John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay On Liberty states:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

This seems to be the basis of the standard liberal arguments on abortion, contraception, divorce, homosexuality etc.  Prima facie it is an attractive idea, broadening the scope of human action and increasing the chances of happiness with minimum state interference. It is certainly a point being made continually by the BBC in its relentless propaganda for “gay marriage” – here and here.  By presenting the viewer with seemingly nice, successful well-adjusted homosexual men who already have children, the clear inference is that these children suffer no harmful effects from being deprived of their mothers.  Indeed, one repeatedly hears the case being made quite bluntly: “What harm are they doing?  Who are you to interfere with their happiness? How can you prove that children will suffer?”  (Incidentally, a few answers to those questions here.)

Yet the “no harm principle” is deeply flawed, both in theory and in practice. Theoretically (and this is true of utilitarianism in general) it is completely arbitrary: Who defines “harm”? And why should the state be able to exercise any power over citizens once it abandons nature as the source and grounding of moral action and usurps the primacy of the natural family?  The denial of objectively binding moral laws surely removes all moral obligation from citizens and paves the way for the Rule of the Collective Will.  Mill’s (probably well-intentioned) desire to limit the powers of the state has precisely the opposite effect.  Nietzsche saw this quite clearly, contra the naive optimism of the English utilitarians.   In Centisimus Annus John Paul II observes:

totalitarianism arises out of a denial of truth in the objective sense. If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people. Their self-interest as a class, group or nation would inevitably set them in opposition to one another. If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others. People are then respected only to the extent that they can be exploited for selfish ends.

At Westminster Hall in 2010 the present Holy Father asked:

By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

In a recent Question Time debate Peter Hitchens attempted to play down the Government’s “gay marriage” plans saying that it only affected a small minority of people and should therefore be shelved.  Yet surely Hitchens knows that this is not just a numbers game: “gay marriage” is emphatically crossing the Rubicon.  In accepting that the State has the right to redefine and supplant the natural family one surrenders everything into the hands of Caesar.

Everything within the state, nothing against the state, nothing outside the state. (Mussolini)

This perhaps explains The Guardian’s ominous proclamation that “gay marriage” is now “beyond argument.”