6 September 2013


Meanwhile, there were a few antic performances in front of Holyrood's Equal Opportunities Committee yesterday morning. The Committee is looking into the SNP Government's Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, and began by taking oral evidence from a range of folk, including our old chum John Deighan from the Catholic Parliamentary Office. 

He was joined by Dr Salah Beltagui, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee of the Muslim Council of Scotland, Dr David Easton, who chairs the Methodist Church in Scotland, and Kieran Turner, who is the Public Policy Officer of the Evangelical Alliance.

If you thought that the Church's summer of scandals and losses would have chastened the Catholic hierarchy, and precipitated greater moderation in their language, think again. Deighan, understandably, quite rightly, appeared robustly to defend his Church's position: that marriage is defined not by social norms or convention, but by a fundamental spiritual standard, according to the Natural Law ordained of God and known to us through the operation of human reason and the rich inheritance of our moral and religious traditions.

He, along with other panellists from a range of religious persuasions, emphasised the importance of freedom of belief in a liberal society.  And quite right too.  I don't expect or require devotees of this sort of theology to alter their views, or to marry people they don't care to. I realise that we approach the whole question of same-sex marriage from fundamentally irreconcilable positions. The legislation need not pass, endorsed nationally in a single voice.

On one hand, Deighan always appears for these things well-briefed.  The downside is that this inarticulate fellow attempts to make all of his points simultaneously, and consequently, makes none of them well.  A hugger-mugger, a blur of rhetorical confusion results.  Deighan began his submissions by striking a modest note.  He said:

"We are in a live - and - let - live society — I have that approach myself — in which, if people want something, by all means we let them have it as long as it does not impact on the rest of society."

His subsequent comments were, as you will shortly see, suffused with live-and-let-livery. Positively seething with liberality.  Deighan took the opportunity to have an early pop at LGBT history month of all things, saying that it poses "immediate concern" for Catholic schools.  Asked why by that bright spark Marco Biagi, whose forensic handling of himself was the model of coolness, Deighen responded, in the spirit of Pope Francis' recent comments:

"The whole aim of the month is to try to change people’s understanding of people who are homosexual and propose them as role models. We would not want to be doing that."

He was to warm to the theme again, questioned by John Mason about the limits of conscientious objection.  Somehow, folk got snagged on the eccentric question - what sort of materials could or should a printer, of all people, refuse to rustle up for a client. And somehow, Deighan managed to equate racist political literature, pornography and ... well ... publicity material for LGBT history month.

"If the printer just says, “I don’t like your sexual orientation, so I won’t provide you with a service,” I think that that is wrong. However, if someone came in with literature for the British National Party and the printer thought that the literature was racist and they did not want to print it, I think that they would be perfectly entitled to say no. Similarly, if someone came in with pornography and the printer felt that pornography was detrimental to the rights of women, they would be entitled not to print it. If they were asked to print publicity material for LGBT history month, but they thought that that twist on history was wrong and they did not want to participate in that deception, I think that they would be entitled to say that. However, that will be difficult."

Not to be outdone, Dr Beltagui sounded the shag-your-sister klaxon:

"What scares people are the things that will happen under the bill that are not expected. The bill gives a list of people whose relationships are too close for them to marry. For us, that list includes same - sex couples. It will be dangerous for society if we keep changing the list to exclude relationships that we currently recognise as making it not possible for people to marry. As people have said, that could lead to incest and other dangerous relations."

Careful now. Your auld aunt Effie may become a smouldering enticement to you, if we let Adam and Steve get hitched.  But back to Mr Deighan's submissions. A few of his other nuggets of wisdom. Firstly, it transpires that we've already got equal marriage, as everyone is equally entitled to marry someone of the opposite sex. Logical, perhaps, but a bit too Jesuitical in its reasoning for my tastes. 

"On principle, we already have equal marriage. All people have the right to marriage. Marriage is a particular thing. What we are doing now is making an arbitrary change to it. Once you bring in arbitrariness to the legal system, all sorts of changes are possible. You are then thinking about how you are going to protect yourself against all those things that could happen."

Brace thyselves comrades. We are on the road to engulfing civil confusion. Duggy Dug will be appointed the Sheriff Principal of Glasgow and Strathkelvin. Anne McTaggart MSP will replace John Swinney as the SNP's treasurer. Duncan's horses will thinly slice each other, before serving themselves up in a spiced Thai broth, with a sprinkling of chilli, onions and a dash of fish sauce.

But there's more. Bingo pens poised at the ready here folks. With a costermonger's eye for the worldly metaphor, Deighan went on to characterise same-sex marriage as a counterfeit bangle. Whatever you think of it, it is at least a consistent theological position for him to adopt, if not, perhaps, much reflecting the "live and let live" philosophy we know he clings to so dearly.

