I've been meaning to do this since Sentamu made his little
rant speech, but what with one thing and another, I never got past the third paragraph. Which means it's hardly topical any more, in this fast-paced world we live in. Still, I ran across the document I'd saved my first partial draft in, and thought "Why not?" So here is my parafisking of The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu's speech in the House of Lords, during the same-sex marriage debate, some weeks back.
Oh, and I think I've just invented the word "parafisk." To fisk is to take someone's speech, blog-post or such, and criticise it in a point-by-point essay. To paraphrase is to, well, paraphrase; to say the same thing in different words; to reiterate with changed vocabulary; to rephrase but keep the same meaning. So to parafisk is to paraphrase on a point-by-point basis, okay?
Anyways, Gentle Reader, here's Sentamu, to start us off…
My Lords, I apologise for not being here in your Lordships' House at Second Reading. I thank noble Lords for their greetings on that occasion, when I was recovering from surgery. I am on the mend, although I am not quite there yet. I want to thank especially the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for the generous compliments in her speech.
"My Lords, I'm sorry I'm late; The Invisible Man In The Sky saw fit to make me ill enough that I had to miss the previous reading. 'Perhaps I should take the hint,' you say? Ah, but you josh. Thankfully, evidenced-based medicine came to my rescue, and now I'm back, to let you know, I can really shake 'em down!
I suggest that this legislation is an exercise in ideological redefinition. The amendments before us today are designed to limit this ideological damage. I will speak to the one amendment that probably does it better than the others. The legislation does not address the concrete disadvantages from which same-sex couples still suffer. It is a matter of deep personal regret and sorrow to me that homosexual people are still diminished, which is anathema to me and to the Primates of the Anglican Communion. In the 2005 Dromantine communiqué, we said that the diminishing of homosexual people is anathema to the Christian faith. However, it still happens, which is a deep regret for me. I want to tell them that I am sorry.
"Firstly, I'd like to throw the word "ideological" into the debate, for no other reason than that it sounds kinda nasty. Secondly, the word "redefinition," because I want to accuse the proposers of this legislation of it. Not at all (Heaven forefend!) because I intend to redefine the word "marriage" in order to give it a narrow legal definition which it has never had. After all, I wouldn't want you to ponder the fact that if it had ever actually been defined in law as "between a man and a woman," we wouldn't have needed other laws making it illegal for those with similar genitalia to get married. And please remember that change, like putative redefinition, is bad, not because I can show actual harm done, but merely because I intend to define change and putative redefinition as bad. This is an important and perfectly valid form of argument, and I'll be doing it a lot. In a sentence which really should begin a new paragraph, but oddly doesn't, I shall now mention that the legislation does not address the problems of heterosexuals. Quite why legislation aimed at giving equal rights to same-sex couples should do so, I do not intend to explain at this time. And, before I go on to explain why I want same-sex couples to be discriminated against, I'd like to mention that such discrimination is anathema to me and my colleagues in the Bible-bashing businness. In fact, I like the word "anathema" so much that I think I'll add another sentence to this paragraph, saying much the same as I did in the previous one, just so I can use the word "anathema" again.
The great difference between this legislation and the reform that introduced civil partnerships is that the latter remedied certain concrete difficulties and disadvantages. What injustice would be remedied by some civil partnerships becoming marriages? That argument of remedying injustices does not seem to carry much weight; the argument lies somewhere else. Ministers of the Crown have argued that the legislation extends to an excluded minority a concrete privilege currently enjoyed by the majority. What is that privilege? The privileges that accompany marriage have already been extended to same-sex couples through civil partnership legislation. However, since marriage has been defined in law and practice as a relationship between a man and woman, marriage, as so defined, cannot in law be extended to same-sex couples.
"They already have civil partnerships, and civil partnerships give all the same rights and privileges that marriage does except for the one about being able to have the union blessed by The Invisible Man In The Sky, and the bit about them being singled out by not being allowed to call it marriage. Why should they be allowed the equal right to have their partnerships dignified by the same word which everyone else uses? They should be perfectly happy to be singled out and have their unions called by a different name. Jesus fucking Christ on a crutch, it's not as if language matters! Oh, and please note that I'm carefully not mentioning that the principle of religious freedom which I'm sworn to uphold in this chamber is violated by my unspoken contention that, because my church doesn't want to marry same-sex couples, all churches should be forbidden from doing so. Oh, and "between a man and a woman" again. Because I'm hoping repeated mentions will cause you to accept my definition without my having to provide evidence.
