Imagine dear reader, what would happen were someone to discover that I, a Catholic with a moderately high profile, someone who advocates the beauty and sanctity of the Christian meaning of marriage, was actually in a consensually open relationship? What if a third party with whom I’d had sex, while ostensibly in a committed relationship, wanted to sell their story to the tabloid press?
Like the vast majority of the British public, I wouldn’t have the funds to pursue any sort of legal action or injuction to protect my family’s privacy and would have to suck up the embarassment, but just say I did manage to get to court. Would a sympathetic judge rule that the privacy of my five children is paramount and that despite it being accepted that I would have sexual encounters from time to time, the image which I portray to the public of my husband and myself of being in a committed relationship, is essentially correct?
Would they buffalo? There would be none of this “commitment does not entail monogamy” guff, they would rightly rule that there is a public interest, given that I have participated in public debate on the nature of marriage. If I were to be found to be in a clandestine open relationship, or to have had extra-marital affairs, then my hypocrisy ought to be exposed. If I am worried about the effect on my children, then perhaps I ought not to have engaged in sexual activities outside of a relationship while at the same time as attempting to maintain a certain public image and accepting media invitations while promoting the good of marriage.
So why is the case of PJS any different? Because my friends, if this blogger is correct then he is a rich and famous celebrity, who just happens to be in a same-sex relationship. This is important because the conduct of these individuals, cuts straight to the core of the debate about marriage, and they were held up as an exemplary model of gay families. If these were private individuals thrust into the temporary spotlight, through no fault of their own, then arguably there would be a much better case for allowing their privacy.
But this is not the case with PJS and his partner. They have repeatedly put themselves into the media, including in 2014, inviting the whole world to their wedding via Instagram, posting intimate photos of the event, together with the hashtag ‘share the love’, with no disclaimer that their love was not monogamous. Prior to that they had been in a civil partnership since 2005.
I don’t give two hoots about the specifics of what PJS got up to, apart from noting that it all appears rather squalid. When the entire issue of same-sex marriage was debated in Parliament it was assumed that gay marriages would be conducted under the same auspices as heterosexual marriage and have the same level of commitment. As it turned out, the legislation was so tricky to enact, gay men and women actually enter into a different version of marriage to that of straight couples. Fidelity is not a legal requirement – gay men and women are unable to use adultery as grounds for divorce.
Perhaps this is why the High Court has ruled that their infidelity is of little consequence to the overall image of commitment and loyalty which they attempt to cultivate amongst the public? This is a relationship which has acquired two children using the means of surrogacy. We don’t know whether or not their two sons are still maintaining contact with their mother, but what if the couple do split up as has been suggested by some outlets? The case of poor Rocco Ritchie demonstrates how difficult life is for children of divorced celebrity couples? What stability will they have, split between two warring male households, one of which is headed by a man soon to hit his seventies?
It’s not clear whether or not PJS and his celebrity partner were in an open relationship when they acquired their first son via surrogacy in 2010, but the alleged infidelity took place in 2011, with the next son coming along in 2013. Neither of the boys are listed as having a mother on their birth certificate. There is most definitely a public interest in debating whether or not a couple in an open relationship should be able to acquire children through surrogacy, and obliterate the name of the mother, who is deemed an irrelevance. In the case of two gay males in an open relationship, is two people who love them the basis of all child welfare, as is so often claimed? Is ‘love’ really all that matters? Are open relationships, whether gay or straight, the best environment in which to bring up children?
This is a couple who are often cited as being a wonderful example of surrogacy and gay parenting, and yet the public are not permitted to know that their relationship is not what one might reasonably expect. There is an implicit acknowledgement and understanding that married couples will be faithful to each other, a sacrifice commonly accepted by the public, as being in the best interests of the children. Open marriages no matter, who they are carried out by, contradict this principle.
What it means to be married, is of crucial importance to society as is the welfare of children. And yet in their wisdom, the High Court judges have decided, that we, the plebiscite are not allowed to know, that the relationship is not all that we might reasonably assume – that this couple have not, in fact, chosen to forsake all others. The judgement says “to publish will not advance the public debate or provide support for any of the competing opinions which are in circulation.” In other words, lets silence this debate before it’s even started, or identified what it’s all about because we don’t like what other people may have to say and furthermore, we don’t think opinions contrary to ours have any validity.
This couple chose to use their relationship and their profile to attempt to alter public policy. As a gay male friend of mine noted, this injunction feels like a gag to protect appalling social policy and dreadful decisions from public scrutiny.
We all have a right to a private life. But if you make your private life part of the public debate on marriage, hold up your relationship and family as being one which should be emulated and affect public policy, then if your relationship turns out to be founded on a questionable premise, the the rest of us do have a right to know, especially when the new definition of marriage affects not only our own marriages, but impacts upon religious freedom, education policies and is lauded as being a British value, with anyone who disagrees being branded a potential extremist threat.
It blows my mind that the judges have arbitrarily ruled that fidelity or monogamy can no longer be safely assumed to be an essential part of any committed relationship and that no-one is allowed to discuss the implications of this couple and their effect on public policy and debate, on pain of jail. What does it say about free speech in our society when a rich and famous member of the Establishment is able to use the state to force a person to stay silent about their sexual encounter with you, on pain of imprisonment? What is happening when the Speaker of the House of Commons is able to arbitrarily restrict Parliamentary Privilege and when Joe Public risk being put into jail if they dare to link to and discuss the wider implications of information easily available in another part of the United Kingdom.
A few years ago I was riled into writing about SPUC in less than complimentary terms following some less than charitable remarks about Catholic Voices, the organisation of which I am proud to be a part, not being orthodox enough. Writing on his blog back in 2011, John Smeaton, Director of SPUC called for the voices of ‘real Catholics’ instead of our appeasing liberal heterodox ones.
Admittedly I was less than charitable in my reply, my irritation and indignation fuelled in part by pregnancy hormones. The accusations of heterodoxy and attacks upon Catholic Voices coming from John Smeaton, did cease, for which I think we are all grateful – after all when it came to the thorny topic of the redefinition of marriage, it was clear that we were all on the same side.
And when it comes to the aims of SPUC, I think we’re all on their side, we all wish for a successful pro-life lobby group in this country. It is very disappointing for ordinary Catholics in the pews that by and large our leadership seems to be quiet on the subject of abortion, with a few notable exceptions and that there seems to be no specifically Catholic pro-life organisation, which is why SPUC occupy a weird hybrid position, ostensibly being a secular lobby group and not a registered charity, with no official Catholic endorsement. To be fair to SPUC they are simply filling a gap.
SPUC has two problems, the first one being that in order to gain any serious political traction, any pro-life movement, be that in the realms of abortion or euthanasia should not be perceived as a purely religious movement. To use the cliche, if I had a penny for every time I’ve trotted out the phrase that life issues, including contraception and IVF for that matter, don’t actually require any sort of religious belief or recourse to theism to be valid ethical positions, neither do they fit into any sort of left/right-wing praxis, then I’d be a seriously rich woman by now.
One of the accusations trotted out by those angered by my original post was that my criticism came from self-interest, I had my eye on staging some sort of coup and emerging as a female pro-life leader. One of the reasons that I have absolutely no intention or desire to lead any sort of movement (aside from the fact I am not a natural leader and have never been comfortable in these sorts of positions and have more than enough on my plate at present) is because as a lesser-known Catholic, I’d never be able to move beyond the ‘religious agenda’ template. The future of pro-life in the political sphere in any event, needs to be able to bust the religious zealot/wingnut frame and led by someone who has kept below the radar.
LifeCharity has a Catholic founder and chairman in Jack Scarisbrick and admittedly employs practicing Christians of all denominations, but it also employs those of other faiths and none. It is this wholly secular, non-religious flavour of the organisation which has enabled it to make some inroads in terms of being invited to participate in policy forums. It is precisely Life’s lack of overt religiosity, it refuses to endorse or alternatively condemn 40 Days for Life for example which makes the pro-choice lobby spit with fury as the tired accusations and tropes simply don’t work. This is why organisations such as Education for Choice, do their damnest to undermine them in other fields, such as pregnancy counselling and education. It isn’t LIFE’s secular nature that protects them from such attacks, let’s face it, there’s a whole plethora of people whom it would suit, from professional lobby groups to big Pharma groups or anyone with any sort of financial interests in contraception and abortion, who want pro-lifers kicked out of schools and not being allowed anywhere near a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. The lack of religiosity makes the smear merchants’ job much harder as well as enabling LIFE to reach a wider audience who would perhaps be more willing to lay their prejudices about religious organisations aside and listen.
The second problem is that the UK Catholic church should have a dedicated pro-life movement throughout the country. It’s very hard for Catholics to donate to secular pro-life charities who make appeals in church, when they emphasize the non-religious nature of their work. Now there’s no reason why religion should come into fields such as crisis pregnancy counselling or sex education especially for the wider world, but neither should Catholicism be excluded, particularly when we are talking about Catholic schools or parishioners.
I’m proud to publicly state my support for 40 days for life (as has Pope Francis), I believe that respectful, dignified silent prayer vigils with specialist trained and experienced crisis pregnancy outreach workers are an excellent witness to the faith. But it’s very hard to support an organisation who comes into my church and says ‘we don’t stand outside the abortion clinics’ in lofty tones signifying disproval.
There is a need for a Catholic organisation not only to support prayer vigils, but to do all of the grass-roots and outreach work to change hearts and minds which is every bit as vital as the politics. SPUC are quite good at some of this. My father-in-law is a member and is always exercised into action by the literature that comes dropping through his letterbox at regular intervasl from SPUC. He made an appointment to see his MP about same-sex marriage on their advice, rang them up and had a ‘very long helpful conversation for at least half an hour with a girl from there’ which briefed him in terms of what to say and what to expect.
