I was fascinated by the Anglican church press last week. The Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper (CEN) are renowned for taking different approaches to stories – different approaches which, no doubt, are shaped by the majority of their readers. This difference is most often seen in treatment of issues like sexuality, with the Church Times trying to steer a middle path through the turmoil, and the CEN being more outspoken in a conservative evangelical direction.
But last week that difference could not have been more stark.
In the CEN the floodgates finally burst open from the pressure of accumulated indignation and fear in an editorial which rounded squarely on David Cameron and his “severe left wing cultural policy” which is leading us to Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ in “this crazy equality governmental blitzing of our societal deep grammar”. The author goes on to denigrate same-sex partnerships which are merely “a purely subjective sense of friendship” and lesbian couples who are simply “women who refuse to use their normal female capacities to have children”.
The irony is that all the rhetoric above undermines the other claim of the article which says that there is no need for same-sex marriage because “there is no injustice to correct since ‘gay’ couples can cement their friendship by the civil partnership arrangements and gain nothing from having that called ‘marriage’”. Having read all this I beg to differ.
The Church Times, on the other hand, printed two letters from readers which took a very different view.
Lady Oppenheimer from Jersey writes, “To suppose that backing same-gender unions redefines marriage is like supposing that backing adoption redefines parenthood” and goes on to say “Just as parenthood is more than giving birth, so marriage is more that fertility.”
Alongside that, Gwylim Stone from Southampton questions why those who are “so loudly defending the ‘biblical’ standard of marriage” are less vocal about divorce. He goes on, “I wonder how many signatures the Coalition for Marriage would muster if it added a complete ban on marriage after divorce to its goals?” One suspects that he is right.
Yet while the debate continues here in the UK, Denmark made up its mind in voting by a large majority to introduce same-sex marriage for both state and church. Soon same-sex couples will be able to marry in the national Evangelical-Lutheran church although individual priests will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriage against their conscience. In doing this Denmark has joined other Scandinavian countries like Sweden in introducing full church same-sex marriage with safe-guards for those Christian ministers who cannot in good faith conduct the ceremony.
While the UK is clearly not ready for compulsory same-sex marriage in church, it is deeply disappointing that our Government is proposing legislation which legally excludes the possibility of same-sex religious marriage. As the readers of the Church Times remind us (and Church Times circulation is over 3 times that of the CEN) there are many Anglicans who would welcome such an opportunity when the time is right.