The question on every talk-show host’s lips yesterday following publication of a poll that a fifth of Britons would reject an invitation to a same-sex wedding, was ‘would you turn down an invite’.
It’s what I was asked on both LBC and 3 counties radio as was any other Catholic Voice who did a press interview. (Do check out Fiona O’Reilly and Fr Edmund Montgomerie on the Catholic Voices website who both made outstanding representations of the Catholic position).
If nothing else, this poll demonstrates the undemocratic fashion in which the government pushed through the legislation despite a hefty opposition. David Cameron admitted that had he known the level of opposition that would have been stirred up, as indicated by the over 660,000 signatures on the petition by the coalition for marriage. that he would not have pushed the legislation forward. Perhaps this goes some way to explain why the government and other lobby groups have attempted to frame the issue as being purely about love and cast anyone who disagrees in the role of disagreeable irrational homophobic bigots.
A few Catholics have privately expressed their reservations to me about some of the Catholic Voices responses to the question about whether or not we would refuse to attend a same-sex marriage.
Obviously there is no stock answer and a question such as that requires a nuanced response, which isn’t always possible in a short media slot. Speaking on a personal level, none of my gay friends, some of whom are in civil partnerships, some of whom are single, have expressed an interest in getting married. Some take a similar view to the leading art critic Brian Sewell who is gay.
The response that I might well attend the reception, provoked the understandable response that “you’d eat their food and drink their drink, but not attend their wedding”.
The attitude I would take would depend entirely upon the situation and those involved. There is no formal Catholic teaching on what we should do in these situations and it seems to me that we need to balance demands. On the one hand, a same-sex marriage is not what we consider to be a marriage, regardless of what the law might prescribe. The state has eviscerated marriage and stripped it of its meaning. As Catholics we have the need to witness to truth, therefore we cannot do anything which might imply that we accept or condone the state’s new definition of marriage. This would include doing anything that might cause confusion or scandal or imply endorsement, such as for example,participating in a ceremony signing a civil marriage register or doing one of the readings.
Out of love, we must continue to witness to the truth. However there is also something of a delicate balancing act to consider. Any witness to the truth, must not include a rejection of the person. We must always leave open the opportunity for reconciliation and conversion of heart. Whatever we do, we need to do all we can to ensure that we do not facilitate a total breakdown of a relationship.
So it seems to me that not attending the ceremony but attending the after-party, might be one such compromise. Especially if it were a family member and one was under pressure to be a part of a family gathering. These are where the situations are often fraught with difficulties. Maybe a better compromise would be the other way around? Non-attendance of the ceremony could prompt questions as to why you weren’t there and provide a discreet opportunity for evangelisation, at a later more opportune occasion.
In any such situation, the only thing to do is to discuss the situation with the couple involved and also think hard as to what your presence might achieve. Would it signal an implicit acceptance or could it be a chance for reconciliation/later evangelisation. It’s a judgement call that is best left in the hands of the individual to prayerfully discern. The Church doesn’t ask her members to estrange themselves from their family. It really is a delicate balancing act of the demands of truth and the Gospel with those of personal relationships.
The situation is similar in terms of what to do when you have a family member who is going against the Church’s teachings on marriage in some other way. You cannot pretend that you approve of the situation, but must find a way to express this charitably making clear that it is the objective act of which you disprove, not the person themselves, whom you still love.
The Church’s teachings are that this is not a real and valid marriage. That is an uncomfortable and for many an unpalatable, truth. As to how we negotiate the delicate balancing act of being witnesses to truth and maintaining loving relationships and keeping the door open to future communication, that has to be a matter of personal conscience. If we are to rebuild the culture of marriage we have to ensure that we don’t close down opportunities to evangelise in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
Looking at the coverage of the first same-sex marriages that took place last night and up and down the country today, what saddened me was that with Peter Tatchell as a witness and the rainbow themed cakes and flags, some of the ceremonies appeared to be concerned with making a political statement rather about love.