They lost the marriage vote, but they’re still determined to derail equality

By Sam Somewhere

In an attempt to re-write their recent major defeat as a call to arms, the anti-same sex marriage camp have put out a slew of different statements over the last weeks. These are not empty threats; some of them represent organised groups who will stop at nothing to delay and derail the ongoing transition to a more equal institution of marriage. Here are three such statements, but please link to any others that you’ve spotted in the comments.

First off, we have Anglican Mainstream (who brought us the “Gay Marriage No Thanks” newspaper ad campaign) and their jaw-dropping choice of quotations. Not only did they post a certain quote, but they decided to respond to criticism by adding an explanation of it. Accompanied by a picture of Pastor Niemoller and his famous quote (“First/then they came for… and I did not speak out because I was not a…”), we get this line:

Many leaders who hold traditional marriage views and would not like to see others victimized for holding similar views, nonetheless, keep quiet because that is the safe thing to do.”

The appropriation of the Jewish, Socialist, Traveller and even Gay experience of the holocaust to whip up images of anti-same sex marriage advocates being led to death camps is sickening. They claim to understand that SSM legislation is on a different level, but that only reinforces the fact that they are using a lived experience to feed their hysteria. They know what they hope their readers will feel: Its all about their victimization.

Anglican Mainstream also provide this fuller response, including some choice phrases:

Of course the entire social fabric will not collapse overnight. Social mores do not function like that.”

Legitimate and vital concerns for human rights have been hijacked to become vehicles for a pan-sexual revolution which everyone in the public domain must either collude with or approve.”

They’ve obviously figured out that they can use a few examples from Canada completely out of context, throw in something about human rights and make themselves look like the victim here. The labelling of Christians who back SSM as colluders is painful.

Legitimate and vital” – unchallenged, this sounds persuasive, but who has determined the legitimacy? This bill is littered with protections purporting to prevent religious ministers from being obliged to carry out SSM ceremonies, to the extent that many will be unable to carry out the ceremonies that they wish to officiate. But we are told to understand, in no uncertain terms, that the social fabric of society is going to collapse.

The next example I shall give will be familiar to many: Christian Concern (For Our Nation, but they dropped that bit). These folks cover just about every base in the knee-jerk right-wing litany, as the right-hand of their site shows. Their statement is breathless (“bulldozed”) and a clear sign of a lack of interest in admitting defeat – it announces that Coalition 4 Marriage have an election strategy, focused on marginal seats. They believe that having 700,000 signatures on a petition gives them more clout than the Conservative Party, with their 200,000+ members. I sort of wish this were true – but if C4M have backers to the tune of Lord Ashcroft’s cheque book, we should have a right to know.

Christian Concern worry me more than Anglican Mainstream. Despite their name, Anglican Mainstream are a tiny group with low profile and don’t get taken terribly serious. Yet I’ve had no end of Christian friends forwarding Christian Concern emails to me, often because they give undue credibility to the existence of threats made by Christian Concern. What the Christian Concern statement lacks in naked hyperbole, it gains in its apparent credibility.

If Christian Concern make Anglican Mainstream look like a fringe pressure group, then the Evangelical Alliance, which claims to unite over two million people in the UK, dwarfs both organisations. Whether the two million people who they claim to unite, and even to speak on behalf of, accept this is another matter. But their statement is certainly the most dangerous I have seen so far. This isn’t because it calls for violence, or greater ostracism of gays in society, or even for a higher sense indignation at what has transpired in Parliament. In fact, its pretty much for the opposite reason: its the calmest of all the statements. Perhaps its the most reasonable?

Parliament has decided that marriage should be something other than what it has been throughout history and different from its natural and biblical meaning.

Now it is the task of the Church to model marriage to a society that has forgotten what it is. This contentious social change may well grieve God’s heart, but He is certainly not fazed by it, and nor should we be. In all challenges there are opportunities, and in the light of pressures that Christians and others will no doubt face in coming years, this new legal fiction offers a chance to model and teach what marriage really is.”

There are some obvious ways to pick this apart. For starters, their idea of marriage as an unchangeable construct throughout history is plainly ludicrous. If Parliament had just decided to make payments between husband and father of the bride, maybe they’d be on to something, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

Its nice to think that their God is unflappable, more given to sorrow than rage, but its clear that what they’re saying is “we’re very sorry that you feel you can’t live up to our standards”. There’s an assuredness that ultimately, once this passing phase is out of the way, we’ll get back to a world where everyone marries nice and young and has kids (and a mortgage and car?) and lets face it, its probably quite a comforting viewpoint for the writers.

