Tuesday, July 03, 2012

That Would Be An Ecumenical Matter (3)

You see, this is where I get completely stuck. Is the Party line.

1: That plebs are not allowed to have certain Thoughts.
 

2: That plebs are allowed to Think whatever they like, but they are not allowed to speak those thoughts, in case they corrupt other plebs.

3: That they are allowed to speak whatever Thoughts they like, but they are not allowed to write certain thoughts down in case they corrupt other plebs?

4: That they are allowed to write down whatever Thoughts they like, but they are not allowed to publish these writings in case they corrupt other plebs?

5: That they are allowed to publish, in books or newspapers, whatever Thoughts they like, but they are not allowed to take out paid advertising to promote those Thoughts, in case they corrupt other plebs.

6: That they are allowed to take out paid advertising on billboards or newspapers to promote whatever Thoughts they like, but they are not allowed to take out paid advertising on the sides of buses, because advertising on the sides of buses is a special case.

People have been putting up posters with quotations from the Good Book on them since the year dot. In 1956 Mr C.S. Lewis expressed his impatience with people who "plastered the landscape with quotations about the Blood of the Lamb." But he was clear headed enough to note that this was an aesthetic, not a religious, objection: the beliefs of the people putting up the posters were presumably much the same as his own.

The Christian attitude to the Bible is in this respect almost completely unlike the Muslim attitude to the Koran: devout Christians are happy to hurl cheaply printed excerpts from the scriptures at all and sundry in the hope that one or two of them may read it. Muslims treat the Koran with great respect and on the whole prefer that it wasn't touched by unbelievers. There is a reason that you find Bibles but not Korans in hotel rooms.

Back in 2008 the Dawkinsbots became overheated because someone had paid to display a verse from Marks Gospel on the sides of London buses. Granted the Scripture Gift Mission - the people whose posters C.S Lewis had presumably seen on railway stations - is pretty non-denominational: all they want to do is put the word of God into people's hands. The Very Notorious Bus Advert, on the other hand, directed inquirers to a website which told you that if you had read and enjoyed Mark's Gospel, the next step was to find a church which practised believer's baptism. That is, they advert was in a strict sense, sectarian, although over a point which the Dawkinsbots would have at least pretended not to understand.

Had we been aiming for a quid pro quo, the sensible thing would have been for the Atheists to have paid to have had a quote from Origin of Species displayed on buses. Instead, they chose to up the stakes and stuck the never to be forgotten words "There's Probably No God" on the sides of the Routemasters. At this point, the more excitable Christians should have either matched them with "Oh Yes There Probably Is" or upped the stakes, say with something along the lines of "Richard Dawkins is a Tosser" or to be completely even-handed "Richard Dawkins is probably a Tosser." Instead, they went to law and attempted to argue that the advert was probably illegal, indecent, dishonest and untruthful because

a: believers shouldn't have to see their faith badmouthed on the way to work or

b: it wasn't true: lots of clever people thought there probably was a God.

The advertising standards people said there was probably no law against religious advertising and that it certainly wasn't their job to decide whether or not God existed. (They said the same thing when the excitable Christians took out counter-counter adverts saying “There definitely is a God”.) The atheist poster campaign lasted for a few months. The Scripture Gift Mission continued to put quotes from the books of Isaiah on railway stations. Civilization endured.

Back in April, we had to through the same thing all over again. Stonewall, the gay rights organisation, has been running adverts with the slogan "Some people are gay: get over it" for several years. (Readers with long memories may recall that I described the adverts as having an "admirably clear message, in admirably clear anglo-saxon words" but wondered if they "took the puritans and theocrats too much on their own terms.")



However when a longer, thinner version of the slogan was placed on the sides of London buses, a group of militant Anglicans (if such a thing can be imagined) decided that civilisation was imperilled. So they took out their own adverts, which were, I have to say, completely impenetrable, but which people who know about these things assure me insinuated that homosexuals could be ungayed. The Gay obviously found this highly offensive, but, once again, instead of responding in kind (with posters saying "You Can Be Cured of God") or raising the stakes ("John Sentamu Is Probably A Tosser”) they also sought legal redress . It turned out that the Church Militant had been fiendishly clever and run the posters by the advertising standards people in advance. They’d been assured that they weren’t against the Law of the Land.