Thing is though, as I said before, I’m still not convinced that this was the best use of their time and resources, it’s fighting a battle on too many fronts. Too many members of the general public were baffled by SPUC’s response to same-sex marriage whose point was that anything that undermines marriage therefore leads to the collapse of family life which then results in social consequences such as abortion, was too sophisticated and nuanced to work effectively. Marriage had already been weakened over the past few decades, notably with the introduction of no-fault divorce – an adulterer’s charter, there are consequences for the unborn child in terms of trying to state that every couple has the right to marriage and children, but most people could not see beyond the straw-man argument of causation and asked how two men or women getting married would then cause a third party to have an abortion.
The work that SPUC did in terms of briefing my father-in-law, could and should have been done by a different agency. If we’d had a cohesive official Catholic life movement, then they would have been able to pick up the slack.
The trouble is that because John Smeaton seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time attacking the Catholic bishops and hierarchy on his blog along with LGBT issues, it doesn’t make the Catholic church inclined to work with him, further fuelling his annoyance and thus the cycle of recrimination continues and nothing gets done.
No doubt lots of people will say to me in the coms box, yeah Caroline, but John Smeaton was right to criticise the bishops because of xyz. Specifically on this issue of Archbishop Peter Smith’s statement asking the government not to automatically convert civil partnerships into marriage and abolish them, which John Smeaton has blogged about, I would have a slightly different take. Yes, the CDF did issue guidelines against civil partnerships back in 2003, identifying correctly that they would lead to the introduction of marriage. The Archbishop was however speaking in the context of 2014, when civil partnerships are a reality. His point was the same as it was back in their introduction in 2003, being that civil partnerships do afford some important legal protections for same-sex couples. You really would need to be an unreasonable bigot to deny people the right to live with whom they choose and to be able to have that person given a special legal status as a significant companion, regardless of whether or not they are having an intimate sexual relationship. It isn’t beyond the bounds of imagination to suggest that there could be some Catholics living a chaste life within a civil partnership who do not wish to see them become marriages.
After attacking the Archbishop for his perceived deviation from Catholic teaching about civil partnerships, John then goes into a long diatribe about the lack of condemnation for homosexuality or homosexual acts from Peter Smith and whether or not civil partnerships or gay marriages are deemed to be sexual in nature, quoting an Anglican barrister for support!
It frankly appears prurient and petty minded. We know that there are problems with the legal definition of gay marriage, sexual consummation is necessarily missing, but the Archbishop was neither promoting gay marriage nor encouraging people to have extra marital sex. Stating the legal protections of civil partnerships is not the same as encouraging people to enter them. Does an Archbishop really need to take every opportunity to specifically denounce and reiterate Catholic teaching on homosexual acts? Aren’t we all already more than aware of what the Church says about sex outside of marriage? Besides which the Catholic church welcomed the Wolfenden Report which led to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK and have also called for homosexuality to be de-criminalised throughout the world, as acts of private morality should not be subject to criminal sanctions.
People are rarely converted to Christianity simply by preaching; clever reasoned, compelling and logical arguments are all very well, but there also needs to be some element of personal encounter as St Paul demonstrates. I recently attended a session with the Catholic Labour MP Rob Flello, who entered the Commons as an atheist, where he talked movingly about a very personal encounter with Christ which led to his conversion.
Continually preaching about homosexuality or reiterating Catholic teaching on it does nothing to bring about the joy of Christ. Surely these discussions are best held on a one-to-one personal basis? In any event context is everything, at a time when Catholics are fighting to have our voices heard in the public square, denouncements of homosexual acts as immoral and disordered in a document concerned with protecting the legal rights of those in civil partnerships is not only irrelevant, but risks any remaining credibility or opportunity to be heard.
But to get back to the point, SPUC have done some good work and do number some good people in their organisation. It’s just a tragedy to see them continually arguing themselves into irrelevance and alienating themselves from official Catholic endorsement and support with their leader’s relentless focus upon homosexuality which is often picked up on by mainstream media, along with criticism of the Catholic bishops. I’m not saying that the bishops should be exempt from criticism where it is merited, but as ever it really isn’t the remit of a secular lobby group.
Catholics cannot deny the link between abortion and the deviation from God’s plan for human flourishing. Perhaps it’s time for the UK church to propose that case a lot better than in the past and then maybe SPUC can concentrate solely on how best they can fulfil their remit of specifically protecting the life of the unborn child, for which purpose they solicit donations and support.
As expected, my debate with Benjamin Cohen made it into the pages of Pink News. “Catholic disagrees with gay marriage, IVF and surrogacy” shocker! I’m not too bothered, several people expressed the perspective that the whole affair was about Ben trying to mine some controversial quotes.
That said it’s probably worth clarifying a few points. It is not my point of view that Benjamin Cohen is transphobic and neither as the report claims, was I trying to infer that.
What I was trying to get out is that Ben (and others) clearly do have a problem with Tara and myself being friends which is why he originally intervened.
.@blondpidge@Tara_Hewitt Tara I've now lost what little respect I had left for you. I'm assuming you now oppose same-sex marriage too?
This is the nub of the matter – Catholic teaching on sexuality means that instead of attempting to understand and respect each other’s point of view, Tara along with any other LGBT advocate and myself should hate each other.
That we come together on issues of mutual agreement and that I make no attempt to hector Tara into accepting a Catholic vision of sexuality, completely undermines this narrative of Catholics (and me in particular) of being hate-filled spittle-flecked individuals trying to force or impose our faith onto other people.
There are two tactics going on here. One is to undermine our friendship by pointing out Catholic doctrine on sexuality. “How can you be friends with her, she thinks this, ergo she HATES you, ergo you must have psychological problems and be filled with self-hatred to be friends with such a woman”. Our friendship must not be accepted or validated as genuine, built upon principles of mutual trust, care and respect, but instead painted as deeply dysfunctional. It is hoped that this will have the effect of ending our friendship, enabling the hateful horrible homophobe narrative to continue to be perpetuated. It’s pretty hard to claim someone is filled with hate and loathing towards the LGBT community if they number them as friends. Actually Tara is not my only LGBT friend (I expect Pink News will ask them to all come forward and identify themselves) by any stretch of the imagination. But then again as Ben Cohen has tweeted that any gays who oppose gay marriage for anyone other than themselves are homophobes, then a quarter of the UK LGBT population merit this label according to the Com Res poll conducted in 2012.
The second, more disturbing tactic is to attempt to cut Tara off from the support of the LGBT community on account of her views. The whole point of this piece was to highlight a member of their community who is bold enough to publicly deviate from group think and hold her up for derision. While I roared with laughter at the piece, Tara’s views as presented seemed perfectly reasonable and mainstream and not at all outrageous or extreme, what concerned me was an attempt to undermine her job and political career, by rendering her controversial, toxic, untouchable, someone who causes upset.
Tara is not opposed purely to same-sex IVF or surrogacy, but to all of these issues as she explains in her blog. Although she has mentioned that she is an NHS diversity consultant, she never talked about her job or her employers on the internet, nor has she been anything other than crystal clear that these are her personally held views. Nonetheless her employers have been contacted for comment.
It is my understanding that the role of a diversity consultant is to ensure that employees and clients are not discriminated against by virtue of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender or any other characteristic. Their job is to provide equal access to employment opportunities as well as client services and ensure that the workplace is doing all that it can to serve the diverse needs of the community.
A diversity consultant would have no say over whether or not services such as IVF should be available and if so how many cycles each couple should receive; these are policy decisions which are made by senior management and clinical staff. I have no idea whether the area of the NHS in which Tara works is even concerned with fertility treatments; she assures me this does not form a part of her role, but her professionalism means that even though she may disagree with IVF as a concept, she still needs to ensure that everyone who qualifies for it under the NHS is able to access it.
There is no discernible reason why someone who believes that every child deserves the chance of a loving mother and father and that babies shouldn’t be removed from their mothers, unless there is a compelling reason to do so, is incapable of working as a diversity consultant. Believing that the state shouldn’t conspire to engineer a situation in which children are removed from their natural parents shouldn’t impact upon one’s diversity and equality credentials.
When did we become so emotionally needy as a nation, that we are unable to cope with stiff differences of opinion or disagreement? The reason why people are agitating for Tara to be kicked out of her job is because they cannot bear the idea of a state agency employing someone in an official capacity who will not validate their desires. A couple who have used IVF or surrogacy might feel ‘judged’ knowing that someone employed within a particular NCT trust disagrees with a life decision that they have made and that would never do.
If Tara had expressed a belief in Jesus Christ, son of God who was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day, people may have looked upon her perhaps rather indulgently or patronisingly, but it would have not have created the storm of outrage. Which is why the secularist lobby are keen to disassociate life issues from religious conscience, arguing that these beliefs are not integral to religion which should in any event be kept private. Only those who believe that LGBT are inferior human beings could possibly object to a child missing out on their mum or dad.
The only imposition going on here is of one particular viewpoint or mindset as being acceptable for certain state employees. Since when did diversity mean sanctioning every single viewpoint as being equally valid? Since when did diversity not allow for believing that women are exploited by the surrogacy industry and that children should not be treated as commodities? Why should this view disbar you from working to help enable marginalised sections of society access appropriate services?
The only way to avoid damaging culture wars is to listen to and attempt to respect the views of other people, even if we do not wish to sanction or implement their ideas. Surely we can agree to disagree on some issues, while working together on areas of common consent rather than turn certain other groups into untouchables?
When Benjamin Cohen described me as an ‘anti-euqality campaigner’ he was disingenuously implying that I work hard to perpetuate inequality and suffering and trying to paint me as a singularly unpleasant person. I can live with the ostracism of Pink News readers, but it doesn’t really do much to foster positive relationships and raises the emotional temperature. This is the kind of attitude that makes people afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled as fundamentalists. Believing that marriage is not a matter of equality, does not mean that one considers other people as second class citizens and as long-term readers of my blog will remember, I have been criticised in the past by some quarters for my inherent support of the rights that civil partnerships accord and for wishing for these rights to be extended.
In my previous post I outlined precisely my position regarding surrogacy and IVF which is not based upon any wish to discriminate. I have no experience of infertility, I cannot begin to imagine how painful it must be not to be able to have children, but the existence of certain technologies or techniques in order to conceive them does not automatically justify their use. The argument is essentially a moral one about whether or not the ends justifies the means and the values we place upon human life. Can we do what we like in order to secure the outcome we want, regardless of the potential cost?
