It is sometimes said that ‘you are either part of the problem or part of the solution’. In our case we are very much connected to part of that which indeed is often the problem, but we also hope we can be part of the solution. For we have been married to each other for 30 years, presided at marriage ceremonies for about 60 years between us, and shared both amazing joys, and, sadly, many tears with many LGBTI friends and family members for so much unnecessary pain, abuse, and rejection. So, above all, want to affirm three things which we feel are at the heart of this issue, and at the heart of Christian faith - namely: love, valuing everyone as part of God’s image, and being and growing family. We feel we need to say something briefly about two things which some misuse to hold us back: Christian tradition and the Bible. And we want to suggest three key areas of resistance. In doing so, we hope and pray for a speedy end to so much unnecessary suffering and look forward to many more tears of joy as marriage is extended and grown.
We would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Jarowair and Giabal peoples, their elders past and present. And we do so, because this helps us nurture respect, deepen relationship, and find renewal for us all – which, of course, is what marriage equality is also about at its best. For from a Christian point of view, marriage is about sharing in the ultimate mystery of love. We only have to go to the opening words of scripture from our Anglican marriage service to see that: ‘God is love’, we say, ‘and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them’ (1 John 4.16). For Christians, that is the heart of the matter: where is love in all of this? In the end, what would Jesus do?...
For who belongs in your extended family? Our family has all sorts, and most certainly LGBTI people. Let’s face it, almost everyone’s family, and, most certainly, almost every church, does. We all know it, so why are we not celebrating that fact? Why are we not doing everything we possibly can, to value, and affirm, every child in our families, every child in God’s family? What gifts, what joys we can be to each other, if only we can celebrate the image of God in every one of us! Our troubled world really cannot afford us to be so mean with love. Marriage is a means of grace for celebrating and supporting one another. We think of our godchild David. As a little boy he only lived because of pioneering heart treatment which left him fragile for years. From the outset however it was also obvious he was gay, as well as beautiful, brilliant and challenged. Can you imagine? Why did that boy have, literally, to fight for his life, day after day as he grew up and also cope with homophobia at every stage? Why? His Christian faith, and his mother’s, helped him survive. Today he is a successful IT specialist and in a loving committed relationship with another man. Yet here that love can still not be fully affirmed. People like David lack the support that marriage can offer. It comes back to the Golden Rule, doesn't it? ‘Do as you would be done by’. Only two commands really matter, Jesus said: ‘to love God (the source of all love) with all that we are, and to love our neighbour as ourself.’ So if heterosexuals have found marriage a great way to celebrate and strengthen love, why do some strive to keep it from their neighbours?
Christian ideas of marriage have always evolved over time. In fact, for many centuries, the Church really was not all that bothered about it. For love hasn’t always been at the centre of marriage. It has often been about property and power (mainly that of men), and procreation. So that is why for much of Christian history, the Church was not too bothered about it. Indeed, St Paul was quite clear: encouraging Christians not to marry unless they were burning up with passion (1 Corinthians 7). Now that sounds a rather desperate idea of marriage, doesn’t it?! It didn’t really help the Church to overcome the very ancient and negative ideas of sex and the body by which Jesus’ life-giving love was distorted for so long. Yet at the heart of the Christian gospel is this word of freedom from cultural captivities: that God works in surprising new ways. Marriage is not supposed to be a possession but part of this loving new creation.
For does the Bible really forbid marriage equality? As a bible teacher and spiritual director, I (Penny) am constantly amazed at how narrowly Christianity is often presented. The Bible is a library of books created over thousands of years, full of wisdom and provocation. It is the basis for a fabulous spiritual tradition which is immensely rich and varied, full indeed of ‘queer’ elements at various points! It is simply not reduceable to a list of do’s and don'ts or a set of proof texts. Now of course our sexual and gender identities are key parts of our lives, but how can a single simplistic idea of marriage come from scriptures with so many different relationship models, including polygamy and concubines among the great patriarchs of faith? In addressing LGBTI issues, how strange that some emphasise a tiny number of supposedly negative verses (about 7 in all), taken out of their context. Jesus says none of that, but instead consistently affirms the outcast. When Jesus does speak about marriage, it is thus only to answer hostile questions about divorce, where he stands up for women who are cast aside into poverty. The tiny selection of verses relate to ancient forms of injustice and sexual abuse. They are not talking about the loving, committed, mutual relationships which marriage equality seeks to celebrate and strengthen. Indeed, the great Christian marriage image is the relationship between Christ as bridegroom and Christ’s people (men and women) as the bride. So if God is in all genders, between, and beyond all genders, why should marriage be limited to one model?
At least three forces stop us moving forward. The first is pre-judging things. Indeed, we are sorry that some use the word ‘bigotry’ too freely about contrary views. For many Christians opposed to marriage equality are not bigots. Some put us to shame with the love they show for others of many kinds. We respect their right to disagree and some return that respect. For, as the Pope shows, most Christians are not congenitally homophobic, and, like him, if a little slowly (!), can work this through. Yet there is a huge and urgent need to do so now without fear and defensiveness. That is how we have always developed. In the past, humans made assumptions about the nature of creation, about slavery, and about women’s place in the world, which, rightly, we no longer hold today. If you read that history, you hear the same kind of arguments we hear today against marriage equality: that it is unscriptural, unnatural, ungodly, destructive of the very basis of society, and so on. Yet those turned out to be pre-judgements, prejudices. When we let go of them, we enlarged all our lives and deepened our love (and our religion). We can surely do it again.
The marriage debate is also about power. I (Penny) know about that from my own struggle to become one of the first female priests. Resistance is inevitable because marriage equality calls us to develop marriage further as a relationship of loving mutuality, not of ordered difference. We have already come a long way. Mainstream Christian marriage services no longer talk about marriage as a bridle for sin, but say it is above all a partnership: to strengthen lovers in heart, mind and body, in joy, tenderness and understanding. Then they speak about the possibility of children, though having them is not a marriage requirement. As a fellow Anglican priest in Sydney says, there are really then only two questions to ask about extending marriage to same sex partners: will it strengthen social stability, and will it provide a more secure environment for children? The answer is an obvious yes, on both counts. Surely those are things all of us must want?
A final reason for resistance is privilege. Civil marriage does not belong to any one group, so why are some unwilling to share? It will not make any marriage any less. Marriage is a symbol and, as religious people above all should know, symbols mean something. When we have marriage equality, it will be one more healing release from clinging to privileges; one more letting go of prejudices; one more turning of power into love. So let us not waste any more time. There are so many other things to be done. Penny and I do not have many more tears to cry with those unnecessarily broken by homophobia, but we do have time and tears for love and for its celebration. With God’s blessing, let us make it so.