THE first same-sex marriages this weekend will be occasions of
celebration. At the political level, an inequality has been
remedied. At a personal level, the virtues of love, commitment and
faithfulness will be proclaimed publicly, as they are at every
wedding. All of this is to be celebrated, as it was this week in a
letter signed by clergy in Camden, north London: "We pray for all
those who are marrying this year - that they may find rich comfort
and blessing in each other for the whole of their life
The problem for the Church is that significant numbers among the
faithful cannot share these prayers. Two global markers from this
week: an interview with the Nigerian Primate, the Most Revd
Nicholas Okoh: "There is a group trying to put a new interpretation
and they are arguing about human rights; but . . . if we do believe
in God, then we should know that He also has a right; right of
ownership." And reactions to the announcement that the US aid
agency World Vision would employ gay people who were in a committed
relationship: "You have sold out to the world and turned your back
on Christ." "World Vision has given us another sign that we are in
the end times."
The Bishop of Oxford, addressing his diocesan synod, sounded
unambitious: "I hope it's common ground that we're part of a Church
that's called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and
acceptance extended to gay and lesbian people as children of God."
But he must know that the ground is uncommonly rutted. When the
English Archbishops wrote in January expressing this same view to
the Anglican Primates, Archbishop Okoh called it an "obnoxious
So, what can be done? The most immediate prospect is an outbreak
of small-arms fire, as liberals attempt to counter the House of
Bishops' negativity by expressing their welcome for same-sex
marriage in various ways, perhaps not all legal. Similarly, we can
expect conservatives to reassert traditional views of marriage,
quietly supported by a significant proportion of churchgoers who
remain uncomfortable with the new definition of marriage.
These are more than mere skirmishes, and the Bishops find
themselves with little room to manoeuvre. The time and energy
needed for the facilitated talks is running out, undermined by the
growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in society at large, and
the damage being done to the Church's pastoral reputation every
time a couple is rejected or a potential ordinand is turned down.
If meaningful dialogue is to take place as it ought, a new interim
position needs to be forged that takes a more realistic view of the
new terrain. The half-hearted homophile passages in the Bishops'
pastoral guidance should be revised, and the reluctant concession
about prayers for couples in civil partnerships needs to be
strengthened and extended to same-sex marriage. The Church's
reservations about the equivalence of gay and straight
relationships needs still to be acknowledged; but some of the
pressure would be off. And then the Church might learn how to
disagree well rather than, as at present, obnoxiously.