The most important thing to clear up here is accusations of being opposed to the Jewish religion as specifically alleged by Benjamin Cohen who states that I campaigned to stop liberal and progressive Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. Firstly it’s worth noting that not all branches of Judaism support gay marriage. Secondly, I did not specifically campaign to prevent Synagogues from solemnising gay relationships. I was part of an effort which campaigned to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman in UK law. Synagogues, along with any other religious institution should be free to perform whatever ceremonies and rituals which their religion proscribes (with provisos surrounding physical harms). I do not adhere to the Islamic proposition that a man may have 4 wives, however I am not campaigning for Muslims to be prohibited from taking multiple spouses. Asking that the law reflects existing Judeo-Christian principles and only recognises marriage as one man and one woman, does not oppress religious freedom or prevent people from following different cultural or religious practices. Non-legal recognition or solemnisation of certain situations does not prohibit people from entering into them informally, nor does it make them illegal or against the law.
Anti-equality campaigner, opposed to Judaism, fundamentalist, or just someone who follows the teachings of the Catholic church as articulated by the Pope?
Kudos and prayers for Tara for her bravery. By daring to be friends with Catholics and supporting a pro-life point of view she has put her job on the line and has made an unlikely champion of religious freedom and rejected the frame of the culture wars.
Tonight I appeared in the audience as part of BBC’s Question Time.
I hadn’t been planning to, I was asked by a friend on Tuesday who had a ticket and couldn’t go. The questions I had planned were about the fetal remains scandal and teachers.
I hadn’t expected gay marriage to come up, it’s done and dusted now in the UK and I don’t expect to see a reversal in my lifetime. That’s not to say that I am not sad about matters, in my view this contributes to a weakening of marriage and a denial that as study after study demonstrates, unless there are overwhelming circumstances such as violence or substance abuse, children fare better with and have the right to be brought up by both biological parents.
I am not going to regurgitate once more my views on the issue – if anyone is genuinely interested they can look at the category tag on this blog.
I didn’t recognise Marilyn who asked the question about gay marriage as being from my parish until after the show. She didn’t recognise me either. Probably because I had brushed my hair and didn’t have at least 2 young children hanging off each hip. Catholic parishes are large. Mine offers two Sunday Masses which are packed out. I am usually too preoccupied with stopping the kids from immolating themselves on the candle stands and making mischief therefore many people I only know by sight and the questioner is one.
So I hadn’t planned what I was going to say on the topic, otherwise I would have made a few other more salient points, elaborating more precisely on Roger Helmer’s theme about how freedom of religion and conscience will be affected.
Dr Evan Harris and others have picked up on my appearance and membership of Catholic Voices. Firstly, I disclosed my identity to the producer when my friend nominated me for the ticket. Far more salient and relevant than Catholic Voices (which is unpaid voluntary work and therefore doesn’t count as an occupation), I did disclose that I write a paid weekly column for the Catholic Universe paper, present a weekly radio show on UCR Catholic Radio and write professionally for a number of socially conservative publications. Google is a tool available to anyone and they were at liberty to use it and decline me a ticket. I wasn’t asked to do the BBC’s 100 women with my CV hat on and neither was it in the blurb. So you can complain to them all you like, but actually this is precisely what Catholic Voices is about. Enabling people to take the initiative in getting their voice heard in the public square whether that be around the water cooler or on TV.
It does show that the BBC are willing to air diverse voices and as my view offered a counter-balance to the panel, that’s why it was given time. A secret stitch up it was not. It was a toss up whether or not to go earlier, I actually needed a night to catch up on work. You are not told to disclose your political or faith views prior to speaking. Several members of the audience were political activists and party members, with all sorts of specialised views. I am not sure why my faith needs to be disclosed before I am allowed to speak. I knew that if I did speak, there would be the inevitable outrage from the usual quarters.
When the question on gay marriage came up, I hadn’t planned on saying much, because the questioner did so well, but when David Dimbleby asked who in the audience didn’t agree with the new law it was stand up and be counted time. Proposing a radical alternative point of view in that environment which was extremely hostile and pressurized, was I think, the hardest TV gig I have ever done. It was very much on the hoof and I was on the defensive rather than being able to reframe. Especially when David then interrogated me about my views regarding gay adoption and children which are far more nuanced.
I stand by my comment that children shouldn’t be made to order. Using a surrogate or sperm donor is exploitative, it treats another person along with a child, as a commodity. The practice of surrogacy, in particular, is beset with ethical difficulties.
Afterwards Lord Wolfson and Roger Helmer MEP both made a beeline for me to thank me for my ‘bravery’. I didn’t feel brave, I felt frightened and sick. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to add much to what Marilyn had said. It was only when Dimbleby specifically asked who didn’t agree that I realised that not to put my hand up would be cowardly. I did it so as not to let down James, who had dropped out and who wanted to ensure a Catholic voice (with a small v) was heard. We both thought that fetal remains would be the topic but I also knew that had I sat on my hands, I would be letting him and every single Catholic who has ever supported me, down.
Getting up from my seat, the girl who had asked a question about help for those who rent, sought me out to tell me I was disgusting. I asked her if she knew me or my friends and how she could make that judgement. Other people came and stuck up for me, reminding her that one of the warm up questions was about good manners. The lady I was sat next to was very warm and good-natured and apologised (I told her none was necessary) if she had been aggressive. She respected my beliefs.
Other people said that they wished they had also spoken up in support of traditional marriage but were too scared.
On the way back to the car, a group of young people spat at me. Marilyn then caught up with me, calling out “were you the lady at the front”, neither of us recognizing each other before the penny dropped. She is not an extrovert, doesn’t enjoy the spotlight and was shaking like a leaf. We saw each other to our respective cars safely.
I was expecting a Twitter hate-fest but have still been shocked by some of the vehemence and spite. I am not advocating penalising or punishing people on account of their sexuality and neither did I say that marriage was solely about children. The Twitterati were hearing what they wanted. What intrigues me as ever, is why no-one can see that not once have I judged individuals but instead made judgement calls on situations, which is what we are called to do as Christians. As ever ironically enough, it’s those who are accusing me of judgmentalism, who are in fact being the judgmental ones and claim to be able to gaze into my soul and confidently state that the position is based on hate.
But this is the kind of thing that faces those of us who will continue to stick to our guns and propound a traditional view of marriage. As the night has gone on, I am beginning to worry about my safety. Back in 2011 when David Cameron suddenly announced his intention to introduce gay marriage, I didn’t envisage things would get so nasty. Given my time again, I would still do the work I have done but definitely used the net under a pseudonym.
One of the many unfortunate things about the rushed nature of the Equal Marriage Bill is that it has raised the political temperature on the issue to almost boiling point with both sides scrambling to have their voices heard whilst there is still a chance that political opinion may be influenced.
One thing that is very saddening is the way that the issue seems to have caused so much hate and division, with those in favour of the redefinition of marriage flinging unprecedented amounts of spite towards those of us who wish to defend the status quo – recognising that the already weakened link between marriage and family, should not be irreparably severed. This concern stems not from a sense of bigotry or contempt or wish to marginalise those with same-sex attraction but genuinely from a wish to protect future generations and our unborn. Every child has the right to be brought up in a stable loving, sexually exclusive relationship and to enjoy a close bond with both of their biological parents. Last night on Twitter, Conor Burns the openly gay Tory MP received a huge amount of unsolicited abuse , for not having yet made up his mind and the MP David Burrows has been in receipt of death threats. Clearly there is much reconciliation and healing that needs to occur.
I received a particularly poisonous comment about my own personal circumstances containing a choice piece of invective and attempting to goad me into disclosing information which would have been detrimental to one of my children. As someone who has a child who does not live with both of her biological parents, I can testify to the emotional difficulties involved for children who come from broken families and I can stress the importance of allowing a child to develop a close, loving and strong bond with both biological parents and their families. That someone felt so threatened as to attempt to find out personal details – I have had several searches on my blog over the past week with rather alarming search terms, really demonstrates the depths to which some will sink, in order to try to get their own way and shows that the defence of marriage lies in truth and reason, lies smears and insults are based in fear and demonstrate that someone has really run out of ideas.
Most of us, myself included, are heartily tired of having to endlessly debate this, but we have no choice other than to fight for something that is being taken away, not only from us, but from our children and the generations of children to come. In order for one group to be given something, it needs to be taken away from someone else and what is being taken is not only the link between marriage and children, but also our religious freedoms, in that life is going to be made untenable for those who do not believe that marriage can constitute anything other than a union between one man and one woman, especially those in the public sector.
The think-tank Respublica have today produced this excellent Green Paper which details why this bill is such a monumentally unsound piece of legislation – their arguments and logic are flawless. Catholics will disagree with the conclusion, we would dispute their notion of teleology for a Christian with same-sex attraction, but it is a sound piece of work, with some solid insights, not least in terms of the anthropological origins of marriage. The reason contained therein makes it impossible for detractors to apply the homophobia label with any integrity.
I touched before on how, under this bill, there will still be disparity between heterosexual and homosexual marriages, in that the concepts of adultery and consummation will not apply to the latter. Once again, the blogger Gentlemind has a detailed explanation as to the implicit legal fiction, not invoking any concept of a deity. As has been said from the beginning, neither religion, nor the state has the monopoly on marriage, whilst we as Christians believe that it was instituted from God as a gift to his people, from the creation of the world, we do not force or impose this view upon other people, whilst ironically it is the state who is imposing its new definition upon us.
