Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE – a response to an Open Letter from some "Community and Church Leaders from across the (London) Borough of Havering" to the Romford Recorder

The proposed bill to legalise marriage between members of the same sex, whilst acceptable to many, clearly causes problems for some.  To describe only marriage between a man and a woman as "real marriage" seems a somewhat inadequate definition, as most people in the country now seem to realise.  Whilst some church leaders may feel the "silent majority" do not wish for marriage to be "redefined" this assertion is not supported by evidence.  A recent YouGov poll (March 2013) found that only 32% of those polled were opposed to same-sex marriage and whilst 69% of people over 60 years say that the Church of England is right to defend marriage as exclusive for heterosexual couples, only 28% of those aged 18-25 agree.

My own – albeit limited – experience in suburban parishes in south London indicates there is a significant percentage of Christians who support same-sex marriage, and a majority who wonder why the Church still seems more concerned about homosexuality than other, pressing, national and global issues.  As one MP pointed out: "All we are doing with this bill is allowing two people who love each other to have that love recognised by way of marriage … We are not declaring nuclear war on a foreign state; we are not bringing a virus in that could wipe out our agriculture sector forever. The sun will still rise tomorrow.  … You will not have skin diseases or rashes, or toads in your bed.  The world will just carry on.  So do not make this into a big deal.” (Maurice Williamson MP to New Zealand parliament)

I am old enough to remember when homosexual acts were illegal, and some carried the death penalty.  That was fifty years ago.  There are passages in the bible (and, no doubt, in other scriptures) which support this view, but most Christians would no longer accept the bible has to be read in such a literal way.  The opening of marriage to same-sex couples is a development in the acceptance of gay and lesbian people and that we have the same rights and responsibilities as others.  Whilst marriage has been understood as the union of two "opposites" which can create new life, there is nothing to preclude this principle holding true for members of the same sex.  After all, we are all different.  It is not the union of sexual opposites that defines marriage but the fulfilling of the need for us not to be alone.  

The concept of marriage has never been limited to the union of a man and a woman: there is a long tradition of religious Vows being seen as a form of marriage and nuns were long called the ‘brides of Christ’, whilst some of the greatest saints, male and female, have experienced ‘mystical marriage’ with Him. The government's present proposals do not redefine the basic principle that the heart of marriage is union and communion: as The Book of Common Prayer states it is for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.  These proposals are not a "game-changer", nor do they mean "human stability and flourishing will be confused and undermined."  Rather they graciously invite more people to consider making this fundamental human commitment and continue the process whereby we are becoming a more open, tolerant and compassionate society.  Something which must please the heart of God.

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