I recently watched this debate between Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, and Abdullah al Andalusi of the Muslim Debate Initiative:
Around the 9:20 mark, Abdullah al Andalusi argues that same-sex marriage, is in fact anti-secular, in that it imposes humanist values on society. I will use this brief article, to point out the flaw in his logic:
“Recently there was a discussion about gay marriages and they said that it should be allowed. That gay marriages should be allowed, and so on. But that’s actually not the state being neutral to the issue of how humans should organise themselves. The state is now saying that marriage now means something, that we’re going to give it a different value or a different meaning to it a and now we’re going to implement this as law. This issue of same gender marriage is an example of the state getting involved in the issues of society. And now that they try to teach in school… to children [he says this in a tone that suggests disgust]… that gay marriage is an acceptable life path, that is also getting involved in the values.”
– Contrary to al Andalusi’s assertion, legalising same sex marriage, and teaching kids that no single sexuality is privileged, is absolutely the state remaining neutral on matters of religious belief, by not permitting religious belief to interfere with civil and individual rights. This is not to claim that the state remains neutral on how a society should organise itself, simply that my liberty should not be at the mercy of your religious beliefs. It is the opposite of religious privilege. It is quite simple; secularism provides equal protection for all, establishing a line of equality, whereby no one individual belief permitted the privilege of controlling the life of another.
In the case of same sex marriage, it seems to me that there are two distinct options:
Firstly, the state concedes to the demands of a religious sect, permits a right – in this case marriage – to one specific group, and erects barriers to that same liberty for others. It is therefore a right the privileged few enjoy for themselves, whilst denying it for others. This is the opposite of secular, and completely unjustifiable, simply because the followers of a single religion have permitted themselves the privileged right to decide upon who gets the the same rights as they themselves enjoy. To injure the liberty of others, you must provide a reason that isn’t simply based on your belief. For example, I give up my liberty to steal from you, because I don’t want you to steal from me, and so we enshrine this mutual pact into law. To restrain the right to marry, for two loving and consenting adults who are not in anyway harming your liberty, whilst you yourself enjoy the right you seek to restrict for others, would be the equivalent of me presuming the privilege of banning you from your right to disagree with me, whilst I myself enjoy the liberty to disagree with you. This is how supremacist systems work; it is how racial supremacist systems operated, and it is how religious supremacist systems operate. It is by definition, oppression.
The second option is the opposite; if I enjoy a specific right – in this case, as a heterosexual man (and so, already privileged through much of history, for no justifiable reason) – I have no inherent right to prevent your equal enjoyment of the same right. To do so, would be to presume I am deserving of a privilege that a homosexual person isn’t. To presume this, requires ideology, or in this case, religion. For the state to stay neutral, it must not grant me the privilege that I seek to enjoy a liberty whilst denying it others according to my religious beliefs. This is equally true for you, and does not impose itself upon your liberty. You – as a religious individual opposed to same sex marriage – still have the exact same rights you’ve always had, and are not forced to live according to anyone else’s dictates. Afford others the same. The state breaking down the barrier to sexuality equality, is not the same as the state oppressing a single right of yours. You lose nothing that you could justify keeping, when the state opens the cage door and frees those that your religion has locked inside for far too long. To put it simply, one of these options is to chain the right to life, to your individual belief. The other, is to free people from the chains of your individual belief. The latter, is how the state remains neutral, not the former.
On the issue of education; no one is claiming that the state is not ‘getting involved in the values’ of society. The value is simple; no single religious belief is permitted a privileged state position, including the privilege to institutionalise through state education, the dehumanising of human beings (including children in that room) that they dislike, simply because according to ancient myth (and not reality), God destroyed Sodom. You are fully entitled to that belief, you just aren’t entitled to make life hell for the group you personally dislike. To highlight this concept another way; in a classrom, Child A is not allowed to strike Child B, despite Child A believing he has an inherent right to strike Child B but that Child B has no right to strike him back. Child A believes the teacher should permit him the right to strike Child B, but that he himself should be protected from Child B invading his own liberty not to be struck. The restriction of Child A’s demands for privilege, does not qualify as the teacher not being neutral. It is the opposite.
I’m sure we’d both agree that the state shouldn’t be educating children to believe that being Muslim according to one’s free conscience is not an acceptable lifestyle path, if someone in the country has a God that tells them Muslims are evil. This would be the state privileging other beliefs, and oppressing Muslims. Or that having blue eyes is not an acceptable lifestyle path, because someone in the country has a God that tells them people with blue eyes are evil. This would be the state privileging all other eye colours, and oppressing those with blue eyes. Similarly, ensuring that children are not taught that heterosexuality is inherently ‘right’, whilst homosexuality inherently ‘wrong’, is the very essence of a secular education. In the same way that the state doesn’t teach that being white is inherently ‘right’, and any other ethnicity inherently ‘wrong’. To do so would be to provide state privilege based solely on the personal belief of those seeking the privilege.
The state remains neutral, by its line of equality, ensuring no child is inherently deserving of discrimination simply on account of sexuality, ethnicity, gender, or belief, where it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of others, and so allowing the individual talents of that child to be free from religious oppression. It is the protection of all, from all. This is secularism.
This is where it seems – like many Theists – Abdullah al Andalusi does not understand secularism.