Saturday 12 May 2012

G.K. Chesterton on marriage, homosexuality and free love


“Marriage is a fact, an actual human relation like that of motherhood, which has certain habits and loyalties, except for a few monstrous cases where it is turned to torture by insanity or sin.”

G.K. Chesterton would certainly have argued forcefully and brilliantly against homosexual marriage, unlike the Catholic hierarchy or Catholic intellectuals today in England. Dale Ahlquist has collected some thoughts of Chesterton's touching on a subject that in his day was not mentionable. I must say Chesterton's words about Oscar Wilde seem shockingly harsh to me, though Wilde himself converted to Catholicism in extremis and so perhaps thereby accepted Catholic teaching.

“His was a complete life, in that awful sense in which your life and mine are incomplete; since we have not yet paid for our sins. In that sense one might call it a perfect life, as one speaks of a perfect equation; it cancels out. On the one hand we have the healthy horror of the evil; on the other the healthy horror of the punishment.”
Wilde's treatment (hard labour was common punishment for many crimes such as petty larceny) was tragic, though he was on bail and Arthur Balfour and others gave him the opportunity to flee the country. 

That was the spirit of Wilde's age  and a generation later in Chesterton's day not very much had changed. It is very unjust that people should be prosecuted for what they do in bed with consenting adults, though one of the rent-boys was only 16 and there were references in court to a boy who looked 14. Yet, even though Wilde would probably have been sentenced in our day for child abuse and given a very hard time in gaol, the words of Pope come to mind:
'Who breaks a butterfly upon the wheel?'
Though I suppose, as this was the law, that there was no reason that a man who was well connected in society should get off while lower class men were punished.

Things are much better now, even though if people of the same sex will be able to marry this will be 
'another example of the modern and morbid weakness to sacrifice the normal to the abnormal.'
I liked this remark that I came across via the American Chesterton Society:
'Making homosexual “marriage” legal will not make it normal, but it will add to the confusion of the times. And it will add to the downward spiral of our civilization. But Chesterton’s prophecy remains: We will not be able to destroy the family. We will merely destroy ourselves by disregarding the family.'

 This is Chesterton on free love:

'The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words—'free-love'—as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.'


  1. Very deep, as always, Chesterton. Thank you for this post. Wonderfully argued.

  2. Astonishing commentary, considering the Chesterton is thought to have experienced a sexless marriage