bottom, just to hear John Humphrys unable to contain his flabbergastedness - and also to forestall any suspicion that the Cardinal's words might have been "taken out of context"). He also said - which is a big fat lie - that it would be a denial of human rights, because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. (Article 16 is the relevant one, if you want to see for yourself that it says no such thing.)

Another week, another Cardinal. Today, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, came on the Sunday programme (starting 36.40) to talk about a letter to be read in Catholic churches this morning. He wasn't quite as entertainingly kooky as O'Brien, because he resolutely refused to talk about what he found objectionable in same-sex marriage. However, what he said in failing to address the point was quite telling. First, came a tactical retreat: "Precisely the point of this letter is to say that [marriage] doesn't belong to the Church". But this was only a feint, preparatory to claiming it anyway: "It is a question of our understanding of human nature, and that's why the proposals by the Government that we can split marriage into a civil reality and a religious reality fails to address the fundamental understanding that marriage is single".

Of course, he's 175 years too late to prevent the legal existence of non-religious marriages in this country. Since his mission was to avoid talking about the nature of marriage (and hence why same-sex couples shouldn't have it), this rather begged the question.

His next tactic was to suggest that, because some gay people don't want to get married, none of them do. Okaaaaay...

Next, he affirmed the Church's passion for equality, flourishing the Separate But Equal line that has such a notable pedigree in the history of civil rights.

And then - inevitably, somehow - came the Ridiculous Analogy of the Week. As a way of explaining how treating people equally was distinct from treating them the same, he pointed out: "an insurance policy for someone who's eighteen and driving a fast car is not the same as for somebody of my age."

Edward Stourton wasn't quite as dumbounded as John Humphrys had been, but he came close. Having spent the week fruitlessly pondering any conceivable sense in which same-sex marriage could usefully be compared with slavery, am I now destined to spend next week wondering what it has in common with higher insurance premiums for younger drivers - and in what way insurance differentials are any kind of example of treating people "equally"?

On the whole, I think not. When the next Cardinal comes along, I'm switching over to Heart FM - where the real love is.