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Posts Tagged ‘gay marriage’

Since publishing my blog yesterday about why the case of the PJS (currently under injunction) is in the public interest, a few commentators have suggested that the argument doesn’t necessarily wash, because it’s widely known and accepted by the general public, that gay male relationships don’t tend to be monogamous in nature.

Anecdotally, I would agree with that up to a point. Regular readers will know that I worked as cabin crew in the late 1990’s, a profession which seems to attract a disproportionately high number of gay men. My observation was indeed that there were very few stable monogamous relationships; they did exist but they were in the minority. Whether or not the gay scene that I socialised in is representative of the wider population is difficult to say, but it was characterised by promiscuity, multiple concurrent sexual partners and a entirely different set of sexual norms to those which the female crew were expected to adhere to.

But as I said, this was only my personal observation and for those who would believe that I  looked upon my friends and colleagues with disdain, nothing could be further from the truth. It all seemed like jolly good fun to an untravelled twenty-something. I notched up my fair share of wild nights on the razz in gay joints in places as far afield as Bangkok – miles apart from a suburban upbringing on the outskirts of Essex, it felt at times as though I was living a surreal and glamourous dream!

And this is why I have always been reluctant to extrapolate or discuss my intimate experience of the gay male scene, because I don’t know whether or not what I experienced had as much to do with the fact that I was living an international jet-set existence with other people who were as young, free and single as myself. As long as everything was done by consenting adults where was the issue? I witnessed quite a few sordid and distressing incidents, but was happy to push them to the back of my mind. So what if someone wanted to spend take-off discussing the graphic details of their multi-way encounter with a bunch of strangers in a Cologne sauna, while in earshot of fare-paying passengers, it was all part of the craic! So what if I caught two strangers who’d only just met in the briefing room a few hours earlier, engaging in sex acts in the forward galley? Any objection, distaste or disgust would surely be homophobic?

But should I have dared to venture in any public forum, any suggestion that gay relationships (and I am talking about male ones here, the lesbians I know do tend to have life-long partnerships) do not, in my experience, lend themselves to monogamy, then one can only imagine the public shaming exercise to which I would have been subjected. All sorts of high-profile couples would have been trotted out to highlight and condemn my bigotry. Nonetheless the statistics, especially those surrounding male-to-male HIV transmission would also seem to support the contention.

As I said, I’m not sure that even is my opinion, because I’m not sure that one can generalise  using the example of the social bubble of long-haul cabin crew  and I do have friends who are in committed, faithful monogamous romantic relationships with people of the same sex.  All I can say is that I still have gay male friends in the industry who support my stance on marriage, believing that their lifestyle doesn’t lend itself towards either fidelity or children. But then again I also have straight friends who are clinging on to their lucrative, long-since abolished BA contracts which earn them more than a GP, who do manage both a monogamous marriage and children – no mean juggling feat when you are spending a good proportion of the month in another country!

It’s astounding and infuriating therefore to hear other people glibly expounding the principle that gay relationships and marriages are an entirely different proposition to heterosexual ones. Yeah sure you are going to be into monogamy and all that Caroline, because you are innately socially conservative, but other more liberal types, aren’t quite so bothered.

It’s not only annoying because they articulated something which I dared not to mention (Catholic bigot says that gay people are incapable of keeping it in their pants or being faithful to each other) but also because this is absolutely not what was sold or argued to the general public when a new definition of marriage was undemocratically imposed upon us, in 2013 and couples such as PJS were waved about as examples.

Every time anyone tried to argue that the definition of marriage was changing, we were told time and time again it was not, and that this was simply just opening up a conservative institution, one which had many benefits to society, to a wider group of people. If you attempted to make the case, that the fundamental nature of the institution was being changed, you were told that it had changed throughout the ages (which is not strictly true, the conditions under which you could enter marriage were altered along with the way in which it was formalised) but the institution itself was not in any event being radically altered, rather being made ‘equal’.

As I argued yesterday, the new definition did not abolish differentation between the types of union because those in a gay marriage, are not implicitly taking vows of fidelity, because they are unable to use adultery for grounds of divorce.

Had you asked the general public about whether or not there should be two types of marriage and whether or not marriage should no longer mean monogamy for some couples, they would not have endorsed such a prospect. What was the slogan? ‘Different families, same love’! In every single country which has recently legalised gay marriage, from the UK, to Ireland to the US it has been on the grounds that it would be cruel to deny gay people the dignity and privileges of marriage.

Those who argued that marriage was being irrevocably redefined in a social experiment were told that we were reactionary doom-mongering, hate-spreading bigots.

The judges in the case of PJS certainly seem to be holding them to a different standard than everyone else – are they reflecting a new expectation that society doesn’t demand monogamy from same-sex couples? Or is it the principle that monogamy no longer matters in a marriage and that arguments surrounding it, don’t advance any sort of debate? But if monogamy is no longer a vital element of civil marriages, then it might be nice were there to have been some consultation about this.