The one question that nobody dare ask, the elephant in the room so to speak, is that marriage traditionally encompasses sexually fidelity for reasons of procreation, so that children may be legitimately recognised as well as brought up with stability, even though undoubtedly many couples have been unfaithful, but this has always been stigmatised with good reason. The current tendency to blame both partners when one strays, in an attempt to be non-judgemental and balanced, is whilst perhaps based in some truth, a misguided one. No matter how tiresome one’s spouse may prove at times, one has made a promise of love and fidelity especially if one is married in the Christian tradition. That’s why marriage is sometimes difficult. It’s not about being in love at the time of professing vows, but about promising to love until the end of one’s lives. Love often requires an act of will, it’s not purely an impulsive or romantic feeling, something that one has to remember when one’s spouse has left the loo seat up for the umpteenth time. We should not seek to excuse those who are unable to exercise sexual restraint. To cheat on one’s partner takes an act of will, one’s clothes simply do not fall off of their own accord and our body does not act independently of the mind.
So why is gay marriage devoid of this promise of fidelity in that a couple may not divorce due to adultery, which cannot exist? As a gay couple cannot technically consummate a marriage, does that mean that legally gay marriages are presumed to be devoid of sexual content, unlike heterosexual marriages? Straight couples are being called to higher sexual standards than homosexual couples, whose sex life is legally non-existent and unlike heterosexual couples cannot use a partner’s infidelity to split up the marriage. When a couple divorces on the ubiquitous grounds of unreasonable behaviour – at least five different examples must be given that would satisfy a judge. Does that mean that unlike a straight couple, a gay person will have to find five different provable instances of infidelity to petition for divorce? And what are we saying about the importance of sexual fidelity – does it only matter for heterosexual marriages? Is that fair? Is it equal? Or is there something unsavoury about removing the element of faithfulness in ‘gay marriages’? What message does that send and could it pave the way for further changes such as removing adultery as grounds for divorce in all marriages?
So, gay marriages may nominally satisfy the demands of equality, but they are still as different as civil partnerships. What a legacy for David Cameron – the man who promised to bring in tax breaks to support married couples and denied days before the election that he had any plans to introduce this legislation. Weakening in the name of strength.
I guess the one silver lining is that maybe this whole dog’s breakfast may actually start to do something to reinforce the already weakened bonds of marriage. Maybe people’s minds will be focused on what the true meaning of marriage is really about and churches may well be galvanised into proclaiming the goodness and fruits of marriage like never before. Maybe we will be able to reclaim Holy Matrimony for ourselves in all of its abundant richness.
There has been a welter of criticism following Archbishop Vincent Nicols’ Christmas homily in which he denounced the forthcoming Government plans to introduce so-called ‘gay marriage’, thereby permanently redefining marriage without the democratic consent of the country. Those of us who are married are about to have their status altered to that of civil partnership without our permission. The state has now decided that it is the supreme arbiter of what constitutes a marriage – namely romantic love and a presumption of commitment only.
Catholic Voices deftly dealt with the Archbishop’s vociferous critics here, both Megan Hodder and Ben Trovato offer sound defences of marriage and Fr Ray Blake in fine barnstorming form offers some ideas as to how Catholics can supplement their support of marriage, aside from fulfilling our moral obligation by lobbying our local MPs.
I won’t revisit the arguments previously made on this blog, but there is a missing dimension to the debate, one that is close to my heart and should concern feminists or those who claim to care about the plight of women and children, and that is motherhood.
I am a mother. I nurtured my children in my womb, they were comforted by my unique heartbeat, the unique intonations of my voice, my unique smell; in short I was, and am, their world. I birthed my children, I fed them from my breasts, I sang to them, when they are tired, unhappy, hurt or in need of comforting, it is uniquely me they want – no-one else, no matter how loved, will do.
That is not to detract from or denigrate their father, whom they are lucky to have, who bathes them, who reads to them, who plays with them, who also soothes them, but when the chips are down, instinctively and intuitively it is mummy they want. Despite the fact that Robin is an extremely involved and hands-on father, there is something visceral, something priomordial about a biological mother’s care, that simply cannot be replicated. I can hear my babies cry and just ‘know’ what is wrong and how to sort their problem, soothe their pain, whilst my husband looks on in bewildered awe. It is with good reason that medics pay close attention to the mother and trust maternal instincts when treating a sick child. If one could only bottle the essences that constitute motherhood, those hardwired responses to one’s own offspring and the emotions that flow naturally between mother and child, one would be rich as Croesus. Mothers rarely need to be shown how to love, even if they do sometimes need some external guidance.
A few years ago, when the 3 year old was a baby, Robin used to tease me for “that weird thing you do pulling faces at her”, thinking that it was one of my many idiosyncrasies. Not long afterwards, he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and on his return, recounted how he had seen a Muslim woman in the airport lounge in a niqab behaving in an identical way and pulling the same exaggerated faces. “It was peculiar’, he said, “there was this woman, she looked nothing like you, she had a different colour hair, a different colour skin, she was a different cultural background, was wearing different dress, spoke a different language and yet when I saw her playing with her baby all I could see was you. The mannerisms, the way you hold our baby, the way you pull those faces, exaggerate your speech and intone when you sing, it could have been your carbon copy. I realised that it was obviously something that women instinctively do, this is how they play with their babies. It’s inbuilt and intuitive”. A practical demonstration, if any were needed that the basic skills of mothering are so primordial, so instinctive that they transcend all boundaries and though men can undoubtedly learn and develop such skills, the way women instinctively mother their children is not an ingrained response that naturally occurs in men. This morning, our twenty month old climbed into bed in the early hours and cuddled Robin, as I was feeding the baby. Upon placing the baby back in her bedside cot, the toddler spied her opportunity, climbed over, muttered “mummy” and hugged me tight before falling into blissful slumber. There are no words adequate to describe the contented and satisfied grin on her face as she snuggled in. It was mummy she needed.
So what has this to do with ‘gay marriage’? Put simply, I am not a “Progenitor A”. I am a mother and I will fight to the death to defend not only my children and their best interests, but my right to be identified as a mother. My husband is not simply “progenitor B”, but their father, to which he brings an entirely separate set of attributes.
What “gay marriage” does is undermine and rip away all notions of natural parenthood and paves the way for children to be cared for and brought up by anyone who is deemed to be in a loving romantic relationship.
By stating that romantic love or attachment is the only requirement for marriage, children are then treated as the optional extra. Whilst that may work for some couples, in a world where a misunderstood notion of equality overrides all other considerations, a gay couple is seen as equally worthy and deserving of a child, regardless of that’s child’s rights to be brought up and loved by both of its biological parents. The act of childrearing becomes rooted in selfishness and the desires of the couple in question.
It is an act of supreme selfishness, cruelty and exploitation for a couple to pay a woman to bear a child, to nuture that child in her womb, even if it is not her biological child, to then rip that child away from her, for a sum of money. There can be no excuse for treating women’s bodies and babies as human commodities. Commercial surrogacy consists of trading upon desperation, human misery and is dependent on the commodification of women. Feminists who align themselves with gay-rights activists need to search their conscience.
Once you make all relationships the same, once you strip away the complementarity of male and female, once you define solely romantic love as being the determining factor in a marriage, then you pave the way for babies to be taken away from their mothers and give implicit approval to trading upon human misery. As a woman who has known the highs and lows of pregnancy, who has experienced the agony and ecstasy of childbirth four times, who knows that biological love has the capacity to conquer all, even the most inauspicious of beginnings, the thought of children being deprived of their mothers, sickens me and chills my blood. I guess one could describe it as a type of homophobia because the act of producing children in laboratories and removing them from the women who birthed them, depriving them of a mother to pass them into the care of two men, no matter how rich or well-meaning, does induce fear and concern for women and their children. It is an unnatural thing to financially coerce a woman to produce a child to order, for the benefit of someone else. As a mother, I cannot think of a worse thing to do to another woman than to deprive her of her baby. It is beyond one’s worst imaginings.
We are already seeing the dreadful consequences of children bred to order, and the impact this is having upon women. Two men artificially producing a biological child that belongs to one of them is seen as socially acceptable and desirable, and in order to accommodate their whims, not only are women being commodified and exploited and children deprived of their inherent rights, but also the law is needing to be constantly revised and updated. Which is why countries like Spain, are dispensing with the traditional titles of mother and father, to be replaced by Progenitors A and B. I am not a progenitor, I am not simply a faceless biological producer of a factory-produced child to order, but I am a mother and a woman whose children were produced in love. And what happens if or when Progenitor A and Progenitor B split up? Child then has to divide its time between two same sex households and potentially acquires two more same-sex step-parents and that is deemed to be in its best interests? Or what is there to stop the State from allocating extra Progenitors such C or D to a child, deciding what actually constitutes a Progenitor, or stripping a biological parent of Progenitor status? If all a child needs is a loving parent of any gender, why are we seeing fatherless children ask for a dad in heartbreaking letters to Santa?
Children do not simply need a parent, but the complementarity of a mother and father. To state that the sexes are interchangeable, strips and deprives women of a key part of their gender, treats them as little more than mechanical breeding machines and denies the unique and wonderful ability of a woman to mother her own child. Study after study demonstrates how babies feed from the stimuli of their mother, right from the moment that they are conceived and study after study demonstrates that though other types of family can and often do an excellent job in terms of raising healthy and well-balanced children, the traditional mother/father in a committed relationship is the ideal.
We change marriage to being solely about a notion of romantic love between two people of any gender, then we further weaken an institution already damaged by divorce laws that constitute an adulterer’s charter. When we say that a marriage is about reaffirming a romantic love or attachment, then there is little incentive to keep the relationship afloat during the rocky times. When marriages or relationships with children break down, it is almost always invariably, though not always, the women who remain the primary carers and who suffer the most.
And this is, though not the only reason by any means, is certainly one of the driving forces behind the fact that I intent to fight this forced change to the definition of my marriage, tooth and nail. Fundamentally same-sex marriage is anti-children, anti-women and anti-mothers.
I will not allow the Government to strip women such as my four girls, of their biological rights to be mothers, without the fight of my life. I am a mother and by definition the best thing that there is for my children. I will not let my motherhood be taken away from me, or from any woman.
I am exceptionally grateful to Laurence England for arranging a deputation of Catholic constituents of Caroline Lucas to meet with her and explain our opposition to same-sex marriage, as well as for including me amongst their number.
