Equality has become a term so common, it now goes unnoticed, like dust. Like dust, it can blind, or at least seriously affect, vision. This accounts for the extraordinary defence of gay marriage as an equality issue. It’s not: gay marriage may be perfectly wonderful, in every way better than straight marriage. But gay marriage cannot be equal to a straight marriage.
Tradition, procreation and sacramental ideals make marriage between a man and a woman a very distinct union. It cannot be replicated completely in a gay marriage — and in any case, many gays would not wish to do so.
Any unfairness, or injustice, would be odious. Thus, a law that protects the rights of a gay couple in terms of inheritance and hospital visiting and taxes makes good sense. This was delivered with the Civil Partnership Act of 2004.
As Charles Moore wrote in The Daily Telegraph last week, equality “has become the public doctrine of our time. If you believe in big-E Equality, you are not merely saying, as most would, that people should try to make life fairer for all. You are making Equality the all-conquering principle of social organisation and human life. It is like a religion but, unlike actual religions in the West today, it is backed by the full force of law.”
The equality dust, as Moore rightly goes on to point out, has a toxic quality: it undermines freedom. “It specialises in attacking ways of living which people have developed for themselves.” To attack, equality relies on the law and even the police. It introduces the heavy hand of government in all those groups and organisations that make up a good society. Suddenly they risk being stifled or muzzled or squashed altogether: fear of falling foul of “equality” stops even the bravest and most brazen in their tracks. After all, this is the new creed. And its disciples are a zealous lot.
Hence Lynne Featherstone, Equalities Minister, could call for the sacking of a newspaper editor — because one of his columnists had been accused of trampling on transgenders’ equal rights.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times recognised that “Supporters of same-sex marriage have worked very hard to frame their issue, not as an ordinary political conflict, but as an all-or-nothing question that pits enlightenment and progress against reaction, bigotry and hate. I don’t accept that framing, but I accept that its architects genuinely believe in it, and see the conflict over same-sex unions as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, with no possibility of middle ground.”
Let equal rights lobbyists and gay campaigners claim that gay marriage will prove more lasting, more loving than a heterosexual couple’s union. I’ll buy that. But don’t let them claim that gay marriage is equal to a straight one. It can never be that.