Through the looking glass to Holyrood
As a youngster I attended Swinton Primary School, a small educational establishment on the eastern fringes of the city of Glasgow. Among my memories of those halcyon days is a lesson in which we were introduced to the idea of sets. Some of us in the class were given red crayons to hold and others were given yellow crayons to hold. Pupils with red crayons were told to stand in one corner of the classroom, and those holding yellow crayons directed to the opposite corner.
I recall clutching a yellow crayon (and I also recall wishing I had a red one, for no particular reason that comes to mind.)
‘Martin here has a yellow crayon, doesn’t he?’
‘Yes, Miss’, replies the class in chorus.
‘Should I put Martin with the pupils who have red crayons?’
‘He has a yellow crayon, Miss.’
So the lesson continued. Angus, who had a red crayon was also singled out. The lesson was reinforced that pupils with yellow crayons belonged together and pupils with red crayons belonged together. It was a lesson which was teaching us about things that differ and things that are the same.
Evidently, this is a lesson that is lost on some of the current crop of politicians in both Holyrood and Westminster, some of whom tell us that marriage is hereafter to be thought of as the same as a civil partnership, and vice versa. They wish to introduce an equivalence in law which most of us know does not exist. Just as red crayons are not yellow crayons, civil partnerships are not marriage. It is not that difficult! Casual sex is not marriage; adultery is not marriage; platonic friendships between the sexes are not marriage; my relationship with my sons is not marriage; my ongoing war with our pet cat is not marriage.
I suspect you get the point. For most of us it is easy to distinguish between things which differ. Whatever your view of civil partnerships, you know that it is something different from what we know to be marriage.
Marriage is a unique thing. It is in a set all by itself. It is a building block of society because it is part of the way things were made. It is sometimes called a Creation ordinance. The early chapters of the Bible make clear that marriage expresses something of the image of God. In the gender distinctiveness of man and woman God’s image is reflected.
It is always worrying when politicians start trying to change the meaning of words. I wonder if you are familiar with Lewis Carrol’s ‘Through the looking glass’, which is a sequel to ‘Alice’s adventures in Wonderland’. In an exchange with Humpty Dumpty we read:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."
Humpty Dumpty was insisting that he could make words mean whatever he wanted. Evidently our politicians wish to be ‘master’ in the same way as Humpty Dumpty, and through legal means try to dominate our use of words. In that sense, they remind me of the totalitarian regime in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’. In it, the regime deliberately impoverishes language and creates ‘newspeak’, a much reduced form of English, designed to remove words that might speak of freedom and the like. One character, Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."
Coincidentally, as I write this, I am also reading about a Tesco executive, Nick Lansley, Tesco’s head of research and development, who on an internet homepage denounces people like me as ‘evil Christians’. Why? Because I prefer to distinguish things which differ. He is calling for confusion in the name of tolerance, which carries its own irony given the way he attacks those with whom he disagrees.
For most of you reading this, it will seem a statement of the blindingly obvious. Marriage is what it is. Other things are what they are. Let us not confuse the two. But there are many voices in our culture crying for confusion where there ought to be none, perhaps so that it becomes easier to call what is wrong, right.