"The state has a role in legislating on the civil effects of marriage but not on its essence. We cannot have laws saying, for example, that people who sell bracelets can call them watches if they do not tell the time. There is an essence to marriage; a man and a woman lie at the heart of it, and that is the relationship that gives rise to children."

As that great theologian Helen Lovejoy said (once or twice), "Won't somebody please think of the children?!" Like some queer Doctor Who monster, Deighan seems to believe that equal marriage will stalk the land, devouring peoples parents and grandparents, leaving denuded, trembling weans in every household. 

"In principle, we should not make arbitrary changes to marriage, because it affects all children. Speak to paediatricians and ask them about the devastating impact that family fragmentation has on children. In the past eight years, the number of children under one who have been taken into care has trebled. Paediatricians whom I have spoken to say that, 30 years after we first started to see a rise in the number of children born outside of marriage who had lost that bond between their mother and father, we are now at the point of second - generation family fragmentation. That will be devastating, because there are no grandparents to step in and help the child when the parents have separated."

Yup. Equal marriage is the crack in Amy Pond's wall. 


  1. Great read showing Deighan up for the spiritual pygmy he really is.

    I cannot stand the man and his increasingly daft logic, he represents that tiny sliver of religious lunacy that gives all of it a bad name.

    Personally, while I don't envisage doing it, I support SSM fully for two reasons. Firstly, because it helps normalise same sex relationships in the eyes of those growing up thus (hopefully) removing negative stigmas and secondly, it would really annoy John Deighan.

    1. Given my political predilections on this question, I suppose I ought to welcome Deighan's participation. "Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous", as Voltaire once said. Even so, there's little pleasure to be had in seeing such a bungling and crass performance. I doubt my views on that would differ substantially, even if my opinions on this more closely aligned with the Bishops' Conference. Surely they can do better in their personnel.

  2. all the ills he states are a result of heterosexual marriages or divorces. Gay marriage hasn't arrived yet. how can he blame the prospect of marriage between homosexual couples with past social problems?

    1. I don't want to put words into his mouth, but I suspect Deighan would argue that these "ills" are the consequence of a breakdown in traditional conceptions of marriage as commitment, which this tendency, he'd suggest, only exacerbates. I don't find that terrifically convincing either...

  3. Blimey! What larks!!

    First of all, kudos to you for sitting through 11/4 hours of that: not sure I'll manage it. From the bits I've dipped into and from your account above, let's try and do a little more justice to the points made:

    1) 'Live and let live'. I take this to be the simple idea (which is basically Mill's 'Harm Principle') that people should be allowed to engage in experiments in living. The introduction of same sex 'marriage', however, is different from that: it encourages a certain sort of relationship and thus requires a different sort of justification. Moreover, if Deighan et al. are right, the introduction of the change will result in a restriction of existing negative liberties (eg) in marriage counselling, commerce and schools to express certain common beliefs. Conclusion: no inconsistency in claiming a 'live and let live' attitude and opposition to same sex 'marriage'.

    2) 'Shag your sister klaxon'. Two aspects to this. Firstly, there is the question of intellectual consistency: if you are going to allow same sex 'marriage', on what non-arbitrary principle do you exclude (eg) incestuous relationships from the institution? (Frankly, I haven't ever seen a good answer to this point other than a simply arbitrary statement of 'non placet'.) Secondly, the factual question: will the introduction of same sex 'marriage' actually result in further changes down the road? That's more difficult to predict. But reasons for thinking it will are: a) the force of the intellectual consistency argument in motivating further changes; and b) that some activists (eg Tatchell) are actually arguing for further changes to the law. Conclusion: the klaxon needs to be sounded.

    3) 'crack in Amy Pond's wall'. If there is strong evidence that children thrive best in stable, biological partnerships, then anything that undermines that environment is dangerous. It's not an unreasonable worry that a law which finally abolishes the understanding of marriage as a bond oriented towards the end of procreation and education isn't (to put it mildly) unlikely to be helpful. (So to take Bonnington Mill's point, this is a further move down a road that has already been travelled: it makes an existing problem with marriage worse.) Conclusion: the crack already exists but this is turning it into a bigger crack.

    I shall now retire to my moral Anderson shelter...

    1. What can I say? I'm a tragic political obsessive.

    2. P.S. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm not suggesting that the arguments advanced by the Bishops' Conference can't be rationally, or seriously, engaged with. I'm just getting quite enough of that sort of thing in the day job at the moment...

  4. Lovely piece LPW

    'Careful now. Your auld aunt Effie may become a smouldering enticement to you, if we let Adam and Steve get hitched. '

    That made me laugh, many thanks - it will be the the reductio ad effidum to me from now on!

    1. Thanks Edwin. In the interests of transparency, I should confirm: I do not and have never had an aunt Effie myself. Absolved of any temptation.

  5. Ah religion!
    Since time immemorial it has provided answers to everything and the solution to nothing.