Amol Rajan: Carey's desperate bid to oppose same-sex unions

At yesterday's mass rally in Birmingham against the extension of marriage to same-sex couples, George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, was asked for his view on opponents of reform being labelled "bigots". "Let us remember the Jews in Nazi Germany," he said. "What started against them was when they started to be called names." Mr Carey added: "And that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state. We have to resist them. We treasure democracy. We treasure our Christian inheritance and we want to debate this in a fair way."

I've never associated Archbishops with a sense of irony, but this was quite something. Mr Carey, if he had bothered to look, would discover that Nick Clegg didn't personally describe opponents of same-sex marriage as "bigots". A press release sent out in his name (which he won't have personally signed off) referred to bigots and was retracted.

And how does Mr Carey respond to this exaggerated charge? By invoking the horrors of Nazism, with his claim that those of us who condemn opponents of same-sex marriage are acting in a way comparable to the Nazis against the Jews.

Naturally this lack of irony is made less pardonable by his being wrong about gay marriage. Civil partnerships were a marvellous social reform but if we deny same-sex couples the right to marry, we need to be able to justify that discrimination. Alas for Mr Carey, there are no good grounds for it. Marriage, which encourages commitment between lovers, will be enriched and strengthened by its extension to same-sex couples, not weakened.

If Mr Carey's superstitious tendencies prevent him from accepting this, perhaps he could do us another social service, by not invoking the horrors of totalitarianism every time somebody dares stand up to him. It says much about the debased morality and desperation of this man of God that he should fight off a hollow charge of bigotry by summoning up the word "Nazi", letting those brutalised and murdered by fascists do some of the imaginative work he can't be bothered to.

And as ever with a Church now plagued by insecurity, we have the spectre of the slippery slope: "Start throwing 'bigot' around, and we'll end up with gas chambers!" In fact, the vast majority of people who believe in same-sex marriage argue for it in sober and fair-minded language. Mr Carey's pretence that we're on the road to Nazism therefore says more about him than us.

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