Monday, 12 November 2012

The hallowed tradition of paedophile rape in marriage

The subject of paedophilia is depressingly topical, along with the Prime Minister coining that unfortunate phrase about a 'gay witch hunt' (for all that I can't stand Cameron, I don't believe that he's homophobic, so I can only put the implied - and unwarranted - linkage between being gay and being a child abuser down to thoughtlessness rather than malice). Which brings me, in a roundabout way, back to the Archbishop of Canterbury elect.

Despite aligning with more liberal elements on the subject of women bishops, Justin Welby opposes gay marriage, although he has, apparently, 'promised to reassess his own traditional line on the issue “prayerfully and carefully” and pointedly emphasised his support for civil partnerships.'

Well, Archbishop elect, here's something for you to reassess, when you're defending the traditional understanding of marriage:
We’re also happy with the many, many changes that history has brought to our meaning of marriage (anyone for the legal rape of a 12 year old, given by her father to a thirty-year old? – thought not).
Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye there, with a bit of historical perspective. Her whole post's well worth your time, but here are the points I've taken away as relevant to the gay marriage debate.

One aspect of marriage that's demonstrably changed over time is that it was once thought OK for young girls to be married well below our current age of consent (especially in the case of dynastic aristocratic and royal marriages). Although these marriages weren't necessarily always consummated straight away, we have specific historical examples of child brides giving birth in what we'd now call childhood.

Another change in our understanding of marriage is that we now take it for granted that women own their own bodies and that non-consensual sex, in or out of marriage, is rape. Back to Jourdemayne: most places, marriage meant that a man could force his spouse to have sex with him. Rape within marriage was a contradiction-in-terms. The phrase “irrevocable consent” was often used in this context (it has other legal applications too).

Famously, Sir Matthew Hale pronounced in 1736 that a “husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract”. 
She wasn't exaggerating with that 'legal rape of a 12 year' old line.

One of the fundamental objections to gay marriage, remember, is an appeal to tradition. Gay marriage would, it's claimed, be such a fundamental break with our traditional understanding of marriage that it would destroy an institution that has been unchanged for centuries. Given that modern marriage is already a world away from the institution that once sanctified what we'd now define as paedophile rape, the idea that we're dealing with some sort of pristine, unchanging institution is pretty close to being total hogwash.

Of course, in the Church of England, such evidence-based arguments have to defer to the sensibilities of faith and prayerful introspection, hence the lag between the acceptance of gay people as full and equal citizens in much of wider society and their faltering acceptance within a church that still seeks to accommodate and respect discrimination when it happens to be faith-based discrimination.

Francis Spufford recently wondered out loud how secularists  can be so committed to their 'hobby' that:
Some of them even contrive to feel oppressed by the Church of England, which is not easy to do. It must take a deft delicacy at operating on a tiny scale, like fitting a whole model railway layout into an attaché case.
If you're a believer in equal marriage, that's not quite such a difficult trick as Francis affects to believe. Believers in gender equality might also find the trick easier than he might imagine, although with Justin Welby backing women bishops, maybe the Church of England  is only a generation or so behind wider society on that particular measure.