Cardinal Keith O’Brien Comes Unhinged

Equating marriage equality with slave ownership is apparently the coming thing among Roman Catholics. First there was the bizarre newsletter at St. John Neumann, in Maryland. Now, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, has articulated the identical idea in the Telegraph, in a long, unlettered screed against David Cameron's recent advocacy of marriage equality. He's apoplectic:

Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists.

… can we simply redefine terms at a whim? Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?

If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?

Will that teacher’s right to hold and teach this view be respected or will it be removed? Will both teacher and pupils simply become the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs?

… As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government. It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them. Instead, recognising the innumerable benefits which marriage brings to society, they should act to protect and uphold marriage, not attack or dismantle it.

This is a point of view that would have been endorsed and accepted only a few years ago, yet today advancing a traditional understanding of marriage risks one being labelled an intolerant bigot.

… Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.

Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same-sex marriage wouldn’t be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is staggeringly arrogant … Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”.

What's up with that?

Having read O'Brien on the subject, it's worth revisiting David Cameron's rationale for supporting marriage equality in the first place:

To anyone who has reservations, I say this: Yes, it's about equality. But it's also about something else. Commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other, and we support each other. So I don't support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative. 

Cardinal O'Brien's screed was well over 1,000 words long — many times longer than the Cameron quote above — but nowhere in it does he even attempt to rebuff the Prime Minister's point.


  1. Josh MD says

    While the comparison of marriage equality to slavery is certainly perverse on its face, his point is also factually incorrect. When slavery was legal, it was compulsory only for slaves, not slave owners. No one was forced to own slaves. Kind of telling that his major fear of a policy of legal slavery is of being forced to own slaves rather than be one. Empathy much for the plights of others different from you? Guess that explains the Catholic stance against our equality pretty much right there.

  2. Chris says

    “Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?”

    This has always bothered me. I’m pretty sure there are countries currently where plural marriage is legal under the law. It’s also present in both testaments of the Bible. So in what way has marriage been clearly understood as anything particular at all in “every society”. Baffling.

  3. AJ says

    What about how we supposedly already have all the rights afforded to everyone else? I personally know of a couple who is being forced to leave the country because one of them is from England and lost his job. No work Visa, see ya! They are selling their house and moving to England because of DOMA. One of them is American and his own government is forcing him to leave the country of his birth or be separated forever from the love of his life! Don’t tell me we have the same rights!!

  4. says

    well, the sheer hard reality is that his statements are factually, FACTUALLY, incorrect.

    so either he’s ignorant, or he’s willfully lying to his flocks. which means he’s intentionally breaking the ninth commandment.

    but hey, i stopped looking for consistency of beliefs amongst religious conservatives around the time i stopped looking for high-quality films starring Shelley Long.

  5. says

    “As an institution, marriage long predates the existence of any state or government.”

    A total LIE!!!!!!!

    Marriages are legal contracts and certified by the state for its citizens.


    We are indeed seeing the Twilight of Religion.


  6. JONES says

    Marriage was NEVER defined as ‘one man one woman’ until the passing of DOMA. That moment marked the true meaning of the ‘redefinition’ of marriage.

    Now ‘personhood’ is being redefined.

    See the power grab pattern.

  7. Kas says

    @ David,

    A twilight of religion? Unfortunately I don’t think religion is going anywhere any time soon. Its been called, by Karl Marx, an opiate of the masses and Freud thought it a disease. So long as there are downtrodden masses with poor chances of becoming something more they will cling to the dogmas that give them hope of something better. There are wealthy highly religious persons, but they are far more rare and normally (Rick Santorum’s sugar daddy not notwithstanding) less extreme. In short we aren’t going to kill religion and nothing short of fundamental change of the human condition would ever be able to hope to do so. We’ve merely been a part of a larger cultural conflict between secular science and religion that has been brewing for centuries now.

  8. ryan says

    Have a extra time and internet connection, You are skilled in online research?
    Earn up to 40$/hour on online easy work, read more here….

  9. says

    It is difficult to take seriously the opinion of a man who walks around in a dress, a cape and a beanie as if he were living in the Roman Empire or the Middle Ages rather than in the 21st century.

  10. Bart says

    Uhm, marriage in eight states of the Union as well as numerous countries around the world is already not just a union between a man and a woman.

    So maybe that theoretical teacher should tell her students the truth. I know the truth scares the Catholic hierarcy…that’s never how they’ve ruled, they prefer scare tactics and silence.

