On Monday and Tuesday I attended meetings in London and Melksham which addressed the Equality Act and the Government’s Consultation on Civil Partnerships in religious buildings.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has already stated that the Church of England will not give permission for Civil Partnerships in church buildings. Changing Attitude does not accept this and will be actively campaigning for permission to be given to allow those churches and congregations wishing to do so to welcome lesbian and gay couples to register their partnerships in church in the context of a service of blessing.
We will ask the authorities at Church House which person or body will be specified to decide whether or not in principle to permit civil partnerships to be registered in Church of England churches.
We will argue that the same model should be followed when the remarriage of a divorced individual or couple was considered and when the service of prayer and dedication in church following the civil marriage of a couple was introduced – Civil Partnerships in church buildings should be debated and decided by General Synod.
We have learnt that later this year, the Government will begin preparations to consult on proposals to grant full equality in marriage to same-sex couples. We will continue to campaign for marriage equality in civil ceremonies and in church for those lesbian and gay couples who wish to marry, and for churches wishing to conduct the service.
Tuesday’s meeting in Melksham organized by Equality South West looked at the legal effects of the Equality Act and the Big Society. One of the speakers reminded us that the Government expects churches to be a major source of volunteering for the Big Society project. Those organisations represented all have to conform to equality legislation, legislation from which the Church has been granted an opt out as it applies to aspects of LGBT employment and discrimination. This has reinforced in the minds of some Christian communities their claimed Biblical grounds for maintaining prejudice against LGBT people, prejudice which they will bring into their roles as volunteers. This will present organisations for whom they volunteer with a major challenge.
Conservative, ‘Bible-based’ Christian volunteers may be on the verge of discovering how out of step they are with our society and how their unexamined prejudices are legally unacceptable and viewed as intolerant and prejudiced by the majority.
In a conversation about Civil Partnerships in religious buildings, I was asked about the sources which are influencing Church of England policy on homosexuality, resulting in the opt-outs from equality legislation. Peter Tatchell provided part of the answer in an article published on Comment is Free to mark IDAHO day.
Peter writes that the Commonwealth is a bastion of global homophobia, often bucking the worldwide trend towards sexual orientation equality, with increased state-sanctioned threats and repression in Malawi, Uganda, The Gambia, Malaysia, Cameroon and Nigeria. Forty-six of the 54 Commonwealth countries still criminalise same-sex relations in all circumstances, with penalties including 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Several countries stipulate life imprisonment: Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh.
Peter notes that the Commonwealth’s anti-gay laws are the legacy of British colonialism, originally imposed by the British government in the nineteenth century during the period of colonial rule – and never repealed when the former colonies won their freedom.
British colonialism, of course, also exported Victorian theology and Christian teaching about sexuality through missionaries and mission agencies. The Anglican Church in many of these countries continues to be deeply committed to the colonial values which we have been challenged to question and re-examine in the post-war decades.
Now, as Peter Tatchell says, many Anglicans in Africa absurdly proclaim that the legal proscription of homosexuality is an authentic expression of indigenous national culture and tradition. Because the Commonwealth and the Churches are failing to challenge homophobia, millions of LGBT Commonwealth citizens are at risk of discrimination, harassment, arrest, torture, rape, imprisonment and mob attacks.