It seems to be widely accepted that the celebrities who blazed a trail and became standard bearers for same-sex marriage and surrogacy are not living as one might expect and yet no-one should ask any questions in terms of whether or not they have the right to bring children into this situation and encourage others to do so. (And there’s no doubt that their example has given succour to the exploitative surrogacy industry. I can think of at least one couple who cites the example of PJS and who give the impression of living in a similarly open relationship). Instead of addressing the potential damage done to children in these sorts of situations, the judiciary seems to be a signalling a head in sand approach of stopping people from talking about it. How long before we are all subject to a re-education policy by a concerned lobby group, wanting to teach children that it’s okay for parents to have lots of simultaneous sexual partners? In reality, the children of PJS are going to be brought up in a protective and supportive celebrity bubble, rather than running the gaunlet of their local comp-turned-academy.

Many people were concerned that the attempt to redefine marriage by extending it to same-sex couples was in fact a subtle attempt to breakdown the family, by altering and remodelling the insitution and removing the requirement of monogamy. According to Marxist thought, the family needs to be obliterated in order to establish and justify state intervention into every element of people’s lives.

At the time, I was inclined towards a more charitable approach, believing that those in favour were acting out of a short-sighted compassion. It’s hard to take on board the concept that a lie may have been deliberately marketed and peddled to us, in order to breakdown the family allowing the state to step in. But when one sees how the couple involved in PJS deliberately manipulated public opinion in order not only to financially profit but also to affect public policy, then it does give cause to wonder. Not once was it ever mooted that due to the nature of gay relationships which are not naturally fruitful, that the element of monogamy may thought of as an unecessary element and dispensed with.

Was this really just all about removing the idea of a lifelong faithful, monogamous, one-man, one-woman relationship as the gold standard for society and the raising of children and just giving egual legitimacy to other forms of relationships in an attempt to undermine the family? It certainly feels like it from where I’m standing.

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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.

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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.

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equality and justice

Charles Moore has written an excellent column in today’s Telegraph, describing the country’s obsession with equality as ‘mad, bad and dangerous’.

In a week where equality is going to be at the top of the political agenda – it’s worth remembering that the concept of equality is not the same as homogeneity. To treat people equally does not equate to treating them absolutely identically, regardless of circumstances. As a mother of four children between the ages of 8 and 5 months, I undisputedly love them and treat them equally. According to the principles of equality laid down by advocates of gay marriage, treating someone equally is treating them in exactly the same way as one would treat another.

That clearly doesn’t work – should I treat my 8 year old in the same way as the baby? Should I have bought exactly the same Christmas presents for every single child, not taking their age into account? Is it unfair to have bought the baby a symbolic cuddly teething blanket and the eight year old a more expensive present? Or should I ensure that all the children are bought the same presents for their respective birthdays, so they all get say, a wooden railway for their second birthday because that’s what the eldest child had for hers?

Treating people identically regardless of circumstances is the cause of great injustice. We don’t, for example, allocate benefits or state help to people identically, without first taking their situation  and individual circumstances into account.

The Equal Marriage Bill is unjust and perpetuates the very inequality it is supposed to remedy. It treats ‘gay marriages’ in an entirely separate way to heterosexual ones, in that a straight couple has recourse to divorce on the grounds of non-consumation and adultery, the concepts of which do not apply to gay couples. A straight couple can divorce due to non-consummation, inherently proving that marriage was ordained for the procreation of children – why else does the law recognise the sexual element?

If ‘gay marriage’ solves inequality, why does it then propose a version of marriage that still does not meet the standards of behaviour required by a straight couple. The answer is that cannot, because ‘gay marriage’ is in itself a legal fiction and impossible under natural law.

The picture says it all. Justice is ensuring that children have a legal framework that recognises that they have a physical and biological relationship to their birth parents and that supports the rights of children to be brought up, supported, nurtured and loved by their biological parents. Justice does not deny the rights and needs of a vulnerable child in favour of the desires of a set of adults.

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More than 100,00 people on the streets at the demonstration in Paris on 17th November

More than 100,00 people on the streets at the demonstration in Paris on 17th November

There is an excellent blogpost on the new Catholic Voices media blog, which states we have much to learn from the example of the French in our defence of marriage. The French bishops have successfully managed to keep the frame away from homosexuality (how many people realise that the Church favours the decriminalisation of homosexual acts) and have instead kept the focus upon the conjugal meaning of marriage and the welfare of children.

The French Church has managed to build a broad civil alliance against same-sex marriage, including various gay and atheist activists. The movement is called Manif pour Tous, which according to Le Figaro, includes “La Socialo, La Catho et l’homo.”

