Gay marriage – the Church of England’s Alice in Wonderland world

P1020689 448w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Yesterday’s rally outside Parliament in support of the equal marriage bill was inspired by the Gay Men’s Chorus and attended by over 200 enthusiastic supporters

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What a mess the Archbishop of Canterbury is getting the Church into.

Yesterday he spoke in the House of Lord’s opposing the government’s gay marriage bill. He issued several warnings.

  • He warned that it will create “different and unequal” forms of marriage that will undermine family life.
  • He warned that the bill was in an “awkward shape” and would undermine marriage as the basis for rearing children.
  • He warned that in the bill “Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated – being different and unequal for different categories.
  • He warned that the bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it – neither fitting well.
  • He warned that “The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense predating the state and as our base community of society is weakened.”

The Archbishop is not alone in having failed to demonstrate that these warnings are based on demonstrable evidence: that equal marriage undermines family life, abolishes, redefines and recreates marriage, destroys marriage as a normative place for procreation, diminishes the idea of marriage as a covenant, weakens the normal sense of family. It is sad to see the Archbishop of Canterbury repeating fearful of anxieties about which evidence from countries with equal marriage demonstrate the contrary.

Archbishop Justin’s solution to the intractable problems that introducing same-sex marriage would create is to add a new and valued institution alongside marriage for same gender relationships. Dear Archbishop, have you thought this through – have you asked those of us who are gay and represent many LGB&T Anglicans? How would you create a new and valued institution that is the equivalent of marriage but isn’t marriage.

Lord Dear, the former chief constable of West Midlands police, is attempting to kill off the bill by tabling an amendment to be voted on this evening that would decline to give it a second reading.

Dear turned to Alice and Humpty Dumpty to attack the bill, telling peers: “As Humpty Dumpty might have said: there is a nice knockdown argument for you. Marriage means just what I choose it to mean: neither more nor less.” Lord Dear issued his own warnings.

  • He warned that this ill-considered bill seeks to overturn centuries of tradition, heedless of public opinion and the views of religious leaders and blind to the laws of unintended consequences.
  • He warned that it seeks to alter totally the concept of marriage as we have always known it.
  • He warned that the bill seeks to divide a nation with an argument that hides behind the concept of equality when in reality it is about sameness.”
  • Dear warned that the bill could set back recent progress on gay rights by inflaming public opinion.
  • He warned that the bill is thought through, lacks support in the population as a whole, and is likely to antagonise, or even inflame, public opinion.
  • He warned that the bill has nothing to do with equality, which is already in place with civil partnerships, and attempts to dignify an admittedly very small minority of partnerships with the description ‘marriage’ – a term that has been understood differently for centuries.

Both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Dear are beset by fears and anxieties about unproven outcomes which they warn will be the result of introducing equal marriage in England and Wales. They are inheritors of a western Christian culture of fear and anxiety and they replicate the culture in Church institutions, inhibiting the majority of bishops from voicing their own confident faith in God’s evolutionary outpouring of energy and new life in creation, new life for LGB&T people and for women, for the poor and outcast and marginalised as well as for the rich and powerful.

What are these senior Christian leaders doing with the Gospel and the message of Jesus Christ? What has happened to their own faith that they communicate deep fear and anxiety rather than Christian love, hope and trust and the fearlessness to which Christ calls us? “Fear not” is the phrase that echoes through the Gospels.

The Church of England is presenting a sad, emaciated vision of Christianity as it warns against the perils of marriage equality. This is a defensive Christianity that seeks protection from unfounded fears and anxieties rather than a Christianity which is energised by deep, trusting faith in the infinite love and compassion and creative flow of God in the world through the intrinsic energy of the Holy Spirit.

Gays may often dream of living in Dorothy’s world somewhere over the rainbow. The Church of England seems determined to live, not so much in the fantasy world of Alice in Wonderland but in an archaic world of Christian teaching, theology and experience which is uninspired by the amazing evolutionary discoveries of recent decades which inform and inspire so many to a faith lived with passion, contemplative interiority, vision and love.


  1. William says

    The Archbishop’s warning that equal marriage will create “different and unequal” forms of marriage is astounding – both because it is manifestly untrue and because it is a cynical play on words.

    But worse still is his suggestion that government introduce a “new and valued institution alongside marriage” for same-sex couples.

    It disturbs me that this is a cleric who has been praised for his intellectual qualities. Yet his reasoning seems completely unaffected by intellectual insights into the nature of equality reached since the Second World War.

    In a surprisingly unanimous decision handed down on 17 May 1954, the American Supreme Court held that, even if segregated black and white schools were of *equal* quality in facilities and teachers, *segregation by itself* was harmful to black students, and unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education). Since then, in many, if not most, jurisdictions, lawyers and lay people alike have begun to understand that *separate can never be equal*. Indeed, this was one of the strongest arguments raised against the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

    It is quite unbelievable that this understanding should play no role in Justin Welby’s thinking. In my view, his lack of intellectual rigour must call into question the contribution that he can ultimately make to ensuring that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

    All in all, a great disappointment.

  2. Clare says

    I was most struck by the excellent speech by Lord Jenkin reported online in pinknews yesterday. In his summary he said:-

    “I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and that, indeed, it will be a positive good not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to put right at the centre of marriage the concept of a stable, loving relationship… The character of love which marriage reflects—that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish and unconditional—is the same character that most Christians see in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us.”

    Unlike most of the fearful speeches from our bishops lamenting that ‘marriage’ is really being degraded into ‘civil partnership’ (which actually only goes to demonstrate the in-built prejudice against civil partnerships as a second-class state which this bill is designed to correct), this speech made me cheer and really lifted the spirit in my heart.

    Many of the religious arguments against the equal marriage bill seem to accuse it of making ‘romantic love’ the heart of marriage instead of ‘procreation’. Lord Jenkin’s response rebuts that totally by pointing to spiritual marriage between God and His children as the model for marriage on earth. I may be biased because as a transwoman I cannot procreate, but I definitely see marriage in this way, and this is why I would always prefer to be married rather than be in a civil partnership – marriage is more clearly a sacramental state of spiritual unity as well as an earthly pragmatic civil arrangement.

    • Steven says

      Welby was promoted too quickly. I prophesy that his career in the episcopacy will describe a parabolic trajectory: a spectacular rise swiftly followed by a spectacular fall.

      I find it utterly incredible that someone who was supposedly appointed on the strength of his abilities to mediate, reconcile and federate felt it necessary to take such a partisan view and at one stroke utterly and irrevocably alienate the vast majority of gay Anglicans and those who support us.

      The see of Canterbury is now vacant as far as I’m concerned and will be until Welby retires and someone worthy of the position can be appointed.

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