In May the Irish voted by a big majority to allow same-sex couples to marry. There was a 60 per cent turnout, and 62 per cent of the two million who voted said yes to the change. The Irish decision came not long after the granting of the freedom to marry to members of the same sex in Britain and New Zealand. Now that the three countries culturally closest to Australia have taken this decision it is very likely that Australia will follow suit.
The first country to permit such marriages was, not surprisingly, the Netherlands in 2001. There have been many such marriages since, which has pleased the couples involved and has had no adverse impact on the conventional family life of other Dutch people; 80 per cent of straight Dutch couples are married. Today such marriages take place throughout most of Western Europe and North and South America. By contrast in Africa, with one striking exception, and in Asia such marriages are unknown and indeed seen as abhorrent. In a curious way same-sex marriage has become the mark of what it is to be Western in the twenty-first century, a century in the West at least of secure capitalism with its emphasis on individual choice.
This is a remarkable and rapid social change. Only twenty-two years ago sexual acts involving two men were contrary to the criminal law of the Republic of Ireland. Now such behaviour can be “sanctified” by marriage.
The change is best seen as a further extension of the toleration and acceptance of gay men and lesbians that characterised the West in the last forty years of the twentieth century. Until the early nineteenth century male homosexual acts in a private place could be punished by death in Britain and indeed many were. Until the 1960s in Britain and many other countries those homosexuals unlucky enough to get caught could end up with long jail sentences. Today it is only in Islamic countries that gay men can be thrown off a high cliff or stoned to death as a punishment. One of the reasons for the increased sympathy for the situation of gay men in the West in the twenty-first century may well be the awareness of their sufferings under the barbarous rule of Islam.
Since the eighteenth century at least, to be Western is to believe in companionate marriages, freely entered into by two individuals. This is in contrast to the arranged and even forced marriages of the Muslim world that take place as part of sordid property deals between groups of kinsfolk and without consultation of the couples. Due to Islamic rules of inheritance they often involve the repeated marriage of first cousins, with dire genetic consequences, as happened in the past with the Habsburgs. But once marriage is seen as a matter of individual choice made in the pursuit of happiness it becomes difficult to uphold rigid restrictions on who may marry whom. When Prince William married Kate Middleton, a humble middle-class commoner with no aristocratic connections, everyone rejoiced. It was seen as a love match. But what would the world have thought about it in the nineteenth century when royalty could only marry royalty, which is why the Hanoverians were always seeking spouses from the petty princes and princesses of Germany. Can you imagine Edward VII being married to one of his many commoner mistresses rather than the Danish princess who was the Queen? The twentieth century saw the ending of royalty as a caste with strong boundaries and the creation of popular monarchy. Indeed this is why monarchies have survived at all and indeed why most long-lasting democracies are constitutional monarchies.
Looked at this way it becomes clear why South Africa is the only country in that continent to accept same-sex marriage and to have done so as early as 2006. The Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled in 2005 that denying marriage to same-sex couples was in violation of that country’s new democratic constitution. The next year the South African parliament voted by a large majority to allow such couples to marry. In the background to this decision lay the old system of apartheid which had prohibited marriages between different racial groups. Today an Afrikaner can marry a Tswana, or an Indian in Natal a Zulu, but such marriages only became possible when the segregation of the society into watertight categories was abolished. The new South Africa, a strongly Christian country among Africans and Europeans alike, is a society in which there is an inherent suspicion of strong categories and boundaries and an unwillingness to tell any pair of individuals that they cannot marry. In the rest of Africa tribalism rules and is more important than individual citizenship, and those who prize the purity of their tribe are keen to preserve boundaries of all kinds including those between men and women. Homosexuals and lesbians are abhorrent to the tribal leaders of Africa for they symbolise a world in which boundaries are not maintained. To break one boundary, to erode one category, is to endanger the rest. That is the message of Leviticus too, as is clear to anyone who reads it carefully.
During the twentieth century the social differences and distinctions between men and women were steadily eroded in all Western countries. Women entered politics and the professions, including the Protestant ministry, so that we are left with two sets of people, men and women, who differ as sets of individuals but not as categories. The old rigidly-bounded social categories are gone. But once these categories are gone the logic of seeing homosexuals and lesbians as deviant breakers of the fundamental gender units of society has gone too.
The basic principle of capitalism is freedom to choose and so it is difficult to deny a freedom such as freedom to marry to any particular group of people. If gays and lesbians see marriage as a good thing, as a source of contentment for couples, as an estate to be esteemed, then it is difficult to deny it to them when it is not denied to others. Indeed their wish to embrace it is a good put-down for those radical leftists who wish to abolish the family and marriage. To oppose gay marriage is misguided, for what is at stake is not a question of inner conviction but the actions of the state in an age when religion has become a private and voluntary activity. As far as the state, as distinct from individuals, is concerned, marriage is a secular contract between two individuals whose responsibilities are decided by public policy. Those who are legally divorced by the state may remarry in a registry office, even though this is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic and Anglican churches. At one time the state would not permit this but now it is common. Polygamy is forbidden in the West regardless of what Mohammad or Brigham Young may have preached. In practice a Muslim man who is a citizen of a Western society can live with four women to whom he is married in the eyes of his own community, provided that he does not ask for recognition from the state and that no deception is involved. Equally he can dump his wives without any real regard to their wishes in the matter, provided it follows Islamic rules. In essence we have parallel systems of marriage, one for the state and one for each religious community. Orthodox Jews have always had to live with this duality. Same-sex marriage is simply a matter for the state. What churches do is up to them.
