In a dramatic reversal, the Church of England officially announced yesterday that it was dropping its opposition to marriage equality.
The announcement came in the form of a short statement released by the Rt. Rev. Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, who heads the church’s delegation in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. In its statement, the church acknowledged the inevitability of marriage equality after landslidevotes in Parliament in favor of the freedom to marry:
Both Houses of Parliament have now expressed a clear view by large majorities on the principle that there should be legislation to enable same-sex marriages to take place in England and Wales. It is now the duty and responsibility of the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords to recognise the implications of this decision and to join with other Members in the task of considering how this legislation can be put into better shape.
The bishops will now seek to change the marriage equality bill to include an adultery clause — which would recognize adultery as valid grounds for divorce — and a provision ensuring that both same-sex spouses are classified as legal parents in the event the couple has children. Continue reading →
Here’s a handy graphic representation of the bill’s progress through Parliament. (Thanks to Joe Jervis for finding it!) Today the House of Commons just completed its third reading, meaning that the equal marriage bill is essentially halfway through the process of becoming law.
After frustrating delays, it looks like marriage equality legislation may be able to finally move forward in Illinois and the U.K.
In Illinois, pro-LGBT lawmakers are hoping to make the Land of Lincoln the 13th state to allow same-sex couples the freedom to marry. The Illinois Senate passed a marriage equality bill on Valentine’s Day, but the measure has been stalled in the House of Representatives. With just days remaining on the legislative calendar (the spring session ends on May 31), LGBT rights leaders in that state say proponents have finally secured the 60 votes required to pass the bill.
Jim Bennett, Lambda Legal’s Midwest regional director, told the Windy City Times: “I have absolutely no doubt we’re going to be done with this by May 31. I believe that this bill is going to pass.”
Rick Garcia of the Civil Rights Agenda added, “I believe we’re there. The cake is baked. We’re waiting for the icing.”
Rep. Greg Harris, chief sponsor of the bill, has said he wouldn’t call for a vote until he knew the votes for passage were there. Pat Quinn, the state’s pro-equality Democratic governor, has campaigned hard for the bill and promises to sign it into law if it reaches his desk. Continue reading →
An Anglican clergyman in the east London suburb of Dagenham is coming under heavy criticism in the UK after calling same-sex relationships and marriage equality sinful and claiming that “people can be cured from being gay.”
Rev. Steven Hanna, the vicar of St. Elisabeth’s of Becontree Church, made the comments in an interview with the Barking and Dagenham Post. The reporter asked him for comment on a recently-released letter signed by 21 local faith leaders voicing “concerns” about same-sex marriage and claiming that granting equal civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, as the government plans to do, would “bring God’s judgment upon us.” Hanna said,
I am not saying that being gay is a sin. I am saying gay practice is a sin and gay marriage is a sin. There is a difference between having gay thoughts and performing gay practice. I can have adulterous thoughts and yet not commit adultery. People can be cured from being gay. Not everyone is but everyone can be.
According to Huffington Post UK, a Church of England spokesperson emphasized that “there is no place for homophobia in the church,” but went on to clarify that the church has not taken an official position on gay “cures.” Instead, they pointed HuffPost UK to comments the Bishop of Norwich gave last month during an equal marriage debate. The bishop said, “There are Christians who believe it to be curable, but that is not the view I take.”
What an appalling false equivalency. There are not two equally legitimate sides on the issue of “ex-gay” therapy. Opponents of this barbaric practice have the full weight of scientific consensus — you know, the truth — on our side. Proponents of “ex-gay” therapy have nothing but junk science and religion-based bigotry. Frankly, if the Bishop of Norwich’s remarks truly represent the official stance of the Church of England, then there most certainly is a place for homophobia in that church, or at the very least the repugnant and willfully ignorant accommodation of it.
Equality supporters and LGBT rights activists in the UK were quick to pounce on Hanna’s anti-gay remarks. Andy Wasley, a representative of Stonewall — the largest LGBT organization in Britain — told HuffPost UK:
In the run-up to Christianity’s most important festival it seems odd that Rev Hanna is discussing his parishoners’ sex lives instead of asking them to pray for the one billion people in the world going to bed hungry every day.
“Voodoo ‘gay cure’ quackery causes harm and distress and has been utterly discredited by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. It’s sad to hear it being promoted by a man whose first concern should be people’s wellbeing.
One of the ironic twists in the quest for LGBT equality is that as civil rights for LGBT people, couples, and families advance, anti-gay religious conservatives, who love to frame the push for equal rights as a demand for so-called “special rights,” frequently begin demanding special rights themselves.
