Traditionalists must be able to dissent on same-sex marriage
It is hard to think of a subject on which public opinion has moved as quickly as same-sex marriage.
Only 25 years ago the very notion was almost unthinkable, and when it did appear to gain support in parts the United States the US Congress passed a law called the Defence of Marriage Act.
That law, signed by the liberal minded US president Bill Clinton, sought to ensure that the federal US would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
As recently as 2014, when a UK Supreme Court judge, Lord Wilson, said that same-sex marriage would almost inevitably come to Northern Ireland it was still a contentious view.
There was widespread alarm in Christian and traditional circles when Ashers Bakery was fined for refusing to bake a cake with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’. It seemed an extraordinary assault on the freedom of business owners to operate within the parameters of their deeply held personal opinions that they could not politely reject such an order.
Common sense prevailed in the Supreme Court, where Ashers won –a key day for protection of individual conscience. But there is still so much to be alarmed about.
The right of churches to continue to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and that children are best brought up within that context could easily be abandoned in the coming decades, such is the pace of reforms. As the Christian Institute says, they must retain that right and retain the right never to perform same-sex ceremonies.
More than that, families who do not want their children to be taught that same-sex marriage is an equivalent to opposite-sex marriage must have that right enshrined, as must teachers who hold to the same conventional understanding of marriage, going back millennia.
Almost everyone now realises that younger generations across much of the world now tend to have a very different view on gay issues to their predecessors. That is not the point. It is maintaining the right to dissent that is the point.