The draft legislation presupposes an account of marriage that makes the gender of the partners incidental to the institution. This, to me, is a novelty. It does not correspond to marriage as it has been known in British law and society. This is not an extension of something that already exists but the creation of a new institution, under the aegis of existing marriage law, which is in fact quite different from it. We are somewhat ill prepared midwives at the birth of a new social institution. Why not give it a new name?
"Oh Em Gee! Novelty! Change is bad! How will we ever cope with the idea that people who love each other might want to get married? Why can't we just, you know, discriminate against same-sex couples by not dignifying their unions with the same name? Can't we just single them out? We could tattoo a big G for gay on their foreheads, while we're at it, or make 'em wear a rainbow stitched to their lapel.
The interests served by the legislation before us are, I suggest, ideological and aimed at changing the way people think: hence the amendments before us today are rightly geared towards protecting individual freedoms in the face of a radically new ideology. The church shares, in the best traditions of this House, a passion for justice and a deep concern for the particular needs of minorities. These concerns have been met in the provisions of the civil partnership legislation. However, today, the question turns on two other interests of the church: first, an interest in the truthful description of anything; and, secondly, an interest in defending responsible practices of government against the sophistic abuse of language.
"Ideology! Change! Bad! The church loves minorities. (Did I mention, discrimination; anathema? Gawd I love that word!) Yep, minorities are great. We just don't want to have to stop discriminating against them. We, as Guardians Of The Holy Dictionary™ don't like the the sophistic abuse of language. See! Language is important! But not when we use it to discriminate. Oh, and we're really really interested in truth. That's why we claim, with no supporting evidence, to communicate with an invisible man in the sky who tells us what to like and what not to like.
It matters that we recognise this as a new social institution. As a Christian, I would argue that being a man or a woman is not incidental to the human relations a person may engage in, but formative of them. In Christian understanding, the meaning of human sexual difference is in the good gift of God in creation. The maleness and femaleness of the human race are given to us. It is where we are placed, in common with the whole human race in every generation. Our role is to be thankful for it and to understand how it helps us to live the human lives that we are given. This task of appreciating our sexual difference weighs equally on married and unmarried, on gay and straight, and on children and adults—on all who have the gift of being human. Christians, in common with Jews and Muslims, understand marriage as essentially representative of this good gift of sexual difference. This understanding flows from an undivided and unbroken tradition that has sought to define the unity of the human race, uniting nations, religions, cultural traditions and periods of history.
"It matters that allowing people to marry whoever they want to, regardless of what shape their genitalia are, completely redefines the institution of marriage. Because it will no longer mean "a man and a woman who love each other," but rather "two people who love each other." Good grief! Society will never stand such a radical notion. As a professional advocate of the development of personal relationships with The Invisible Man In The Sky, I am the obvious expert to turn to, when dealing with questions of the interrelationships between visible human beings. As such, I would like to stress that the view of people, like me, who believe in and worship The Invisible Man In The Sky, is that I should repeat wordy reiterations of the phrase "between a man and a woman," for reasons given earlier. At no point will I mention that plenty of other believers in and worshippers of The Invisible Man In The Sky believe that same-sex marriage is perfectly fine and dandy. Nor will I mention that some of those believers and worshippers are already in relationships with people with similar genitalia to their own. The reason I'm not mentioning this is that I want to pretend to represent the views of all believers in The Invisible Man In The Sky, and I'm here while they're not. Too bad for them, eh?
In describing marriage as bound up constitutively and generatively with male-female relations, we describe a good form of life for which we can be unreservedly thankful. As with any aspect of creation, our interpretation of marriage is not final. Reality is deeper than its interpretation; there is always more to be learnt. Our thinking may be shaped by artists, working in whatever form, who represent to us some fragment of reality to be recognised. It will be shaped also by scientists, who model complex interactions and observations in formulae that render them intelligible. It may also be shaped by theologians, teaching us to thematise that which artists and scientists have shown within the larger picture of the goodness of God.