And now my tale grows farcical, as a great man once said. For the past ten years, London has had a Mayor. (For the past thousand years, the city of London has had a Lord Mayor, but this is a purely symbolic role, generally given to pauper children with cats. The Mayor of London is a political role with actual power. This is a perfectly sensible arrangement. It also makes perfect sense for private schools to be universally referred to as “Public Schools.” If you are very good, I will explain the laws of cricket.) The then incumbent, game-show host and national embarrassment Borris Johnson, stepped in and unilaterally abolished the posters on the grounds that he was standing for re-election against Ken Livingtone, England's third most popular comedy communist, and needed all the votes he can get.

Even if we accept the Party Line that it can be offencive to display words on the sides of buses that it would be quite okay to display elsewhere, then I still doubt that arbitrary fiat by a single elected official is the best way of handling it. In 2000, it looked like a good idea to invent a new job called Mayor of London and give it to Ken Livingstone, mainly because it infuriated both Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. It also looked like a good idea that the powers of the Mayor of London should pretty much be limited to running the capital's transport system. This was a kind of consolation prize to Ken Livingstone for having been abolished in 1986. Transport is his favourite thing in the world, after newts and sci-fi movies. But was it ever implicit in the idea that one elected person should have overall control of all the cars and buses and trains in London that that person should also have the power to censor advertising on the sides of buses?
 

This kind of thing is never a good way of getting things done. It may seem very attractive to invoke the powers of the Lord Chamberlin to censor a play which might cause prols to have Non Party Approved Thoughts, but in the the end, the Right has far more reason to fear the free exchange ideas than the Left does. Including ideas which are wrong and silly. Especially ideas which are wrong and silly.

What would happen if I decided to put up posters on the sides of buses saying "The Earth is Flat" or "We Never Went to the Moon" or "Stan Lee created the Avengers"? It seems to me that we can be far more certain that the earth is round, that we did go to the moon and that Jack Kirby created the Avengers than we can be about sexual essentialism. But either we say that you can't use advertising to say stuff which is probably not true, which would make it impossible for the Liberal Democrats to ever run an election campaign again (no bad thing in itself, admittedly) or else we say that sexuality is a special case; or that buses are a special case; or that Boris Johnson is a special case. And special cases make bad laws.

Apparently, this has something to do with the debate that we are currently failing to have about gay marriage or equal marriage or whatever the party thinks I ought to call it this week. I understood the Stonewall Poster ("Some people are gay - get over it") to have been saying "Some people prefer to sleep with people whose genitals are the same shape as their genitals and this is none of your business". But apparently I have been caught out by their use of the verb "to be". It turns out that the "are" bit meant something like "are irreducibly, unchangeably gay due to genetic determinism and this is non-negotiable."

Which may, for all I know, be true. It certainly looks to me as if there are quite a lot of men who sleep with men at some times in their lives and with women at other times, but that may be a false impression. I imagine Stonewall know about this stuff. Certainly its very nasty for Christian psychiatrists to try to use therapy to make men who fancy men fancy women and women who fancy women fancy man, particularly if the light bulb doesn't really want to change. But I am very unclear how this relates to the semantic question about re-branding "civil partnerships" as "marriages", or inventing a third category called "equal civil marriage" or simply allowing prayers to be said at civil partnerships ceremonies one way or the other.

I believe we can prove this by means of a simple counterfactual. If very good evidence came to light that same sex attraction was purely a matter of nurture and environment (not something you were born with) then I don’t think that one person would say "Well, in that case gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married after all." And if equally good evidence came to light that proved that blokes fancying blokes and girls fancying girls was something written on their jeans the day they were born, then I don’t think one single person would say "Oh, well in that case I’ll change me mind — of course gay people should be allowed to get married in church." I don't think the question of why people are gay (whatever "why" means) and whether you can change you mind about it, can possibly be relevant to the question one way or the other. The discussion can only ever be between those who say "If a group of people want to apply the word 'marriage' to their relationship, then it is certainly no business of the state's to tell them that they can't" and those people who say "Two women can't be married any more than two men can be sisters or a lamb casserole can be "vegetarian" because that's not. what. the. word. means."
 

It does appear that we are thinking about changing the definition of marriage. And it does appear that, outside of the pages of the Guardian, there is no unanimity about whether this is a good idea or not. I’m not sure if the two sides even agree about what they disagree about it. According to some people, we are talking about hugely fundamental questions including “Is there any such thing as gender to begin with?” According to others, its not about much more than a bureaucratic nicety, a pen stroke that will clear up a minor but symbolically important injustice.