But these are people who share the pews with millions every Sunday. This is an enormous organisation that, whilst unable to set the outcome of the national debate, sets the tone as much as the outcome for much of the church debate. There’s no call to arms to reverse the decision, but rather a call to rub other people’s noses in just how wrong their lives are. The logical is to make people feel like they’re hurting God (is that possible?) by doing something they should feel guilty about. That’s why I think this is the most dangerous of the statements I’ve mentioned: its more about infiltration and close quarters bullying than about standing on a pedestal and shouting.

You can make lots of cool internet memes about how stupid Westborough Baptist Church are (just google God Hates Signs), but a group like the Evangelical Alliance is much harder to deal with. Its not very far away from the definition of Concern Troll: we’re you’re friends, and we think you should do this thing for what we think is your own benefit.

One interesting note: the changes have apparently marginalised adultery and consummation. It might as well say “Dear Asexual and/or Polyamorous Reader: you’re doing it wrong. But we love you anyway”, just in case you thought this was purely about nicely behaved monogamous cis-gay couples.

Lastly, the effect the Evangelical Alliance has on its member organisations should not be underestimated. Any such organisation that is moving towards a more open view of Queerness will lose not just the esteem, but the financial and practical support of the Alliance. Take a member organisation like Soul Survivor, with its massive festival-conferences attracting tens of thousands of young people each year. It would lose the goodwill of church leaders whose young people attend the events along with many of its biggest speakers if it was seen to deviate from the Alliance’s party line.

In the struggle for equal esteem amongst Christians for people of differing sexualities, it will be the Evangelical Alliances, and not the Christian Concerns or Anglican Mainstreams, that make the journey longer and harder.

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2 thoughts on “They lost the marriage vote, but they’re still determined to derail equality

  1. I once attended a Presbyterian wedding where the bride had chosen to leave out the promise to obey. The minister preached on the wife’s duty to be subject to her husband, with no mention of mutual submission. Is this the kind of real marriage that Evangelical Alliance is calling on the church to model?
    If so I can see why they would have a problem with gay marriage. If a marriage partnership is seen to be about submission and dominance, and if gender determines the role that each partner takes, then clearly gay marriage is impossible.
    Perhaps if the Churches had put their foot down earlier and insisted that the promise to obey had been kept in the marriage vows, then they could have avoided all notion of marriage as a partnership between equals. However the deed was not done, they are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Marriage has already been redefined – although no-one is stopping wives submitting to their husbands if they believe it’s the right thing to do.
    Is this really the position that Evangelical Alliance is promoting, real wives must submit to the will of their husbands, or are they so caught up in their own homophobia that they are unable to see the ramifications of what they are saying.

  2. There is an alternative way of viewing the statement made by the Evangelical Alliance: as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

    We know that the LGBT community is, in many ways, better at marriage and family than heterosexuals. This is not a statement of prejudice, but of fact. Statistics released a few years ago showed that in the UK heterosexual marriages are over twice as likely to end in divorce within five years (5.5%) as gay civil partnerships (2.5%). A significant amount of independent research over the last decade has shown that the educational performance and psychological make-up of children raised by same-sex couples is as good as, and on many markers better than, those raised by opposite-sex couples.

    By contrast, divorce rates amongst evangelicals are amongst the highest of any faith group, with a Barna Group study in 2000 finding that over a third (34%) of US evangelicals are divorced, compared to just a fifth of Catholic, Lutheran or non-religious Americans (all 21%). In addition to having the highest divorce rates in America, the “bible belt” states also have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, and the lowest rates of educational achievement.

    There are numerous possible explanations for why LGBT marriages are more stable than evangelical ones. For example, evangelical theology places an emphasis on marriage as a symbol of Christ’s relationship with the church, which makes recognising and admitting to problems within a marriage both difficult and shameful. Alternatively, gay male couples tend to have a more pragmatic and tolerant approach to infidelity than lesbian or heterosexual couples, so it is less of a threat to their marriages despite being more common.

    While the precise reasons for the difference in divorce rates are open to debate, the consequences are not. The Evangelical Alliance hopes to “model marriage to a society that has forgotten what it is”, yet evangelicals are statistically less competent at creating and sustaining successful marriages than almost any other key social group, while gays and lesbians are statistically more competent. If you were to choose a group to model marriage, common sense would require you to choose the one that’s most competent, the group whose marriages are most stable, productive and rewarding.

    So if the Evangelical Alliance wants to challenge the LGBT community to see whose marriages are better, I say bring it on. Based on the available statistical data, they don’t stand a chance.

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