UKIP comes out against gay marriage
A cheer-and-a-half for UKIP.
The decision is redolent of the party's opportunistic intervention into the whole burqa debate some years ago, when they called for a ban on all Islamic face-covering attire because such garments represent an affront to British values. His Grace disagreed with them on that point, noting that those values include freedom of speech, association and religion: it is the banning of religious attire which would be incompatible with Britain’s values of freedom and democracy. Unlike French laïcité, the United Kingdom has no tradition of the imposition of a hard Enlightenment-secularism: we have instead three centuries of progressive freedom of religion, and it was hard-won.
And here we confront UKIP's ideological tension: their party's appointed spokesman on the subject, David Coburn, said:
"We are a libertarian party which doesn't believe in the government interfering in how people live their lives. We support civil partnerships, enabling gay men and women to register their long-term commitment to each other. I have fought for this all my life.'We are a libertarian party, but...'.
"But David Cameron seems to be saying that marriage is something else. If so, it is clearly in the domain of the church and other faiths – and it is none of government's business to meddle with it.
"It seems that, through some kind of political correctness, David Cameron is picking a fight with the millions of people whose religious faiths do not recognise same-sex marriages. That, in our view, is an aggressive attack on people of faith, and an act of intolerance in itself.
"In addition, if the government does legislate in this way, we believe that any criticism of same-sex marriage which may be expressed by someone on the basis of their faith could be classified as a 'hate crime'. That would be a grotesque assault on people's freedom of conscience."
To be libertarian is to be extremely liberal: Isaiah Berlin distinguished between 'negative' and 'positive' liberty, the former being concerned with the absence of direct coercion, and the latter with the innate capacity to exercise free will or moral autonomy. Libertarians insist on regarding the state as the sole agent of coercion, and it is true enough that the state has unique power of direct coercion which has produced the worst tyrannies. Vigilance against excessive state power is as necessary for a Kipper as it is for the Tory and the Socialist. Yet it is surely perverse to ignore the libertarian belief in the autonomous self whether that self is concerned with 'higher' matters, such as reason, or the 'baser' nature, such as irrational impulses and uncontrolled desires.
There is no such thing as 'religious marriage': there is no ontological distinction between a marriage licensed by the State and one blessed by the Church. Marriage is marriage whether or not it is viewed as a sacrament. For the libertarian, the instinct for 'pairing' which is observed in nature is to be enjoyed by any pair (or, indeed, union of three, four, or five, for the libertarian is not concerned with coercion).
But UKIP seeks to coerce Muslims and homosexuals in a manifestly illiberal way, under the expedient guise of liberty for Christians. By creating barriers to the freedoms of religion and association, they are displaying the authoritarianism of any totalitarian creed. It is not necessarily that this is morally objectionable in the pursuit of the stability of the state, but it is manifestly antithetical to their professed political libertarianism which is grounded in the right of free choice. Conceptually, there may be a conflict between individual interests and the collective provision - libertarian rights might work against our interests. But that is not a point made by UKIP (rather like the Conservative Party, they appear not to understand the philosophical origins of their political ideology).
If the Government has no business telling the Church what does and does not constitute marriage, then UKIP has no business telling individuals what does and does not constitute marriage. Instead of restricting marriage to a union of one man and one woman, a truly libertarian party would be concerned with campaigning for heterosexual civil partnership. But that, of course, would be to jump off a very convenient bandwagon. Disaffected Conservatives of all faiths (except burqa-sporting Muslims) now have a party which is prepared to defend the sanctity of marriage - and these conservative faiths boast millions of followers, many thousands of which reside in key marginals. UKIP have compromised their libertarianism for electoral advantage: a 2015 majority for the Conservative Party is looking increasingly remote.