I don’t really have much to add to Laurence’s account of how the meeting went, though I don’t think we did much to change her views, we certainly appreciated the opportunity to present our case, and Caroline Lucas certainly came across as a very warm, honest and engaging MP, she did not dismiss our case, neither did she pretend to listen politely, but she actively participated and asked questions as appropriate. Of course one might argue that she was only doing her duty as an elected MP and representative of her constituents, but at least she was gracious and actually took the time to make it seem as if she was genuinely interested! It was a very different experience from when I met my former constituency MP, David Cameron, who was at first dismissive, then had a Damascene conversion once I opened my mouth and he discovered that I’d worked for various Investment banks and had a public school background.
One thing that was very positive about the meeting was that Caroline had an opportunity to see that we were not coming at this from a position of bigotry, we didn’t wish any harm upon the LGBT community and it was certainly helpful that we had at least two of our number who openly identified themselves as being gay or having same sex attraction. Caroline hearteningly said that she had been very supportive of Christina Summers, the Green Party councillor who has been expelled from the Green Party for her opposition to same-sex marriage and that she disagreed with the party’s decision to exclude her; though Caroline’s Green Party credentials are immaculate in this area, she finds it disappointing that someone should be ostracised on account of their sincerely held beliefs.
Of particular interest seemed to be the side-effects of this legislation which clearly David Cameron had not thought about in any depth before going full-steam ahead with his proposal. We explained how Christians and indeed people of all faiths who disagreed with the redefinition of marriage could be affected in the workplace and highlighted the comments of the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, who has hinted that profound philosophical difficulties lie ahead for religious workers in the public sector. Everyone will be expected to recognise the new definition of marriage under law, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.
Another factor was how the redefinition of marriage would necessitate a change in the Anglican prayer book, via an Act of Parliament. Though that may seem irrelevant to a group of Catholics, it would also be a significant step to disestablishment of the church and whatever one’s views on that issue might be, surely such a significant change should not come about as a side-effect of legislation, but should be debated on its own merits or lack thereof.
We also pointed out that the government’s guarantees that religious marriage would remain unaffected would be utterly worthless as there is no distinction in law between religious and civil marriage, therefore if the change comes about it will need to be available to everybody in the same way. Some religious organisations will be unable to solemnise same-sex marriages and the realities of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act will mean that these organisations will have to withdraw from providing marriages if they are not able to offer it to all couples, in the same way as happened with the Catholic Adoption agencies.
As Laurence said, the area that Caroline Lucas seemed most interested in, was that of democracy and the public appetite for change. After pointing out that none of the major parties, including her own had this in their election manifesto, it seemed that a major change was being brought forth which nobody had actively voted for. I mentioned the Catholic Voices Com Res poll, of which she was unaware, suggesting that a significant chunk, some 70% of the population are against redefining marriage as well as the fact that the gay community seem to be apathetic to the change. There is also a risk that those gay couples who choose not to marry but to be in civil partnerships will also be thought of as having second-class unions and face discrimination.
Laurence was particularly persuasive and incisive when Caroline quizzed him on the notion of what constituted the common good. She asked whether the Church could still claim its position was in the common good, that if the poll results were reversed, showing that 70% of people were in favour of the change, surely that could be considered the common good? Laurence used the comparison of pedophilia, which most people find abhorrent, other than Harriet Harman’s friends. Even if public opinion were to change regarding pedophilia or polygamy, legislating for it, would most certainly not be in the common good, regardless of people’s personal views. The common good is an entirely distinct concept to public opinion. We also asked why the state felt that it needed to legislate for people’s private relationships, the only reason that marriage is regulated by the state, is for one reason alone and that is because its main function is to provide children. We explained that as a Church we did not hold the rights to marriage – it is an institution outside of both Church and state.
I don’t think we will have changed her underlying views, however my hope is that we did give some food for thought and that in Caroline’s words, she could see that we were not against equality per se or wanting to degrade same sex couples, but had genuine concern as to the impact of any forthcoming changes in the law.
This for me, is what it means to be a Catholic Voice, not simply a talking head in the media who someone may or may not remember, but actually being pro-active and making sure that the case is coherently and articulately presented in the public square. We did not shy away from our faith, nor did we deny that it affects our conscience, but equally we were able to display that our concerns were not those of bigots who wished to do harm. I do hope and pray that Caroline has a conversion of heart and that our meeting did at least have some impact.
In the meantime, here’s the Janet and John version from the Coalition for Marriage.
Given the wealth of polemic flying about the internet with regards to same-sex marriage, I’m loathe to add my voice to the tumultuous din, particularly given that I already blogged a few months back, but some important points are being lost amidst the white-hot passionate rhetoric on both sides, which is becoming increasingly partisan and, from what I have observed today, disturbingly anti-Catholic in tone.
As there are so many intertwined issues, I am going to break my habit of lengthy screeds, by breaking up into sub-headings to address the various issues
Why the Anti-Catholicism?
Firstly Cardinal O’Brien’s article in the Daily Telegraph and subsequent disastrous interview on the Today programme shifted the terms of the debate from what constitutes marriage and its place in our society to Catholic doctrine regarding homosexuality. Whilst many Catholics and indeed Christians of all denominations may have intellectually accepted his argument and applauded him, his intemperate language raised the emotional ante. I was asked by Tom Chivers of the Daily Telegraph whether or not I condoned his “disgusting comments”. My response: I think they were unhelpful.
Whilst many Catholics are very poorly catechised with regards to the doctrine on human sexuality, this is a matter that needs to be addressed internally, the pages of a national newspaper and a radio programme with an audience of millions is not the most appropriate medium to expound the complexities and nuances of Catholic doctrine. As I have discovered to my cost, the nuances and complexities of doctrine are completely lost on the majority, who are unable to contextualise or see beyond philosophical and theological language and understandably take huge offence.
The extremely powerful letter issued by Archbishops Nichols and Smith has done much to redress the balance, many were glad to hear Archbishop Nichols state on the radio yesterday morning that it is not the intention of the Catholic Church to condemn anyone, Monday’s Gospel reading reminds us of the words of Jesus “Do not condemn and you will not be condemned”, (Luke 6:37) but due to its very persuasiveness and the potential audience of over 4 million Catholics, as well as being widely reported in the mainstream media, this has brought an element of anti-Catholicism to the fore, with the old familiar tropes, which do nothing to engage with the actual point at hand.
Does the anti-Catholicism matter? To a certain extent it doesn’t, Catholics in the UK are accustomed to centuries of recusancy, Christ himself said that it would not be easy to follow him, however whilst on the one hand we need to keep a sense of perspective in terms of persecution, we are not persecuted in the same way as Christians in Egypt, Iran or Pakistan for example, it is important that we fight against this perjorative smearing and distortion of our faith. To meekly accept it as our lot, accepts our own marginalisation, we need to defend our faith through the use of reason and apologetics, otherwise we rule ourselves out of all public discourse and cease to have any influence or voice in society. Though we are Catholics (and the same applies to all faiths) we should not isolate ourselves from society, we are members of it and thus have a right to participate and be heard if we want to impact the Common Good. It is extremely damaging and potentially dangerous to accept the often violent anti-Catholic/Christian sentiment of the type I have seen expressed today. Whilst there are shameful episodes in the Church’s history, not least the abuse scandal, we must not allow this to taint people’s perceptions of the Church and keep them from discovering the joy of faith. We must appeal to reason, not adopt a passive mentality. There is a difference between turning the other cheek and lining up one’s brethren for a good slapping.
Why are Churchgoers more important than bingo attendees?
This was the question asked by Hugo Rifkind today. Well in one sense they are not. All members of a democratic society should have equal say. It is not churchgoers who are more important, but churches/religions are more influential in society than bingo halls. If we are going to run with this analogy, bingo halls are simply there to generate profit for the owners. Religions are the embodiment of Cameron’s elusive Big Society. The Catholic Church is one of the largest charitable organisations in the world. It is the second biggest provider of humanitarian relief in Africa. The Catholic Church, along with the Anglican Communion and other religions actively work in society, in communities for the good of other people. Religious believers give more to charity and do more unpaid voluntary work, than non-believers. More people do unpaid work for church organisations than other organisations. Work, such as visiting the sick, setting up playgroups, lunches for the elderly and so on.
Though we cannot surmise that the average church-goer is a better person than the atheist bingo-player, it can be stated that religion can be a force for great good and members do a lot for society and thus deserve to be heard. The truth is that religions are better placed to be able to motivate an organised, strategic, campaign – churches, mosques, synagogues, temples are all cohesive communities with shared aims who are easier to mobilise. Religions are concerned with working towards the common good, bingo halls with individual profit. Religions also make up a greater proportion of the population.
Why is the Church so bothered – it won’t be forced to accept anything?
That’s not strictly true. We are entering unchartered waters here. It is true to say that were this proposal to go ahead then the Catholic Church would, in all likelihood, not be compelled to conduct same-sex weddings. The same cannot be said of the Church of England. Various Anglican canonists are concerned, given that Anglican vicars act as agents of the state, to use their official title, they are “clerks in holy orders”, that they may well be compelled to conduct same sex weddings or face legal proceedings. A local “Conservative” MP in Hove, Mike Weatherly, has called for churches who do not conduct same-sex weddings to be closed down. The former fresh-faced housewives’ favourite, Will Young, stated on Question Time this week, that Cardinal O’Brien should be up in court for hate-speech. When questioned whether this should necessitate religious leaders being called into police stations for their religious beliefs, Young replied “yes, rightfully so”. His views were shared by shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint and Will Self.
Whilst it is not yet clear whether or not churches may be compelled to conduct weddings, what is apparent is that religions will have a new definition of marriage imposed upon them. Ironic given the perennial accusations that the Church faces with regards to imposing its beliefs upon others.
Weddings and Marriages
Where people, including some Catholic commentators and it would seem, the government, are getting confused is in the difference between weddings and marriages. When bemoaning civil partnerships, various Catholic blogs have posted photo after photo of civil partnership ceremonies in a bid to prove that these are de-facto marriages, perceived as marriages and therefore must be condemned. Likewise gay and lesbian campaigners have bemoaned their lack of opportunity for a wedding. The government have been genuinely taken aback by religious opposition, because they believed that the exemption would be enough to mollify any opposition, so long as churches were not forced to conduct wedding ceremonies, they would be fairly sanguine about the change.
