This evening I participated in a discussion on Radio 5 live about gay marriage with Canon Dr Chris Sugden from Anglican Mainstream.
Chris’s arguments were all too familiar. The Civil Partnership legislation is unfair because it gave inheritance rights to one category of people but excluded other categories, brothers and sisters living together, for example. Chris claimed that the legislation should have included them on the grounds of equality. Of course, I agree, and I will for ever more remember that equality is a value which Anglican Mainstream now advocates.
He also argued that marriage was something entirely different from gay relationships because it is between a man and a woman. But what makes gay relationships different from, he argued, is that as statistics show (and Chris loves quoting statistics to prove that he is right) gay relationships last an average of 2 years. Statistics show that gay relationships are not for life, are not long lasting and are not exclusive.
It is an insult to Chris’s intelligence to remind him that statistics also show that the same is true of heterosexual relationships, whether couples marry or cohabit. The only difference may be in the length of a relationship and the number of extra-marital affairs one of both partners may have.
I know that Chris hasn’t conceded that gay relationships are equivalent to marriage but he did just that in the arguments presented in this evening’s programme.
My response was to say that although he is a member of General Synod and therefore influential in ensuring that the last government didn’t legislate to allow lesbian and gay couples to marry, the Church of England’s position certainly didn’t represent my view nor the views of a huge number of church members.
If there is a statistical difference between the length of gay and straight relationships at the moment, this is not surprising given the very brief period of time in this country that gay people have legally been able to engage in sexual activity and the even briefer time in which our relationships have become visible and granted legal status. But Christian lesbian and gay couples bring exactly the same values and expectations of monogamy and fidelity for life that heterosexual couples bring to marriage.
Chris Sugden effectively conceded in his arguments this evening that lesbian and gay Christians should be able to contract marriages in church. It is the sacramental action witnessed by family, friends and the local Christian community that endows relationships with the blessing of God and creates the environment in which the challenge of living together can be enriched and deepened.