I think we should have the discussion. I think that before we have the discussion we should have the discussion about what the discussion is about. I am tempted to say that we should have a discussion about what the discussion about the discussion should be about, but only because I have an unhealthy addiction to those kinds of sentences. But it is somewhat bothersome to me that we may be having it in an environment where some people think that some people should not be allowed to say some things through some channels. Even if those channels turn out to be the sides of double decker buses.

19 comments:

NickPheas said...

Have we evidence that Saint Jack created the Avengers? I am very happy to accept that he created the characters who formed the team, but it seems far more of a Saint Stan thing to say "we could put all these characters who've got nothing in common into a group."
For one thing I can't think of any other examples of Jack doing it.

guy.jackson said...

"The discussion can only ever be between those who say "If a group of people want to apply the word 'marriage' to their relationship, then it is certainly no business of the state's to tell them that they can't" and those people who say "Two women can't be married any more than two men can be sisters or a lamb casserole can be "vegetarian" because that's not. what. the. word. means.""

Strictly speaking, shouldn't the first group be saying "If two people of the same sex consider themselves married, the state should recognise that in law"? I don't think the state currently tries to stop people simply applying the word "marriage" to their relationship.

NickPheas said...

I thought the law was fairly clear that "Married", "Husband" and "Wife" were not acceptable terms.
This does not stop any of my "Civil Partnered" friends from using them.

Thinks. Perhaps if they'd managed to come up with a less ugly phrase than "Civil Partnered" then teh gayz wouldn't still be trying to find alternatives?

Jennie said...

"there are quite a lot of men who sleep with men at some times in their lives and with women at other times, but that may be a false impression."

These are called bisexuals. Stonewall has a bit of a history of not recognising our existence, so I can understand your confusion on this point.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Nick: If you examine the text closely, you will find that the author is amusingly incorporating something which is, in fact, controversial into his list of certainties. It's a fairly common joke formula ("we know some things for certain: love is good; cruelty is bad; Susan Boyle can't sing" "the wheel, New York, wars etc.) Bill Bryson has based his entire career on it.

As has been argued four or five times on this blog, the facts of the early days of Marvel comics are not particularly in question: what is in question is Stan Lee's theological views about creation. If saying "let's do a comic about a Norse God in the modern age" or "let's do a comic with Thor, Hulk, Giant Man and Iron Man in it" amounts to "creation" then indeed Stan Lee did create Thor and the Avengers. (Even on this definition, he did not create the Surfer, Captain America, the Torch or Mr Fantastic.) If "creation" means "creating the story and drawing the pictures" then Stan Lee did not create the Avengers or Thor. But this is an old schoolboy tactic to get Teacher away from the subject he's meant to be talking about. "By the way, Sir, what were trains like when you were younger?"

Guy: Yes, I agree. I was (as I am sure you saw) making a point, which I'll come back to, that what is currently under debate is definition rather than substance. But certainly no-one is suggesting that same sex couples (or, indeed, opposite sex couples who haven't yet made an honest woman of each other) shouldn't be allowed to say "married" if they want to.

How dare you suggest that Nick is not my sister! Haven't we known each other for just as long as most sisters under the age of 25? Don't we see each other just as rarely as most sisters, and forget each other's birthdays just as infallibly? Don't we quarrel just as loudly? How can you possibly say that we can't be sisters because of some trivial point about us not having the same parents and both being male?

Jennie: In the 80s, everyone agreed that sexuality was a continuum, most straight people were a little bit gay and most gay people were a little bit straight and the guys who said "I don't understand what it means to say that Leonardo DiCapprio is good looking -- to me, he's just a bloke" were actually the rare ones. I understand that since then things have changed and sexuality is much more fixed and absolute.

I have to say, I rather liked the Torchwood universe in which it appears that pretty much everyone is bisexual -- i.e capable of falling love with anyone of any gender or species. It was the only thing I did like about Torchwood. I seem to recall a guy at college who said "I am not gay or straight. I am not anything. It just happens that all the people I've fallen in love with so far have been men."