A wedding is a ceremony – be that religious or civil. For us it was a Byrd four-part Mass and lashings of incense. For others it might be humanist vows on the top of a London bus. A wedding is the ceremony that legally and in some cases sacramentally, joins two parties together. Some of those in civil partnerships feel aggrieved that their official ceremony simply consists of signing a register and want the full “wedding”. Technically there is nothing to stop people from doing exactly what they want. Most tolerant people don’t really care. If a religious venue wants to be able to hold civil partnership ceremonies, then that should be their choice. I can’t quite see how this could be done in the Church of England or Catholic Church and I do also think that it does unhelpfully blur the margins between the two institutions, but if Sharon and Michelle both want to don enormous fluffy white meringues and get an obliging minister to formulate vows and/or prayers in the setting of their choice, providing the denomination permits it, then that should be their choice in a free and liberal society.
Whilst I’m on the subject, I’d also relax the daft restrictions upon choices of music and readings in civil ceremonies that forbid specific references to religious symbolism or worst still God. I mean, fancy making reference to God in a civil wedding – saint preserve us, what next the collapse of secularisation? If folk, whether heterosexual, lesbian or gay want to belt out jingoistic songs about the repression of mill workers in order to celebrate their partnership, if they want theologically unsound ballads by former boy band members then that is entirely their affair. You want “Angels” by Robbie or the local rugby club wants “I vow to thee my country”, go ahead – fill your boots!
A marriage is an institution, a legally and sometimes sacramentally recognised partnership in society. It is the permanent and binding union of a man and woman, that acts as building block of society, in order to create family units and raise children. Though the conditions surrounding marriage eligibility may have altered over the centuries, the basic premise has remained the same – one man, one woman for love, companionship but primarily for the procreation of children.
Well the Church can believe what it wants? What’s the problem.
It is impossible, not only for the Catholic Church but for several other denominations and religious to believe that marriage can be anything but one man, one woman. The problem is, that once this becomes legal, the Church will have no choice other than to accept the legal definition. One way of demonstrating this would be in the case of a person in a same sex marriage, which the Church did not recognise. If a person in a same sex marriage split up from their partner, found a partner of the opposite sex whom they then wished to marry, then in the Church’s eyes, they would be free to do so. Legally, however this would not be the case, unless that person had received a civil divorce. The Church’s feelings on the matter would cease to come into play here, if an Anglian vicar or a Catholic priest were to marry someone who was already in a same sex marriage, they would face charges of being complicit bigamy. Furthermore there is also a moral issue coming into play. What if the person had adopted or artificially created children whilst married to their same-sex partner and then committed “adultery”. Whilst the Church would recognise the same-sex marriage as being fornication (any sex outside traditional marriage comes under the adultery commandment), should it be complicit in sacramentally blessing an infidelity that split up a family unit and created turmoil for a child? Whilst this does not tend to happen in the Catholic Church, the Church of England, when considering whether or not to marry divorcees, tend to go by the rule that infidelities are not consecrated, even the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall had a blessing and not a marriage.
Of more pressing concern, there is a danger, that Church doctrine on marriage, could actually become “hate speech” and an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order offence, which states that
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
All of us who have defended the status quo, have at some point been accused of insulting others, of homophobia, of prejudice, of hatred. What caused me enormous distress in the incident a few weeks ago, was that one man, who has yet to apologise made the following call for me to be “hunted down” and my intimate parts to be “filled with cement like God intended”. The reason that the man is quite so unrepentant about this, is because he feels that my attitude deserves this kind of threatening response. He feels victimised and threatened and therefore wants me to be at the receiving end of similar treatment in order to change my ways. Regular readers know that I tend to be fairly measured in my use of language. In fact, the whole furore resulted from a statement in which I admitted that the use of the word “disorder” was unacceptable and could cause offence and that we should not be comparing ourselves to primates.
A few months ago, a commentator stated that whilst it was acceptable for me to hold certain views, I should not be allowed to promalgate them in public. As mentioned above, various public figures have called for the prosecution of clerics who preach what they deem to be “homophobia” or “hate speech”. No matter how much Catholics or Christians may emphasise the pastoral care that should be directed towards the LGBT community and condemn any unjust discrimination, no matter how much we may state that no-one is defined purely by their sexual orientation, it is reductive, no matter how much we point out that homosexuality is no worse than heterosexual cohabitation, this is not what is heard. What is heard is hatred and discrimination, a desire to harm and punish, despite the fact that this is so counter to any Christian doctrine that I know. Part of this stems from decades of unjust treatment and from the fact that true homophobia does still exist, homophobic attacks do take place, although they are not as prevalent as other forms of crime. Same-sex marriage is not going to alter flawed human nature, it is not going to stop damaged individuals who wish to attack and destroy those who are different.
One of the accusations levelled at me was that I am a hardline religious fundamentalist, made dangerous by the fact that I cloak my “hatred in the garb of reasonableness and pretend to be a nice Catholic mother” when underneath this is all about wanting to punish, persecute and diminish people with same sex attraction. This has now become the popular meme of the gay marriage lobby. Anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot fuelled by hatred and to prove it lets personally discredit them and/or their religion, if applicable.
This is what is going to happen to Catholic catechists and other religious instructors. It will be taboo and potentially against the law to teach religious doctrine, either in parishes and certainly in schools. If the law states that marriage is a romantic relationship between two people of any gender, then religious teaching will contravene the law. On the one level this is dangerous, because it forces religions to either conform or marginalise themselves. Of more pressing concern, as outlined above, it could be seen to contravene the public order act or the Equalities Act. Ministers of religion may be exempt, but ordinary members of the laity will not be. Catholic teaching could be held as being discriminatory.
Many of us have encountered opponents of faith schools claiming that faith has no place in education, which must be purely about “facts”. It is not hard to envisage a situation whereby the law compels children to be taught the secular definition of marriage, even though this would contravene religious and individual conscience rights. Children will be taught a new orthodoxy, namely that marriage is between two people of any gender who love each other.
The situation is untenable for the government as this definition of law contravenes Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which specifically provides a right for men and woman of marriageable age to marry and provide a family. Despite a number of petitions the Court has refused to apply the conventions to same sex marriage. The law in England and Wales will therefore contravene the ECHR, which may well create problems which will no doubt be resolved by a series of messy court cases, involving Public Order offences, the Equalities Act, the ECHR and UN Declaration on Human Rights, which expressly allows manifestation of religious freedom of expression.
Today John Sentamu has highlighted the problem of the 1662 Prayer Book and Article 30 of the Church of England which both require the approval of the General Synod before they can be changed. Though Parliament could overrule this, it would require disestablishment of Church and State, which whilst the National Secular Society, with their membership equalling the National Sausage Appreciation society would applaud, it is really a worthwhile and necessary use of valuable Parliamentary and legislative time, when the country is facing an unprecedented global economic crisis? When the country is facing a welter of social and economic problems, unseen for decades, is it really helpful to be spending huge amounts of time and resources, tinkering around with something that has the potentially to radically alter society, a unique social experiment that goes against thousands of years of biology and sociology, to satisfy the demands of less than 1% of the community. The grassroots gay lobby have not campaigned for this, 70% of the population are against the redefinition of marriage according to the Com Res poll commissioned by Catholic Voices and 74% of people believing that it is wrong to fast-track these laws according to an ICM poll for the Daily Telegraph. Make no mistake, disestablishment could prove extraordinarily complicated, impacting upon how Parliament, the monarchy and even the armed forces interrelate. We would be unpicking the strands that constitute English society.
Thirsty Gargoyle has promised to blog the specifics of the legal implications, his razor-sharp analyses is second to none, but in short, this whole thing is something of a beggar’s muddle.
If you don’t want a gay marriage – don’t have one!
This sends me reaching for my self-disembowelling kit. That’s like saying, if you don’t like drink-driving, don’t drink and drive. The problem is that same-sex marriage will be imposed on me, whether I like it or not. It may not have a direct impact on my marriage, although it will certainly change the definition of my marriage, it will almost certain impact on my children and future generations who will be encouraged by society to think of marriage purely in terms of romantic commitment and thus bail out when it goes wrong.
Myself, my children and future generations will now be forced to be guarded in their thoughts and opinions if they are against gay marriage and risk prosecution or employment discrimination. The love of God – the love that dare not speak it’s name.
What about the children? Hiding behind an excuse?
Though there are exceptions, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that children do best when raised in stable relationships by both biological parents. That is not to denigrate the job that single parents, adoptive parents, gay parents, step-parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and others do in often very demanding circumstances, but all the evidence suggests that the ideal of two biological parents is the one to which we should aspire.
Whilst non-biological parents do a marvellous and commendable job, the task is undoubtedly easier in a stable low conflict relationship. This is what marriage recognises, namely that every child deserves its two biological parents. There is no question of banning alternative arrangements, but equally it is not prejudiced or discriminatory to recognise that the purpose of marriage is to raise children. Society needs to aspire to ideals.
Discrimination of this nature surrounds us all the time and is deemed to be perfectly acceptable – couples over 45 are not accepted for IVF for example and family members are not allowed to enter into marriage. Though many find the comparison with incest, understandably offensive, the incest rule underlines the very purpose of marriage. By stripping out the procreative element of marriage, the government makes it purely about romantic relationships. If marriage is purely about romantic relationships, why should it be accorded any special legal or tax status or recognition. Why are romantic relationships more important than any other relationships, such as family relationships, friendships or relationships between carers, for example?
Do children really need two biological parents? The really polemic bit
The evidence suggests that yes they do, this is the ideal. There is something primordial about the bond between parent and child that is very difficult to define or artificially recreate. My family is broken, my daughter lives with myself and her step-father, but it is precisely because I recognise the importance of the relationship between her and her biological father and his family, not only for her, but also her father, that over the years we have all worked extremely hard to keep relations extremely cordial, pleasant, friendly and above-all open and honest. Fortunately there is no conflict, but despite having the almost “ideal” situation, it is still not ideal for her. It is better than it could otherwise have been, it is better than the alternative, but the ideal for her would have been for her biological parents to stay together in a low conflict stable relationship.
