Thursday, 26 April 2012

Peter Saunders vs The World

Disclaimer: Now, don’t get me wrong, I never intended for this blog to pick on certain people and to deride them personally, but certain people (Andrea Minichiello Williams on my previous post, Peter Saunders on this one) have put themselves out there as voices of reason in the same-sex marriage debate. I’m not trying to attack these people personally, for all I know they could be nice people, but I will publicly pick on their publicly shared opinions. So just to get it out there, these posts are taking issue with the things these people have said, not the people themselves.

Today’s topic: Peter Saunders. A chief executive of Christian Medical Fellowship, an organisation that I have heard good things of in the past. 

Peter writes on his blog many posts about sexuality ( and same sex marriage ( Without even clicking the links, you could take a good guess (and be right) that Peter is not a fan of surrendering the sacred ‘marriage’ noun to the homosexual riff raff. I will however, give Peter some credit, in that his blog posts are a lot fairer than others I have read, and he is polite to people who respond with offensive comments, and he seems to be coming from a more genuine conviction in relaying what he feels is God’s agenda rather than coming from a place of homophobia. He seems a good guy, but I just happen to disagree with some of his beliefs.

In case you are wondering if Peter has ever stood in the shoes of someone who: struggles with homosexual feelings, who has had their heart broken by losing their first love because they are of the same gender, of someone who has been kicked out of their church where they thought they were family for being gay, who has been told to remain celibate forever due to their unwanted sexual attractions, who has married someone they don’t really love just to marry someone of the ‘right’ gender, who has faced all the indignity and discriminations of being gay etc etc then your wonderings will be quenched with this quote from Peter:

I lost my virginity aged 24 on my wedding night almost thirty years ago (to my first wife!) and have only had one sexual partner since (ie. my first wife to whom I am still married).” (

So it is important, I feel, that we all bear in mind that Peter’s arguments do not lack intellect, but perhaps lack some empathy and understanding.
I present to you today, Peter’s “top ten reasons not to legalise same sex marriage” plus a bit of back and forth from other readers, and then ding ding ding, my opinion. (
(the white boxes do not mean anything special, just appeared when I copied and pasted)

1. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman 

Peter: Throughout history in virtually all cultures and faiths throughout the world, marriage has been held to be the union of one man and one woman. Marriage existed thousands of years before our nation began and has been recognised in our laws as the ‘voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life’ (Hyde v Hyde 1866). The UN Declaration of Human Rights (article 16) recognises that the family, headed by a man and a woman, ‘is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’. It is not up to governments to redefine marriage – but simply to recognise it for what it is, and to promote and protect it as a unique institution

Jeremy: Civil marriage is between a man and a woman and explicitly excludes any religious references. It is a legal partnership recognised by the state and has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It is not up to religions to define what they believe marriage to be and then impose this understanding on everyone else in society. That is blatant bigotry, discrimination and homophobia.
P: You are right that marriage is a legal partnership - in fact a legal contract - recognized by the state. I am not in any way denying that. But the state defines marriage as ‘the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life’. The UN Declaration of Human Rights also recognizes that it is ‘one man, one woman’. This is not primarily a religious issue – many religious people support the legalization of same sex marriage and many people of no faith do not. Are you suggesting that these people of no faith are also guilty of ‘blatant bigotry, discrimination and homophobia’ simply because they do not share your view? Are our legislators also guilty of these three things?
Richard: Yes, the whole world IS guilty of discrimination against Gay and Lesbian people, in some countries this is still enshrined in quite draconian laws. The statements about the definition of marriage are examples that linger from a past that we really should be putting behind us. Just because something IS, does not mean we can't change it. The reformation is a shining example, surely.
Ding ding ding, end of round 1. I agree with Peter that this particular argument is not necessarily a religious issue, but I think Richard wins this round. These are old definitions, and quite possibly formed in part because of historical focus on religion. Just because these definitions were formed, it doesn’t mean they are enduring and doesn’t even mean that they were originally correct. 

The government can recognise marriage ‘for what it is’ but the fact is, is that there are now homosexual relationships that also deserve recognition. It is how it is, and currently it is a world with homosexuals as well as heterosexuals.

I think I’d also say, that Peter thinks marriage needs to be ‘protected as a unique institution’. Extending the definition to same-sex couples does not make it any less unique. What is distinct about marriage is that it recognises two people’s love for each other, and allows them to become part of the same family and to be joined in a unique way for the rest of their lives, a point on which I should think we agree. Marriage between same-sex couples follows the same concept, marriage as an institution is not changed. What does, however, threaten marriage as an institution is divorce, as this goes against the main concepts of marriage yet divorce is now legal (and we should note has not ruined marriage for the rest of the heterosexuals). 