But I know this is a contested and politicized area, and it wold probably have been wise to have stayed away from it. I didn't know it was a particular issue with Stonewall. (I don't know if you read my older piece where I suggested ammending them to "Some people are more gay than others. Some people are a bit gay, some people are very gay, some people are not at all gay. Some men think that Michelangelo's David is a thing of beauty; some men would quite like Orlando Bloom to do a nude scene. Some men go to bed with other men. Some men are into foot fetishism, spanking and sadomasochism. And some men, more than you'd think, would honestly rather stay home with a cup of tea and boxed set of classic Doctor Who. And the women as well, of course; neither me nor Queen Victoria wants to even think about what they get up to. And it's all normal. And none of it matters. And none of it's any of your business. Get over it." I think I still think that, mostly.)

Jennie said...

I did read that, yes. And I share with you the sentiment that it was one of the few things to like about Crotchw00t; the other thing I liked was Myfanwy.

The problem I have with labelling sexuality, all joking aside, is that every person's sexuality is as individual as the rest of their personality. It's much easier to think: "that person is Dave" than "that person is a polyamorous het man with a bi wife who has a bi boyfriend who fancies Dave but it's ok because they have a strong consent model."

But yes, Stonewall's bi-erasure is well known in the Alphabet Soup scene.

Sam Dodsworth said...

"But I am very unclear how this relates to the semantic question about re-branding "civil partnerships" as "marriages", or inventing a third category called "equal civil marriage" or simply allowing prayers to be said at civil partnerships ceremonies one way or the other."

Does this perhaps suggest to you that it may not be a semantic question at all? Full participation in society is a basic issue of rights, and marriage is an important social institution.

Also, putting this as gently as I can... you might find both this question and the question of what is and is not OK to put on the side of buses less confusing if you thought a bit about homophobia, and what difference it might make to the experience of being gay.

guy.jackson said...

"Does this perhaps suggest to you that it may not be a semantic question at all? Full participation in society is a basic issue of rights, and marriage is an important social institution."

But that just brings us back to the semantics again: if "marriage" means "a union of two people", then obviously people should have the right to marry other people of the same sex, but if it means specifically "a union of a man and a woman", then equally obviously it's logically impossible to be married to someone of the same sex, and it's fairly meaningless to talk of people having a right to do something which is impossible for them to do.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Marriage is a social institution in which some same-sex couples would like to participate. Arguing about the meaning of the word "marriage" is just a way to avoid the question of what you think about that and why.

Salisbury said...

Marriage is a social institution in which some same-sex couples would like to participate. Arguing about the meaning of the word "marriage" is just a way to avoid the question of what you think about that and why.

Sam puts this about as sensibly as it's going to be put. But to take it slightly further, I can see no reason for having a word with the definition 'the union of a man and a woman', any more than we need to restrict the word 'driving' to people in sedans.

(But ah, someone clever says, we don't say someone is 'driving' a motorbike. And this is true. But if someone does, we merely note it as an odd turn of phrase--not take up column inches debating its semanticality in newspapers and blogs.)

guy.jackson said...

Sam:

"Arguing about the meaning of the word "marriage" is just a way to avoid the question of what you think about that and why."

But what you think about that is going to depend largely on how you define the term "marriage", surely?



Salisbury:

"But ah, someone clever says, we don't say someone is 'driving' a motorbike. And this is true. But if someone does, we merely note it as an odd turn of phrase--not take up column inches debating its semanticality in newspapers and blogs."

Well, saying that somebody is driving doesn't have many real social, philosophical, legal and theological implications. Saying that somebody is married does, so people are naturally more concerned with defining "marriage" properly than they are with defining "driving".

Salisbury said...

Well, saying that somebody is driving doesn't have many real social, philosophical, legal and theological implications. Saying that somebody is married does, so people are naturally more concerned with defining "marriage" properly than they are with defining "driving".

I think my point is rather that when one says, 'You can't call that a marriage, that's not what the word means,' what they are really perhaps saying is, 'You can't call that a marriage--it offends my social, philosophical and theological sensibilities.'

As regards the legal, I believe homosexuals are not exempted from paying tax in the UK, and should therefore receive all legal and fiduciary benefits those taxes are paying for.

guy.jackson said...

"I think my point is rather that when one says, 'You can't call that a marriage, that's not what the word means,' what they are really perhaps saying is, 'You can't call that a marriage--it offends my social, philosophical and theological sensibilities.'"

I think that a large part of the reason it offends their social, philosophical and theological sensibilities is that they don't think that's what the word means.

"As regards the legal, I believe homosexuals are not exempted from paying tax in the UK, and should therefore receive all legal and fiduciary benefits those taxes are paying for."

