Brendan O'Neill raises a point which I have never heard in the discussion before, but which I have always felt is critical. This unprecedented redefinition of the basic building block of human society rewrites the contract that the State entered into with every currently married person. How's that for retrospective legislation? I will return to this point below.
Speculate for a moment that the purpose of this push is the destruction of the the institution of marriage. How does that fit with the observations that the original dynamic of homosexual activism was, loudly and proudly, the destruction of the bourgeois institution of marriage? Perfectly well. That same motive was expressed equally fervently by what was known radical feminism in the 70s, and which has become the taken-for-granted feminism of the teenies. If that is the major motivation it has worked very well.
Still, though, something about the appeal of marriage has not been eradicated. Couples who have lived together for years will marry when they decide to have children. How about that? That has happened in my own family. Why would they do such a thing if marriage is merely a recognition of the commitment and loving relationship between two people? So marriage is a tougher nut to crack than was first imagined, and all those young feminists are still going off and getting married before having their children. "Gay marriage" is the next move in the campaign to break the nexus between marriage, family and society.
Returning to the issue of retrospective legislation, I note that there is no provision being made for those who have grave objections to the State's redefining marriage, and in particular their marriage, to leave the redefined state. If these legislators are to pretend to have any concern for their constituents, they must surely include a provision for those who are currently married to be awarded a divorce on the single ground that the state has violated their original contract of marriage. Such a provision would provide for the automatic transfer of the state-sanctioned marriage to a state-sanctioned civil union of the kind that was offered to homosexual couples.
Those whose marriages are, first and foremost, a sacramental union, would still be sacramentally married. The Catholic Church, for example, does not recognise the State's divorces. George Weigel, after the re-election of Obama, wrote, "Thus it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law." Amen. That's not going to happen, in the US or Australia, because it takes a Church with courage, commitment and a vibrant faith to stand in open opposition to the surrounding culture and many who are nominally within its own ranks.
Nonetheless, it should be the subject of a vigorous debate now. The various churches which currently act as agents of the State in marriage ceremonies could demand that their recognition as marriage agents be withdrawn as part of any "gay marriage" enabling legislation. They would advise couples to enter into civil unions immediately before coming to the church to marry, so that their legal rights would not be threatened. Failing the cooperation of the State, the churches could engage in their own campaign of civil diobedience, refusing to sign State marriage contracts or allow them to be introduced into the church.
I'm not holding my breath. The prospect of "gay marriage" has receded in Australia with the election of a conservative government, even as the law has recently been changed in the UK. In the United States, the fight is bitter, unequal and undemocratic, as the fate of both Proposition 8 and Brendan Eich attests. It is understandable, then, that a debate such as George Weigel proposed is being conducted in some nooks and crannies of the American Catholic Church, and perhaps in other congregations. It is also understandable that Weigel's view has been rejected in such comments as I have read.