It is a given that the Catholic Church will oppose the legalising of same-sex marriage in Britain, France and elsewhere with every fibre of its being. Some bishops, among them the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, will do so in a vociferous and offensive manner; others will adopt a more nuanced, pastorally sensitive tone. Among the latter may be counted the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, who, in a pastoral letter issued for the Feast of the Holy Family at the end of December 2012, felt it appropriate to spell out the full consequences for children of legalising same-sex marriage.
The archbishop wrote: “government policy cannot foresee the full consequences for the children involved or for wider society, of being brought up by two mothers without a father’s influence or by two fathers without a mother’s influence. We first learn about diversity and acquire a respect for difference through the complementarity of our parents.” Clearly he imagines apocalyptic consequences for the cohesion of well-being of society as a result of the legislation being prepared by the Westminster and Scottish governments. But is he right?
Even while wearing his pastoral kid gloves, the archbishop is seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is already a reality that children are being brought up by two mothers or two fathers. This development was neither dependent on legalising same-sex marriage nor on introducing civil partnerships. Quite apart from this, where is the evidence to show that children with gay parents are less well-adjusted or more prone to anti-social behaviour compared with those living in ‘normal’ families; or, indeed, those living with just one parent, some of whom doubtless spend the years of their childhood flitting between divorced or separated parents’ homes at weekends and during holiday breaks?
In the end, Archbishop Longley’s words give as much offence as those of Bishop Davies because they rely on making cheap points and not on reasoned argument to plead their case. At a time when families are under threat of eviction from their homes and the number of children living in poverty increases as a result of the government’s austerity measures/changes to the benefits system, the number of children allegedly at risk from being raised with same-sex couples has to be much less serious a problem, if it is a problem at all. Finally, there is the irony of bishops addressing the matter of the welfare of children. Get real, chaps! By all means, plug the traditional Christian understanding of marriage if you must, but do so without depending on bogus arguments.
This text was originally published in the Quest Bulletin, no. 65 (Winter 2012-13)