"If heterosexual-only marriage was good enough for our granddads and grandmas, it should be good enough for us. Just like men-only votes, signs saying "No niggers, no Irish, no dogs," tuberculosis, the Blitz, and all those other things our grandparents happily endured. As with all things that The Invisible Man In The Sky made, our understanding of marriage is not final. It may be shaped by those in the artistic professions (where, it could easily be said, acceptance of same-sex attraction became the norm much earlier than in society at large); people like David Hockney, Sandi Toksvig and Lionel Bart. It will also be shaped by scientists, who tell us that same-sex sexual behaviour is so commonplace as to be almost unnoteworthy in nearly every species which has two sexes. It may also be shaped by those who study the consequences of living in a universe which they claim contains an invisible man in the sky. As a Sophisticated Invisible-Man-Consequence-ologist, I'm claiming that my definition of marriage is final. Erm, even though I just said it isn't. Because The Invisible Man In The Sky told me so. That my definition is final, I mean, not that it isn't. That would be just plain silly! Because, erm… it would.
The unamended legislation uses the term "marriage" to describe a new entity. For me this entity is worthy in itself, but it is not equivalent to marriage as hitherto described. I have argued that this is not an area for state intervention. The work of government does not lie in teaching us how to interpret and think about reality. Yet we are here. The trouble with this undifferentiated use of the term "marriage" is that it will create confusion on the one hand, and erode freedom of conscience on the other. The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, seeks to remedy this. It calls both same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage "marriage"
"This new entity, which is in no way merely a widening of access to the old entity—because I said so—is worthy in itself, so I'm most definitely not discriminating when I say that some are more worthy than others to be considered equal, based merely on my unhealthy fixation on the genitalia of those involved. The work of government does not lie in teaching us how to interpret and think about reality. That's the job of artists, scientists and organisations formed for the purpose of worshipping The Invisible Man In The Sky. No, instead the government should avoid legislating to tell people how to interpret reality by forcing them to obey my interpretation, which most definitely does not include equality for people who want to marry people of the same sex as themselves. The trouble with this proposed complete lack of discrimination is that it is undiscriminatory, and people will be confused by the fact that the terms "two people who love each other," and "two people who love each other," are exactly the same. Will somebody please think of the morons!?
In contrast, the legislation to create civil partnerships was, for me, a proper exercise in formal terms of the authority of government. That legislation was precise in its use of language. It recognised the intrinsic difference between the loving, life-long commitment of same-sex couples and the loving, life-long commitment of male and female couples in marriage. I respectfully submit that those who sought to extend the scope of civil partnerships beyond same-sex couples would have made the legislation lack legal clarity. Its intention would have been blurred, if not thwarted. Those who resisted the extension of civil partnerships beyond same-sex couples were right, because it would have blurred the entire conversation and the entire discussion.
"In contrast, for me, the legislation to create civil partnerships was a proper exercise in almost-but-not-quite equality. It allowed me a little wiggle-room to discriminate. It recognised the immense difference between "two people who love each other," and "two people who love each other, but in a way that I, with my aforesaid fixation on genitalia, find kind of yucky." I know I said earlier that civil partnerships were worthy but not equivalent, but I really want to stress that they should have been open only to gays, so that we could single them out and point at their worthy unequalness. Along with the tattoos and the rainbow-badges, publicly shaming them would have been so much easier.
Without some clearer classification, as suggested in the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, we introduce a degree of ambiguity that is not common in law. This cannot help anyone, because Clause 11 still refers to "opposite sex". We must be very careful about how we arrive at an answer. Responsible government is government under law. A responsible Government must prevent, as far as they can, the judgment that the law is an ass. I believe that fracturing the law of marriage into two alternative concepts of marriage inevitably inflicts damage of very serious proportions on English law, weakening the authority of the law as a whole. This damage can be lessened by the very honest amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. This amendment seeks clarity and makes an important distinction. If it is accepted, as I sincerely hope it will be, it will go some way towards preserving the integrity of the law. I support the amendment, and I hope the House will have the same view."
"Without some clear clarification, we introduce ambiguity into the law. Quite why it is "ambiguous" to state that two people who want to get married may now get married, I do not intend to explain at this time. I believe that opening marriage up to all couples who want to get married will lead to two different concepts of marriage. I don't intend to explain this seeming paradox at this time, either. I support the amendment in hopes that the whole mess will go away if we prevaricate and obfuscate for long enough. I hope the House will be as bigoted and transparent in their obstructionism as wot I am."
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