GAY MARRIAGE – WHY THE CHURCH IS WRONG & MORALLY BANKRUPT
It is not often I feel compelled to break from the tradition of musing about arty, visual & social things I encounter, to embark on a full on political post – but today is one such day.
The subject of the rage welling up from the depths of my core is the Church and their public homophobia, in this instance with regards to gay marriage. To clear up a few basic points, I should state I am heterosexual and in a long term relationship without any need or desire to get married. I am not religious and do not believe in “God”. Furthermore, not that I think they deserve it, but as a little caveat before my torrent of abuse begins – I accept that religious tradition stretches back for hundreds of years and that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and opinions and yada yada yada. I also acknowledge I am going to speak rather generally here and different religions have different views, not all religious people are the same and many people in the Church have much more liberal views.
BUT…the church is wrong. Not only wrong but they are morally and socially bankrupt with the stance they are taking on the matter.
The background to this ‘issue’ is that the government are (quite rightly) proposing to change the law and legalise gay marriage (the fact that it is utterly absurd, that currently it is not legal for two consenting adults to get married is a side issue I won’t breach here). The church has been opposing this suggestion from the outset by stating it undermines the sanctity of marriage, will damage the church and cause a rift between the church and society as a whole.
This week, they have spoken out again, suggesting that legalising same sex marriage will be the biggest threat to the Church of England in the 500 years since it was established. Shall we quickly pause here to remind ourselves why the Church of England was established? For those who have conveniently forgotten – it was so Henry VIII could annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The Pope and the Catholic Church would not allow such an act by a married man – so the solution was to form an independent church in England that was free from the ties of Rome and could operate under its own doctrine. On this basis, you could argue that the Church of England was founded on the principal of ignoring the sanctity and tradition of marriage.
I have so many issues with their stance, I am not sure I can cover them all in this post, but feel compelled to point some of them out to anyone who cares to listen.
Firstly, why does the church feel that they are owed a place in society? I think the worst argument for doing something is “because it is tradition / it has always been done that way”. Everything and everyone has to absorb and adapt to society as it changes – this is why we do not still tolerate slavery or ban certain people from voting. Society is an evolving beast and over time, its values and attitudes shift as boundaries are pushed and new discoveries come to light. This process is part of what makes us human and what helps us to adapt to our consistently changing surroundings – it is no doubt, part of what makes us such a successful species.
Why then is the church any different? Society does not owe you a place; you have to offer something to society to make it want you. If you cannot adapt or re-invent along the way then of course you will be marginalised. That is the way it should be, without the process of evolution – nothing moves on, improves or survives. If the church is worried about being marginalised from society then it needs to look at what society actually wants and discuss as a body how it can adapt (whilst maintaining elements of its core values and traditions) to meet these needs. No doubt paganism could argue that it has a traditional place in British society with thousands of years of history behind it – but it doesn’t, perhaps because it too didn’t move with the times and was marginalised by Christianity.
I for one find it offensive at how selective the church is in its application of rules and doctrine. So they have decided that gay marriage is not acceptable much like female bishops are not acceptable – no doubt because they are highly threatened by both of these groups of people. God forbid that a woman proves she is better than a man, let alone someone who enjoys same sex relations. To pick a rather petty example:
Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”
(l Corinthians 11:14)
Who is the judge of which of “Gods” words are to be taken literally and which are to be completely ignored? It seems the church has decided to move with the times in some respects (by graciously allowing us long hair for example), but have decreed other sins (no doubt those they are most threatened by or do not understand) must be taken as sacrosanct.
However, this is not all about the application of doctrine and the huge hypocrisy of the church – what also frustrates me is the accusations they make about gay marriage and for that matter, marriage in general.
There is an implication that a married family unit with children is the pinnacle of achievement and anything less than this is simply not good enough. Of course, it goes without saying that to really count – the ceremony must take place in the eyes of “God”. The first principal that I have always taken objection to is the pressure to keep this marriage going no matter what. That is to say, to break the vows taken before “God” is not the right and proper thing to do and people should work through their difficulties.
Now, whilst I do not think we should all jump ship at the first hint of an argument what we should not do is stay in a broken relationship year on year from a sense of duty to a deity. This whole concept is simply asking people to be miserable or perhaps abused because an apparent creator will frown upon us if we do not stick with one person for life.
Personally, I have no intention to ever marry as I am more than content with my existing set up and see no reason or value in changing that. I, like many others in my position am in a very happy, committed, supportive and long term relationship. I am never going to cheat or walk out at a moments notice because I am not married and “God” forbid such a situation arises, I can only imagine a split would take place after huge effort and heartache to avoid it happening.
If people want to marry, than that is great and no doubt for some people it is an important gesture to make, whether in the eyes of their “God” or not. BUT who does it really benefit for two people to remain unhappily married – it is a destruction of lives, which surely is a worse sin than deciding to split.
