It is still quite remarkable that it was less than two and a half years ago that government ministers announced that a consultation would be held on how to introduce same-sex marriage before 2015. This timing more or less coincided with the formation of this blog and for the duration of Equal Marriage’s passage through parliament I’ve been following it and commenting along the way. Today’s piece will be my 34th on the subject. That accounts for 8 per cent of all my posts which probably means I’ve been writing about it too much. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time, especially by political standards and it’s been helpful for me to go back over some of my old posts and mull over what’s been achieved along the way.
It’s not too difficult to find media articles like this one telling us why everyone should be celebrating that gay marriage is now part of our society’s make-up. Of course not everyone will be celebrating this move and some have been and will continue to oppose the very nature of marriage between two people of the same sex. I’ve made it clear through previous posts that I have been critical of the way the equal marriage legislation has passed through parliament, but I am in agreement with the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday when he said “I think the church has reacted [to the introduction of equal marriage] by fully accepting that it’s the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being.”
Even though I hold what would be described by many as an evangelical position on marriage, I don’t see the point in this case of fighting what has come to pass. Instead I’d like to focus on some points I would rather celebrate that have resulted from the Equal Marriage Bill.
- Despite some very heated exchanges between the opposing sides, I don’t get the impression that the somewhat artificial Christians vs Gays strains have become worse over the last two years. In fact I’m inclined to believe that things are now better than they have been previously. There has been a concerted effort by a number of Christian leaders to apologise for the Church’s attitudes towards gay people in the past. I am sure there were a great number of Christians who agreed with Justin Welby when he stood up in the House of Lords and said, “Although the majority of Bishops who voted during the whole passage of the Civil Partnerships Act through your Lordships’ House were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure.” The invite of gay-rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell to Lambeth Palace was a significant move and having Pink News publishing an article by the Bishop of Buckingham yesterday is an example that the lines of communication have been far from severed.
- This process has caused Christians and churches to reflect on their attitudes towards gay people. It has been a platform for the liberal and inclusive wings of the church to openly reach out to gay people, but other churches to have stopped to consider how welcoming they are too. There has been a lot more obvious debate within the church on a Biblical understanding of sexuality than I was aware of when civil partnerships were introduced. And this has been as much at a pastoral level as a theological and academic one. Gay Christians have had chances (although maybe not enough) to tell their side of the story too. I’ve witnessed walls coming down rather than being built up and an acknowledgment that this is far from a black-and-white issue.
- Those who opposed the Equal Marriage Bill have by-and-large been gracious in defeat. There has not been a backlash since the legislation became law. Churches have been reminded of how little influence they now exert on society and that if it chooses to go in a particular direction, they need to live with it and adapt accordingly, even if they do not agree or approve. If it blows away any remaining illusion that this is an inherently Christian country and that the Church can take its position for granted, then that is no bad thing.
- On a personal note it has been a revealing journey. I have had to grapple with my theological beliefs and go back to basics and reconsider some of the assumptions I have had. I’ve been challenged repeatedly over my views and realised that some have been unhelpfully hard-hearted. Through this blog I’ve been able to get to know some wonderful people from across the spectrum, who have helped me to appreciate the frustrations and difficulties that gay Christians in particular face. It’s forced me to make an effort to listen and try to be less judgemental towards those I disagree with. My faith in God and the Bible has become stronger as I’ve wrestled and prayed. I still don’t feel that I have all the answers – I think I would be arrogant if I did, but I now find a lot of issues relating to sexuality and relationships are clearer in my mind and that I am able to live more easily with the unresolved tensions. Most of all it has stirred up my desire to see a Church which is overwhelmingly welcoming whilst at the same time remains consciously faithful to God, even if that means going against the flow. I hope and pray this will be the same for others too.
The 29th of March 2014 will be remembered as an eventful day in the history of this country. There will be more to come. The Church has plenty still to work through when it comes to its dealings with same-sex marriage and there will be pain along the way. But today is one where we need to remember, no matter what our views, that our society still cares about marriage, and that surely is a good thing.