Sunday, 17 June 2012

Why has the CofE got nasty over gay marriage?

I'm an atheist, so maybe this is none of my business. Then again, I'm English, and the Church of England is the officially established church of the country, with a bunch of its bishops sitting in our legislature, so it is my business. And I reckon it's the business of anyone who wants to see this become a more civilised place to live. Why has it become so snotty about the idea of gay marriage?

My first reaction to the CofE's warning that letting gays marry will spoil it for us heterosexuals who have tied the knot was mild surprise. I thought it had grown up over the fact that there is a large minority of people who fall in love with others of their own sex, and had quietly accepted the idea that they have the same rights as the rest of us. After some thought I became mildly annoyed. Doesn't the church, or at least the cabal in Lambeth Palace who wrote the relevant statement, realise that the majority of people have got over the homophobic thing?

Then I thought of the reports that David Cameron is in favour of it gay marriage, even prepared for the government to legislate for it, and I got really annoyed. I had found myself taking sides with a Conservative prime minister against the cuddly old CofE. That made me really annoyed. I've got used to thinking the church was the part of the establishment that spoke out against the excesses of Conservative governments, and don't like to think of it redrawing lines to put us liberal types alongside Cameron and his mates.

It's nonsense to suggest that allowing gay people to marry will weaken the institution for the rest of us. People regard marriage as a serious business and won't stop because the option becomes open to a group who were previously excluded. There's something profoundly daft in the idea that millions of marriages would suddenly be in crisis if churchmen can marry gay people.

I suspect that the little group who put out the statement know that as well, but they're more concerned with staying sweet with the reactionary minority of Anglicans in the UK, and the vocal bigots who seem to hold the reins of its diocese in Africa. But in placing an emphasis on internal politics they're shackling themselves to social attitudes that prevailed a hundred years ago but have thankfully been disintegrating here over the past twenty.

Despite being sceptical about religion for a long time I've usually found the CofE quite agreeable. Over the past few decades it's had a 'live and let live' attitude, hasn't been too sanctimonius and some of its people have done good work in communities around the world. And I know that some of its clergy are really angry over what happened last week.

But this is making me wary. I still believe most Anglican clergy here are tolerant, open minded types, but if the church makes too many accommodations to its overseas homophobes it's going to be tainted with their bullying bigotry. Then it wouldn't have a place in a civilised country.

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