Whilst that may not seem to directly relate to the question of gay marriage, I think I am trying to highlight the problems with holding marriage up as a perfect set up in the first place. The church is defending an ideal that surely needs to be questioned, because it does not operate in the manner it used to. Prior to the emancipation of women – marriage (generally speaking) was a life sentence because the male dominated society made it impossible for any woman who dared to challenge the status quo. The Church’s overly protective nature towards the tradition of marriage seems to me to be endorsing an unequal society where personal suffering and misery is endorsed and encouraged – but then why would I be surprised by that!
So modern society treats things differently and married or not, should a couple want or need to split, it is somewhat easier to do so. Therefore the number of divorces and ‘broken families’ has naturally increased and shouldn’t we wonder if this is such a bad thing if it gives people back their lives and happiness? No doubt someone who is a devout believer in a faith would not break a marriage vow based on a fear of upsetting their “maker” but I suspect, for the majority of the rest of society, they stay in unhappy relationships longer than perhaps they should out of either guilt or habit or fear of change or because it is a daunting process to split or a mixture of all of these.
So why should equality not be issued to same sex couples – let them be married and if need be, let them be divorced. It is clear that marriage in today’s world is not the binding agreement it once might have been and rightly so, because what kind of savages would we be from stopping people doing what they needed in order to enrich their life?
Equally, marriage should not be bound up with procreating. I know if couples with several children who have been happily unmarried for decades. I also know people who have been married with children and divorced after a few years. People will have children if they want to by chance or planning and marriage should not come into this. We are all aware that multiple sexual partners can encourage the spread of disease if precautions are not taken and we all know that cheating on a partner is wrong and a betrayal – does marriage REALLY stop people doing this?
Clearly same sex couples cannot have children by the usual methods and again this is where church hypocrisy comes in. Many male/female couples also cannot have children by the usual methods. Taking the Church’s stance to an extreme, perhaps all couples should be fertility checked before they are allowed to be married in a church?
It seems to me that the Church is again trying to desperately hang on to anything they can to force their hand in society. Numbers going to church have severely dropped off in recent times, people are legally allowed to be married outside of churches and by non-religious ministers, the doctrine of religion is not held in the same esteem it perhaps once was and no doubt less people believe in “God”. The church, my friends, is out of touch and out of time and I go back to my earlier point that nothing and nobody is owed a place of respect or authority in modern life – it has to be earned. It is not up to the politicians to restrict their laws on the basis of making sure the church is still alright. Perhaps the church needs to get a grip of itself and decide how best it should adapt to what people actually want and need – not what tradition says they should want and need.
There are plenty of religious groups who have much more open and free views yet maintain the core beliefs and principals of the Christian faith – I am friends with people who are a part of these modern religious movements and they operate as extremely healthy and successful groups. Whether or not you believe the word of “God” states people should not have sex with those from the same gender – you are simply wrong. There is no argument on that point, we are all born equal and to suggest ANY group in society is any less valid, natural or correct is nothing short of fascism.
Get a grip, think about what really matters and drag yourselves out of the dark ages or face destruction by your own hand.
DISMOUNT YOUR DONKEY AT THE SUMMIT
Postscript – The images used to brighten up this post are taken from a series I made called ‘Dismount Your Donkey at the Summit’. This was a visual exploration of churches trying to use the process of photographing them to understand the appeal of religion on a personal level. The title came from a story that a good friend and consistant source of inspiration, Dave Yates, once shared with me (on a less than religious experience!) The story stuck with me for many years as was an interesting way to summarise his point in a long running debate – I think it ended the debate and changed my outlook!
For those interested, here is that story…
Dismount your donkey at the summit.
Some places in this world are very hard to climb, and people use animals. Each person can only ride one, and each animal might have a different name. The riders go up the trail in different orders, and they discuss their varying opinions about their experiences. They may even have conflicting opinions: One traveler may think the trip thrilling, another may find it terrifying, and a third may find it banal.
At the summit all the travelers stand in the same place. Each of them has the same chance to view the same vistas. The donkeys are put to rest and graze; they are not needed anymore.
We all travel the path of Tao. The donkeys are the various doctrines that each of us embraces. What does it matter which doctrine we embrace as long as it leads us to the summit? Your donkey might be a Zen donkey, mine might be a Tao donkey. There are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and even Agnostic donkeys. All lead to the same place. Why poke fun at others over the name of their donkey? Aren’t you riding one yourself?
We should put aside both the donkeys and our interim experiences once we arrive at the summit. Whether we climbed in suffering or joy is immaterial; we are there. All religions have different names for the ways of getting to the holy summit. Once we reach the summit, we no longer need names, and we can experience all things directly.
Copyright ©1992 Deng Ming-Dao