The word curiously absent from the gay marriage debate: children

I had a mild vested interest in listening to Any Questions last Friday evening. After all, it was being broadcast from my old school: Farnborough Hill Convent. Actually, the school is a convent boarding school no longer: it is a Catholic day school for girls “situated in 65 acres of parkland…and is committed to the education of the whole person”, as presenter Jonathan Dimbleby explained to his invisible audience.

The first two questions, on our involvement in Afghanistan and on the Coalition’s lack of vision, did not make me sit up. It was the third question, on the imminent government consultation paper on homosexual “marriage” and the statement of Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols about it, that got me concentrating – mainly to hear what panel member, Cristina Odone, former editor of the Herald, had to say in her reply.

(The other panel members, Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary, Emily Thornberry, shadow attorney general and Jonathan Freedland, Guardian columnist, did not exactly fill me with confidence that they would support marriage as it has traditionally been known and understood.)

I confess that although I always enjoy reading Ms Odone’s articles and often agree with her, I was disappointed here. By emphasising that “marriage works” and that it is good for children and good for spouses – “marriage makes people happy” – she unwittingly scored an own goal. All the other panel members predictably jumped in to make the same point that David Cameron has been making of late: if marriage is such a good thing, why don’t we spread the happiness a little wider and extend its benefits to same-sex couples?

Although Odone went on to say that same-sex couples ought to be content with the legal protection that civil partnerships gives them, the damage had been done: her point was completely brushed aside by the other panellists’ enthusiasm for this new idea: Freedland was certain that it would enhance marriage rather than undermine it; Thornberry thought marriage is about love rather than children; and Pickles opined that although civil partner ships were “good”, marriage was “better.” (In hindsight one can see that “civil partnerships” were never going to satisfy their proponents; the phrase has a grey, legalistic, bureaucratic ring to it compared with all the connotations conjured up by the word “marriage.”)

Unfortunately Odone further confused the issue – from a Christian perspective at least – by telling Dimbleby that she disagreed with Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s courageous statement on the subject; marriage wasn’t natural, she said. My heart sank. What she actually meant was that, given human selfishness, it is very difficult for two people of the opposite sex to stay together amicably for life; but what she conveyed to the audience was that the Cardinal was wrong in quoting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that marriage is a right which applies to men and women and “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society…”

The only way to counter the metropolitariat, for instance Nick Clegg in the Telegraph on Saturday, saying that “marriage is all about a couple… showing love for each other”, or Matthew D’Ancona in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, making the deeply non-conservative statement that “The case for gay marriage is… profoundly connected to the preservation and enhancement of inherited institutions”, is to state robustly and with conviction, as Archbishops Nichols and Smith did in their text read out by every parish priest at Mass yesterday, that “the roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility.”

Their excellent statement, in which the word “children” is mentioned several times, concludes that if the definition of marriage is changed “there would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.”

My colleague Stuart Reid has pointed out to me an insightful on-line article by Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, in which he analyses the push towards same-sex marriage: “Its driving force, the reason it has been so speedily and heartily embraced by the political and media classes, is because it is so very useful as a litmus test of liberal, cosmopolitan values. Supporting gay marriage has become a kind of shorthand way of indicating one’s superiority over the hordes, particularly those of a religious or redneck persuasion.”

He is dead right. By accident I happened to listen to ‘The Now Show’ on Radio 4 on Saturday morning. This programme, made up of “comedy sketches and satirical comments”, spent a shameful amount of time falling about laughing at a certain stupid old Scottish cardinal, who dresses up in a frock and biretta and who has such bigoted views on a subject he obviously knows nothing about. The team was hysterical at its own crude jokes. That’s the media classes for you.

Although I have been critical of Christina Odone’s performance on Any Questions, she also has my sympathy. Would I have had the courage to stand out against my metropolitan co-panellists and risk being mocked by them? I don’t know. I rather wish our parish priest had been on last Friday evening’s panel. When introducing the Archbishops’ statement on Sunday, he described the intended legislation as “outrageous”. When I asked his permission to quote him in my blog he said I could add the further remark: “I hold David Cameron and the Coalition in contempt.”