Two Vermont innkeepers, for example, refused to rent space to a lesbian couple who wished to reserve the inn for their wedding reception, violating Vermont’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law in the process. When the lesbian couple sued, the innkeepers told the court that same-sex weddings went against their conservative Catholic religious beliefs, as though those beliefs magically waived them of their obligation to follow the law. (They later settled out of court and stopped hosting weddings entirely.) When Catholic Charities was unable to obtain an exemption from non-discrimination laws in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. that would have allowed them to reject qualified prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation while continuing to receive public funds, they chose to end adoption services altogether rather than comply. And after New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, several evangelical town clerks in the state refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because they claimed that doing so (you know, obeying the law and doing their job) would violate their anti-gay religious beliefs.
In the UK, where Parliament is likely to pass a marriage equality law, the national Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has informed MPs that marriage registrars would not be able to claim a special right to opt out of performing same-sex weddings on religious grounds. In legal advice issued today, the EHRC said that because the registrars are public officials, they should expect to be “required” to comply with the law and carry out the ceremonies. The Telegraphreports:
The Government’s same-sex marriage bill includes a special clause protecting priests and other clerics from being forced to carry out same-sex weddings against their beliefs.
But, in its legal advice to MPs scrutinising the bill, the EHRC makes clear that this would not apply to civil registrars.
It says: “[The clause] does not concern the conduct of a marriage registrar, superintendent registrar or the Registrar General.
“So registrars who are employed to deliver a public function may be required to solemnise same-sex marriages.
“This is similar to requirements that have been placed on some registrars since the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, meaning many have been required to perform civil partnerships as part of their duties.”
It adds that existing opt-outs for registrars in some councils could be retained “for a time-limited period” as long as colleagues were available to perform the ceremonies.
But it says this would only be a “transitional” arrangement applying to existing registrars and not those who were employed in the future.
So sorry, bigots. When you’re an agent of the state, you can’t pick and choose which members of the public you wish to serve or which laws you’d like to obey. Your religious freedom does not come at the expense of everyone else’s liberty. Your religious beliefs do not entitle you to a special right to disobey the law and discriminate. If you’re incapable of fulfilling your public duties, then resign.
Mike Freer is a conservative member of the UK Parliament who represents Margaret Thatcher’s old district. He’s a relatively new MP, and while he’s a gay man, that fact wasn’t widely known around Parliament. So as Freer and his colleagues prepared to debate marriage equality this week, he reportedly thought long and hard about whether to say anything at all. But, as he told the Independent,
In the run-up to this debate, I would go along to the breakfast club and I would be sat having my breakfast with colleagues who would be openly critical of the legislation about gay marriage, not realising that they had a gay MP sitting next to them.
He decided to publicly come out and delivered a wonderfully moving speech on the floor of the House of Commons about why marriage — not civil partnerships, not domestic partnerships, not civil unions — is the only acceptable way to fully recognize and equally affirm loving and committed same-sex relationships. Freer asked his married colleagues,
…did you get married for legal protections it afforded you? Did you go down on one knee and say ‘darling, please give me the protections marriage affords us? Of course you didn’t… I’m not asking for special treatment. I am simply asking for equal treatment.
He also reminded his fellow MPs:
…when colleagues talked about gay marriage making them physically sick, or when colleagues suggested it was a step towards legalising polygamy or incest, they need to remember that there are people involved. People’s lives are involved. And we should remember that the words spoken in this chamber hurt far beyond this chamber when we speak.
Watch Mike Freer MP’s heartfelt speech in its entirety below:
Labor MP David Lammy, who is black, also had a thing or two to say about so-called “separate but equal” institutions. His speech on the floor was passionate and drew distinct parallels between the civil rights movements for racial, gender, and sexual minorities.
“Let me speak frankly,” Lammy said. “‘Separate but equal’ is a fraud. ‘Separate but equal’ is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. ‘Separate but equal’ is the motif that determined that black and white people could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table, or use the same toilets. ‘Separate but equal’ are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white pairs — schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty. It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and the racists; it is the same statement, the same ideas, and the same delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote, but only if they were married, and only when they were over 30.”
And so it goes. At the end of Mr. Lammy’s must-watch speech, he forcefully asserts that his commitment to equal marriage does not come in spite of his Christian faith, but because of it.
View Lammy’s remarks below. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself shouting “YES!” at the screen multiple times throughout:
Beautiful, right? As Lawrence O’Donnell noted on MSNBC, just 118 years ago England sent Oscar Wilde to prison for “the love that dare not speak its name.” Although we’ll never know for certain, I have a hunch that were he alive today, Wilde would be proud to see his country taking such decisive steps in the direction of LGBT equality.