Again, though, that argument only really works if you presuppose a definition of marriage which allows people of the same sex to get married. If OTOH you define marriage as a union specifically between a man and a woman, saying "gay people pay taxes, therefore they should have all the same rights as straight people, including the right to get married" makes about as much sense as me saying "I pay my taxes, just like women do; therefore, I should have all the rights women do, including the right to getting an abortion on the NHS."

Salisbury said...

I think that a large part of the reason it offends their social, philosophical and theological sensibilities is that they don't think that's what the word means.

It bugs me that that the word 'logistics' is now used not just to mean 'the management of resource delivery' but 'anything vaguely complicated'. But it has never offended my sensibilities as anything other than a pedant.

If my objection to the use of 'logistics' to mean whatever the hell someone wants it to mean is theological, I should say so--instead of trying to slip one past the keeper, as it were, and claim that the meaning of the phrase 'gay marriage' is anything other than perfectly clear.

The word 'marriage' is a bit like the word 'football'. I take it it originally meant the thing they play in the English Premier League, but no-one gets ontologically confused when an Australian Rules footballer picks up and runs around with the ball.

Again, though, that argument only really works if you presuppose a definition of marriage which allows people of the same sex to get married. If OTOH you define marriage as a union specifically between a man and a woman, saying "gay people pay taxes, therefore they should have all the same rights as straight people, including the right to get married" makes about as much sense as me saying "I pay my taxes, just like women do; therefore, I should have all the rights women do, including the right to getting an abortion on the NHS.

Since marriage is an abstract concept describing certain social and legal arrangements, the comparison with abortion falls down at the first hurdle.

guy.jackson said...

"It bugs me that that the word 'logistics' is now used not just to mean 'the management of resource delivery' but 'anything vaguely complicated'. But it has never offended my sensibilities as anything other than a pedant."

People tend to care about their philosophical and theological views more than they care about managing resource delivery, hence tempers tend to run higher when disagreeing about philosophy than when disagreeing about resource delivery terminology.

"The word 'marriage' is a bit like the word 'football'. I take it it originally meant the thing they play in the English Premier League, but no-one gets ontologically confused when an Australian Rules footballer picks up and runs around with the ball."

Then again, though, people generally consider English and Australian Rules football to be two different games which happen to share the same name. If somebody were to say that they were really the same game, and that everybody who had ever considered them to be different was obviously motivated by anti-Australian bigotry, I think it would be reasonable to say that this person was confused.

"Since marriage is an abstract concept describing certain social and legal arrangements, the comparison with abortion falls down at the first hurdle."

The relevant part of the comparison was that, because abortion can by its nature only be used by a certain section of society, it's not a sign of bigotry that men cannot have abortions. Just like, *if* marriage can by its nature only be used by a certain section of society, it's not bigotry that people who fall outside of this section cannot get married. Marriage being an "abstract concept describing certain social and legal arrangements" doesn't change this.

Sam Dodsworth said...

But what you think about that is going to depend largely on how you define the term "marriage", surely?

If you choose a prescriptive definition of marriage then your definition is going to be isomorphic with your opinion of how the world should be, certainly.

Salisbury said...

People tend to care about their philosophical and theological views more than they care about managing resource delivery, hence tempers tend to run higher when disagreeing about philosophy than when disagreeing about resource delivery terminology.

Let me explain this another way. If I were a particularly religious sort of fellow, the sort who felt strongly against gay marriage, it may not be in my interest to attempt to persuade less religious folk by offering a religious justification for my views. (Andrew covers off on a very similar point.) So I might say, two men can’t be ‘married’—that’s not what the word means.

The trouble is, this argument is rather easily dismissed with a wave of the hand – okay, let’s amend the definition of marriage. To counter that, we have to argue that the thing the word ‘marriage’ is pointing to (its referent, if you like) is inviolate – which is a theological argument. It’s the slipperiness of the technique I find distasteful, trying to pass a very specific cultural or religious bias off as plain common sense.

(I’m quite well aware of why gay marriage generates more fervour than the movement of goods – but that doesn't make the particular rhetoric that accompanies it any less spurious.)

Then again, though, people generally consider English and Australian Rules football to be two different games which happen to share the same name. If somebody were to say that they were really the same game, and that everybody who had ever considered them to be different was obviously motivated by anti-Australian bigotry, I think it would be reasonable to say that this person was confused.

