Is gay marriage really about sex?

The Christian conservative response to the question of what should be done about the sexual instincts of gay people is intrinsically flawed


About 25 years ago, when the Anglican sex wars were breaking out all over, the dean of an Oxbridge college asked me two questions on which the whole debate really hinges. “Can a gay couple be a means of grace to one another?” and “Does the archbishop of Canterbury have oral sex?”

Curiously, the second question remains unanswered, and quite properly unasked in public, too. But both are ways of addressing the question of what sex is for, which underlies all the disputes about gay marriage. Can Christians approve wholeheartedly of non-procreative sex, in theory as well as in practice? The answer depends quite often on whether the theorists are themselves celibate.

I’ve read a lot of the material put out against gay marriage and it’s clear that in the end the conservative arguments against gay marriage come down to sex. This is not their only content. There is a lot of argument against any liberal or “consenting adult” view of marriage as something that society has no business regulating. These seem to me powerful and valid. But the idea that monogamous marriage is a social good and something the state ought to encourage is used by people like Andrew Sullivan to argue in favour of its extension to gay people.


But the real question is what should be done about the sexual instincts of gay people. And here, I think that the Christian conservative response is intrinsically flawed. If they were prepared to argue in favour of properly recognised, blessed and celebrated civil partnerships, there would be a much stronger case for keeping traditional marriage separate. But that would require the social approval and even the sanctification of some sexual relations outside marriage. This, in turn, requires the separation of sex from the procreation and nurture of children.

Catholics can’t do that, at least for the next couple of centuries, because they have been committed to the position that God planned the plumbing. But Anglicans, or Protestants generally, can take a broader view of sex. They can see it is something which is a good in itself, within permanent, faithful, stable relationships.

This is a conservative position, but it is not necessarily hostile to gay people. Not everyone thinks so. There have been gay people who argued that the model of heterosexual marriage is entirely wrong and should not be imposed on them. The liberal/conservative divide here is not at all the same as the divide between pro-and anti-gay.

But the fact that there are two divisions here, not just one, really matters. It gives flesh to David Cameron’s claim that marriage is much too valuable to be reserved for straight couples. And Cameron himself – you never know – might just be actuated by his Christian convictions, and not just political calculation.

via  Andrew Brown

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