So I would agree with Peter if marriage was unique solely for the fact it is between a man and a woman but the fact is, that’s not the point of marriage, it is not simply to join two people of the opposite sex together for life, it is instead to join together a man and a woman who love each other, something that won’t be corrupted by extension to same sex couples.
2.Same sex couples already have civil partnerships

Peter: All the legal rights of marriage are already available to same sex couples through civil partnerships so there is no need to redefine marriage to include them. The President of the Family Division has even described civil partnerships as conferring ‘the benefits of marriage in all but name’. Such a move would also inevitably lead to calls to open civil partnerships to opposite sex couples on the basis of ‘equality’. But marriage and civil partnerships have been designed for two very different types of relationship and should be kept distinct. It is not and should not be ‘one size fits all’.

Jeremy: Civil partnerships are not equal to marriage in law and continue discrimination purely on the grounds of sexuality. Providing legal equality for same sex couples basically has nothing to do with religion and would be simple to implement.
P: Marriage and civil partnerships are covered by different acts of parliament indeed but can you tell me (and other readers) what legal rights married couples have that those in a civil partnership do not? Could you also explain by what legislative manoevre same sex marriage could be easily legalized? Have you read my post ‘Legalising same sex marriage is a can of worms’? You should.

Richard: Once again - just because legislation is difficult to change does not mean it should not be changed. If something is wrong and discriminatory then it should be put right. I don't believe it would be nearly as expensive as you claim - I think this is a false argument. And, as you say, if gay couples have the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples - what could possibly be the objection? And, by the way, marriage is only marriage if it is ratified by the state - even a church wedding needs to the services of a registrar - who happens to be a priest, but the role is different. However, to be legal, no marriage needs to be ratified by a minister at all.
Ding ding ding, end of round 2. Two things: 1, is it right that there are these two distinct institutions? Confining the argument to Christians for a moment, if we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, all with one Lord over us, all of equal importance to God, then why is there a separation between us that isn’t actually required? Why should a difference be drawn between one christian couple and another, based solely on a body part?
2, if it’s all the same thing anyway then why shouldn’t it use the same name. 

It seems a bit contradictory to me that Peter is saying that CP’s are basically the same as marriages, but that they should remain distinct. Either they are the same or they aren’t.

3.Redefining marriage without consultation is undemocratic 

Peter: None of the political leaders who are supporting the legalisation of same sex marriage announced it as a priority in their election manifestos. There is already a huge amount of opposition to the move and pressing ahead with legalisation will lead to considerable dissension and division. Legalising same sex marriage to appease a small minority is wrong and it should not be foisted on the British people without proper consultation about whether rather than how it should be done.
Jeremy: Consultation is proposed and anyone is welcome to contribute.

P: Yes but the Home Secretary has made it very clear that the consultation is not about whether same sex marriage should be legalized but how it should be legalized. That is highly undemocratic. 

Richard: Here's a challange. If there were a consultation and the majority chose to allow same sex marriage, would you then come quietly. I think not - the church would go on squealing about the tirany of the majority and anti religious bias in society. Remember, its only a tiny minority of people that actually attend church.
 Ding ding ding, end of round 3. Richard has a point- would Christians stand for legislation that excluded them from something even though they are the minority? Probably not, they would fight for inclusion based on equal rights.

Peter is concerned about division, yet petitions like the Coalition for Marriage which he supports are inciting even more division. 
Also, there is an option on the consultation to ‘disagree’ with the proposed changes… so surely that is democratic?

4.Equality does not mean uniformity

Peter: In a free democratic society we accept that many human activities are not open to everybody. Not everyone is allowed to drink alcohol, drive a car, buy property, cast a vote, own a firearm, attend university, visit Buckingham Palace or participate in a 100m women’s Olympic event. This does not mean that those who are not eligible for these activities are in any way denigrated or demeaned, but just that there are eligibility criteria. Same sex couples do not fulfil the eligibility criteria for marriage, which should be reserved for the voluntary union of one man and one woman for life.

Jeremy: You seem to have a twisted concept of equality if you think it means uniformity.
P: No I am arguing exactly the opposite. Equality under the law does not necessarily mean uniformity. 

