For years, it was easy for the opponents of gay civil rights under the cloak of religion, by means of an unquestioned assumption that this was “clearly” opposed by Scripture and religious tradition. From this perspective, any suggestion of support for protection from discrimination (let alone actual marriage) was presented as support for sinful decadence, or even as an attack on religion itself. There have been welcome signs of change in this perspective in recent years. As social and natural scientists have shown that a homoerotic orientation is entirely natural in human and animal societies, as modern bible scholars and theologians have shown that the traditional religious hostility has been based on false assumptions and need revisions, it becomes increasingly more difficult for people of sincere and open-minded religious faith to repeat the old slogans without questioning. This is why the Episcopalians and Lutherans over the past summer were able to take important decisions supporting the ordination of openly lesbian and gay clergy (including bishops), and to move towards the recognition of church recognition of same sex unions, including (for the Swedish Lutherans) full church weddings. The US Presbyterians and Methodists have not yet gone that far, rejecting similar proposals in their own assemblies, but are clearly moving in the same direction.
Other denominations, most notably the LDS, Catholics and evangelicals, have been more intransigent, but even with these there have been important signs of change. The Catholic official stance has been firmly against marriage rights, as notoriously demonstrated in California and in Maine, but elsewhere has led to some tortured knots. The UK bishops strenuously opposed civil partnerships when they were introduced here some years ago, but the Portuguese argued in favour of such civil unions as an alternative to marriage when this was raised in the Portuguese parliament earlier this year. The bishop of Portland tried after the Maine vote to put out a hand of friendship, claiming (correctly) that church teaching opposes discrimination even as it opposes gay marriage, but the Vatican famously refused to support the UN declaration favouring decriminalization, stating that this would somehow lend credence to marriage rights. Meanwhile, the faithful as a whole a re way ahead of the power elite in the church. Most US Catholics now support some form of legal recognition of same sex unions, and do not see homosexuality in itself as morally wrong .
I see this confusion and double speak among the oligarchy as encouraging, as evidence that they are finally recognising that their previous unqualified opposition to all things gay is no longer tenable, and that they need to find some way to balance their own earlier intransigence against clear dissent from the church at large – tacit recognition that they no longer have the support of the sensus fidelium.
This week, we saw similar signs from the Mormon church, who were such staunch allies alongside the Catholic establishment in the fight over H8 in California. Now, in a landmark small but significant step, the elders of the LDS threw their support in favour of an anti-discrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City, which subsequently passed. Read the rest of this entry »