Sunday, February 9, 2014

A reasoned debate on gay marriage is not possible.

RTE, my national state broadcaster, annoyed a lot of people recently. First they censored a late night talk show because drag artist Rory O’Neill answered a question on homophobia in Ireland by naming newspaper journalists and members of the ultra-catholic Iona Institute as homophones. The Iona Institute responded through their lawyers. RTE was quick to issue both an public apology and a considerable cash settlement to the named journalists:
Now, on the Saturday night show two weeks ago comments were made by a guest suggesting the journalist and broadcaster John Waters, Breda O’Brien and some members of the Iona institute are homophobic. These are not the views of RTÉ and we would like to apologise for any upset or distress caused to the individuals named or identified. It is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues. [link]
Then, while the above storm was brewing, RTE caused further outrage by airing a radio program called the God Slot asking "Can gays be cured of being gay?" and later fueled the outpouring of anger by tweeting "Listen to the show before making judgements or can questions not be posed in this age of fascism masquerading as liberalism?" [via] 

The outcome was predictable with both sides accusing the other of attempting to block democratic free speech and rational debate. The Irish Catholic issued the following plea:
Politicians have issued calls for a more calm and measured debate on same sex marriage amid widespread hysteria ahead of next year’s referendum on the controversial issue.

Senators and TDs told The Irish Catholic this week that the debate on gay marriage needs to be more reasoned, with people on both sides allowed to have their opinions heard without fear of being demonised.
followed by an example of calm reasoning by Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh: "The debate should be tolerant and one that examines in depth the ramifications for what is a significant exercise in social re-engineering.”

I believe such a rational debate is not possible; both sides are too far apart. At its heart is an utilitarian approach butting heads against natural theology.

Utilitarianism holds that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering. An utilitarian will consider the positive and negative outcomes of allowing gay marriage. The positives are that a small but non-trivial number of citizens can avail of the same rights as the majority. And the negatives? Opponents say gay marriage will undermine the institution of marriage and damage society, but they cannot explain how. We are told marriage cannot be redefined, yet it clearly can; that marriage is the building block of society, yet we cannot extend the institution to cover more citizens; that children have the right to a mother and a father, yet the claim is irrelevant to this debate. This extraordinary absence of tangible utilitarian arguments against gay marriage open opponents to the, perhaps justifiable, charge of homophobia.

Natural theology however perceives that the world is consistent and bound by laws that we can see and understand, and these laws reveal the nature of the Creator; that the transgression of those laws has particular consequences. Human beings are free to transgress these laws and we are free to suffer the wrath of God. God's wrath is understood by 'sophisticated' theologians as a withdrawal of grace from which all human progress depends. It is witnessed through increasing crime figures, divorce rates, materialism, atheism and the gradual collapse of society.  The crude version involves earthquakes and floods.

I see no way to reconcile these views in a public debate. Christians argue marriage is between a man and a women for the purpose of procreation. Modern culture argues marriage is based upon love, not procreation. Christians claim gay marriage would undermine society. Modern culture demands to know how.

Both sides lay claim to rationality. But they are two very different ships passing in a storm.


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