Monthly Archives: June 2013

Answering the advert in the Times

by Symon Hill

I wrote yesterday about “Gay Marriage, No Thanks”, the oddly named new group campaigning against same-sex marriage, supposedly in the interests of children.

The organisation yesterday carried a half-page advert in the Times (a costly business), giving a list of ten arguments against same-sex marriage. Here is my response to each of them:

1   “Intact biological families provide the gold standard for the wellbeing of children”.

We can all name intact biological families that are abusive and violent, as well as loving and healthy homes in which children have been raised by single or adoptive parents. The notion of a nuclear biological family is a fairly recent invention; families have differed across time and culture – a truth that the anti-equality campaigners seem keen for us to forget.

2 “Children have a human right to be nurtured by both their biological parents.”

I would be interested to know how far the “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” group would take this argument. What if one or both of the parents is violent, abusive or unable to raise them?

3 “Gay parenting by definition denies the child from having one or both biological parents”.

This is not a different argument, but a repetition of the one above by different wording. But what is “gay parenting”? Gay people do not generally do gay cooking, gay working or gay praying. There are many family structures that are being overlooked. I know a family in which the children were raised by three parents (living together in a relationship with each other), two of whom were their biological parents. The children in question are some of the most well-balanced, emotionally healthy and considerate teenagers that I have encountered.

4 “Popular support for the bill is based on the unfounded theory that people are ‘born gay’.”

I for one don’t believe that people are born gay and I strongly support equal marriage. It’s true that many supporters of the bill do believe that people are born gay; it’s a view that many gay campaigners promote. But saying that you’re not born with a sexual orientation does not mean that your sexuality is a choice. Even if it were a choice, it is far from clear why this would make it wrong. What matters is that a same-sex marriage can be healthy and fulfilling for those involved and for society; not whether people were born gay. Incidentally, this argument contradicts Argument 8 (see below).

5 “All school children will taught that as adults they can have marriage relationships with men or women.”

I’m sure they will be able to work that out whatever they’re taught. I hope that school lessons will continue to encourage discussion of a range of views on the subject. This will be a vast improvement on my own schooling when Section 28 prevented me learning anything about dealing with my bisexual feelings.

6 “Adolescents commonly experience temporary same-sex attraction; this does not mean they are gay.”

Indeed it doesn’t. Why is this an argument against same-sex marriage? I wouldn’t advise people of any gender or sexuality to enter a marriage without being very sure about it, very much in love and very committed. I look forward to the day when people can fall in love with each other and enter loving, honest, mutually fulfilling relationships without worrying about gender.

7 “There is no evidence that same-sex marriage strengthens marriage. In Spain, marriage rates fell precipitously.”

Is the strength of marriage dependent on numbers? The statistics can say nothing about the quality and love of the marriages concerned.

8 “Behind the bill is a militant move to deny gender difference.”

On the group’s website, this statement is followed by the assertion that “queer theory, which developed in the 1990s, has been a driving force”. I would love to think that queer theory had been a driving force, although in reality, mainstream LGBT groups such as Stonewall seem quite averse to queer theory, often opting instead for suggestions that people are “born gay”. Radical queers, on the other hand, tend to talk of the social construction of gender and sexuality. Argument 8 thus seems to contradict Argument 4 (see above).

9 “Equal love leads to unequal marriage.”

The group point out that there will be different legal definitions of adultery for mixed-sex and same-sex couples. This is because the definition for mixed-sex couples is so narrow, based as it is on a very narrow understanding of sex. I would be happy to amend the legislation to broaden it out. Bizarrely, this statement on the group’s website includes a link to a Guardian article by Peter Tatchell, arguing that the bill as it stands does not go far enough for equality. I agree – but I doubt the group behind this advert will join me in pushing for more radical change.

10 “Civil partnerships already provide all the legal and financial benefits of marriage for gay people”.

Many of those behind the anti-equal marriage campaigns also campaigned against civil partnerships. They seem to have very short memories. Legal and financial benefits do not seem to be a very good reason to get married. Marriage is about love, commitment and mutuality. For religious people, it is usually about seeking God’s blessing on a life-long relationships. That’s why we want equal language.

Children’s needs and a new campaign against same-sex marriage

by Symon Hill

As if there weren’t enough groups already campaigning against same-sex marriage – such as the Coalition for Marriage and Keep Marriage Special – today sees the launch of another one. It’s called “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” (yes, really; that’s the organisation’s name).

In a press release that they sent out yesterday, they describe themselves as “an informal group of professionals and parents”. However, the two names given for further information are Alan Craig and Chris Sugden, both of whom are already prominent campaigners against equal rights for gay and bisexual people (in Alan Craig’s case, this makes me particularly sad, given that I have campaigned alongside him against the arms trade).

They say they want to “take some of the emotion out of the debate and help people engage with the actual evidence that shows how disruptive and damaging these changes will be for children and young people”.

The group’s focus is on the needs of children, although it remains to be seen whether it will include anyone who has not already been active in other anti-equality groups.

I agree with them about one thing: the needs of children are not often discussed in debates on same-sex marriage. But this is because adoption by same-sex couples is already legal; same-sex marriage won’t change this. Several countries have legalised same-sex marriage before, or at the same time as, legislating for equal adoption rights. Britain has done it the other way around.