Lesbians will benefit from gay marriage because marriage brings with it a greater degree of acceptance and esteem, but gay men even more so. What most of them seek is a stable partnership, but they are bedevilled by the promiscuous image of their group, one which they themselves acknowledge since on average it is accurate. However, the average is misleading. Most gay men will have had no more sexual partners than unmarried straight men matched for age and class. The average is pushed up by a wild minority of them, perhaps 10 per cent of the total who go “trolling” for sex in gay baths and bars or shouting “Hello sailor!” at impecunious matelots or enter the “tea-room trade” and go “cottaging”, seeking quick anonymous sex in a public lavatory. In these ways they may have well over a hundred sexual encounters with different men in the course of a year. The wild ones represent themselves as leading the real gay life and make the more conventional and conservative majority feel uncomfortable, as squares adhering to straight norms. Same-sex marriage will provide a strong alternative way of being homosexual, and a key source of respect.
The problem with gay marriage lies with its supporters. I am not speaking of the committed gays and lesbians, who in most Western countries constitute only 1 to 2 per cent of the male population and less than 1 per cent of women, but of the much larger number of heterosexuals in favour. Most of them, including a great majority of the recent Irish voters, are benign and I would place myself in this category. If I were Irish I would have voted “Yes”. We are careful balancers of three ideals: personal freedom, a utilitarian wish to reduce harm to other individuals, and the upholding of the inherited traditions of our inherited culture. All of these are good, but none of them are absolutes. On this particular occasion freedom and utility won out over tradition, though, as the economists say, “on the margin”. We wanted a little more freedom and contentment for others, even if it meant sacrificing a degree of tradition.
However, some of the supporters of gay marriage, particularly within the political class and among the intellectuals of the Left, are enemies of the people. Such persons are particularly influential in broadcasting and in the literature departments of our universities. They hate their own society and its traditions—in the case of Australia, Britain and Ireland, the Anglo-Celtic Christian tradition. They are purveyors of the curse of multiculturalism who seek to eradicate our justified pride in our distinctive Western history and way of life and primordial identities. In Britain and Australia they would like to see the end of constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. They are equality-mongers who do not value freedom and do not consider the welfare or the beliefs of ordinary people to be of much importance. That is why they are our enemy.
If you meet someone who says, “I care passionately about equality,” you can be sure that you are in the presence of an irrational and possibly dangerous person, who will sacrifice all aspects of the good society just to get more equality. They hate the freedom of capitalism because it produces unequal rewards. They hate the family because they see it as the transmitter of property and privilege. They are vocal in favour of same-sex marriage not because of any benefits it might bring but only because it fits their egalitarian agenda; it is a clear case of bad faith. Indeed in private those on the Left will often express scorn for gay men, whom they see as bourgeois and frivolous, more interested in spending their pink pounds on style than in furthering the egalitarian revolution. They may well be complacent when the larrikins from the more dire western suburbs of Sydney go down to the gay enclaves on the coast for a bit of poofter-bashing, for the aggressors are part of a “downtrodden proletariat”, and like themselves opposed to bourgeois society.
In England lower-class West Indians like songs praising the killing of the “chi-chi” man and the “batty” boy—both of which are offensive terms for gay men. But composers, singers and audience are black, so that’s all right then. Likewise when the Anglican Bishop of Chester expressed a mild wish that psychiatrists should convert homosexuals he was denounced, but Muslim imams can spew hatred with impunity. The leftist ideological world is one in which everything is reduced to a game of underdoggery, where those who enjoy the title of “approved, oppressed and marginalised minority” can be as bigoted as they like and escape all criticism, let alone condemnation. The coming of same-sex marriage means that gays and lesbians have joined the respectable classes and they will now lose the protection of the mad egalitarians, much as has happened to the Jews, who are now exposed to fierce anti-Semitism from the Left.
In our continuing culture war against the equality-mongers who seek to destroy our culture and society, we must now in the West seek allies among married gays and lesbians and where possible recruit them to the conservative cause. Once a group has been included in the social order their members have much to lose. There are already many conservatives among them, patriots and upholders of tradition, such as the historian David Starkey, and also many committed Christians, including Senator David Norris, who was the first to campaign against the criminal laws that penalised homosexual behaviour in the Republic of Ireland.
There are also among the gay leadership many consistent upholders of freedom of speech, such as Peter Tatchell, the London-based Australian who has regularly defended the right of members of what has now become the moral minority to be critical of gay activities without being subject to calumny. This is already a key issue. Those who, like myself, have in the past defended the freedom of gay magazines to publish what many felt was obscene and blasphemous must now show equal zeal in upholding the right to free speech of those who find same-sex marriage objectionable. Freedom is indivisible.
Christie Davies is the author of The Strange Death of Moral Britain (Transaction, 2004). He and his wife married in a chapel of the United Reform Church and are very happy, which is why he wants others to enjoy the same felicity.