Thursday, August 09, 2012

Religious opposition to gay marriage

Jonathan Chaplin, a theologian, writes that the gay marriage debate should become more temperate. He argues that religious opponents of gay marriage shouldn’t be branded as homophobes but also that they shouldn’t gloss over their own failings on matters of sexuality.

For instance, he criticises a letter written by the conservative group Anglican Mainstream:
The letter was within its rights to challenge Cameron's ill-informed misrepresentation of the churches' attitudes towards gay people. But it included the unsustainable claim that people of homosexual orientation "have always been fully welcomed" in the churches. Whatever the official teaching of the churches may have been, their practice has all too frequently fallen lamentably and hurtfully short of the goal of "welcome".
This is true, and on the whole his article is calm and sensible. But he goes on to commit a strikingly equivalent act of glossing-over:
But whatever the shortcomings of individual statements on the question, the churches' opposition to gay marriage is now facing the undiscriminating charge that it is driven by "homophobia". In fact, most of their public statements on the matter are only attempts to re-articulate what has long been the most fundamental and enduring principle of Christian (and Jewish) sexual ethics, which is that human beings have been created in such a way that sexual union is appropriately enjoyed in the context of permanent heterosexual commitment. This principle is as much a restraint on heterosexual behaviour as it is on homosexual behaviour
This is self-evidently not true. Ruling out straight sex except within a permanent relationship is much less of a restraint than ruling out gay sex entirely. This is obvious. So why does he deny it?

We all have our blind spots. You’d hope that intellect would help us to reduce these, but sometimes it just helps them to hide more effectively.

Some religious opponents of gay marriage are clearly ranting homophobes. Others are more sensibly and sensitively weighing their scriptural traditions against modern liberalism. But what they have in common is a conviction that gay relationships are in some way inadequate or illegitimate. And that fact is terribly sad: it shrinks their moral universe and, by extension, that of society as a whole.

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