Richard: Your original list of things some people could not do was a list of straw men. E.G: "not everyone can vote" - true convicted criminals and minors (both for obvious reasons). I don't think we should be likening sexual orientation to either criminality or lack of respnsibility and experience - do you?
Ding ding ding, end of round 4. A point I have made many times before: surely it is more important that the eligibility criteria for marriage are ‘being in love’ ‘being a christian’ (for christian marriage) ‘willing to commit for life’ however these are not always met by people who are still allowed to use the title ‘married’. Surely two people marrying so one can get a green card should not be ‘eligible’ for marriage and of course lawfully they aren’t, yet if they get away with it then they are, by definition, married.

Also a similar point to point 3, what if it were Christians who were not eligible for certain things. Christians ousted from voting, from driving, from attending university, they wouldn’t stand for it. The reasons some people aren’t allowed to do some things are because of good, sensible reasons, however there are not good, sensible reasons (despite this article’s aims) to oust homosexuals from marriage, just as there wouldn’t be to oust Christians from certain things. 

I actually do not, quite simply, understand this point at all…
5.Protecting traditional marriage safeguards children and society 

Peter: Stable marriages and families headed by a mother and a father are the bedrock of society and the state has a duty to protect the uniqueness of these key institutions. Though death and divorce may prevent it, children do best when raised by a married mother and father. Whilst single parents or same sex couples may do a good job in raising children, social policy has to be concerned with what is normally the case, and children have a right if at all possible to have a married mother and a father involved in their upbringing. In general the evidence shows that marriage provides a stability for adults and children which is hard to beat in terms of outcomes. There is considerable evidence to show that marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being and reduced crime and domestic violence. By contrast sexual freedom and relationship breakdown cost Britain £100 billion annually and other models of the family have not been shown to have the same stability as traditional marriage. Same sex marriage, in comparison with marriage, is an unproven and experimental social model.

Jeremy: Children being brought up by same sex couples are proven by all the research available to benefit equally to those children brought up by opposite sex couples. Providing marriage for same sex couples has no effect on marriage for opposite sex couples.
P: You are arguing here largely from silence as there is very little hard evidence available on the children of same sex marriages because same sex marriage is a very recent social experiment. Changing the law to allow same sex marriage would alter the definition of marriage for opposite sex couples because the two types of partnership cannot be easily accommodated under one legal umbrella. 

Richard: Then, there is no evidence either way - your point still falls
Ding ding ding, end of round 5. Firstly, Peter has torn down his own point here- in many, many cases, ‘traditional marriage’ is not reality. Even when there is a couple who are ‘traditionally married’ that is not to say there isn’t abuse happening, or that it isn’t a bad environment for a child anyway. It is entirely unrealistic to expect that families will be traditional, or that if they are that it is a positive thing. There is nothing to say that a gay couple can’t provide a more stable environment for their children than the heterosexual couple next door. 

And of course same-sex marriage is unproven, because it doesn’t bloody exist!! Stupidest comment ever. That’s like saying ‘the health benefits of a booboo fruit are not proven to be as good as those of a blueberry’. If the booboo fruit were allowed to exist however, then there is nothing to say that it won’t demonstrate equally good health benefits. 

All in all, this argument falls at the first hurdle as it is based on the premise that traditional marriage safeguards children, and in some research on middle class, White, 2.4 children families this might be ‘proven’ but if the safeguarding for children was dependent on staving off homosexual marriage then social workers wouldn’t be in existence prior to same sex marriage. There is an issue with safeguarding children with or without same-sex marriage.

6.Marriage is a unique biologically complementary relationship

Peter: Marriage is the only legal union which can naturally lead to children. It takes both a man and a woman to produce a baby. The fact that there is a natural link between sexual intimacy and procreation is what makes marriage distinctive and different. Redefining marriage will undermine this distinctness and difference and risks normalising the technological instrumentalisation of reproduction and increasing the number of families where there is confusion of biological, social and family identity.

Jeremy: The logical extension of your biological determinism would be that any heterosexual couple who were married and discovered they were infertile should be forced to get a divorce as they would no longer fulfil your 'distinctiveness' criteria and their marriage would therefore be invalid.

