Is there a case for SSM? (book review)

IS THERE A CASE FOR SSM? Is there a case for SSMarriage
Questions of eligibility and consequences
By R.S. Harris
Anglican Mainstream and Voice for Justice UK. 102 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 0 957 506 602

This little book packs a punch. Written primarily for a secular audience, it pulls together the key arguments against the legalisation of same-sex marriage (SSM). The aim is to persuade those who may not share a biblical worldview that there are good reasons for opposing the move.

Its premise is that SSM simply does not meet the historic legal tests of eligibility for what marriage is, and that the ‘love and commitment’ argument is not sufficient to replace those tests — not least because it does not in itself preclude a wider definition of marriage, e.g. between more than two people.

The argument then runs that the concept of ‘equal’ marriage is a category error which fundamentally mistakes the benefits of marriage as an institution as being separable from the nature of marriage as intrinsically heterosexual. There is then an in-depth analysis of whether gay relationships tend to regard monogamy as a virtue, with the implication that SSM intrinsically undermines the exclusivity of the institution. The author is honest about the inconclusive nature of studies into the effect on children of same-sex parenting, and rightly takes that as a cue for caution. There is also fairly substantial treatment of the negative health effects of some sexual practices between men, and of the possible impact of SSM legislation on freedom of religion.

Harris covers a lot of ground in a small space. Readers will need to look elsewhere for more detailed treatment of some of the underlying issues, for example in relation to the trend towards gender choice as a social good, the nature of equality, and the commoditisation of children that is inherent in the debate about SSM. It would not be fair to expect a book of this size to deal with those issues comprehensively — though perhaps some more space could have been made for them. Some crucial assumptions are made, in particular about society’s expectations in relation to monogamy and the undesirability of widening the legal definition of marriage even further.

Throughout, the book assumes the ‘givenness’ of marriage to explain what defines it, and why government does not have authority to redefine it. This is both its strength and its weakness — indirectly, it points to the Giver. But, for many, the assumption that marriage is a ‘given’ is the very point of challenge.

Caroline Eade, 
lawyer, member of Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge


(This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057)