In a vote that was very high-profile and controversial in England, the House of Commons voted to approve same-sex civil marriage. They did not, however, mandate that any particular church must officiate same-sex marriages in their sanctuaries.
The New York Times reported that:
"The legislation, which applies to England and Wales, would permit civil marriage between same-sex couples, but specifically exempt the Church of England and other faiths from an obligation to perform such ceremonies. Some faith groups, including the Quakers, have said they want the legal right to perform same-sex marriages."
Lest we in the Colonies take this move lightly, the operative word in the Times story is civil marriage, not civil unions. The vote moving through Parliament (and likely to pass) will make it possible for same-sex English or Welsh couples to "go to the Registry Office" and contract the exact same civil marriage as is commonly entered into by hundreds of English/Welsh couples every year.
This event is going to need time to sink in; at the present time the opponents of marriage equality and equal protection under the law are making their usual dire predictions and threatening that never, in their sacred spaces, will such things happen. Christian Today, an English website only marginally less enlightened and low-information than the Christian Post in the U. S., featured an article that gave full coverage to those who object to love if it isn't according to their specifications. The article is called Disappointment over gay marriage vote and although it was posted, there is no author's name given. Among other things, it says:
"Christians have said they will continue to defend the traditional definition of marriage following last night's Commons vote on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. The Bill was backed by a majority of 400 to 175, despite more than half of Conservative MPs refusing to give their support.
"Prime Minister David Cameron said the legislation was about equality. 'But it is also about making our society stronger,' he said. 'I know there are strong views on both sides of the argument - I accept that. But this is an important step forward for our country.' Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg welcomed the outcome of the debate, saying Britain would look back on it as a landmark for equality. Labor leader Ed Miliband said it was a proud day for Britain."
Well, that's encouraging. And I'll tell you what demographic is also delighted with the progress of this bill: young English people. The typical younger residents of the U. K. have the same views as their peers across the pond, in that they have little interest in looking over the shoulders of their countrymen and enforcing any particular moral code on them.
But the English are no more free from bigotry than we Americans are. The British evangelicals leaped to the defense of the institute of marriage, which needs no defense but there they were, manning the ramparts:
"Christians have raised serious concerns about the implications of the change for society and religious freedom. Director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Dave Landrum, said the Government had no right and no mandate to privatize marriage. He contended that the institution of marriage would only be weakened by a redefinition allowing gay couples to marry.
"'Civil partnerships will eventually have to be opened to heterosexual couples, individual rights claims will inevitably erode most of the so-called protections for religious groups, and multiple forms of marriage will begin to appear thereby undermining the institution itself,' he said. 'What is so crazy about this is that by applying free market principles to marriage the state will also need to enforce a new social orthodoxy by dramatically interfering in family life, religion and society.' Redefining marriage would require vast and incalculable changes to local government, the legal system, health, welfare, employment and education, he further warned."
I am happy to point out that, so far, with several American states legalizing marriage equality, we in our society have not seen "vast and incalculable changes" to governments or the legal system or whatever. This type of fear-mongering has just about run its course in the U. S.--certainly it reached the end of its influence some time ago. But then Landrum got down to business:
"'There is no legal protection for the majority of the ordinary non-religious public who insist that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Equality is not the same as uniformity, and the debates around adultery and consummation show that if we change the meaning of marriage it will no longer be marriage,' he said."
Well, let's see about that. Does Landrum mean that someone is going to land on my front lawn (such as it is) in a black helicopter and produce a same-sex partner whom I will be forced to marry? Will I get a notice someday soon that my marriage to my (male) spouse has been annulled? I don't think so, not least because I live in Arizona (=Mississippi as far as civil law is concerned).
Equality and uniformity are indeed two different things, and I see no sign that uniformity in marriage laws are anywhere on the horizon. It is a question of equality, and whether or not citizens are equal before the law, or only some citizens. The evangelicals are all bent out of shape over this, obviously: they long to harass LGBT citizens, or at least make them unhappy or spoil the day of the next person they see who looks gay. They are howling like wolves because they are thwarted in their attempts, more and more, until it looks like LGBT people are just going to be allowed to live their lives unmolested!
What does Landrum mean by no legal protection for the public? Like ordinary marriage needs legal protection? Are straight couples in danger of being refused marriage licenses at the Registry Offices? Again, I don't think so! Landrum is simply putting out the hysterical talking points that used to work in intimidating public officials. He doesn't know that homophobia is shrinking away and dying.
Meanwhile, back in the U. S. A., another article appeared on the Huffington Post today that I thought was pithy. The author, Roy Speckhardt, said something so plain and simple that it is going to reverberate across America and hopefully its entertainment media: Some Arguments Just Don't Have Two Sides.
The media is obsessed with false equivalencies in the name of fairness. Interviewers frequently try to lend as much weight to the arguments of unrepentant bigots like Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association as they do to a Supreme Court justice. But Speckhardt says this about that (as Richard Nixon used to say):
"Some of the hot button issues on the table like gun violence and illegal immigration are characterized by their complexity, as advocates on different sides readily admit. But a number of the matters up for consideration aren't really that complex, and are contentious issues only because some refuse to practice tolerance and respect for those different from themselves."
I have written articles to this effect since I began writing for Examiner.com in Tucson, but I admire Speckhardt's ability to put it in a nutshell like this:
"Take for example the debates over LGBT rights. On one side are people who understand the constitutional guarantee of equal protection for all and advocate for marriage equality, employment non-discrimination, and equal benefits on that basis. Leading the opposition are religious fundamentalists, who interpret their holy scriptures as condemning homosexuality. While there are certainly two different opinions, only one is a valid expression of political thought, while the other is merely a vocalization of deeply held bias."
If you didn't believe me when I wrote the same opinion, perhaps you will believe Speckhardt when he expresses himself so eloquently:
"Arguments for LGBT discrimination are based not upon considerations for public health or legal precedent but upon religiously enshrined prejudice. It's embarrassing and unjust that practices like employment or housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persist in many states. And one of the ways this discrimination continues is through fabricated debate on topics not worthy of deliberation. Unlike the conversation about the national debt, where advocates argue in favor of or in opposition to austerity measures based upon economic models and rational considerations, the fight for LGBT rights is instead a battle between those with considered viewpoints on one side and those who express their personal and group intolerance on the other."
This amazing article is not only relevant to what we see in our American media every single day, but it pinpoints exactly what is going on in the U. K. while their bigots, who have also attempted to hijack the word "Christian" to apply to them (as opposed, perhaps, to the actual Church of England). But, as Speckhardt ends his article so wisely:
"Bigoted people of all stripes and sizes will continue to cling to their prejudices and sadly, they will even demand that their intolerant and inaccurate beliefs be the standard by which all of society lives. It's time to call them on their hate and stop equating them with valid and informed stances. Everyone has a right to say what they believe, but people shouldn't expect to be taken seriously if what they say is so obviously based upon prejudice and superstition."
This is also tied up with my simple assertion, which is this: There is no such thing as Old-Testament Christianity. It doesn't matter what is said in the Old Testament about homosexuality; it is irrelevant to the faith of the New Testament. And if you want to quote St. Paul, let's start with this:
"But before faith came, we were kept under the Law, shut up unto the faith that should afterward be revealed. Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye all are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for all are alike in Christ Jesus." [Galatians 3:23-28]