There is a rally taking place in Paris on Sunday, which has a predicted turn-out of at least half a million people – a rally  ‘for marriage’ and ‘against homophobia’.

Against this backdrop, in a decision which could have implications for religious freedom across Europe, France’s education minister, Vincent Peillon, has written a controversial letter warning Catholic schools not to engage in any discussion about this issue with their students, after Eric de Labarre, secretary general of France’s Catholic  schools had sent a letter to France’s 8,300 schools, urging just the opposite! The socialist President, Francois Hollande has weighed in on the side of his education minister and thus French Catholic schools (which are private) are barred from discussing the issue at all, unlike state institutions.

In the meantime, rumour has it that the ‘Equal Marriage’ Bill is coming before Parliament for its first vote (second reading) on 28 January.

La Manif pour Tous, has invited supporters of traditional marriage to join with them in solidarity and make their feelings known in London, this Sunday at the same time as the Paris rally. Meet in front of the French embassy, 58 Knightsbridge, from midday.

Catholics could make a day of it and go on from there to Southwark Cathedral where the relics of St Don Bosco can be venerated between 3.30pm and 5.30pm with the Mass at 6pm.

Put on your dancing shoes…

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One of the valuable lessons I learnt last year is that sometimes it’s better not to air one’s grievances publicly. The internet is still a new tool and all of us are learning as we go in terms of how to most effectively utilise it. This time last year I made some criticisms about SPUC which resulted in a very unpleasant fall-out. Whilst I don’t regret what I said, and stand by many of my concerns, I also accept that I was blogging in a state of anger (never a good idea) fuelled by what I felt was unfair criticism and aided by a huge dose of pregnancy hormones. Hopefully SPUC of all people, should be able to understand that a woman experiencing her third pregnancy in as many years, coming 8 months after the birth of her previously unplanned child, was perhaps not in the best place emotionally and took the criticism rather too personally.

Therefore I ought to apologise for the intemperate nature of those posts, feelings were running high and admittedly I was being cleverly manipulated by a behind-the-scenes agitator, suggesting that I should blog. Mea culpa.

I still have reservations about the wisdom of whether or not it was a wise idea for SPUC to use its resources in defence of  marriage, but in the interests of balance, I ought to admit to an interesting conversation regarding with my father-in-law, who is still technically an Anglo-Catholic and long term member of SPUC. He informed me that he was having a meeting with his MP in the middle of January in order to discuss same-sex marriage. He doesn’t expect to get anywhere, given the MP is a Liberal Democrat, but felt the issue was important enough to make his views known.

I asked him what prompted this, to which the response was “I had an URGENT letter from SPUC, which said that something had to be done, so I straight away phoned up the young girl in their office, had quite a long in depth conversation and then made the appointment to see the MP”. So fair dos really. SPUC do seem to be rallying some grass-roots activism, which is no bad thing.

To be honest, I still believe their campaigning and strategy needs some updating and revisions. The fact that they were successful with my father-in-law is because he is pretty typical of the average SPUC member, i.e. over 65, a staunch Christian, not net literate (he doesn’t use the internet at all) and he tends to get very worked up by the angrily typed letters and edited handwritten slips of paper which look like they have been produced on an old-fashioned duplicating machine, that drop through the letterbox, containing their latest foreshadowings of imminent danger or deadly peril and urging strongly-worded letters and street petitions. I think SPUC’s appeal lies mainly with the retired reactionary Tory voters as well as the young traddie Catholic movement and at some point they will need to broaden their focus, but you know what, fair-play.

How many Catholics reading this have lobbied their MP yet? And if not, why not? I’ve just moved to Hove, so I’m wondering whether or not to have a bash at Mike Weatherly, the Tory Hove MP who narrowly won the key marginal from Celia Barlow, the former Labour incumbent and within a year of his election, lobbied David Cameron to shut down churches in his constituency who won’t conduct same-sex marriages. Modernise or close down was his rallying cry. Is two bites at the cherry (given I met with Caroline Lucas back in October) a little greedy, or is there no point? Incidentally I’m more than a little peeved – a Tory vote was recommended in the key marginals, if I recall correctly and it turns out that Celia Barlow had a much better pro-life record than I should imagine Mike Weatherly will have.

But I do endeavour to be fair-minded, so err yeah, credit where credit’s due. Although quite what L’Osservatore Romano’s reviews of Skyfall, have to do with a secular pro-life lobby group is beyond me. I’m not sure I agree with the sentiments therein, a group of seminarians and priests I know went to see the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Didn’t someone say something about being in the world and yet not of it? If we want to warn youngsters of the dangers and pitfalls of life as a secret agent, or the false glamour espoused by James Bond, then doesn’t it help if we’ve actually seen the material in order to be able to engage effectively with it and view it critically?

But anyway let’s not go there again.

The finest Basildon Bond

Don’t forget your finest Basildon Bond

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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.

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