Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Crying wolf

This whole gay marriage thing is only a 'crisis' for the clergy and the most pious of lay people. Which gives this small subset of the population a problem, namely whipping up sufficient fear of the coming gay apocalypse among everybody else in an increasingly socially liberal nation with a long list of other really important problems to worry about.

The Bishop of Leicester had a game try at involving the rest of us in his church's internal crisis. Interviewed on the radio this morning, he slipped in a throwaway line intended to make his worries relevant to the rest of us. In among the narrow religious points about what the deity meant by marriage, and what any change would mean for the relationship between the established church and the state, he tossed out something for the rest of us to fret about.

Marriages, he said, were under a lot of pressure these days, with many failing. Add in another factor, a change in the definition of marriage, and things could get even worse. I was waiting for him to develop this point, but that seems to have been about it. Well, he's a busy man, so maybe he didn't get time to develop his idea. Let's think this one through for him.

Marriages under pressure? Yes, I'm with the Bish. up to this point. Marriage isn't as popular as it once was and there's a general upward trend in the number of divorces (even when the divorce rate occasionally ticks down a bit, as it did either side of the Millennium, it's still a hefty proportion of a steadily declining overall number of marriages).

Will introducing gay marriage make things worse for already strained marriages? This is where I'm struggling. How on earth would this seemingly unrelated factor be the final straw for any tottering marriage?

I can comprehend a lot of the other pressures that break up marriages. Embarking on the whole thing with unrealistic expectations, money worries, not being able to have kids, having kids and finding that one or more parent can't cope, infidelity, jealousy, arguments over who's doing a fair share of the chores and who's freeloading, finding you can't stand your spouse's family or friends, working too long hours, not being in work, having to spend too much time apart, being too stiflingly close together, finding that your spouse has changed and isn't the person you thought you'd married, finding that they've stayed the same and grown boringly predictable, arguments over major family decisions that went wrong, relations with stepchildren, arguments about fundamental values, personality clashes, the strain of looking after a sick child, or one with special needs, or an elderly relative, bringing your workplace stresses home, or being at home with the stress of not having work, mental illness, looking after a sick spouse, etc, etc... There are any number of credible reasons why a couple might not stay together.

But it's really beyond my imaginative capacity to come up with a plausible scenario in which you'd find yourself staring at the ceiling at three o'clock in the morning, wondering miserably where it all went so wrong, then having a light bulb moment when you realise 'Of course! It all started falling apart when they let those gays get married. If it wasn't for them, we'd still be together now - it's so obvious, when you think about it!'

Would any sane couple wistfully look at the wedding photos and conclude sadly that they no longer meant anything, that the happiness of their special day had been irretrievably tainted and ruined by the fact that gay people were now free to marry? I think not.

If this is the best the traditionalist clergy can come up with, when trying to engage with the wider population, then I think that, deep down, they know they've already lost the battle.

Stonewall 1, Church of England 0