This is a reprint of a post originally published by www.speakerschair.com I am reprinting it because of the many questions I am getting on this subject.
I am the Vicar of a semi-rural parish in a quiet and lovely part of England, though I write in a personal capacity. Our church is a pretty Victorian building, in much demand for marriage services. I love ‘doing weddings’ because the happiness in the church is palpable. The initial air of excitement and nervousness is followed by an outpouring of celebration and joy as the service progresses. Marriages start here, with the joining of two people into one fresh, new unit. A wedding is a sacred moment and I am privileged to see, close up, the faces of people as they pledge to honour, love and cherish each other, come what may, for the rest of their lives.
I cannot understand why this sacred moment of commitment before God and his people should be denied to gay couples. If two people love each other and are willing to commit to a faithful, devoted and lifelong partnership, I do not understand why we in the church should refuse them simply because they are gay. It breaks my heart to have to do this, and the lack of religious support to gay couples and to the priests that wish to minister to them is painful. I have been deeply hurt in recent weeks, firstly by the refusal to consecrate women as bishops and, secondly, by the Church of England’s response to the question of gay marriage. We are not just out of step with the modern world, we are out of step with the pastoral needs of our people.
The Church of England’s objection does not seem to be on the grounds that it disapproves of homosexuality per se – they say:
The proposition that same-sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute.
Rather, the issue seems to be with the definition of marriage itself. Their argument is that marriage is based on the idea of complementarity, of two people of different sexes coming together to make one married couple. To me this is a simplistic reduction of a complex truth. We are all different people who come together make the body of Christ. We are all complementary, and to suggest otherwise is to suggest that some people are unnecessary. We are all God’s children, unique and special. When two of God’s children come together into the institution of marriage, they create something fresh and new, an expression of God’s love worked out between two people.
I can think of no reason why this should not happen between two gay people, as long as they are able to make and mean the demanding and sacrificial vows that take place in a wedding ceremony. I have seen gay relationships which show levels of commitment and love which are awe-inspiring, and to say that they cannot be placed on a level with heterosexual relationships is ugly and discriminatory. Two gay people can be complementary and together create something new and beautiful.
Some people are called to a life of religious celibacy. Some live in hopeful singleness. Some are called to marriage. To deny gay Christians the calling of marriage is to deny them their personal vocation and is a cruel rejection that sets a poor example to those who live in our diverse society. To reduce the complex and wonderful differences between people to the one characteristic of sex is to deny our individuality, and it ignores and excludes many people who cannot be so easily pigeonholed. That gender identity and sexuality are more than a simple duality is a scientific fact which has been recognised for many years.
The other argument, less strongly put, but still widely heard, is that marriage is about creating a stable union for the birth and rearing of children. Obviously, many of the heterosexual couples we marry in church will not go on to conceive and bear children together because of age, choice or infertility. Marriage is about more than childbearing. What is more relevant is the number of people we marry who bring into the new family children from previous relationships, or from their own relationship in an earlier stage. We pray that these children will be nurtured and loved as they grow up with the newly married couple. I cannot see that gay couples will be any different. Some gay couples will bring children in from previous relationships, some will have children within the relationship. The child may not be the biological product of the two people, but then that is often the case in families. We do not reject couples for marriage who will have children with the help of third party donors. Marriage for gay couples would offer the same benefits to their children as to the children of straight couples, and to society as a whole.
It distresses me when we hurl biblical texts at each other in these debates, because I frame this issue in terms of human rights and the love of God for us all. To treat some people as unequal is a violation of the supreme commandments that we love God and our neighbour. Christians believe that God created people as equal beings, all offered salvation by the sacrifice made once for us upon the cross, the one defining act which redeems us by God’s grace and shows us our infinite value as his beloved children. Discrimination denies the fundamental equality worked out by Jesus in his life, his death and his resurrection for all people.
Discrimination, whether based on ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation is sinful, a denial of the innate beauty and value of every individual human being and a rejection of the wonderful diversity of creation. I hope the Church of England will one day wake up to this reality.