Friday 28 March 2014

Will the sun still rise tomorrow?

Later tonight a new era begins in England and Wales as the first same-sex marriages are celebrated.

As the clock strikes midnight, marriage between two people of the same gender will become legal and the first couples will tie the knot.

There have been dire warnings about this change to the law here and elsewhere in the world.  In the USA a radio commercial proclaimed that  “Terrible consequences will affect everyone and everything imaginable forever if same-sex marriage goes ahead!” and here same-sex marriage was described as ‘grotesque’ by a senior church leader who later had to leave his post after admitting pressurising fellow priests into sexual encounters.

Into this mix I would like to contribute two things.

The first is a speech I gave last November at the Law Society in London in a debate etitled, “Protecting Diversity, Belief, Conscience, and the new definition of Marriage”

The second is a speech by a New Zealand MP in their debate on same-sex marriage.  The title of this post comes from that speech.


Speech to the Law Society – 12th November 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, let me first say thank you for your invitation to speak in this debate tonight.

When I received the list of other speakers for this evening, I have to say that I was a little overwhelmed as being the only non-lawyer on the platform for a debate at the Law Society!
But then it occurred to me that I am also likely to be the only person on the platform who has any experience of actually marrying couples and preparing them for marriage. During  my twenty-two years of ordained ministry, I have always taken marriage preparation just as seriously as the Big Day itself.  I have always met with the couple several times in the months leading up to their wedding – not to talk about hymns, flowers, or rehearsals – but to talk with them about what makes a successful, life-giving and life-long marriage.

So maybe I do have something to contribute after all…

Ever since same-sex marriage rose up the political agenda here and around the world, there have been those (especially people of faith) who have felt threatened by it.

It has been denounced by various Christian leaders in this country as “grotesque, dictatorial, and shameful”.  There have been accusations that it will devalue the marriages of heterosexuals and that it will put religious freedom in jeopardy.

Perhaps that fear is encapsulated most clearly in this quote from October in a radio commercial in Hawaii, before their Senate vote on same-sex marriage.  The radio commercial said

 “Terrible consequences will affect everyone and everything imaginable forever if same-sex marriage goes ahead!”

And yet here we are today with the same-sex marriage bill having been written into law for England and Wales and awaiting the first such marriage soon.

So are the warnings coming true?   In particular, is same-sex marriage in this country a threat to religious freedom, belief and conscience?  The answer is a resounding “No!”

The government has been at pains to protect religious freedom, faith and conscience, in the drafting of this law.  They have put in place the “Quadruple lock” to protect faith groups from being compelled to do anything against their beliefs or conscience, even going so far as to declare it illegal for any Church of England priest to celebrate a same-sex marriage.

And this has been recognised and accepted by many who oppose same-sex marriage.  For example the Evangelical Alliance is the oldest body of evangelical Christians in the UK claiming to represent over 2 million people.  They campaigned against same-sex marriage, and yet since the law gained royal assent, they have produced a “Marriage FAQ’s” for member groups and churches.  Twelve of the twenty-two FAQ’s consider the question of compulsion and churches’ right to refuse to conduct or facilitate same-sex weddings.   In every single one of those questions, the answer was “No – you cannot be compelled” and “Yes – you have a legal right to refuse” to conduct or host a same-sex marriage.

The reality is that the safeguards in the Same-sex Marriage Bill more than cover the right to religious freedom, faith and conscience.

But there is a diversity issue relating to belief and conscience which is deeply pertinent today – and that is the diversity of belief about same-sex marriage among members of churches and faith groups which is not being recognised or expressed by churches, denominations and faith groups.

A YouGov poll conducted by the University of Leicester in January 2013 found that even then

  •  More Anglicans thought that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married than thought they should not.
  • More Anglicans supported the right of same-sex couples to get married than opposed it.
  • As well as, more Roman Catholics, more Presbyterians, and a majority of Hindu’s and Jews

But this is certainly not being represented by the leaders of Christian denominations. 

Even when the deeper question was asked , “Do you think that same-sex marriage is right or  wrong?” over a third of all Christians polled said that they thought it was right!

And I hear from Christians up and down the country who would like to see same-sex marriage happening in their church, and that includes local church leaders!

So where is this diversity being acknowledged and expressed in the official stance of most Christian churches?  The answer is that it is not.

I stand before you today as an Evangelical Christian who is not only in favour of same-sex marriage, but who also longs for the day when I will be permitted (by my Church) to officiate at such a wedding – and I am not alone.   I have come to this conclusion after careful, prayerful examination of the Scriptures, my belief, and my conscience.

So as we consider ‘Protecting diversity, belief and conscience in the new definition of marriage” today, the real question we should address is this:

“When will our churches and faith groups recognise, protect and give expression to the differing beliefs and conscience of their members in relation to marriage today?”

I look forward to our debate tonight.


  1. A wonderful day for the LGBT community. I hope that those opposed will come to see that they need not feel threatened by this. Thank you for this post and all you do.

    1. A wonderful day indeed Sue - but just a first step as far as I am concerned...

  2. Good news! The sun has risen indeed!