Rev Sharon Ferguson is a pastor with the Metropolitan Community Church in Camden, North London, a parish, she notes, is “noted for its peace and justice work”. It is part of the Gospel requirement that as Christians we should be combating injustice, and standing up for the oppressed. Rev Ferguson and her partner, Franka Strietzel, have now taken the first steps in a campaign on her own behalf, and that of others in lesbian or gay committed relationships – the campaign for full marriage equality;
“My whole life is about campaigning for equality and justice as a pastor in a parish that is known for its social justice work,” she added.
“It’s part of my daily life to challenge discrimination, but with this campaign what is really nice is that it’s about love.”
In strictly legal terms, the British civil partnership procedure is almost identical to conventional civil marriage. At the time of the introduction, it was widely accepted that these differences were really minor – the terminology, for instance, a ban on the use of religious language or symbolism in the ceremony, and the absence of any requirement for consummation. Time has shown though that these differences do matter. Words are important, and to people of faith, religious symbols are important. Political pressure for full equality is building in all the main political parties, but instead of waiting for the political process, which could take years, some gay and lesbian couples are launching a legal challenge.
Rev Ferguson and Ms Frankel have applied at the Greenwich Town Hall for a licence for full marriage – and been refused. Other couples in a coordinated campaign will soon make similar applications (these will include straight couples who want the option of civil partnership instead of full marriage.).
The application of Rev Ferguson is particularly interesting to me, as she is a full-time minister of religion in a denomination that fully supports full LGBT inclusion in church, including full marriage equality. It was her religious faith that led her to decline the option of a civil partnership:
Rev Sharon Ferguson and her partner Franka Streitzel declined the option of a civil partnership because of their belief in the sanctity of marriage as a “God-given institution”.
The next step for Ferguson and Frankel will be to challenge the refusals in a court of law. Meanwhile, other couples in the campaign (which is backed by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, LGCM) also give religious moiviations for their action. They will soon be making their own applications, supported by Rev Ferguson:
The next stage in the campaign will come in a week’s time, on 9 November, when Katherine Doyle and Tom Freeman will apply for a civil partnership at Islington Register Office.
The Equal Love campaign is backed by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The eight couples involved include people with various religious and non-religious motivations. They are all committed to the principle that both marriage and civil partnership should be legally recognised options for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples.
Kristin Skarsholt and Ian Goggin, a Quaker couple who will apply for a civil partnership in Bristol, say that they are motivated by Quaker principles of equality. Goggin said that the current system keeps same-sex and mixed-sex couples “separate for the sake of being separate”.
The standard arguments against same-sex marriage lean heavily on a belief that this is somehow opposed to Jewish and Christian Scripture, but the refusal of her application is not only discrimination on the grounds of orientation, it is also a case of favouring one religious view over another. I look forward to the day when this case comes to court, and Rev Ferguson is called as a witness – expect lengthy testimony and cross-examination on the religious case for gay marriage!
From the BBC News:
Sharon Ferguson and Franka Strietzel were refused a civil marriage licence for Greenwich Town Hall, south-east London, and now plan to go to court for the right to obtain one.
Seven other couples are expected to launch similar actions.
Their campaign has been coordinated by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who said he wanted equality for all.
Marriage and civil partnerships should be “open to all couples – gay and straight”, he said.
Four homosexual and four heterosexual couples are uniting for the attempt to overturn the law.
Only heterosexual couples can marry in the UK.
And only same-sex couples can agree to a civil partnership – a legally recognised union which offers equal legal treatment in matters such of inheritances and next-of-kin arrangements.
“Denying couples the right to civil marriage and civil partnership on the basis of their sexual orientation is wrong and has to end,” Mr Tatchell said.
“In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law.”
We should also not allow one interpretation of religious faith to be legally favoured over another.
- Christian minister refused permission for same-sex marriage
- Campaigners launch civil partnership challenge (independent.co.uk)
- Couples bid to overturn gay marriage law (guardian.co.uk)
- Most Scots support gay marriage: poll (pinkbananaworld.com)
- The Struggles of Gay Christians (challies.com)
- Texas Pastor: Christians Have a Moral Obligation To Stop Anti-Gay Bullying (gayrights.change.org)
- Liberal Democrats support equal marriage for LGBT community (libdemvoice.org)