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Unions, Old and New

The following articles, on the question of gay marriage in the church, are very insightful and have caused me to consider further, and try to clarify, my own views.

Speaking personally, I hold absolutely no truck with people who express anti-homosexual views in terms of the right of every gay person to live their lives openly and without fear, to embark on consenting relationships as they see fit, to form their own social and campaigning groups - to basically enjoy the same rights as  heterosexual citizens in a liberal democracy. 

In Britain we have come a long, long way to this point but we have a stained record like other countries. We cannot be too smug and self-righteous. The case of Alan Turing - the great British scientist who helped win the fight against the Nazis but was persecuted to the grave by the very state and society he helped survive because of his homosexuality - sticks bitterly in my mind. But, actually, it doesn't matter whether you are a talented or famous gay person - or an upstanding and moral gay person even - because your rights and responsibilities are the same as mine. What I expect for myself from my country, I must surely expect for you.

It is for this reason I don't have a problem with two gay people being brought into a union equal to heterosexual marriage under the secular state's law - and subsequently benefiting from the same status, privileges and protections that this union tends to bring. I agree with David Cameron's views, expressed in a op-ed piece for the London Evening Standard:

"I am delighted that the love two people have for each other — and the commitment they want to make — can now be recognised as equal. 

I have backed this reform because I believe in commitment, responsibility and family. I don’t want to see people’s love divided by law. 

Making marriage available to everyone says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in — one which respects individuals regardless of their sexuality. If a group is told again and again that they are less valuable, over time they may start to believe it. In addition to the personal damage that this can cause, it inhibits the potential of a nation. For this reason too, I am pleased that we have had the courage to change."

I am sure it must muddle the minds of some diehards on the Liberal-Left (as well as the Right) that this has happened under a Conservative-led government - but it makes sense to me that the traditional values expressed by conservatives around family life, commitment and personal responsibility have fuelled the move to making marriage between gay people acceptable under the law of the land.

It is not simply about 'living and let live', a worthy liberal-left value but one that sometimes gets played to the extreme - as seen in the call by some of my fellow Unitarians for polyamory to be the next big campaign issue.

Going back to the original article cited, I do think there needs to be better understanding of the Christian position against allowing gay marriage within their halls and houses of worship. It cannot be dismissed solely as 'fuddyduddyness'. As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says, the Christian position against gay marriage is deeply connected to a unique theology, to its understanding of who God is and what human beings exist for. The Bible clearly places an absolute priority on committed heterosexual relationships, specifically a young man and a young woman coming together in lifelong union -  in turn, readying them for the creation of children, which the Bible frequently venerates in both a literal and metaphorical sense. There is an ideal, a positive bias if you will, that cannot be simply chipped away at.

However, having said that, I feel we Christians need to keep three things in mind:

1) The New Testament in particular tends to operate in broad brushstrokes rather than smallprint, it speaks most highly of fidelity as one of its recurring themes.

2) The fact is homosexual relationships aren't going to go away. Although I feel it would be arrogant to say our understanding of the human condition is definitively greater now than the eras in which the Bible emerged, maybe we can reasonably say it is broader in some respects. We know now that homosexuality occurs naturally amongst human beings - it is not a matter of choice, nor a case of sexual deviance.

3) The church ultimately operates on pragmatism as well as idealism. If gay people are excluded from the life of the church, the knock-on effect (not to mention the hurt caused) is the church loses a potential source of wisdom, talent and energy.

On this basis, I understand and support those individual churches that, having reflected and prayed about it together, discern a call to provide support and generosity to those gay people wanting to seal their legal commitment to one another with a religious ceremony.

I would argue that in a way this mirrors the decision of most churches to allow people who are divorced to re-commit. There are citable passages in the Bible against such things but most churches have decided to place the greater value of fidelity over smallprint. Again, we might still say the remarriage of divorced and widowed individuals are not the church's utmost priority - which remains the bonding of the young-at-heart-and-in-love into secure, fruitful, resilient relationships - but the church has nonetheless decided to be supportive and generous with its older, been-there-done-it couples.

However, other churches may not choose to do this - they may prefer to continue to hold to a stricter view of who and who cannot marry. The same goes for other religions too. This should be their right. Just as many religious groups have strict rules around who they will marry in terms of the bride and groom having to be recognisably committed to the faith. And there needs to be a widespread acceptance of this - an acceptance that does not involve then engaging in a war of attrition. So long as they are not propagating hatred, religious groups should be left to live according to their ideals.

This is my position, as much as I can say at this point, on the question of gay marriage.


To add, further to this post (6/09/14):

There is a course a specific question over the 'established church', the Church of England, as to whether it will be forced to adopt gay marriage legislation in the medium to long term because it is inevitably so tied up with the state. Speaking as someone pretty much out of the Anglican fold, my gut feeling is that any act from outside to force this upon the C of E might eventually prove to be the trigger for disestablishment - a prospect which some of the younger Anglicans I know seem to welcome, but in practice has all sorts of ramifications.

There is also a question of where it leaves 'Civil Partnerships', the precursor to gay marriage which is currently excluding of heterosexual couples. The government appears to want this legal arrangement to quietly slide into history before its eventual 'no fuss' abolition, a very British way of dealing with things. A concern must surely be, if this is opened to heterosexual couples as some would like, that a campaign will then emerge to extend it to polyamorous arrangements - which would then seriously undermine the fundamental principle of fidelity, working in tandem with equality, which has underscored the other changes.