Sunday, 29 January 2012

Common Ground With Archbishop Sentamu?

“Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman,” says Dr Sentamu. “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.
“We’ve seen dictators do it in different contexts and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.
“It’s almost like somebody telling you that the Church, whose job is to worship God [will be] an arm of the Armed Forces. They must take arms and fight. You’re completely changing tradition.”
So said Archbishop Sentamu in the Daily Telegraph this week.

I find his Armed Forces comments rather bizarre, and the general tone of his discussion fairly obviously comes from a position of hatred. But then again this is a man who believe in virgin births and men who walk on water, so I think it's important we don't judge him too harshly.

I think it's important we start building bridges with our opponents. We are NEVER going to convince people who believe in the stories from one of the earliest known examples of fantasy fiction that same-sex relationships are benign, let alone that they are acceptable. Yes, my phrasing may be offensive to some believers, but it's time to start talking frankly. They think my love for a man is a sin. I think their belief in the reality of fictional characters is silly. If we can be honest, we can move forward.

Dr Sentamu argues that the state should not define marriage. I absolutely agree. If the state was not already defining marriage I wouldn't even be campaigning for marriage equality. Take the example of Mormon polygamy (a current favourite topic of mine). Most practioners don't want their relationships recognised by the Government. They just want to stop being criminalised. I find that position very principled and practical.

Before civil partnerships blessing ceremonies were very common in same-sex relationships. But that hardly seems acceptable in a world where marriage affects practicalities such as taxation, benefits, immigration, child custody, possessions etc. Hence the battle for civil partnerships and now marriage equality.

So if the Government were to back off from defining marriage and offering these protections, then the cries for marriage equality would disappear. Problem solved. We all go away happy.

And I agree with his implication that the state shouldn't dictate to churches who they can and can't legally marry. If it left those arrangements up the church and the individual, so that churches who want to marry same-sex couples can and those same-sex couples can contract with each other to cover certain eventualities then again there would be no problems.

But none of this is the case and, until people like Dr. Sentamu stop supporting the status quo rather than offering alternatives for reform, won't be for the foreseeable future. If Dr. Sentamu wants to fight the powers of the state over the individual I'll be there right by his side, but his blinkered version where the state supports his preferred type of relationship over another makes a mockery of his argument. "The Government should not dictate anything unless Dr Sentamu agrees with it" is not a very convincing position. So I must instead fight with those demanding at least equal treatment from the state their taxes fund.

Marriage equality or marriage reform. That's all we ask.

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Matthew Huntbach said...

Dr Sentamu would be on much stronger grounds if he were not an Anglican. The whole POINT of the Church of England, the very reason it was set up, was the idea that the state SHOULD dictate what the nation's religion must believe. The VERY REASON for its foundation was the idea that the state should dictate whether or not a particular marriage was valid, and it should NOT be the job of the universal Church and its authorities. The head of state of the Kingdom of England was set up as also the supreme head of the Church of England, and the Church of England's beliefs and practices were established by Parliamantary Bills. If you don't think the state should be telling your Church what marriage is, then get out of the Church that was set up for the precisely the reason that it should do.

lizw said...

We are NEVER going to convince people who believe in the stories from one of the earliest known examples of fantasy fiction that same-sex relationships are benign, let alone that they are acceptable.

Many of us already are convinced, so clearly it's possible. I agree with you that building bridges has to be a large part of the way forward. Within the Church of England, you might like to get in touch with Inclusive Church ( Many of those who favour disestablishment would also be good allies, although I'm not aware of any specific organisation representing that viewpoint within the Church.