So I go away for a lovely birthday weekend with our friends who have moved to the south of France, and come back to a religious storm over my (lack of) right to marry.
And the thing is, what none of the opponents in the debate seem to understand, is how incredibly hurtful it is to be constantly singled out. To be constantly valued, not as the whole, rounded, human being I am, but by merely one facet of my life – the fact that I happened to fall in love with a woman and not a man. The fact that I chose to be true to my own emotions and understanding. That I chose to be true to the ‘Stella’ who was was created (the religious would insist) – in this way – by (their) God. I might find it hard to understand why someone would want to be ‘married to the Church’ (as young women have been for centuries when they become nuns, to the extent of wearing a wedding ring), but I would no more question their right to do so – nor to use the same terminology – than I would suggest they are mistaken in their belief of a vocation. That they are wrong to make the ‘lifestyle choice’ of following a religious vocation.
We ALL make our choices. Generally, heterosexual people do not feel they are making a choice because, presented with a world view of the heterosexual binary as the norm, to go out with, love, and perhaps marry a person of a different gender doesn’t actually feel like making a choice. But of course they are. Anyone who chooses a partner – whether as their life partner in marriage, or as their bed partner for tonight – makes a choice. It is a choice based on our understanding of themselves and our understanding of the other AND our understanding of the world in which they live. (We have a Buddhist phrase about the 3000 Realms in a Single Moment of Life – it’s a complicated concept but, on one level, is about noticing that we never make any choices randomly or purely in the single moment, that all choices are related to all others, that everything we do is part of an inter-related whole, conditioned by our past experiences and the experience of the present.)
But let’s unpick this just a little more – the Cardinal’s main concern seems to be around providing children with a mother and a father. And the problem here goes back to the Catholic Church’s insistence that marriage is for procreation. But the truth is, we don’t live in that world any more. I can assure the Cardinal that we didn’t live in that world in 1976 when I was at a Catholic girls’ school and knew girls who were using contraception – not least because the Catholic boys they were having sex with thought using a condom was a sin – but they were fine to be sleeping with girls who had to take care of their own fertility. There have been marriages that didn’t result in children for one reason or another – would the Cardinal deny the infertile the right to marry? Would he say that Jesus (arguably brought up in a one-birth-parent family) would have a worse chance in life than one where Jesus had been the biological son of Mary AND Joseph? The world is full of people brought up by one parent or none, who have managed to become good human beings. The world is full of people brought up by two parents – a mother and a father – who have become the kind of human beings who committed atrocities – Hitler had a Mum and a Dad, folks. Jack the Ripper probably did too, you don’t see me suggesting all children of heterosexuals went on to become serial killers.
Yes it is easy to get carried away and extrapolate all sorts of absurd consequences from one argument. Funny that.
Personally, I’m all for children knowing their biological parents. Or at least having access to that knowledge. It’s why Shelley and I, when trying to have children, tried with a good and trusted friend. (It didn’t work, lots of reasons, cancer being one of them, another story.) But is the lesbian couple using a sperm donor really that different from a heterosexual couple using a sperm donor? Well yes, in one important part – the lesbian couple will, eventually, have to explain to their child where the ‘daddy’ is. They’ll have to offer some explanation, as the child grows and understands that biologically it didn’t come from the two mothers. The lesbian couples I know with children have done this easily and simply, from the beginning, so it’s never been an issue. But take the example of the heterosexual couple who use a sperm donor – they never have to reveal to their child that the man on the birth certificate, the man the child grows up calling Daddy, is not the biological parent. We allow heterosexual parents to lie to their children IN LAW.
Gah. I could go on. But I have a book to copyedit.
In the meantime, here’s a few points for those of you finding yourselves engaged in the debate today :
1. the Church was NOT always, historically, the marrying body in this country (or any other). The reason we marry in front of witnesses, the reason we still have the phrases ‘tying the knot’, ‘jumping over the broom’ and many others, is because two people used to marry simply (and far more cheaply!) in front of their community. With no priest present or needed. And then get back to work. (There are many who suggest the Church first brought priests into the matter of marriage as a way to make some money from the people – I couldn’t possibly comment.)
2. The marriage equality lobby is not asking priests or rabbis or anyone else who doesn’t want to, to marry same-sex couples. The marriage equality argument is asking for it to be permissible IN LAW. Then we can be like the many other countries (Holland for eg), where the couple – any couple – have a civil ceremony first, and go off for a religious ceremony/blessing after, should they choose and their faith allow.
