Same-sex marriage and the battle for religious equality

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“I recognise that I will no longer be the gay vicar who married his husband and in a way that will be a relief.” These are the words of former vicar, Andrew Foreshew-Cain who quit his north London parish earlier this year following what he termed “institutional homophobia” within the Church of England. The 53 year old will move to the Peak District where his partner Stephen has secured a new job but said he will not be afforded another position as a minister as he is married. His resignation prompted questions about the church’s attitudes towards same-sex marriage and human sexuality.

Andrew-Foreshew Cain (right) with husband Stephen, Facebook

Andrew-Foreshew Cain (right) with husband Stephen, Facebook

Same-sex marriage was introduced in 2014 but LGBT members of the clergy cannot get married and must remain celibate in a same-sex relationship. The Anglican Church also forbids members of the clergy from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Father Foreshew-Cain dedicated the majority of his working life to the church but said his name was blacklisted after he decided to marry his partner of 14 years back in 2014: “When I got married three years ago, the bishop had tried to dissuade me, when I said I would get married anyway he cut all contact with me.

“I believe in marriage, I love my husband and we had the opportunity to get married and make a public commitment to each other.

“The church, which believes in marriage and committed relationships, should welcome that.”

Despite decades of debate surrounding same-sex marriage, the issue continues to be heavily contested within the Anglican Church. In January this year the House of Bishops produced a report which reaffirmed the church’s traditionalist stance that marriage should remain “a union permanent and life-long, of one man and one woman.” Though the Church of England’s parliamentary body – the General Synod – acknowledged there needed to be a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” the doctrine offered no definitive amendments to the church’s teachings on sexuality.

Incidentally, the General Synod is expected to produce a new teaching document on human sexuality after the initial report was rejected but its compilation could take up to three years. As a former member of the Synod Father Foreshew-Cain said the report was a “complete failure” which highlighted the disparity between the conservative and more liberal members of the church: “Their authority has already been undermined, I think they recognise that the new document has to reflect the diversity of opinion around sexuality in the Church of England.

“There are a lot of gay and lesbian clergy but I’m the only one that’s married, a number of them are in civil partnerships.

“They find themselves in an institution which fundamentally prefer it if they weren’t there.”

Proportion of the British public who think same-sex relationships are ‘not wrong at all’ (%)

Proportion of the British public who think same-sex relationships are not wrong at allSource: NatCen

Earlier this year the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod showed it was at odds with the hostility towards gay marriage after voting to allow same-sex couples to marry in church. St Mary’s in Glasgow became the first Anglican cathedral to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony after its clergy were permitted to do so if they wished.

While members of the community who campaigned for equal marriage applauded the move, others maintained that a traditional church wedding would be hypocritical in light of the discrimination they had faced. John Stevens, 47, lives in Glasgow with his partner Stephen. They have been together for 22 years but said they would not consider a church wedding after years of opposition from the church towards their sexuality. “I was raised in a catholic family and though I still believe in God, it made me quite cynical about marriage because in God’s eyes it wouldn’t be legal anyway,” said John. A few years ago the couple considered entering into a civil partnership but felt financial security was not a good enough reason to marry. John said: “The pension is a big factor for a lot of gay couples, ten years ago if anything had happened to Stephen, I wouldn’t have been entitled to any of his pension.

“I think if I had children my views would be different, it’s the proper thing to do.”

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While the legal system has implemented measures to help equalise rights for same-sex couples there are still areas that put them at odds with heterosexual partners. For instance, a person in a same-sex marriage cannot divorce their partner on the grounds of adultery since the term currently relates to an affair between one man and one woman. Conservative religious groups have also argued that the implementation of gay marriage would mar societal prosperity. A spokesperson for Christian Concern, a UK organisation that encourages the integration of Christian teachings in society said: “Marriage should be a practical partnership that adheres to God’s design of a successful and prosperous society.

“We’re all limited to whom we can marry. The right to marry is a right to enter into a marriage consisting of a man and a woman not a right to unilaterally redefine marriage however an individual wishes.”

According to findings from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey, half of Anglicans now believe there is nothing wrong with same-sex relationships, with the highest level of acceptance among those with no religion (73 percent). A 2014 survey also found that 47 percent of Anglicans agreed or strongly agreed with same-sex marriage, the figure being highest among those with no religion.

Clearly, religious institutions are seeking ways to adapt to cultural shifts and recognise the sexual diversification of modern day society, but it is something that none seem overly willing to do.

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