P: The distinctiveness criterion applies to the potential to have children by natural means, with or without assistance. This is not an option for same sex couples whose procreation depends on gamete donation meaning that their children are not biologically related to both parents

Richard: Sorry, there are plenty of Hetrosexual couples who are not able to have children even with assistance. I think we get this "marriage is for procreation" from Genesis chapter 1 or 2 - and lets face it, neither of these chapters are historically relaiable. A gay married couple are capable of properly bringing up children - that's the point. I know several who have done this.
DIng ding ding, end of round 6. This is not a reason to deny same- sex marriage. Firstly, for the point Jeremy makes. Secondly, many things aren’t ‘biologically complementary’ yet there is no problem in external assistance to enable their functioning. For example, someone who was born with no legs is not ‘biologically complementary’ with walking, yet there is no moral dilemma about providing prosthetic legs to enable a person to walk. 
Thirdly, in case that link seemed to tenuous, babies (should be) borne out of love that two people have for one another, so whether the baby comes naturally, with help, or from the orphanage’s catalogue, it is still an expression of love between two people, and brought up with love, regardless of the parts between the parents’ legs.
Fourthly, has Peter ever watched Jeremy Kyle? Obviously biological, social and family identity are threatened in many people’s lives, despite being married, due to extra marital affairs, abuse, etc. Would a child produced by a wife and her extra-marital partner be any less viable than the children she produced within her marriage?

It is idealistic to view marriage as being a container for appropriate reproduction.

7.Redefining marriage will be complex and expensive

Peter: Redefining marriage could cost billions and involve amending hundreds of pieces of government legislation. The word 'marriage' appears 3,258 times in UK legislation, which underlines the central role the institution plays in national law. Introducing same sex marriage is a legal can of worms which cannot be achieved without changing the common and legal definition of the word marriage and other words which define it(eg. ‘husband and wife’, ‘consummation’ and ‘adultery’). These changes will inevitably change the definition and nature of marriage for opposite sex couples by trying to accommodate these two very different kinds of relationship under one legal umbrella. According to an assessment done for gay rights group Stonewall by a former civil servant, the cost of implementing one favoured option would be around £5 billion. This figure relates to a theoretical increase in straight couples taking up the opportunity of civil partnerships, with knock-on implications to their entitlement to pension and tax benefits. This is simply not a priority for government at a time of economic recession as it will confer no new rights. 

Jeremy: And there are too many old people so we should just introduce compulsory euthanasia because of the costs. Pointless argument.

P: This is a non-sequitur. My point is that a costly and complex legal change that confers no new rights is not a priority at a time of economic recession – or ever. 

Richard: No new rights - but still discrimination. Discrimination of any kind on the grounds of race, gender or orientation is abhorrent and should not be allowed to stand in any decent society.

Ding ding ding, end of round 7. “This figure relates to a theoretical increase in straight couples taking up the opportunity of civil partnerships” at the moment, that is not being proposed, as it says in the consultation document that is is not being considered because there is not sufficient demand for it to be legalised. 

UK legislation is constantly in flux, with amendments happening all the time on all types of issues, and I assume redefinitions have been part of that in other contexts too. 

If the government weren’t willing to invest the cost on this issue then they wouldn’t be holding consultations over it at all. 

At the end of the day, cost shouldn’t be a reason for withholding equality.

8.Schools will be forced to teach about the new definition of marriage

Peter: Under existing education law schools will be required to teach children that marriage can be between a man and a woman, between two men or between two women. This will confuse children whose parents may wish to teach them according to their own values and worldview. Those parents who object could be undermined in their children’s eyes, stigmatised as homophobics and bigots and prevented from full involvement in schools.

Jeremy: So what? I think most children are already aware that gay people exist. What people believe and teach their children is their own business so long as it harms nobody else. You seem to suggest that parents who are homophobic would be excluded from participation in schools which is simply hysterical nonsense. For your information there are more state funded religious schools at the moment than at any point in the history of the UK. Those with religious beliefs are being accommodated more than ever within society.

P: I repeat that if the law changes schools will be required to teach children a new definition of marriage that is a legal fiction. And parents with traditional views will as a result be discriminated against. That will be inevitable. 
Richard: I am a teacher and I'm sure that I have on occasions taught things that have conflicted with the views of some parents. For instance, I teach that racism of any type is wrong - and I know that some sets of parents still use racist language and have racist views at home. Are they being discriminated against - I'm happy to tell their children that such views are wrong. I will also argue with children of parents who tell them that donating blood is wrong and that the world was created in six days (which it was not). To call this discrimination is rubbish - there are opposing views. The child and the parent are at liberty to hold these views - but being told that there is another view does not undermine their rights to hold them - only their right to live in a bubble and have nothing to do with society - which is not right. This argument really is nonsense of the first degree. And if the legal definition of marriage is changed - it is hardly a legal fiction is it? It's the law - and should be made clear.
Ding ding ding, end of round 8. Firstly, what Richard said. And secondly, since 2003 homosexuality has been legal to teach in schools, meaning the next generation of kids aren’t going to be as sheltered from diversity as older generations may have been. For them, legal same sex marriage is likely to be intuitive and expected. 

