Guardian’s Michael White: redefining marriage is not wise

Mar 6, 2012

In a measured article, the Guardian’s Michael White reflects on the recent debate about redefining marriage and concludes: “[I]t will be wise to retain a legal distinction between marriage and civil partnership. Noisy bishops aren’t always wrong.”

He comments on Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s outspoken article on the matter: “Basically what he’s saying, not for the first time, is that marriage is a universally accepted concept, defined by Article 16 of the universal declaration of human rights (UDHR).

“It exists free of the passing whims of governments to entrench the relationship between men and women for mutual support and – jolly important, this bit – the procreation of children.”

Michael White also reflects on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “far more temperate” recent speech in Geneva in which Dr Rowan Williams talked of his opposition to redefining marriage in law.

White quotes what he sees as the key passage from Dr Williams’ wordy speech and summarises it in this way: “It’s not quite the language that the Daily Mail uses, but I think what the archbish’ is trying to say here is that campaigning to use the law to redraw the traditional man/woman model for marriage so soon after the introduction of civil partnership – itself a very radical concept only a few years ago – might be unwise.”

Michael White adds: “just as the tyranny of majority opinions over minority rights – majoritarianism – is usually wrong, surely so is its converse, the assertion of minority rights beyond equality before the law (civil partnership provides that) to a wider cultural equality than the law or human rights can actually enforce, any more than it can to the right to employment.”