    The Catholic Church is losing the battle. Badly. They’ve even lost it in the pews of their own churches. The hierarchy of that antiquated institution can’t accept that the world has evolved past them and now snickers at them. They hate that people have become more educated because only those who aren’t believe the nonsense they spew (ie. Rick Santorum). And as the Catholic Church isolates itself more and more, the more they spend billions to portray themselves as victims. But if you want to know anything about what is really going on within the heirarchy of the Catholic Church, look at what they are protesting against.

  11. Soren456 says

    “Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?”

    Every society? Throughout history? Even the most shallow dip into known systems of kinship proves this laughable ninny wrong.

    I maintain that most Catholic clergy are not educated people. They have deeply studied their own dogma, but nothing else. When it comes to real life, they’re just bluffing.

  12. Michaelandfred says

    Um…it’s called language. It moves and changes with the times, knowledge, increased understanding, and often for the church to create ideas and concepts where none were before. A really good one is how gays, through changes in language have gone from a barely mentioned footnote in biblical ideas to today’s be all end all of religious fanaticism and sin.

    This is the kind of ignorance you get when one spends their life in a cult, forgoing actual education and facts in favor of dogma. What a silly person.

  13. Johnson says

    The Cardinal is either a liar or not very well informed. The early Catholic church DID marry male couples! They changed that once, so they can do it again.

  14. Brim says

    Wow. The bitterness, hatred and intolerance in the comments sections directed toward the Church today are astounding. Jesus Christ defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Are you really surprised that Christians, who follow the teachings of Jesus, are conservative when it comes to gay marriage? Of course I think they are mistaken about a few things, but Christians are hardly the villains many of you are making them out to be. But to say that anyone who disagrees with you is either stupid or a liar is to demean your fellow human beings – grow up!

  15. bobbyjoe says

    I say if the church wants to have a conversation about what the bible actually says about slavery– it’s really, really for it– then let’s give it to ’em good and hard.

    Let’s start with Leviticus and the writings of Paul, like Romans, the two books biblical homophobes always turn to to dredge up an anti-gay verse or two. Both not only have a lot to say promoting slavery, but both were constantly used by pro-slavery forces to keep slavery as law, since it was accepted in the bible. Leviticus only has one short verse that says anything about homosexuality, but it has entire chapters that go on and on about what kinds of slavery God thinks are perfectly fine and dandy. Take, for instance, Leviticus Chapter 25 (please). Want to own and/or rape another human being? Well, does Leviticus have good news for you.

  16. RonTEX says

    @Brim, “Jesus Christ defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman.” Could you please provide the exact scripture in the Bible where this happens? In the constitution we have a “separation of Church and State” clause to protect all American’s, so how does the churches ideology affect the legal definition of a marriage? The states that have Marriage Equality (it’s not just same-sex marriage but ALL marriages) have excused the religious aspects from the process but allowed all of the legal protections, rights and responsibilities that are afforded this legal document. You and all church’s are free to be bigots but you are not free to deny others equal protection and their right to happiness under the LAW.

  17. Rick says

    One does not need to read far into the book of Genesis before finding true “biblical” marriage, one man and several wives. Why is our dear holy (small h on purpose) advocating that??? Secondly, if gay marriage deprives children of a mother and father then why is he not fighting to make divorce illegal? The hetrosexuals divorce rate at 50% would seem to be the bigger thing for the church to fight. Where is the crusade ? The constitutional admendement? Oh yeah, when one is dissatisfied with their own life, it is always easier to pick at someone else rather than fixing your self.

  18. says

    Well said, RONTEX! I, too, am waiting for the exact chapter and verse where Jesus defined marriage. I think it’s in the same mysterious passage where he condemned homosexuality.

    Why the Church suffers such profound disdain is because it has been corrupt since the council of Nicea, possibly since the crucifixion if you believe in the gnostic gospels, and that’s becoming harder and harder to cover up. While the laity has continued to provide well-deserved grace and dignity to the institution, the hierarchy has been, and continues to be, disgraceful. Unfortunately, thanks to the seriously flawed infallibility doctrine, there’s no self-correcting mechanism the Church can fall back on and so it continues to paint itself into a smaller and smaller corner. Will it eventually collapse? I doubt it. But I believe it will splinter, and soon. And that would be the best thing that could happen to it… in m opinion, of course.

  19. Dan CObb says

    These horrific clerics cannot imagine a world that is secular. They are so frightened by the secular world because it will mean that their power will become completely diluted and inconsequential.

    This bishop wrote:
    “If same-sex marriage is enacted into law what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?”

