Editor’s Note: Faith Under Fire, Catholic Exchange’s series documenting increased hostilities against the Faith by the State, continues today with some eyebrow-raising observations by the irrepressible Gail Finke on the subject of same-sex marriage…
Two remarkable protests against redefining marriage this weekend show that the battle may not be lost, and that the battle lines are different from what many people think.
In England, more than 1,000 priests — about a quarter of the priests in the country, covering a wide variety of philosophical and political views — signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph warning that redefining marriage could lead to the sort of institutional persecution of Catholics there not seen since the 1700s. And in France, more than 300,000 people (some estimates go as high as one million, but the police say 340,000) marched on the Eiffel Tower to protest “gay marriage.”
Neither country can be accused of intolerance to homosexual couples living openly together. Both have legally recognized civil unions. In England, “civil partnerships” give the partners the full legal benefits of marriage. Since becoming legal in 2006, 50,000 have been contracted. In France, where “civil solidarity pacts” granting couples most of the same rights as married couples are available to anyone, almost 95% of those choosing them have been heterosexual couples.
Both countries are heavily secularized. While France is technically a Catholic country, the majority of French people remain functionally agnostic, while those who practice their faith are largely caught up in the bitter fight between the leftist mainstream church and the ultra-conservative Society of St. Pius X and sympathizers. Opposition to the redefinition of marriage there is not driven by theology.
In England, British blogger Damien Thompson noted, Catholics are “Britain’s largest and, arguably, best-integrated religious minority,” generally taking a middle-of-the-road posture on political and social issues. But British Catholics have long memories. It wasn’t long ago, in the life of the nation, that Catholics were almost wiped out. Generations of harsh laws denying them education, land and voting rights, admission to many professions, and often permission to worship at all, left English Catholics a small, impoverished underclass by the time most of the laws were repealed in 1829.
The weekend’s protests elicit the same charges that American protests of “gay marriage” do: bigotry, intolerance, and just plain nastiness. But the French and British protest emphasize very different issues than those emphasized by American protests, which tend to be Biblical commands (among non-Catholics), and natural law arguments (among Catholics trying to steer clear of religion).
In France, the argument is the rights of children. French protesters say they are not against homosexuals, they are for marriage. Every child, they say, has the right to a mother and a father — and two “mothers” or two “fathers” are not equivalent substitutes. “We are for respect for all families and against homophobia,” said one promotional video for the protest. The hundreds of thousands of French people who protested in the freezing cold, many bringing their small children with them, specifically claim not to be bigoted, intolerant, or nasty.
In England, this weekend’s protest was specifically Catholic, clerical, and based on the legal consequences of redefining marriage to Catholics as a minority group. The clergy signing the letter say that marriage already has a meaning, and that it is not possible to redefine it. If the government does so, they say, Catholics will be required to use that definition and will refuse to do so. It will mean the end of British tolerance of religious differences, the end of free speech, and the beginning of new religious persecution.
Unable to teach the new definition, Catholics could be barred from teaching in or operating schools — as they used to be. They could be barred from entering many professions (such as legal, medical, and military professions requiring workers to use that definition) — as they used to be. They could be barred from academic degrees and licenses — as they used to be.
The weekends very different protests should be a warning, and an opportunity, to Americans engaged in the same battle. The lines we have drawn — here, largely religious ones — are not the only natural ones, and the people fighting it — here, largely religious lay people — are not the only natural soldiers.
While many Americans fighting for “gay marriage” seem preoccupied with being hip and tolerant, no one can accuse the French of a lack of hip tolerance. While American Catholics fighting against it are often accused of paranoia, British Catholics know what governmental persecution is and aren’t afraid to say so.
Our legal system and Constitution are different from France’s and England’s, but our underlying issues are the same. In America, as in France, “gay marriage” would take away children’s rights to know both their mothers and their fathers. In America, as in England, redefining marriage would bar anyone who refused to teach or use that definition from degrees, jobs, and professions.
Taken together, our three countries show that what is at stake is more than any one country chooses to focus on. The battle is bigger than we think, and our adversaries more determined than we perhaps knew. In France and England, civil partnerships already give same-sex couples most or all of the legal benefits of marriage. None of those things, then, are what the conflict is about. The rights of children, the freedoms of religion and of speech, and the hard-won rights of a minority all hang in the balance.
What else is at stake that we haven’t thought of yet?