Thursday 14 February 2013

Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond on Marriage

One of the pieces I read as preparation for my own short piece on same-sex marriage last week was by Roger Scruton and Phillip Blond – ‘Marriage Equality or the Destruction of Difference?’, first published on 4 February 2013.

I don’t finally agree with all they say, but I found many of their arguments fairly compelling, particularly around what they call ‘competing visions’ of marriage – ‘conjugal marriage versus mere partnership’.

‘Put simply, there are two competing ideas of marriage at play in the current debate. The first is traditional and conjugal and extends beyond the individuals who marry to the children they hope to create and the society they wish to shape. The second is more privative and is to do with a relationship abstracted from the wider concern that marriage originally was designed to speak to. Some call this pure partnership or mere cohabitation.

‘The latter view is what marriage is becoming: a dissolvable contract between two individuals who partner purely for the sake of the partnership itself. It has little or nothing to do with children, general education or social stability.’

They provide a potted history of marriage and its secular unmaking, before reflecting on the ever-increasing conception of ‘equality’ in our time:

‘Equality no longer means – as it ought to mean – the equal opportunity to participate in the benefits of society. Instead, it means the removal of all forms of social difference, all the ways in which people have tried to define and maintain institutions and paths through life that require something more than mere humanity of their members... Marriage has grown around the idea of sexual difference and all that sexual difference means. To make this feature accidental rather than essential is to change marriage beyond recognition.’

Difference, they say, matters:

‘Same sex couples want marriage because they want the social endorsement that it signifies; but by admitting gay marriage we deprive marriage of its social meaning. It ceases to be what it has been hitherto – namely, a union of the different sexes and a blessing conferred by the living on the unborn. The pressure for gay marriage is therefore in a certain measure self-defeating: in seeking equality with something unlike yourself, the thing that you join to is no longer what you joined.

‘What is needed here is equity that respects difference not equality that destroys it...’

There is a fuller ResPublica paper by Scruton and Blond available here.

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