The hodgepodge free-for-all approach to civil partnerships and gay marriage advocated by the campaigners, and now apparently the government – each couple, gay or straight, may pick-their-own – leaves me wary. This is an uncomfortable feeling as, whilst I’m not against gay marriage in principle, it might seem to put me on the conservative as much as the liberal side, in terms of the politics.
My unease stems partly from the moral inconsistencies manifest in a campaign that condemns marriage as a patriarchal institution for straight women and simultaneously as a progressive one for gays and lesbians. But there’s something deeper going on, and I think it has to do with the liberal word ‘inclusion’.
It’s been a useful word in the gay debate, not least in the church – inclusive church, and the like. But as critics point out, inclusion’s upside – a welcome to all – is also it’s weakness: it embraces a thin account of humanity. A world that is shaped solely by the principle of inclusion is a world without difference, and differences are important as they make us human.
It might be said that there is no such thing as a human being: a generic hominid would be a zombie. Instead, there are men and women, young and old, gay and straight. Clearly, these categories are dynamic: homeostasis is death to homo sapiens – which is why gay politics and feminism are basically life-giving movements. But recognising that is not the same as willing away differences altogether. It’s not for nothing that the words ‘soulless’ and ‘uniformity’ often go together.
I think a better word might be ‘complementarity’. That recognises differences, and also that all aspects are needed to make a complete whole. For example, in the case of women priests, they’re good for all sorts of reasons, but not least because they bring the feminine principle into the priesthood: that expands and completes the symbolism. The same thing is recognised every time a manager puts together a team, or a professor scans the list of students on a course: it’s good to have a mix of men and women, as that makes for a more diverse, creative and balanced group.
But you still need the differences. They allow the different aspects that are implicit in each one of us to have a chance to develop. Men gain from having women around since that helps nurture the feminine within them, and vice versa.
The mistake, then, that the conservatives make is tightly to identify the different aspects with particular human beings – as if each individual were just male or female, young or old, gay or straight. It’s the opposite of the liberal tendency, to ignore differences altogether. Hence, Christian conservatives read the line in Genesis, ‘Male and female He created them’, as a social formula rather than a myth celebrating difference. In truth, the different aspects exist in all of us, to differing degrees, and we need complementarity to become complete.
But that’s not the same as inclusion, as if everyone were the same. If that’s right, rubbing out differences, rather then nurturing wholeness – as I fear the campaign over gay marriage/straight CPs tends to – would not lead to a fuller humanity but a reduced one.
Does that make any sense? Is my wariness unwarranted?