People are so full of contradictions, aren't they? Have you noticed that? Have you ever spotted it in yourself? I know I have, and recently there's been a particular contradiction on my mind.
I believe passionately in justice and equality, but I had a very conservative upbringing and something in me still feels uneasy about the idea of gay marriage. Yet I have no problem with the idea of gay people having fulfilling sex lives and I feel strongly that gay people in loving, faithful relationships need all the support they can get. So, I was very pleased when the last government introduced civil partnerships.
I know what it is like to be told that God disapproves of your relationship and for people to try to undermine it. When I was at university I went to a church with very extreme beliefs. The pastor was a Welshmen who preached that Catholics were not proper Christians, which shocked me. Once I was engaged this pastor told me in no uncertain terms that God didn't want me to marry someone who wasn't a Christian, however much I loved him. He even found at least one verse in the Bible to 'prove' his point. It can be pretty devastating to be told that you should not marry the person you love deeply or, therefore, continue in a relationship with them. To be told that this is because God forbids your relationship can be even more devastating if God has become an important factor in your life. Needless to say, I started to realise that this pastor had rather unusual and extreme views so I left that church shortly after that meeting and married the man I loved anyway, but the idea that God disapproved of our relationship niggled in my mind for a very long time. I often felt torn between God and my husband.
For a gay person it's not just about being told you can't marry the person you love, it's about being told you can't marry anyone you are ever likely to want sexual intimacy with. If the gay person is also a Christian it must be even worse to be told the God you love and/or fear doesn't only disapprove of your choice of mate, but of what is an essential part of who you are.
Now, I am familiar with most of the verses in the Bible, which are given as reasons why God disapproves of gay sex, but personally I'm not convinced that there is any proof that God does disapprove of loving, faithful relationships between two people of the same sex.
The writers of the Old Testament lived in a patriarchal society where women were deemed to be the inferiors of men and wives were considered to be their husbands' property. The Jews had strict laws about what was proper and what was not proper, too and they attributed these ideas to God. So, to 'lie with another man as with a woman' would have been thought of as demeaning the other man by treating him as a woman. It would have also upset people's ideas about the social order and it would not have produced the children necessary to work the land nor produced any heirs to inherit the land as it was a rare thing in ancient Israel for daughters to inherit property. So, it is safe to say that references in the Old Testament to sex between men have no relevance to modern British society.
It is important to note that Jesus said nothing at all either about sex between two men or between two women, or if he did, no one bothered to record what he said. This suggests it wasn't an important issue to Jesus.
Later in the New Testament, the Letter to the Romans sees sex between two men or between two women as unnatural, wicked and degrading and a sign that God had abandoned them, despairing that they could ever be saved. Modern Science, especially Psychology, has now shown that if people are lesbian or gay then it is far more natural for them to have a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex than with someone of the opposite sex, although it seems some people can find both natural. So these verses, based on ignorance and misunderstanding, are no longer proof that God disapproves of gay people having sexual relationships and cannot be seen as a divine prohibition of gay marriage.
Yet these small parts of the Bible are still being used to encourage prejudice against gay people and to tell gay people themselves that God disapproves of who they fundamentally are. This way of thinking encourages abuse and violence against gay people, whether it means to or not, and can result in gay people feeling so ashamed or rejected that hundreds of them, especially teenagers, end up taking their own lives every year. That such things are said and done in the name of the God Jesus taught us to imagine as being like the most loving father makes me very angry.
As a result I left the Baptist church I belonged to when the new pastor appeared to have trouble accepting gay relationships as worthy of validation and, more than that, thought that I should believe whatever he told me to because he was my pastor. I wonder if he would have said that to me if I had been a man. Perhaps he would have, but I have no respect for anyone who is not open to reason and debate about areas of disagreement. It usually means they aren't all that sure of having good reasons for what they believe.
Later I left the Church altogether, among other reasons, because I was tired of what I heard and read in the news about the in-fighting in the Church of England about what gay people could and couldn't do, not to mention the out-dated attitudes some clergy have to women. (Update: At the end of February I decided to go back to the last church I was a member of, which is a small, Inclusive, Anglican church in walking distance from where I live. I've been missing the people recently and just now I am feeling a lot less tired than I have in recent years. For the minute both my father's and mother-in-law's conditions seem fairly stable as well, so I shall see how it goes.)
Even now that civil partnerships are legal in Britain ministers of the Church of England cannot risk people knowing that they love someone of the same sex as themselves, especially if they hope for any kind of promotion. There is no justice or compassion in a situation like that. It's certainly not what I think Jesus would have done. However, this is a matter for the Church and not the state. It would give the Church more credibility with the general population if it caught up with modern ideas of how people should be treated equally, though.
Although civil partnership gives gay people similar rights to married straight people with regard to British law, it seems their legal status is not even recognised in parts of Europe where gay unions are accepted.
So what, really, is my problem with gay people being allowed to be legally joined in marriage? Gay people are fully human after all, and have as much right to marry as anyone. I don't have any inkling that the marriage of gay people will undermine the institution of marriage in general, on the contrary it can only uphold it.
No, I think my problem is something I absorbed as a child, something that wasn't really even spoken about, which I have never really questioned or properly challenged. Growing up is about questioning the things we absorbed as children and seeing if those ideas are still valid and if they fit what we believe now. If they don't it's time to consign those ideas to the rubbish bin along with the worn out clothes we wore then, which no longer fit us. They certainly don't warrant recycling. So, it's time for those uneasy feelings I have to be acknowledged for what they are, the worn out vestiges of something I have now outgrown completely. If we don't do this then, like clothes we have outgrown, these ideas will constrict our growth and limit our potential.
Update: Strangely, after writing this post, my feelings of slight discomfort at the thought of gay people being allowed to marry have dispersed entirely.