As Jeremy said, ‘so what’ and as Richard says, schools already teach views that may conflict with parents’ views. 
9.Redefining marriage will not stop with same sex marriage

Peter: In Mexico same sex marriage was followed by two year fixed term marriage. In Canada legalising same sex marriage has led to supporters of polygamy demanding in the courts for their unions to be recognised. If the legal definition is changed to accommodate same sex couples other minority groups with a vested interest (eg. Muslims, Mormons, Bisexuals and Polyamorists) will have a much stronger case to argue for the legalisation of polygamy and group marriages. The best defence against this is to keep the legal definition of marriage unique and distinct – ‘one man, one woman, for life’. 

Jeremy: There is no evidence for any of these assertions

P: It is already happening in Mexico and Canada as I outlined. 

Ding ding ding, end of round 9. I would personally argue that people are homosexual by nature. This is contested, but I defy anyone to choose the gender of who they are attracted to (did you choose to be attracted to people of the opposite sex?). Polygamy, I would argue, is not an innate sexual orientation.

My main argument for allowing a same sex couple to marry is that two people in love should not be denied a life long, monogamous commitment based on one body part being the same where it should be different. I think the argument for legalised polygamous marriages is based on entirely different premises which would require entirely different arguments for and against which is unrelated to this current argument. It’s like the green apples saying to the red apples “you are not allowed to share a cupboard shelf with us” and the red apples protesting that they are still apples and should be allowed the same rights. Suggesting the bananas may then want on the apple shelf for the same reasons as the apples is ridiculous, bananas would need a whole new repertoire of justifications for why they should be allowed on the shelf, and cannot say that they should be allowed just because the red apples are, because clearly the red apples have better justification for their argument.

10.Redefining marriage will lead to faith-based discrimination

Peter: We have already seen a rising tide of discrimination against people who support traditional marriage as a result of the legalisation of civil partnerships coupled with new equality legislation.. If same sex marriage is legalised faith-based employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex ‘spouses’. They would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action - no matter how modest - against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil ‘marriage’ with a member of the same sex. Faith-based adoption and fostering services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly ‘married’. Marriage counsellors from faith backgrounds would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counselling in support of same-sex ‘married’ relationships. All these moves would place faith groups in the invidious position of being forced to act against their consciences or face marginalisation, exclusion and litigation and would further fuel social fragmentation, sectarianism, antagonism and civil unrest.

Jeremy: Couple X can do Y. Couple Z cannot. Enabling couple Z to do Y does not in any way discriminate against couple X. Equality is equality is equality. If you break the law then you have to live with the consequences. Feel free to be homophobic, intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory and hateful within your own religion but step outside into liberal society and try and do the same thing and I'm afraid you will suffer the consequences of your actions.
P: You are arguing here that gay rights trump all other rights. I’m afraid that I don’t accept that. People should not be forced to act contrary to their consciences. Reasonable accommodation should always be made in a free and democratic society but there are a raft of UK cases which already demonstrate that when the law changes in these areas they lose that freedom

Richard: Once again. Rubbish! No one is forcing anyone to enter into a marriage with a member of the same sex. Hetrosexual couples will still get married, in churches and registry offices and country houses. That won't change. Exactly who's rights are being trampled here. Who is being forced to act contrary to their conscience. Who? And to do what? What, exactly are you frightned of?
Ding ding ding, end of round 10. Religion is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, this is why Christians are able to argue cases of perceived discrimination in court without being laughed out the building. There is legislation in place specifically to protect Christians from this discrimination, what more do you want?! This is scaremongering, as Christians are already legally protected.

Even if in some cases faith-based discrimination does occur, and isn’t ruled as unlawful when the case is taken to court, there are a thousand and one other reasons for it before the gay issue. What I mean by this is that allowing same sex marriages only opens up a small strand in which there are some new, potential discriminations; the ones that Peter lists. These discriminations will be treated in the same way as all the many other cases that Christians face, for example not being allowed to wear a cross. 

These situations where a Christian is caught between their ethics and what is legally expected of them in the workplace are few and far between, most of the time the individual Christian takes the action they choose, which can then either be fine or has to be contested in court to check if it was reasonable. Adding on a few scenarios where this could occur by opening up marriage to people of the same sex isn’t going to have a huge difference on what is already the case for Christians (especially as there are civil partnerships which have already introduced the first wave of new discriminations). 

Basically, it is extreme to suggest that opening up gay marriage will suddenly mean Christians are being discriminated against willy nilly. Yes, it may present a few more dilemmas for Christians than are already existent, but it is not some major difference, and even if it was, Christians are still protected by law to stand by their faith.

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