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FAMILY/ Redefinition of legal marriage and a society without children

MICHAEL HOPWOOD comments on the arguments that have been advanced about the bill proposing to change the legal definition of marriage in the UK to be soon discussed in the Parliament

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We are now less than a week from the Parliamentary debate on the Bill proposing to change the legal definition of marriage in the United Kingdom to include same-sex couples. By now, surely every possible argument for and against has been advanced, taking into account a bewildering variety of perspectives, issues and types of analysis. I will attempt to add a very personal, quotidian and banal perspective, as perhaps befits a mere husband and father, without other qualifications or credentials.

My first impression on considering what will be debated next week is a sheer dizzying amazement that this is fact. After all of the attention I paid to the public campaign, even collecting signatures for the petition to keep the existing definition, I still feel as if a dream considering what a society, what a culture I live in; almost weightless and breathless. And this culture permeates me too, my thoughts and emotional responses; to look at reality through the haze of opinion takes some work.

Upmost in mind for the last few weeks has been the thought that "we" who value marriage, and its formal recognition by the State and the society who largely follow the State's tolerated narratives, "we" are also the ones who have up until now failed to present a coherent alternative to this culture, which is a coherent, if artificial, whole.

In the public sphere in the UK, we have "let slip" the State's guarantee of one fundamental human right, the right to life, as "we rapidly fell silent”, after a short outburst of public witness, in the face of State-sanctioned (and State-funded) abortion since 1967. That public failure of witness, of course, followed the rather quieter, but culturally powerful acceptance by our State Church in 1936 that contraception is permissible "in some circumstances" for married couples, and the inevitable logical conclusion that it is always admissible in any circumstances, for anyone. Ever since I read in the memoirs of Malcolm Muggeridge how even as recently as 1971 there were nation-wide gatherings to protest against the increasing decline of modesty in the mass media I have been haunted by the rapidity with which that social reality was adeptly ridiculed and transformed into a forgotten relic of the bad old moralistic days.

Nor do I particularly mourn for moralism; if anything, it has become even more ubiquitous and intrusive since its generalisation into an all-embracing contract tolerance. Growing up without any particular ideological formation except for that universal liberalism, a vague attachment to the more populist British Socialist movement, and the redeeming influence of 1980s Amnesty-inspired human rights, I am only too aware that moralism, one of our least appealing British exports, is more a hindrance than social help. Much has been said in recent months that is frankly preposterous; the more serious discussion has largely been pessimistic. Notably, few pro-marriage speakers appear to have mentioned "our" appalling track record on the other, related "issues", and the connections between them. So the context, the trajectory for this moment is missed.