Whilst her stepfather adores her and has done so since the moment they met, having gone on to have two biological children of his own, he admits that there is something undefinable about biology. Whilst he loves them all identically, there is an instinctive biological closeness from the very beginning with his natural offspring, that whilst not affecting the quality of his relationship with his older daughter, is perhaps missing. The same could be said of my daughter. She loves her dad enormously, but he is not “daddy”. The outcome for my daughter, will hopefully be good, because we have other factors in our favour to compensate.
What same-sex marriage does is to put same sex relationships on the same footing as heterosexual ones. Sound the prejudice klaxon. Stonewall can probably scent blood. Most reasonable and tolerant people have no problem with this in terms of equal civil rights. But a child is not a civil right. Gay relationships are naturally unable to produce children. There is no escaping this fact. For a gay couple to produce a child, they either need to adopt or artificially reproduce and increasingly couples seem to be plumping for the latter – sexuality is no bar to the often overwhelming natural urge to have one’s own biological children.
Gay couples argue that this is the only way that they are able to have children and that it is discriminatory to “deny them their rights to children on the basis of sexuality. It is homophobic”. Discrimination in its modern sense is unfair. What is more fair? That a child has an opportunity to be born from the natural procreative act of its parents and to be brought up by both of its biological parents, or that a child is deliberately denied its rights to a biological parent in favour of the rights of its other biological parent? All of us have an innate sense of identity, we want to know who we are, how we fit into the world and where we are from. Our biological and cultural roots are tremendously important. Adoptive couples are given intensive and specialist support in terms of dealing with adoptees’ identity issues as they grow up. It is recognised that adoptive parents potentially have a rockier road in terms of parenting than biological parenting.
Yet all of this, the rights and needs of the child are swept away in favour of the needs of the parent. At the moment due to the costs of artificially creating children, this option is only open to monied or middle-class gay couples, therefore it can be argued that the children’s outcomes will be similar. Whilst this is yet to be proven, what does come into play is the rather disturbing notion that at least the child is wanted, loved and can be materially well-provided for. These are all good things, but it implies that children are only worthwhile if they are desperately, wanted, loved and have material things. Better the middle-class gay couple going for IVF, than say, the single-mother on the rough housing estate. It perpetuates inequality and puts a value upon human life. It takes no account of the needs of the child for its biological mother and father and sends out the message, a child doesn’t need a mother and a father, gender is unimportant.
This is the heart of the objection to same-sex marriage. It says gender and biology are irrelevant when it comes to children. What they need is loving parenting. A child does not need a mother and a father. It just needs an adult (s) to love it. This runs counter to thousands of years of biology. Two dads cannot be a mum. They cannot breastfeed, neither of them have carried the baby in the womb for 9 months, the person whose every intonation of voice the baby has heard for nine months, their smell, their heartbeat, the person to whom they have been a part of, is cruelly and intentionally taken away from them. Bonding and attachment happen instinctively between mothers and babies. When all of my children were newborn and crying, just the act of picking them up or lying them on my chest was enough to calm and settle them. My babies knew it was me and were happy. Mothers are a baby’s entire world. It is an undisputed fact that babies need their mothers and should only be removed in the direst of emergencies and circumstances. Mothers are pre-progammed biologically respond to their crying babies and infants. It is instinctive, intuitive, not learned behaviour.
Whilst Lesbian couples may be at more of an advantage biologically, there is still overwhelming evidence that children ideally need to be parented by both genders as though equal, male and female are undeniably different. Male and female are complementary, both with strengths and weaknesses. Children need to be exposed at close quarters to the behaviour of both genders. Research indicates that fathers help to reduce delinquency in teenage sons and daughters who have a positive relationship with their father are more likely to establish good relationships with males as adults. All recent studies to the contrary which attempt to portray gender as irrelevant such as Gartrell/Bos and Biblarz/ Stacey have been shown to be significantly flawed in terms of methodology and therefore their conclusions are highly suspect.
What about older or infertile couples – aren’t they married then?
The age and/or fertility status of a couple is irrelevant, it does not change the purpose of marriage which is complementary and ordered towards having children. A couple will marry and age, meaning that they will no longer be able to produce children. Age does not dissolve the legality of the marriage therefore it follows that older couples are not disbarred from entering into marriage. Although they may not be able to have children of their own, they may still be able to adopt, or they may end up rearing grandchildren. It is the complementarity that is at stake, which is why the same applies to infertile couples. The marriage is not legally altered by any intention not to procreate, but it brings us back to the issue of why marriage is elevated by society.
More equal than others?
Two same genedered people in a relationship is not the same as two different gendered people in a relationship. One set will not be able to biologically produce children. Provided there are no underlying fertility problems, the other set will. This is an inescapable reality and why society has been ordered along the lines of biology for thousands of years. Marriage exists to ensure that children have mothers and fathers.
Recognising biological differences in couples is neither discriminatory, prejudiced or bigoted. Bigotry is imposing your will upon other people and refusing to tolerate legitimate divergence of opinion. Such as criminalising those who can not accept that same sex relationships can be a marriage, or that marriage is able to be redefined. Or deciding on the basis of no evidence that a child does not need a mother and a father and deliberating contriving a situation that removes the biological parent to satisfy personal desires. Bigotry is inciting violence and hatred against people on the basis of their opinions and/or faith. Prejudice is pre-supposing motives and intentions.
Inequality in its modern sense, means to treat people in an unfair way. LGBT couples are not being treated unfairly. They are not being denied any civil or human rights. Any perceived “inequality” results from a biological reality. Only different gendered couples can produce children. Children need their biological mothers and fathers. No amount of legislation or semantics can change those realities. Sometimes life just isn’t “fair.”
The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal – Aristotle.
Jenni Murray stated on Woman’s Hour the other day, that the Catholic Church had completed a U-turn (much like this present government on so many matters) and now supports civil partnerships, therefore it seems worthwhile to outline the current position, as I perceive it.
As stated by the Bishops’ Conference in 2003, the Church welcomes and endorses the removal of unjust or discriminatory treatment against ALL people, as a civilised society must recognise that everyone retains their human and civil rights simply by virtue of their inherent dignity as human beings.
The reasons given by the government for introducing civil partnerships were to address an existing inequality between opposite and same sex couples, but as the Bishops noted at the time, many of the provisions made in the Civil Partnership Act were unnecessary – immigration rules and tenancy rights had already been altered in order to grant same-sex couples equality under the law. The Sexual Offences Bill in 2003 also removed discrimination by gender and orientation and employment law was also advanced in order to tackle discrimination and removed any remaining prejudice in the workplace.
As the Bishops said:
It is very much to be welcomed that in recent years, there have been many significant changes to the law to remove unjust discrimination against people on grounds of their sexuality.
Given the changes to the law and the fact that individuals could make their own private arrangements with regards to inheritance matters, the Bishops questioned whether or not there really was a pressing need for civil partnerships.
As I noted in my previous post, the Civil Partnership Act is discriminatory, in that it is only open to same-sex couples, meaning that elderly relatives or close friends are excluded. Technically speaking there is nothing to stop my aunties from entering into a civil partnership because the act of forming a civil partnership does not require any vows or official wording, the partnership is formed once the contract is signed, whereas a civil marriage must include basic vows in addition to the signing of the register.
Unlike a marriage,a civil partnership cannot be dissolved on the grounds of either adultery or non-consummation and therefore it is clear that it is a very different structure to marriage evidenced by the fact that it is controlled by a separate piece of legislation.
In 2003, the Bishops stated that they recognised the great value of close relationships which is not to be confined to marriage or family. Whilst Church teaching is clear that sexual relationships belong exclusively within marriage, the Bishops were explicit in noting that
“the Church does not thereby reject the love or friendship between homosexual people, the bond of friendship makes someone closer to us than we are to any family member. A deep friendship is something in which we can all rejoice. A failure to acknowledge this could lead to the wrongful exclusion of someone who should be informed and involved in cases of medical emergency or funeral arrangements”.
Without wishing to reignite all the furore, I believe it is these aspects of civil partnerships for which Archbishop Nichols was expressing support, which is entirely consistent with the Bishops’ statement in 2003.
So, with that in mind, can someone like Fr Ray Blake rush out and contract a civil partnership, as he mooted the other day? The answer is, of course not. Aside from the public scandal caused by the sight of a Catholic priest pledging his troth in Brighton registry office, a civil partnership would be the source of scandal for any Catholic, because though legally a civil partnership does not require any reference to sexuality, there is an implied conjugal bond given the exclusion of close family members. In 2008, the Conservative MP Edward Leigh, attempted to put through an amendment which would remove the existing inequality and disadvantage suffered by close family members, but was defeated as the sole purpose of the civil partnership act was to grant a state-recognised union to homosexuals alone.
As Archbishop Cranmer noted at the time, the state was therefore privileging erotic love over family or platonic love.
The other difficulty for the Church with civil partnerships is that they include rights pertaining to children and are therefore framed as being an equivalent to marriage, which is certainly how they are understood, even if that is not legally the case. A civil partnership includes the ability to gain parental responsibility for a partner’s children as well as a responsibility to pay maintenance for one’s partner and their children in the event that the partnership should dissolve.
In practical terms, the Civil Partnership Act did not change much. The Adoption and Children Act passed in 2003, already allowed single people to adopt, a gay person could already adopt and assume joint responsibility together with their partner. One partner would adopt and the other would apply for a residency order. Same sex couples have had the right to adopt since 2002, three years before the Civil Partnership Act came into force.
What the Civil Partnership Act has done, is elevate civil partnerships to a legal status equivalent to marriage, hence the public confusion. The scope of the Act is too broad and the group of the people to whom it is applied is too narrow.
