On Friday 21st June approximately 200 people turned out to participate in a debate on gay marriage at St Mary’s Church in St James Street Brighton. The event was organised by Changing Attitude Sussex.
The principal speaker in favour of Same Sex Marriage was Simon Kirby, Member of Parliament for the constituency of Brighton Kemptown and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Sport and Tourism. Simon has been a longstanding supporter of LGBT people and equal marriage. He argued forcefully that ‘the benefits of a legally defined marriage should not be excluded to anyone because of their sexuality’. He refuted the idea that the current Bill going through Parliament will ‘redefine marriage’, pointing out that marriage has changed many times through the centuries and that allowing same-sex couples to marry will strengthen the institution rather than weaken it.
The principal speaker against Same-Sex Marriage was Councillor Christina Summers. Christina was elected to Brighton Council as a candidate for the Green Party, but was expelled from it last year because of her opposition to gay marriage, support for which was a policy of the Green Party. At the time of her disciplinary hearing she told her party ‘I’m accountable to God above any political party’. She is now an independent councillor, and spoke passionately of her belief that the Bible defines marriage as he lifelong union of one man with one woman.
Supporting speaker for Simon Kirby was the Rev’d David Page. He is a past Chair of the Changing Attitude Board of Trustees, but he came to national media prominence last year when the Bishop of Lewes suspended him from his work as a priest in Winchelsea because he refused to tell the Bishop whether his relationship with the man with whom he is in a civil partnership was a sexual one or not. David regarded this question as intrusive. In the event the Bishop of Lewes had his own difficulties during 2012 and the matter was resolved by the new incoming diocesan Bishop of Chichester. David is now back with his church in Winchelsea. He talked movingly of his 40 year relationship with his partner and his conviction that this was as much a marriage as any heterosexual relationship and should be officially recognised as such.
Supporting Christina Summers was Dr Sharon James. Sharon is a spokesperson for the Coalition for Marriage which was launched last year as ‘a grassroots campaign against the redefinition of marriage’. She has written a number of books on Christian issues and works together with her husband who is pastor of the Emmanuel Independent Evangelical church in Leamington Spa. She emphasised the importance of the institution of heterosexual marriage and the family to social stability and expressed her fear that the current stress on ‘the loving couple’ was already creating huge social problems. Extending marriage to loving homosexual couples she felt would make the situation worse.
The audience discussion afterwards was polite and respectful even though there were strong feelings on both sides. Questions were raised about how gay marriage will deal with issues of non-consummation and adultery, whether homosexuality can be ‘cured, and the relevance of Biblical texts to the discussion. Rev’d Page thought it was pointless to exchange verses from the Bible and he suspected it was really homophobia that lay behind some of the arguments against gay marriage. Councillor Summers highlighted what she saw as the risk that Christians who opposed gay marriage would be persecuted. She said she hoped that this meeting would be the start of an ongoing engagement with all parts of the community.