Morality by public vote?
As has been widely reported, the Scottish government is due to make a decision on the redefinition of marriage in Scots Law any time now. It was thought that the decision would be taken this week, but that did not happen. Political maneuvering means that the decision may wait until after Westminster changes equality laws.
A recent item of news has interested me, however: Cardinal Keith O'Brien has called for a public referendum on the issue, and asked for a sub-committee to be set up to discuss this. The Scottish government has rejected this call.
The public has already had the opportunity to consult on the issue, the results of which will be disclosed in due course. But I remain sceptical about the value of a referendum. If it is merely to gauge public opinion, the consultation responses will do that. But if it is intended to influence the outcome of the government's discussion, its merit is limited.
First of all, the issue of marriage is absolute and non-negotiable. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. Beginning and end of story. God accommodated divorce, but still hates it. The covenant of marriage is determined by God's absolute moral authority, not by any public referendum.
Second, the nature of law is absolute too. Otherwise how could society function? I have read enough baseball quips on this blog to know that the game would lose all its meaning if the spectators were asked which rules they would like to apply. As in sport, so in life: laws ought to reflect the moral standards of Scripture, not the preferred options of the public.
Third, wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it. A referendum may well show that the majority of Scots are in favour of a traditional definition of marriage, but in this day and age I am not so sure. I think most Scots, like most people everywhere, are in favour of doing what is right in their own eyes, preferring situational ethics to absolute moral standards.
While I would be interested, like the Cardinal, to know what people are thinking, I would be afraid of clouding the issue, and would much prefer the churches simply to proclaim God's norms for the well-ordering of society.