All Catholics naturally applaud the removal of unjust treatment and inequality, which is why we recognise that some aspects of civil partnerships are to be welcomed, solving issues of natural justice, but we reject those elements which seeks to put civil partnerships on an identical footing to marriage, in terms of rights pertaining to children. It is not right to embark on a policy of which the long-term outlook can only mean that more children are deliberately brought into this world to be deprived of a mother and father.
I saw nothing in the Archbishop’s remarks that contradicted that.
Nick Clegg has opined that marriage is a private matter. He is wrong, marriage is a public institution, outside of the Church, its success or failure has impacts on society as a whole. It is right that proposals that could harm it are given rigorous scrutiny, the same as any other public policy. It is not simply between two people, but exists for the good of children and for society.
It is Civil Partnerships which should remain an entirely private matter of arrangements between two consenting individuals.
The remarks of Archbishop Vincent Nichols regarding civil partnerships have stirred up a lot of controversy on the Catholic blogosphere this week, led by the respected columnist for the Catholic Herald, William Oddie. I won’t re-hash the debate, but Oddie’s pieces may be read here and here. Archbishop Nichol’s response to the criticism may be found here.
I don’t want to add too much to the debate, other than to wonder whether this is something of a storm in a teacup, I’m not going to deny that the Archbishop’s statement was ambiguous, but I think there is a tendency to be guilty of a lack of charity here. I am quite uncomfortable with the concept of automatically assuming that the leader of Catholics in England and Wales has some agenda which runs contrary to that of the Holy See which he is intent on pursuing. I know all sorts of commenters will now rush to tell me about a whole host of scandals in an attempt to demonstrate that there is a consistent trend and underlying proof that secretly the Bishops are seeking to do xyz, but I am also aware that there is always two sides to every story, and so far, I’m only aware of one side, namely that of the very orthodox Catholic blogosphere. I know that things don’t look great on paper, I am not disputing the veracity of various claims or calling into question the integrity of anyone who comments on these things, but in the case of, for example, the Cardinal Vaughan school, it’s quite difficult to comment from the sidelines, only having been party to one side.
Another thing I will note is that I can’t summon up the enthusiasm for ecclesiastical politics. I don’t know anyone from the Bishop’s Conference and if I’m honest, I don’t really want to know either. Networking, schmoozing, knowing who’s who, isn’t my thing, which is probably something of a failing for a former vicar’s wife. I like to write my blog, talk about Catholic social issues, discuss a bit of politics, what’s going on in the twittersphere and in the media, occasionally venture into a bit of theology, hoping that I don’t launch into heresy, but I’ll only call people to account when I feel able and qualified to do so. I genuinely don’t feel comfortable about publicly questioning Archbishop Nichols, for a multitude of reasons, none of them to do with sycophancy or self-advancement, but simply that I am yet to be convinced of certain things, such as whether the Liverpool Care Plan, is back-door euthanasia for example or whether or not it gives ammunition to the euthanasia lobby, so I’m not going to go down that route. Call me naive but I trust in the Holy Spirit whom I believe has a hand in episcopal matters.
In terms of civil partnerships, I think we have to remember, that were Archbishop Nichols grossly in the wrong here, we’d have heard about it already from the likes of Archbishop Cranmer, who wouldn’t have passed up an opportunity to criticise the Catholic Church if he thought that they were in any way supporting the issue of same-sex marriage. I admire the dead heretic enormously, but he isn’t exactly Rome’s greatest advocate.
The other thing that I think it is worth remembering, is that civil partnerships do solve some issues of natural justice, without necessarily undermining marriage. It is only right and just that people who are not in a marital relationship should be able to have similar access to various legal privileges, formerly only available to married couples, such as inheritance rights, or the right to nominate someone as your next of kin, or name them as a beneficiary on a pension. Though there are arguments to be made for keeping certain things as being exclusive privileges of a married couple, actually it is no bad thing for people to be able to legally formalise close relationships.
Where civil partnerships have failed and are utterly discriminatory is that they are only open to same-sex couples and necessitate an official public ceremony similar to a wedding ceremony. I have two elderly aunts, Auntie A and Auntie B. Unless my parents have finally got around to changing their will, they are still named as our official guardians in the event of my parents’ death. My Aunties were a part of our family when I was a child, they attended every family party or celebration, were part of Christmas, came to look after myself and my sister for a week when my grandmother died and were the first people my parents called to help when we were involved in a horrific car accident when I was ten, which incapacitated my mother for a year, at one stage all of the family were in different parts of the hospital being treated for our injuries with the aunties switching from theatre to theatre to check on our progress.
Auntie A and Auntie B were both teachers at my mother’s school which is how she came to know them. She immediately clicked with Auntie A and a lifelong friendship was born, I don’t ever remember them not being in my life. Auntie A moved in with Auntie B when she was a newly qualified teacher in the fifties and needed temporary lodgings. She never moved out. I honestly have no idea whether or not they were involved in a sexual relationship, but my instinct tells me that they were not. Schoolchildren being what they are, found out that Misses A and B lived together and constructed their own narrative, but I can honestly say, I never witnessed anything that would lead me to believe that. To a certain extent it doesn’t really matter, I’m not interested, it doesn’t affect my feelings towards them. Auntie A is probably one of the wisest and most perceptive women I’ve ever met. Over the past 60 years the aunties have done everything together, they have a lot of mutual interests, probably one of the reasons behind such a close enduring relationship, and are much loved in the local community, still attending Scottish Country dancing together in their 70s and 80s. They have travelled the world over and had an enormously full life. Auntie A once confided to me however were she to have her time again, she would have liked to have got married, that she would have liked to have had a husband and children, something that surprised me.
Now Auntie A is approaching her late 70s and Auntie B is ten years older, in her late 80s. Auntie B has increasingly been suffering health problems. Auntie A has become her full-time carer without complaint. Auntie B recently suffered a rectal prolapse which has necessitated very intimate and compassionate care. They are not in a civil partnership because neither of them want to put themselves through a ceremony that does not reflect the nature of their relationship. This means that when Auntie B dies, Auntie A will have no legal claim (not that she wants one) on Auntie B’s estate, despite having jointly contributed to the upkeep and maintenance of the house as well as the household shopping and so on for almost the past 60 years. She also has no social security rights, no tenancy rights and no right to be consulted in terms of treatment, as next-of-kin. I should imagine that being the canny ladies they are, that the correct arrangments have been made, but it seems nonsensical that Auntie A could well face a claim from Auntie B’s various nieces and nephews and could lose her house. It also seems unfair that Auntie A has no legal status. This could all be rectified with a civil partnership, but this option is not available to them as they don’t wish to formally recognise their relationship as being a same-sex one. Auntie A said that she wouldn’t put Auntie B through it and the pair of them would find it deeply humiliating and embarrassing. They don’t want it on permanent record that they were in a romantic relationship and besides Auntie A feels, it would be a lie or a sham.
This is where civil partnerships fail, because they do not give people like my aunties, or several other people, such as cousins, brothers and sisters, or platonic friends similar rights. Civil partnerships frame these relationships as only being romantic or sexual and are therefore discriminatory. But the principle of offering equal legal and employment rights to those in chaste loving relationships is a noble one, just as it is noble that whilst Catholics should not be seen to support same-sex sexual relationships, we cannot assume that all those who are in a civil partnership are necessarily indulging in sexual relationships. Though the Church of England allows its clergy to be in civil partnerships they are, technically speaking, supposed to be chaste and refrain from sex.
Civil partnerships are, excuse the pun, a b*gger’s muddle. The Church of England is in exactly the same position as the Catholic Church. Civil partnerships were seen as a compromise that served the legal needs of the gay community, but were not seen as undermining marriage as they were separate to them. The rules of democracy mean that views that are seen to be in the minority, and opposition to same-sex partnerships is a minority view, don’t hold sway. Most people were concerned that gay couples were not being treated on a par with married couples and held this to be grossly unfair. A much better solution would have been to create a legal process which meant that all couples could go to a registry office and register another person as their official next of kin. If gay couples had wanted all the extra bells and whistles there was still absolutely nothing to stop them from doing this, with a humanist minister or whatever they wanted, but civil partnerships discriminate nonetheless against those who are in a chaste relationship.
There are many arguments for keeping marriage special and according it unique status, civil partnerships should not, for example, include parental responsibility, which should remain as being the exclusive right of married couples, or put more precisely the right of children to be brought up by a biological mother and father, but done properly civil partnerships might not have undermined marriage.
The problem for both the Church of England and the Catholic Church is that neither wished to be seen to deny legal equalities and rights purely on the grounds of sexuality. The homophobe label still carries immense power, it’s Stonewall’s entire raison d’etre. Also at the time of the consultation on civil partnerships, the gay rights groups stated that they were not pushing for marriage, simply that they wanted equality.
This is one of the reasons why the CDF specifically spoke out against civil partnerships in 2003, they could see that civil partnerships were marriage by the back door – the slippery slope and that civil partnerships could very much be seen as an inferior option. Had all parties pushed harder for a wider definition of civil partnerships, then perhaps we would not be in the mess that we are in today.
In any case, it should be remembered that Archbishop Cormac Murphy O’Connor was in charge in 2003 when this was discussed. I am unable to offer comment as to what the church should or should not have done as I was not in communion with the Catholic Church at that time. I was dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and traumatic birth. Had the Church mounted a more concerted campaign, it is unsure whether or not this would have been successful, given how split the Anglican communion was over the whole issue, but the Bishops Conference was very clear in 2003, when it stated that “civil unions would not support the common good and we therefore strongly oppose them”.
Whatever else he might have said, Archbishop Nichols has stated that equality and commitment do not amount to marriage. Surely that is the main thing. Surely what matters now is sticking together to defend marriage, rather than this internecine squabbling, which does no-one any good. We are all part of one body in Christ. Wounds and divisions hurt us all.
*PS I know I will probably regret this and the internet will explode as a result. That’s the problem with trying to please everyone, you please no-one, but my loyalty lies in Christ and the Church that he founded. I am not convinced that hitching my wagon to the “church isn’t catholic enough” train is the way that I might best serve her. Don’t be too horrid in the comments.