3. It’s not gay marriage. It’s marriage equality. Gay marriage suggests it’s a different thing. And that’s the whole point (and why Civil Partnerships are not now, and never have been, ‘enough’) – it’s marriage equality or it’s not equal. It’s marriage for all or it’s not equal.
4. In apartheid South Africa whites and blacks were not allowed to marry. Until the American Supreme Court passed a 1967 ruling deeming anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional there were still states in the US where black and white people were not allowed to marry each other.
One day the law that prevents my partner and I marrying will be seen as absurd and painful as these anti-miscegenation laws.
Until then we do need to speak up, we do need to stand up, and we need our allies – heterosexual, non-marrying, avowedly-single, profoundly religious, utterly atheist, WHATEVER – with us. I’m grateful to those working hard within the LGBT community for marriage equality, and I’m grateful to those with-out it for your support, because every time I hear the phrase ‘gay marriage’, every time another spokesperson denies my right to a humanity-wide, humanity-long union, yes, it really does hurt.
If religious leaders spent as much time thinking about poverty (et al) as they do about other people having sex then maybe the world would be a better place as a consequence of their existence. Oh, I see, they are not that bothered about all that other stuff really, it’s what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes that really bothers them.
On the today programme this morning the cardinal made there point that Jesus taught homosexuality is wrong. At no point in the new testament does it say any such thing! The four gospels do not suggest that Jesus taught any thing specifically about homosexuality. Does the cardinal therefore agree with all the other old testament teachings like stoning and women not leaving the house when they are menstruating?
Thank you for this thoughtful post and one which has beautiful touches of personal testimony.
Do you know the legal difference between Civil Partnership and Civil Marriage? What is the point of inequality? Is it about the name? I’m confused, if it’s not about the religious involvement in the service and the institutions of religious faith are not being asked to sign a legal document to agree with the civil court, what is it that is being asked for that is different to Civil Partnership?
Thanks again for this.
Thanks Ned. Stonewall has great stuff here, on the legal implications : http://www.stonewall.org.uk/what_we_do/parliamentary/5714.asp
Personally, my own main concern (as well as the deep-rooted seam of homophobia that runs through the Cardinal’s position – and that of so many others), is the two-tier system, which – by its very nature – suggests inequality. If it’s not the same thing for all IN LAW (eg equal pay, universal suffrage), then it’s simply not equal.
Not to blindly jump to the defence of Church Leaders but they are vocal about injustice and poverty and do so more so than on this issue. It’s just not as news worthy as this issue. Many of us religious people are genuinely trying to enable culture and society to grow in wisdom and equality for all.
What I would like to know is that any major decision be it the Civil Marriage issue, issues surrounding equal justice and forgiveness of perpetrators of atrocities is done with equal attention paid to people who, with their beliefs and world views, are for an against the issue. To quote Shakespeare ‘Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.’
There are countless occasions when religious leaders stand up for the marginal in the local as well as global context. In this issue there are some who want to ensure everyone’s voice is being heard. We all need to remember that both sides feel like a minority and we all need to seek wisdom in this issue an openness to hear opposing views not with fear or hostility but grace and peace and a whole lot of mercy.
I think, Ned, it’s a lot easier to be gracious and merciful when one isn’t being likened to a slaver.
Interesting blog as usual Stella. I am a Christian and my friends are about to became parents in June they are lesbians in a civil partnership
And there child will grow up in a stable environment with 2 loving parents who just happen to be mums! I am a single parent with an happy child and despite torys putting down families like me my daughter has growth to be a wonderful
Person and that’s all that matters
oh dear thats the last time i reply on my mobile ( see above) so many
spelling mistakes and bad grammar!
thanks Sarah. one of the things I find so painful about all of this is the way the likes of the Cardinal want to build walls between us, when actually – given the chance – most of us are decent human beings trying to understand, not revile, each other.
totally agree Stella,
And my friend who is about to became a parent has applied to train
as an ordained minister next year if she can get though Southwark’s selection process. If she does she will be an amazing asset to the
best wishes Sarah
I don’t understand why the Cardinal believes he has the right to pronounce on matters that he doesn’t understand (and as a Scot, once Catholic, I feel ashamed of him and extremely apologetic about him as well as angry). Christian forbearance doesn’t seem to come into these things – why, when he’s a prince of the Church? Love the thing about priests marrying people to get money – I suspect it was as much about establishing power over them so they could eradicate the old pagan beliefs. If it’s any comfort we value you and are very sorry everyone’s been hurt. Me too.
