There is a certain inevitability hanging over the current debate on gay marriage in the UK. It is not a question of whether same sex marriages will ever be legalised in the United Kingdom, but rather when such a move will happen.
Our society prides itself on a sense of equality and inclusivity that makes Britain one of the most liberal countries in the world. We have come too far in our development as a society for the movement for gay marriage to be defeated. For those who have fought for gay rights over the last 50 years, a crescendo has been reached that ensures legalising same sex marriage is the final step in a long struggle that began with the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. We now live in a country where attitudes have evolved to ensure that such a decision would be rational, sustainable and proper.
…opposing gay marriage appears to be an extremely narrow minded, bigoted position to hold.
The prominence of the issue in the media has ensured that it has come to play a major role in politics with President Obama following David Cameron’s “because I am a Conservative” line by declaring his support for gay marriage.
However, as the last few months have proven, it is not going to be a move that goes unopposed. A clash with the conservative, traditional elements of society was always going to happen. Foremost among the opponents in the United Kingdom is the Church in its various forms and denominations. According to opponents, from a Christian perspective, gay marriage is an assault on “a universally-accepted human right”, as Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently said. And yet in following this line the Church is opening itself up to a barrage of criticism in not practising what it preaches and in not viewing everyone as equal in the eyes of God. If doctrinal principle dictates that gay marriage is incompatible with Christianity then surely the moral weight that the institution of the Church still carries in this country will be very much reduced. Viewed from the outside, opposing gay marriage appears to be an extremely narrow minded, bigoted position to hold. In no sense does the Church hold a monopoly on the concept of marriage and maintaining such a position only alienates the institution from an already disillusioned on looking public.
Those within the Church who oppose gay marriage aren’t necessarily homophobic…
And yet I believe that the Church’s opposition to gay marriage is in fact a product of the environment in which individuals attached to the Church find themselves in. When the Church has been following a consistent line for hundreds of years, and members have grown up understanding the confines of such an outlook, it makes it very difficult to suddenly accept radical change. The effects of the profound social change that has occurred in the UK in recent years will gradually trickle down and influence even the most conservative elements of society, but for the time being there has to be recognition and respect for the position the Church finds itself in. As an ageing institution, many members of the Church across the UK would have grown up before 1967 in a country that outlawed homosexuality. Those within the Church who oppose gay marriage aren’t necessarily homophobic, in the same way that much nonreligiously determined opposition is not homophobic in origin. In essence, people are set in their ways, and while change is needed, it is not something that can be expected to happen unanimously overnight.
A mark of our liberalism should be the recognition that societal change needs time to be accepted and accommodated. Respecting the Church’s position is essential for the liberals amongst us to truly practise what we preach. Ultimately however, there will come a time when the world has to move on for good, and if the Church wants to be part of the future, it too must change.