I haven’t mentioned bigotry, and I don’t think it’s relevant to the discussion in any useful sense. If a given vicar doesn’t like queers or considers them to be living in sin and won’t help them tie the knot that’s all well and good. But if he presents the argument from semantics he should expect to be laughed at. The point here is that the human brain processes language in such a way that class nouns can be broadened by adjectives. For example, I can coin the expression ‘blue apple’, and our science boffins can potentially create such a thing and everybody knows what it means. We don’t have to call it a blapple, though we could and we might. What falls into the common parlance will be determined by usage.

The relevant part of the comparison was that, because abortion can by its nature only be used by a certain section of society, it's not a sign of bigotry that men cannot have abortions. Just like, *if* marriage can by its nature only be used by a certain section of society, it's not bigotry that people who fall outside of this section cannot get married. Marriage being an "abstract concept describing certain social and legal arrangements" doesn't change this.

But as marriage can only exist in abstracto (I’m not sure that’s real Latin, but it’ll do), it is our legal and social institutions that have to do the constraining. The NHS presumably denies abortion procedures to men on the grounds that it would waste an already limited resource. Unless you can present a similar argument against two men or two women claiming the legal efficacies their taxes are in part paying for, it would be hard to claim that marriage falls into the same category. ’Tis just plain common sense. ; )

guy.jackson said...

[Pt. 1]

"The trouble is, this argument is rather easily dismissed with a wave of the hand – okay, let’s amend the definition of marriage. To counter that, we have to argue that the thing the word ‘marriage’ is pointing to (its referent, if you like) is inviolate – which is a theological argument."

It's often couched in theological terms, although I don't think it's necessarily theological. At any rate, I've seen some arguments for there being a difference between gay marriage and heterosexual marriage which didn't presuppose or depend on the existence of God for their effectiveness.

"It’s the slipperiness of the technique I find distasteful, trying to pass a very specific cultural or religious bias off as plain common sense."

Given that gay marriage has only really been seriously considered in the last couple of decades, and only then in Western countries, I'd say that it's the pro-SSM side who are showing "very specific cultural or religious bias". Which isn't the same as saying that they're wrong, of course.

"The point here is that the human brain processes language in such a way that class nouns can be broadened by adjectives. For example, I can coin the expression ‘blue apple’, and our science boffins can potentially create such a thing and everybody knows what it means. We don’t have to call it a blapple, though we could and we might. What falls into the common parlance will be determined by usage."

I think the reason people would generally be OK with the expression "blue apple" is that most people don't define apples by their colour, so the existence of a blue apple, whilst strange, wouldn't be inherently self-contradictory. Whereas some people do define marriage at least partly as a union between a man and a woman, in which case the term "gay marriage" is inherently contradictory, like (for example) "male sister" or "unjust justice".

Of course, it is possible to change the English language so that these expressions aren't contradictory -- redefine "marriage" to include unions between people of the same sex, redefine "sister" to include someone to whom you are as close as you would be to a blood sibling, and so on. To which I suppose the anti-gay marriage response would be that if we did this we'd have simply started using a term to refer to two similar but separate things, rather than changing the things themselves. So gay marriage wouldn't be the same as heterosexual marriage, any more than a computer mouse is the same as a real mouse; they're still different, and anybody who supposes otherwise is making a fairly important category error.

guy.jackson said...

[Pt. 2]

(Incidentally, I suspect that a lot of the furore comes from the fact that the government is trying to say that gay marriages ought to be considered identical to heterosexual ones. I don't recall much objection to civil partnerships being informally referred to as "gay marriage"; and, if the government had proposed to officially rename civil partnerships as "same-sex marriages", or even to create a third category of official relationship called "same-sex marriage", I doubt the proposals would have caused so much controversy.)

Now, none of this proves that marriage actually is as I've described above: it might be that it is in fact simply a legal institution with no existence independent of the law, and therefore totally dependent on the law for its definition; or it might be that it does have an independent existence, but that its existence is such that it isn't inherently restricted to opposite-sex couples. But I do think that appeals to equal treatment and accusing your opponents of homophobia (though I realise you haven't done the latter) do rather miss the point of the objection, which is primarily about the source and definition of mariage rather than any opposition to equal rights for gay people. And I think a lot of the ill-feeling in the debate is caused by people missing out this stage in their arguments, and consequently talking at cross-purposes with each other.