Day: April 8, 2013

sex and secularity


I’ve been thinking about sex a lot lately.

Not in that way. More in the way Alain De Botton argues we should in his recent book, How To Think More About Sex.

In particular, I’ve been dwelling on sex (as well as love, desire, and gender) because I’m giving a series of talks at La Trobe aimed at sparking conversation and thinking about this crucial topic.

And sex really is a crucial topic. As the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre suggests, it’s an “extra-social social act” — a kind of thumbnail sketch reflecting the issues and tensions bubbling away in society more generally.

From my perspective, this is certainly true of the whole ‘marriage equality’ thing going on in Australia right now.

While songs like Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’ pack an undeniable emotional punch, questions can be raised about the equation of the push for the recognition of same-sex marriage and the American civil rights movement.

More deeply, I’ve begun to detect some tensions between the call to legally recognise same-sex marriage as a basic civil — or even human — right and at least some versions of secularism.

Take the account Rowan Williams gives of what he calls ‘programmatic secularism’ in Faith In The Public Square (page 26):

This assumes … that any religious or ideological system demanding a hearing in the public sphere is aiming to seize control of the political realm and to override and nullify opposing convictions. It finds specific views of the human good outside a minimal account of material security and relative social stability unsettling, and concludes that they need to be relegated to the purely private sphere. It assumes that the public expression of specific conviction is automatically offensive to people of other (or no) conviction. Thus public support or subsidy directed towards any particular group is a collusion with elements that subvert the harmony of society overall.

If this is a fair reading of at least one strand within contemporary secularist discourse, then surely the push for marriage equality cuts across it — especially when couched in terms of a ‘right’ to access the institution of marriage.

For surely such a ‘right’ runs deeper than the “minimal account of material security and relative social stability” proper to such secularism.

Or have I misheard the case for marriage equality?