Many of my constituents have emailed or written to me about the Government’s proposals to allow same-sex couples to access civil marriage. I understand the concerns they have expressed, and would urge all of them to respond to the consultative document, so their views can be taken on board. The link is below.
Some of those who have emailed have said they have supported my Party all their lives, and will no longer do so if this measure is passed. Issues such as this, which raise issues of conscience, are traditionally the subject of a free vote and so not subject to party discipline or whipping. My Party will take that approach on this measure.
Others have written to me from the background of their faith. I understand that, having served as a Churchwarden, and as a member of a Diocesan Synod. But the Church of England does not speak with one voice on this issue – at the foot of this email is a recent interview in the Times with the Dean of St Albans, who supports the proposals. Spain, a predominantly Catholic country, introduced civil marriages in 2005. Nor is it clear that the Church should have a veto on the secular definition of marriage in a society where many people have no faith.
It is important to restate the point that there is no question of churches or of any other religious institution being forced to host ceremonies for same-sex marriage, or indeed civil partnerships. The consultation will consider only same sex-civil marriage and not religious marriage.
The Prime Minister has made clear that he supports same-sex marriage, not least because of the importance of commitment in strengthening our society. I find that younger constituents of mine take the same view and are more relaxed about these proposals than I am – or others of my generation. This is a reminder that values can change; until forty years ago, homosexuality was a criminal offence. Ten years ago, civil partnerships were not possible. Society is becoming more tolerant and broad-minded.
Any change will require legislation that will have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Such legislation is some way off and I want to follow the debate that has just begun and reflect on the views of my constituents.
Best wishes, George Young
The Times Tuesday March 13th.
The gay priest whose appointment as a bishop triggered the crisis over homosexuality in the Church of England has condemned the Church as “the last refuge of prejudice”.
Speaking on the subject for the first time in nearly a decade, Dr Jeffrey John, 59, who was pressured by the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand down as Bishop of Reading in 2003, said that the Church’s mishandling of the gay issue was at the root of rising secularism.
“Exactly the same love and commitment are possible between two people of the same sex as between two people of different sexes, and it is not immediately clear why the Church should regard such a relationship as ethically or spiritually inferior to a heterosexual marriage,” he said.
Dr John, the Dean of St Albans, who has been in a stable relationship with his partner, the Rev Grant Holmes, for decades, was speaking in the week that the Government is due to launch its consultation on same-sex marriage.
The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, are among the church leaders who have spoken out against changing the legal definition of marriage.
Dr John, who has consulted lawyers over a possible discrimination case against the Church after he was rejected for the post of Bishop of Southwark, said: “Same-sex monogamy seems to me to be spiritually indistinguishable from a marriage between two people who are unable to have children. The fact that fifty years on [after the decriminalisation of homosexuality] the Church is seen as enemy No 1 of gay people is a disaster, both for our own morale and for our mission to the country. We have become the last refuge of prejudice.”
Allowing same-sex marriage in the Church of England would be no more radical than the decision to ordain women priests, Dr John, the Church’s most senior openly gay cleric, added.
“In the Sixties the Church was in the forefront of the movement to decriminalise homosexuality. The Conservative Party realised ten years ago that the equal treatment of gay people had become a litmus test of basic human decency and changed its view, but it is a test the Church now spectacularly fails.
“In the Church of England we readily bless the second and even third marriages of couples who never darken our doors, yet we reject hundreds of our own faithful clergy and laypeople who long to bring their love and commitment before God and ask His blessing.”
Dr John’s liberal teaching on homosexuality and his relationship with another priest triggered a campaign of opposition by conservative evangelicals when he was appointed Bishop of Reading in 2003.
He had to endure his personal life being picked over, including the publicising of the statement that his relationship is celibate, placing him in line with the teaching of the Church of England.
Dr John stood down after pressure from his old friend Dr Williams. The blow was doubly hurtful because Dr Williams and Dr John had founded Affirming Catholicism, a liberal Catholic movement, and Dr Williams had in an essay argued for possible acceptance of same-sex love, urging caution about appealing to Scripture as “legitimating only procreative heterosexuality”.
Dr John said: “It is illogical to argue that same-sex marriage somehow undermines heterosexual marriage. On the contrary, it confirms the value of marriage and extends its blessings to many more people.
“From a purely secular viewpoint it is clearly good for the whole of society when people commit to each other and care for one another without being reliant on the State, and this will become more important as we all live longer.
“I was very struck by David Cameron’s statement that he is in favour of same-sex marriage, not in spite of being a Conservative but because of being a Conservative. I am not a political animal, but I want to say something very similar as a priest. I am in favour of same-sex marriage not because I am a wild liberal but because I am instinctively a traditional Anglo-Catholic.
“Not only gay people are repelled by all this. Many more people of goodwill who instinctively expect the Church to uphold justice and truth are scandalised when it so obviously does not.
“If secularism has gained ground in Britain in recent years, along with the demand that the Church must be disestablished and surrender its voice in national life, then it is our mishandling of the gay issue more than anything else that has brought it about.”