This does not mean we shouldn’t talk about children’s needs. I agree with Craig, Sugden and their gang that the rights of children should be discussed and are very, very important. It is precisely because of my passion for the rights of children that I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt.

The website of “Gay Marriage, No Thanks” includes ten reasons to reject the legalisation of same-sex marriage. What it fails to do is to answer a very obvious and very important question: What do they think should happen to the children who would otherwise be adopted by same-sex couples?

They may well argue that they would like to reduce the circumstances that give rise to adoption, although you rarely see anti-equal marriage groups campaigning about poverty, sexual abuse or domestic violence. They may also say they would be happy for them to be adopted by mixed-sex couples. But what if there are none available?

To argue that same-sex couples should never adopt children is to argue that it is better for a child to grow up in an institution, or to be passed around foster carers, than to grow up in a loving, caring, healthy family home – because you think the people in that home are the wrong gender.

And no-one who advocates such a view is in any position to claim that they are championing the needs of children. 

 

Making the pastoral plea

 

by Eva Tejon

Whilst I was visiting my family home recently, I attended church with my parents. It was a big party weekend, so lots of other family members were about too. There was talk of all going to the service together, but – in retrospect thankfully – the service coincided with a gripping sports final, and my family have never been foolish enough to neglect an exciting match for expressing their religious convictions, so many did not.

The church in question are going through a period of interregnum, and face a long line of retired and roaming priests to plug the gap.

That week, it was a bumbling and elderly chap – let’s call him Daniel – who looked like every Rural Dean that Agatha Christie ever caricatured.

I was enjoying the sermon. Lots of good stuff about the way Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, setting the captive free and bringing good news to the poor. And that as inheritors of this tradition, it was the job of the church to take on these roles. He then said that, Jesus faced persecution, just as it was prophesisedhe would – and that the church, if it was doing its’ job, could also expect to face this persecution.

For example, Daniel continued, just recently, British Christians had been scandalously told by the European Court of Human Rights that they could not “conscientiously object” to allowing same-sex couples to stay in their guest houses, or to officiating at civil partnerships.

Oh dear, thought I.

This annoyed me on a number of levels. It wasn’t the view itself – we’ve probably all heard that from a number of voices in various churches, and sadly I’d learn to expect it. It was the casual, flippant way it was expressed. I’d have almost preferred it if he’d devoted the whole half hour to expressing his views on human sexuality – at least that way we could have had a decent argument about it afterwards. But the ‘after-thought’ way this was included made me realise that he thought there wasn’t an argument to have: he assumed we’d all agree.

More importantly, it pissed me off that he had absolutely no idea who he was talking to. The congregation – for all he knew – may have all, just the day before, been celebrating one of their members’ civil partnerships. Or someone could have had a gay child who had recently taken their own life because of homophobic bullying. Actually, I don’t think there was anyone in that situation present. But there was someone there who identifies as gay, and who was deeply depressed, and who had already been concerned that he might not be valued in the church family. This was hardly going to help.

Moreover, since I follow the site Forum 18 regularly, I was surprised that the perceived persecution followers face in Britain was the example that was used, rather than say, Sharofat Allamova, a Protestant from Urgench in north-western Uzbekistan, who has recently been sentenced to one and half years of corrective labour, after being convicted under criminal charges brought for the “illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious literature”. I felt it was insensitive to people facing situations such as these.

Finally, it’s my belief that Daniel was confusing experiencing persecution with a gradual loss of privilege – those privileges that have been allotted to Christians in the UK over many centuries, in the age of Christendom.

So, yes, a lot of aspects of this irked me!

I inwardly boiled throughout the service, foregoing communion because of not-very-holy thoughts that were plaguing me, and plucked up my courage to go and button-hole the preacher after the service.

Mainly because I thought I didn’t have the time, and because I thought it might have a better chance of ‘going in’, I decided to focus the pastoral issues I thought this words raised, rather than political or theological disagreements.

After all, I thought, you are entitled to your opinion. What you’re not entitled to is making anyone in this church family feel unwanted.

The conversation went a bit like this:

My cousin was going to come to church today with her civil partner. They didn’t, and I’m really glad they didn’t – because they wouldn’t have felt welcome.”

They would have been most welcome.”

What in the service would have made them feel welcome?”

Silence.

OK, I don’t feel welcome”, I said (thinking that making it even more personal might be more potent).

Well, you are.”

I doesn’t feel like it. I’m sad that you’ve made me feel that I’m glad someone didn’t come to church today – don’t you think that’s rubbish?

Look, I have to preach the truth. If someone came in here and punched you in the face, I’d have to tell them that was wrong.”

I’d like to tell you that at this point I said “Are you equating a life-long, committed relationship to an act of unprovoked violence?!” – but I didn’t. I sort of spluttered.

When I found my voice again, I said “You realise that not all Christians think it is wrong, don’t you?”

He said he did.

I left it there. He squeezed my hand to say thank you, and I went to have a coffee and cool down. In conversations later, it transpired that I was not the only person in the room to feel angry and concerned. I don’t know whether or not I was the only person to question him about it.

A few weeks on, I’m still not sure I tried the right tack by taking the pastoral approach. But I’m glad that I did challenge such behaviour.

Telling this story to my cousin later, she made it clear that she would have walked out of the service had she been there. In a way, perhaps it would have been better if this had happened. It would have been disrupting, upsetting, and dramatic – but maybe thats exactly what the situation demanded.