by Jeremy Pemberton
Jeremy Pemberton is a former canon in the Church of England who, in 2014, became the first priest to marry his same-sex partner. He has recently published the following opinion piece in the online magazine Openly.
The first same-sex marriages were celebrated on 29 March 2014 shortly after midnight. No same-sex marriages have yet been celebrated in Church of England churches, because the established church, firmly against the proposal, campaigned for and was granted a pass by the government to make sure it wouldn’t happen.
Five years on, a new campaign for equal marriage in the Church of England is being launched on Friday.
Equal: The Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England begins the work of persuading the church nationally to accept this foundational social institution among gay and lesbian as well as heterosexual couples. I say begin, but in truth most Anglicans support same-sex marriage and would be pleased to see it available in their parishes. Fewer than 20 percent now think that same-sex relationships are wrong in all circumstances.
The problem lies with the church. What does it say? And how does its opposition to same-sex marriage look after five years?
The Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission produced a report called “Men and Women Together in Marriage” in 2013. In it we find some startling claims.
On the first page, we are told that marriage between a man and a woman is the best context in which to raise children. This is an understandable traditional assertion, but is there any evidence that this is so? The question is usually posed the other way round: does being raised by same-sex parents harm children?
The research on this point is extremely clear, the latest being a considerable study from Australia published last autumn in Nature magazine – being raised by same-sex parents does not harm or disadvantage children at all. What harms and disadvantages them is stereotyping, bullying and homophobia. There is no demonstrable advantage to being raised by two parents of opposite sexes.
Again the Commission writes: “We cannot turn our back upon the natural, and especially the biological, terms of human existence.”
But what is “natural” and “biological”?
Estimates of species that exhibit same-sex sexual behaviour run to as many as 1,500, and pair-bonding for life is well-documented in some species, for example the Laysan albatross. Domestic sheep have a stable population of exclusively homosexual sheep of about 8 percent.
And humans, the only species to have hated and persecuted homosexual people, has a persistent and stable minority despite these hurdles. Not acknowledging this, and not supporting it, looks rather more like turning your back on nature and biology.
LGBT+ people are a persistent natural minority.
When it came to the debate in the House of Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated … The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as a covenant is diminished.”
No evidence was offered to support these claims. “However, it is not at heart a faith issue,” he concluded, “it is about the general social good.”
I agree. How has the general social good been affected by the introduction of same-sex marriage?
Five years on, the Church of England ought to be ready to evidence the rather wild claims that it made before its introduction, only a few of which I have highlighted here.
I don’t believe it can produce any serious evidence to support its concerns. Indeed, the evidence points, as I have indicated, in other directions.
Equal is campaigning for the doors of parish churches to be unlocked to same-sex couples. They want a full welcome to couples of all kinds who want a religious wedding.
Enough time has passed. The dogma and foot-dragging of the institution needs to change fast if it is to retain any credibility with a population who thinks that treating people equally is the only moral way to behave.