    The answer my dear bishop is this:
    Bigoted religious can continue to teach their creed. Bigoted religious can –in their indoctrination sessions with their children– instruct their children that while their definition of marriage is a union between one man and one woman only, the state defines it differently. Then they can inculcate their children with hate of the state an hate of gay people all they want. That’s how that’s done, bishop. JUST BECAUSE YOUR RELIGIOUS BRAIN-WASHING INFORMS YOU THAT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE IS WRONG, THE STATE MIGHT HAVE QUITE A MORE REASONED AND DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED VIEW FROM YOURS… and, sorry to say, in this century in Scotland and Europe and North America, the state trumps the church, THANK GOD! Every time the church has ACTUAL political power, it becomes a vicious, evil monster. The entire history of the church is proof of that!

  20. Brim says

    @Rontex Jesus defines marriage at Mark 10:5-9. In context, Jesus forbids divorce. The pharisees argue that Mosaic law allows it. Jesus says Moses is wrong and draws on the creation story to point out that God joins man and woman in union and creates “one flesh”.

  21. stevenelliot says

    his logic is off. slavery is the unconsented subjugation of one human to another human.

    Marriage in western terms today is the consenting agreement of two humans to join together legally.

    Consent is the word to remember. A goat cannot consent to marriage, a child cannot be deemed mentally fit to consent either.

    A slave doesnt consent to slavery.

    This priest is compairing two different things hoping to achieve the same result

  22. Ben in Oakland says

    Brim dear– the context was INDEED divorce, not heterosexuality v. homosexuality, or what marriage is proper. jesus answered the question he was asked, and in the context of his time.

  23. Brim says

    @Rontex “how does the churches ideology affect the legal definition of a marriage?” It shouldn’t. I support marriage equality. If you want to get married, you should be able to go down to city hall and do it, and it should afford the rights and privelidges afforded to any straight citizens.

    But the separation between Church and State is as much a benefit for the State as it is the Church. My grandmother, for example, says that she loves me but cannot accept my “lifestyle” on religious grounds. Of course I disagree. But my happiness does not depend on her, or anyone else’s, acceptance of my orientation. So I smile and then tell her all about how great penis is. Eventually she will come around – I have faith.

  24. Brim says

    @Ben I agree. The clinicalization of sexuality did not take place until the late 19th century. I also think context is important. Nonetheless, this is the passage that conservative Christians draw on and, indeed, Jesus does define marriage as one man and one woman. If you are gay and religious there are ways to consistently argue that the male/female binary opposition taken for granted in the ancient world is an over-generalization and that sex has no bearing on “purpose”; that is, what is important is commitment and consent and not something like procreation. And if you aren’t religious then you won’t care about such points. Nonetheless, Jesus does in fact assume that marriage has its foundations in sex whether he was right or wrong.

  25. says

    Well, Brim, I can’t agree with what you’re saying, but i surely do appreciate your calm, well-reasoned discourse and reading your comments has been more interesting than not.

    I’ll leave you with one thought, that all of us here, not necessarily as gay men and lesbians, but as human beings, through our devotion, courage and, at times, torment, so far exceed the peevishness and hypocrisy of these little men and their bible and their so called church, that I cannot believe that they will ever prevail. Nor do I believe that God blesses their endeavors.

    Please give my sincerest respects to your grandmother. She has quite a grandson.

  26. Jerry6 says

    Marriage was created by Men as a means of binding a woman to a man in lifelong servitude. They were created by written contracts which included material and “Cash” doweries (sp)that the Bride’s father paid to to be able to get out of supporting the girl any longer. LOVE? Sometimes that may actually be a part of the overall contract.

  27. anon says

    A lot of feminists would agree that marriage = slavery, but his appeal to ignorance isn’t really on that level. The Catholic Church tends to argue loudly when the issue first arises, then goes quiet after they lose (contraception, particularly for women was a big one). The key issue is: will it hurt the collection plate on Sunday?

  28. jamal49 says


  29. Tony S says

    I have to agree with Rontex, my favorite line was regarding the “tyranny to tolerance.” I went to Catholic school most of my life and was taught that Jesus, the man they are supposed to be modeling their lives after, taught absolute tolerance. Where is that now? How could that comment even spring forth from his mouth without the entire Vatican taking a huge gasp? It just goes to show that hatred is acceptable as long as it is against the right people.

  30. Jerry6 says

    @Brim How do you know what Jesus ever said about anything? There is no document written by Jesus existing any where. There is no document in existence that mentions anything about “Jesus”, or anyone that could have been “Jesus” prior to about 40 years after his supposed “Death”. Even Bethlehem, his “Birthplace” was not an inhabited area until well after his death. There is evidence of an itinerant preacher about that time, but such preachers were common. in that period.

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