The Conservative solution
Published Postimees 31 March 2013
I really struggled with this article. As a non-Estonian I have always felt I have no right to suggest things. I comment, I ask questions. But I am now a permanent resident, I have family ties here and I am paying my taxes so here it goes.
Like many people I got a letter last week from a lobby group calling itself the "Foundation for the Family and the Defence of Traditions". As we all know these people oppose the draft proposal for neutral gender civil unions.
Over the past few years, the row over the issue has swallowed up the debate over every other type of minority right.
A student who wanted to interview me about minority rights, ended up spending the whole interview talking about gay rights. He really was not interested in anything else.
Like most people from my background, I am a social conservative and economically social liberal. For example, I support the monarchy, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of Prince William marrying a commoner.
Social conservatism doesn't mean that you have to support conservative parties,-left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky calls himself a conservative. It does mean you endorse traditional values.
Therefore I am not talking to my fellow social conservatives as an outsider. As the title of this article says, I think there is an argument for conservatives to support same sex civil unions and even support same sex marriage, and to support these things for conservative reasons.
Left-wingers uniformly support same sex co-habitation and marriage,Conservatives are more nuanced. In the U.S., the Republican party is solidly against same sex marriage though most have accepted same-sex co-habitation rights. Opposition to same sex marriage has become almost a definition of a modern Republican.
In the U.K., where same sex couples already have civil union rights, something which straight couples don't have by the way, it is the Conservative government that is pushing for full marriage rights for homosexuals.
This might seem odd, until you realise the Conservative party is a broad church of opinions.
In Estonia, the issue brings out the difference between the IRL and Reform Party. The IRL is a Christian conservative party who oppose same sex partnership because of their Christian values. Homosexual practices are condemned in both the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in Jewish and Muslim religious texts.
The Reform party is a free-market liberal party who want to minimalism government intervention in people's lives, including government intervention into whom people are allowed to marry.
The issue of same sex marriage or cohabitation isn't really about whether homosexuality is right or wrong. I am not going to go into that here. It is about the nature and the purpose of marriage.
There is no reason to oppose same sex co-habitation. A civil union is not the same thing as a marriage. A civil union simply protects the rights of two people who live together and are committed to each other. The real beneficiaries of the draft bill, if it becomes law, will not be same sex couples but opposite sex couples. Couples in Estonia aren't marrying. The current cynicism about marriage is putting people off settling down and having children because they don't know legal position of the children.
If civil union is introduced, co-habitators will take advantage of it. In France the vast majority of civil unions are straight couples.
So what is marriage? Social conservatives would say marriage is a union between a man and a woman with the purpose of regularising the raising of children.
Left progressives would say marriage is a fundamental civil right. If two people love each other, are committed to each, they should be allowed to marriage. That the right to found a family is a basic is human right.
The left are wrong. Marriage is about more than romantic love.
What about two siblings, should they be allowed to marry if they love each other and are committed to each other why can't they marry? There is no reason why we can't categorised incestuous people as a social group in the same way will do homosexuals. There is scientific evidence when two people who are closely related meet for the first as adults, there is often physically attraction between them.
What about first cousins? In some countries first cousins can't marriage, in other countries like Bangladesh, it's done all the time to keep property within the family.
What about polygamy? Doesn't banning polygamy discriminate against people who come from cultures where polygamy is practice.
What about a step father who wants to marry his now adult step daughter? There is no law against that, people don't do it, unless they are Woody Allen, because it is considered immoral.
What about a women who is kidnapped and raped and then decides to marry the kidnapper, because she loves him and in any case they have children now? That used to happen all the time, it still happens in some places. There is no law against that. There is a law against the kidnap and rape, but there is no law against the marriage.
My point is, whom we are allowed to married isn't really a question of civil rights at all, it is a question of morality and the proper place to decide moral issues was, until recently, a church.
A conservative solution would be to do away will civil marriages all together and only have religious marriages.
Civil marriages have only been around for about 100 years out of 10,000 years or so of recorded human history and they are not working.
Everything then becomes a question of which faith you belong too. There is nothing to stop a believing, gay, couple finding a church, or founding one, that is prepared to marry them. But churches shouldn't be forced to conducted marriages if it is against their creeds and doctrines.
It's a conservative solution which treats everybody equally and it will put religious denominations at the centre of Estonian public life, a place they have absent from for far too long.