February 29, 2012

Read carefully

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made an important but typically dense speech to the World Council of Churches. In it he rightfully calls for the legal protection of sexual minorities. He then, however, gets off track with his reflections on law as a means to culture change. This is most evident in his passing reference to same-sex marriage. (I have to contest the Daily Mail's headlining this as if it were the primary point of his essay!)

The real problem in paragraph 14 is that he speaks of categories of marginalization or stigma, which is far from the reason some are advocating for marriage equality. The issue is that marriage is a fundamental human right. It has nothing to do with GLBT persons wanting "acceptance" but their wanting free access to rights and responsibilities to which they are entitled by virtue of their being human. Same-sex couples are seeking marriage equality — not the removal of some stigma.

By bringing these issues together — along with the even more remotely connected issue of assisted suicide — the Archbishop loses focus and ultimately mars what could have been a very helpful reflection on human rights and the laws meant to protect them. Simply to assert that law often steps out ahead of culture is mind-numblingly obvious. This is precisely why declarations of human rights have to be made from time to time: because the culture hasn't yet reached that level of understanding and tolerance. Rights have to be declared because some in the culture — sometimes the majority — are denying them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

14 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

I'll repeat what I said in the comments to Alan Wilson's post on Facebook.

Rowan cites assisted dying with same-sex marriage as areas in which societies must exercise caution so that unforeseen harm may not result to members of the community, a linkage which I see as highly questionable and even pernicious. How does a same-sex marriage harm anyone else?

Jon said...

While legal rights are clearly not the same as acceptance, I don't see that they can be simply separated. It is to difficult to condemn someone for their behavior or desires while simultaneously insisting that they have a right to behave that way.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Mimi. Freeing the slaves certainly "harmed" the cotton industry! (One of the reasons the English supported the Confederacy...)

Rowan is once again in his "paschal" mode and "crucified place." Better to suffer the slings and arrows than assert rights which might upset someone's apple cart...

It is so "British" to take this "softly, softly" approach to human rights. One of the things we had to deal with in 1776...

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Jon, that is true, but the distinction is important -- and I think Rowan muddies the distinction. Legal rights may hasten acceptance -- as I think is true from US experience in the civil rights era. But Rowan seems to think that the culture change should come prior to the rights being granted -- which to me is an argument for continued injustice for the sake of peace. As I said above, a very British approach...

IT said...

If Rowan's policy were followed interracial marriage in the US would not have been legalized.

In 1967 a majority disagreed. It wasn't until the 90s that a plurality approved. Arguably, that wouldn't have been achieved if anti-miscegenation laws had still been on the books. And even today, conservatives in Southern states are shockingly opposed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, IT. Another superb example.

This all reflects why Rowan is simply not a "leader." He thinks it is his task to find the consensus and then declare it. "Boldly leading from behind" seems to be his motto. This thinking informs the Anglican Covenant process as well, and is wrong for the same reason.

John B. Chilton said...

"This is precisely why declarations of human rights have to be made from time to time: because the culture hasn't yet reached that level of understanding and tolerance. Rights have to be declared because some in the culture — sometimes the majority — are denying them."

Agreed. Likewise, when the people seek to take away rights that have been extended to all on grounds that can only be considered discriminatory. See recent California court decision on ssm.

Is Rowan buying into the argument that extending marriage to same sex partners harms traditional marriage? He's surely on the wrong side if he is. Folks continue say it's true, but they never have proof of such a thing. It's been laughed out of court.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

John, I think Rowan is deadly fearful of alienating conservatives. My late brother, who worked under him in Wales, noted that he always gave preferment to people who actually despised him. In my own conversation with him, he said he acted as he did in the Jeffrey John matter because a quarter of the bishops threatened a walk-out if he didn't. What he misses in all this is that he is placating a minority, and not really the majority. He continues it with the Covenant. He has taken the dominical advice to "love your enemies" in entirely the wrong way, and in the process offended all his friends!

JCF said...

If Rowan's policy were followed interracial marriage in the US would not have been legalized. In 1967 a majority disagreed. It wasn't until the 90s that a plurality approved.

As someone who had one of those marriages in the 90s... O_o

***

Well-said, Tobias.

Lionel Deimel said...

It is clear, I think, that LGBT folk want the same rights as straight people. I am intrigued by the notion of marriage as a human right, however, which I think is not quite the same thing.

In asserting that marriage is a human right, what exactly is the nature of the right you are asserting?

MarkBrunson said...

He would be clearer if he were given a word limit, I believe.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks JCF. The similarities are eerie, and the issue is fundamentally the same.

Lionel, see Article 16 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Marriage is a particular form of the rights of "free association" and to "make contracts." As a right, rather than a mere privilege, it creates a concomitant responsibility in each of the parties, in other persons, and in the society as a whole, to respect and not to violate the marriage.

Mark, that may be true, but I'm not entirely sure I'd like his clear ideas any more than I like his muddy ones...

MarkBrunson said...

But, at least his clear ones wouldn't allow self-deception and the attendant vacillation by otherwise truly decent people who so desperately want to believe! that Rowan is not a would-be petty dictator and de facto technocrat.

I know the predictable reaction to use of the word "evil" in conjunction with any living thing - so I'll simply say Rowan seems to pitch his words to allow him to mean anything one wishes them to, while not binding him to anything other than his own agenda in the bargain he proposes and that reminds me of a certain religio-mythic character.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Mark, I don't think Rowan wants to be a dictator, but functions as one out of a misplaced urge for order -- so I think technocrat is the better understanding. In other words, I don't think he is interested in personal power. It may be a subtle difference, but that's my take on it. I think it is his value system that is off-track. "Order" and "Unity" are his highest values -- but I don't have the sense he personally wants to be at the center -- just that there should be one. He is ready to retire, but wants to build Babel before he does so.