Wit & Wisdom by Adam Harbinson

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

In his book, Faith & Freedom, former US President Jimmy Carter tells of the difficulties he had when he was in office dealing with contentious issues such as abortion.

Every fibre of his body was repulsed by what his Southern Baptist background taught him to believe was wrong. And yet he realised that the privilege of occupying arguably the most powerful position in the world did not extend to imposing his deeply held beliefs on others, whose values were different.

I have been given the opportunity to submit a paper to one of our political parties on the subject of same-sex marriages. Like Jimmy Carter, my upbringing tells me it is just plain wrong. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, but David Cameron favours redefining marriage as the union of two people and, like it or not, it is coming our way.

The ultimate question we who have a view will have to ask is this: is there a difference between standing up for what you believe and unfair discrimination? Do we have the right to impose our views on others who do not share our religious beliefs, our view of morality and our cultural norms and values? And surely leadership must come into it? Or does it?

In other words, while we must strive to maintain freedom of religion: that is, freedom to worship and live in accordance with our beliefs, it is equally important to recognise that there are those who are entitled to freedom from religion.

Put another way: where does one individual’s freedom begin and another’s end? For example, if a church-going member of the public - not to mention a pastor, priest or vicar - is offended by the prospect of the marriage of two men or two women, do the rights of the gay couple to have their union solemnised in a church completely supersede the rights of others to stand by their principles? Could it be that, as in the old movie Fiddler on The Roof, there comes a point when you have to say: ‘No! There is no other hand!’

However secular our society becomes, there must be a point beyond which we do not go. Morality might be relative, but it is a factor and it should not be ignored for that reason.

Add to this the requirements of Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 - ‘... to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation’ – and the position appears to be quite clear.

But it’s far from clear!

For me, I can only say that I cannot support the introduction of same-sex marriages, but on the other hand if two unrelated people - two men, or two women - want to be seen as a married couple, is it any of my business?

Therefore, the only fair and mature conclusion available to us is that while we are entitled to believe what we believe, we are not entitled to impose our values and beliefs on others, and that’s a balance not too hard to strike. But what do you think?