It’s an argument with zero merit – from any perspective! And re: references to the old testaments, this kind of puts things into perspective:
n a recent radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.
The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, written by a professor at the University of Virginia and posted on the Internet…..funny, as well as informative:
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination … End of that debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this only applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own a Canadian?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not quite so pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.
Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
Your adoring fan.
James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia
PS: It would be a damn shame if I couldn’t own a Canadian.
Thanks for the link, Stella.
I understand the need to question the language used, particularly the implicit hierarchical view of these two modes of commitment between people. If I may liken this equality to other equality issues; race and gender, I don’t want to call two things the same if they are different. Equality for women or black people is not about conceptualising them as men or white people. It is about equality of respect, love, acceptance, etc. I would like to ask TW question about how we can appreciate and celebrate the difference of same sex marriage in relation to opposite sex marriage. Does that make sense? I would like to maintain both the uniqueness of both modes of relationship whilst constructing an equality in respect and celebration of both.
I don’t want to think of women as men because women are different but I want to approach women as equally a person as a man. If we go too far down the seeking of equality we get to homogeny. I know we’re far from this concern at the moment and Stockwell is trying to get more equality in personhood but I would like to head down this path with an awareness of the difference between same sex relationships and opposite sex relationships; a difference which needs to be celebrated but supported as difficult in different ways.
All these statements and questions are genuinely not leading but wanting to find a place of helpful, healthy exchange that ensures we walk together into an ethic that is new for both of us. Vincent Donovan suggests that we too often either seek to implant our views into someone else or we sacrifice our position for another’s. We should, instead meet each other in our position and go to a new landscape where both are renewed and transformed. I like this image as it both promotes respect an equality and the acceptance of all of our fallibility and brokenness.
Ned, I appreciate your search for a distinction, but I honestly don’t think there is one, other than that imposed by created hierarchies (in this case the Church, in other cases the state). I TRULY do not perceive my relationship with my (woman) partner to have any differences to a heterosexual relationship – bar the very obvious, that neither of us is a man! In everything else, we make a home, care for our families, pay taxes, make dinner, support charities, engage in our community just like a couple – because that’s what we are. For example, I don’t think our inability to make children naturally makes us different at all – the world is full of heterosexual couples who can’t do that either. We cared for my mother, and we care for Shelley’s parents, for our siblings and their families, and especially for Shelley’s sister while she was ill and then dying, in exactly the same way any heterosexual couple would. I do understand there is a societal desire to separate us all in terms of the binaries (men/women, old/young, black/white, single/married …), and I acknowledge we all have different experiences and that some of those experiences are to do with being gendered as well as our ethnicity, race, class etc, but when it comes to something that seems to me as simple as allowing two people who love each other to marry each other, I simply don’t get why anyone thinks gender should be part of that equation. That is, I see that there are people who care about this issue, and very deeply, but I don’t know why they do. If I am allowed to marry my partner, I deny the Cardinal nothing – it literally does not affect his life. If he stops me marrying my partner, he denies me an equivalence with every heterosexual in the country, He does – in a very real way – limit what is allowed to me in my daily life.
I am pleased that somebody else dislikes the phrase: gay marriage. It implies that the marriage is different to the heterosexual type. We want equality, so ‘marriage’ will do nicely.
It’s a simple misunderstanding. The Cardinal is talking about church marriage, not real marriage.
I can marry a person of the opposite gender in a registry office with no church involvement. If I did it in a church, when the priest pronounced us man and wife, arguably he’s lying. We’d only actually be married when we sign the registry documents afterwards. Likewise, Hindus, Muslims, Bhuddists, Jews etc can all get legally married in this country without his say-so.
He’s just confused by the fact the two different things having the same name.
I’d also be interested to see the bits in the Bible he’s basing his views on marriage on. Certainly it talks about men coming together with women, but I’m struggling to find anywhere which says you have to have a marriage ceremony at all, particularly anywhere it says you have to have one officiated by a priest.
Very good point. I agree the Cardinal is confused over the aims of the proposal. But I’m not sure his language shows much confusion. Sadly the equation with slavers suggests an underlying – and very painful – homophobia.
Yes, I’ve also struggled to find biblical reasoning for priests officiating at weddings. Even in Theodora’s time in the early Church (a time I now know moderately well after writing two novels set then – 6th Century Constantinople) marriage is created through being witnessed, and yes blessed, but the state’s part was at least equally important. Theodora needed to go through all sorts of legal hoops before she could be married to Justinian. Those hoops were state hoops, not church hoops. The priest as officiate at a marriage is a relatively modern invention.