The GuardianGay marriage: fair do
The idea of full equality for gay and lesbian people changes our understanding of what it means to be human, for the better
Sunday 30 March 2014 17.38 EDT
Gay marriage – celebrated for the first time by hundreds of couples at the weekend – goes to the heart of religious concerns. Opponents like to say that it redefines marriage – as if marriage had not been frequently redefined, and for the better, since Old Testament days – but what matters more is that it redefines humanity. The idea of full equality for gay and lesbian people changes our understanding of what it means to be human, and does so for the better. That means it must also change or challenge most understandings of God. So the religious reactions were inevitable and important. But they were not all predictable or simple.
In this country there have been four main strands of opinion that matter. First, and to be celebrated, is the wholehearted welcome to the reform given by the Quakers, by Liberal and Reform Judaism, by some free churches and a substantial minority of Anglican opinion. At the opposite extreme are those religions opposed not only to gay marriage but to the flourishing and even the existence of gay and lesbian people: orthodox Judaism, most forms of Islam, and most of the charismatic and fundamentalist forms of Christianity that some immigrants to this country bring with them from the developing world. They are the people who complain that they are persecuted when in fact they are only forbidden to persecute others. The impact of this reform on them is wholly salutary. It is a reminder that they are free to hold their unpleasant views, but not to act on them in ways that infringe the rights of their fellow citizens and human beings.
Then there are the Roman Catholics, whose official position is unbendingly opposed but who have an even stronger position of doublethink on sexual morality and no expectation that their churchgoers will take notice of any Vatican line. The greatest difficulty is faced by the Church of England, which is legally obliged to marry almost everyone in this country – but is now legally forbidden to marry gay and lesbian people no matter what the wishes of an individual priest or congregation may be. This is not an issue on which it can or should come to a single mind. It may always be divided over it but the great majority of the church is not homophobic and recoils from those churches abroad which are.
The archbishop of Canterbury – a reasonable opponent of gay marriage, not gay people – called last week for the church "to continue to demonstrate, in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being". He means it, but he may not be widely believed or heard. In the last 20 years the church has behaved with an unattractive cowardice over the issue. Now that it is trying to be humble and brave, few people care. Unfair, perhaps, but not undeserved.