Today I want to discuss a topic that’s never really in the public consciousness much, if at all. So I wanted to bring this little talked about subject into people’s mind to open it up for debate and give it the consideration it deserves. I want to talk about gay marriage…………………..what? there’s already a multitude of news stories and debates about it? How many?………..that many!
Now firstly I have to admit to you a bit of naivety on my part. I had already thought we had gay marriage in the UK, called civil partnership. That’s not me being flippant, I genuinely thought that was the case. Legally there is no difference in rights between civil partnership and marriage in the UK, it even has a process similar to divorce as well. At the moment however, UK law does not recognise same-sex ‘marriage’. Confused? Me too a little, so what’s in a name?….apparently a lot……
Now I’m not claiming to be as qualified or educated as some to speak on behalf of the government, churches, or the gay community etc but hopefully I can offer a reasonable argument which may give some food for thought.
I know the reaction from some of the ultra conservative religious groups in the UK ‘coming out’ (if you’ll forgive the wording) against gay marriage has been very strong to say the least. To hear some of them speak I think in their minds the gay couple getting married will be dressed up as an electrician, Indian, Policeman or Biker, walking down the aisle to ‘It’s raining men’, while the congregation are doing YMCA in the background. That does sound like a fun wedding though…
So let’s try to break down the issue into the main points:
1. Do gay people actually want gay marriage or is civil partnership close enough to marriage?
2. Should the government allow gay marriage and if necessary should they force the church to perform them?
3. How does gay marriage sit with the church and how is it dealt with biblically?
Isn’t civil partnership just gay marriage by another name? All the same legal rights as marriage in the UK are there after all and have been in place for 6 years. But if the whole debate concerning gay marriage was solelyÂ focused onÂ legal equality, then civil partnership would surely be perfectly acceptable. However, the word ‘marriage’ is important in this debate. It conjures up words like love, faithfulness and permanence and stability. Civil partnership conjures up in my mind two people entering into a business legal contract with one another. Its not the same in its power to define a loving relationship to the public. What civil partnership perhaps misses in ‘name only’ is the essence that the word marriage conjures and why should we deny that to a couple just because the ‘love’ part of the word ‘marriage’ is between two people of the same sex? and what about the issues of equality?
Another point to consider is how the gay community really feel about all this. Is there an actual strong desire for gay marriage in the UK or do they consider it just a word? Is it instead a deliberate politicised issue in a cynical act by parties to get more votes?
The government have already accepted and allowed gay marriage in all but name. There is no difference in legal rights, so why didn’t they go all the way? The short answer is to avoid all the debates, backlash and press that would come along with it. That was six years ago. Now things are hopefully slightly different, we are more accepting and the issue of gay marriage has been broached again with that hope that people will be more accepting of it. Now I think the time is right, perhaps overdue, as the current situation does resemble allowing gay people onto the airplane of a ‘visible, publicÂ lifelong commitment of a couple’ but not allowing them to upgrade to first class ‘marriage’ section becuase they are the same sex. Its marriage but not quite and seems unfair.
In March the government began a 12-week consultation on the topic of allowing gay couples in England and Wales to marry. One of the proposals in the consultation paper is that both civil partnerships and same sex marriage will both be possible. Surely this should be one or the other? Why not reclassify civil partnerships to be classed as marriages? Otherwise we have two tier or classes of commitment vehicles with civil partnerships as economy and marriage as first class. (and more checkboxes on an application form.)
Another important proposal in the consultation paper says it will maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service. Firstly is it their right to legally ban or not ban gay marriage in a church? At face value it seems to be there to appease and put the mind of the religious institutions at rest. Or, is it a case of the government easing the church door open a bit more to allow at some point in the future gay marriages being performed there? first civil partnerships, then gay marriage, then gay marriages in the church, slowly bringing them round to the idea. I think that religious institutions have every right to comment upon the issue but it is up to the government toÂ introduce gay marriage as a legal right. However, it is the churches right to allow, or not allow, them being performed in a church. The distinction is very different.
Roman Catholic congregations across England and Wales were read a letter from the Church’s two most senior archbishops saying the change would reduce the significance of marriage. I think they are wrong in this regard. It is the high divorce rate at all ages over the past years that have reduced the significance of marriage. If a gay couple were to marry and live a long, loving, committed relationship till the day they die, surely that increases the significance of marriage as something important and worthwhile?
I could write a entire doctorate on various points of biblical scripture that are: for, against, or indifferent to homosexuality and gay marriage. These different views depend on interpretation, context and historical social context at the time of writing each book within the bible. This produces the formation of somewhat individualistic views, which makes it interesting but not that helpful sometimes in getting a clear cut answer. Perhaps it was written with that in mind so readers would be challenged to form their own conclusions while still holding onto the overall message.
Now it might be the literary equivalent of walking into a lion’s cage with a rib eye steak in my boxers but I could, for example, say that in the New Testament Jesus never commented about homosexuality but Paul however did. If it was really important I would have thought Jesus may have mentioned it once or twice. Same sex marriages or partnerships are never mentioned in the bible, is this omission because they weren’t even considered at the time?
There are better people than me to debate this and I would suggest further reading on the wealth of information out there.
As a Christian, in my opinion the bible teaches self thought and free will. It says ‘do not judge, or you too will be judged’ and to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. If two people who love each other and want to make a lifelong commitment in front of their family, friends and God, then they should be able to do so. It shouldn’t matter if they are gay or not. There are Christians who are openly gay and I think that church leaders should be very careful in interpreting what they think God thinks about that. Its obvious that a big importantÂ discussion needs to happen within the church in this government consultation period, in orderÂ to come up with some form of formal option or response.
I also wouldn’t want to see atheist parties use the reluctance of some of the church members to accept gay marriage as an opportunity to oppose all faiths as an outdated concept. (Yes Mr Dawkings I mean you)
I think it would be wrong for the government to force churches to officiate over gay marriages but I hope that they will open their doors to them. Perhaps as a short term solution it could be down to the individual churches to decide based on their views.
Hopefully the government consultations will bring together all the reverent parties into an honest, open debate and the outcome will be understanding, acceptance and welcoming. In the end though the ultimate decision will be individually ours.
Image reproduced from blogs.telegraph.co.uk