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Why same-sex marriage is not about issue of equality

By Alf McCreary

Published 09/05/2015

Tough decision: the issue of marriage equality has caused division within the Church of Ireland
Tough decision: the issue of marriage equality has caused division within the Church of Ireland

One of my lasting, if bizarre, memories of the general election campaign was the sight of the Scottish Labour leader, Jim Murphy, being harassed in Glasgow by SNP supporters, while a lady wearing a skirt, high-heels and lipstick walked by his side.

This was no real lady however, but rather the talented comedian Eddie Izzard who wears women's clothes from time to time. Most people in the media condemned the bullying of Jim Murphy, but no comment was made about his cross-dressing and high-profile companion.

This reflected how far public tolerance of difference in Britain has moved in recent years, though I wonder if a transvestite comedian accompanying a leading American politician on the stomp would receive so little media attention.

We forget how different our society is compared to others. Some years ago, when I was in Tanzania, I watched a mini-riot take place in a public square when a local African man decided to dress up as a woman. The crowd was enraged and he had to be rescued to prevent him from being lynched.

All of which brings me to this year's General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Armagh which considered (among many other subjects) the latest development of its long-term report on human sexuality, in the context of Christian belief.

The select committee was asking for more time to consider the subject, and was given such to do so. This was not surprising, because it is a topic that is at the heart of a deep schism within Anglicanism.

Several years ago, the American Episcopal Church unilaterally ordained a practising gay bishop, which sent shock waves throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion.

A powerful committee chaired by the then Church of Ireland Primate, Archbishop Robin Eames, delivered the Windsor Report that failed to produce a solution, though not for the want of trying.

Now the Irish Anglicans are facing a ban on same-sex marriage in the north, while a referendum in the Republic later this month will decide if this will be legalised across the border or not.

Feelings are high on both sides of the argument, and I noticed in this week's Church of Ireland Gazette a number of evangelicals complaining that those who oppose same-sex marriage are sometimes dismissed as "unintelligent, un-Anglican, and likely to be oppressive, racist, sexist, and homophobic", among other things.

They have my sympathy. I believe that marriage should retain its traditional concept of a union between a man and a woman. A same-sex marriage is therefore a contradiction in terms, and the homosexual and lesbian community needs to invent a term adequate to describe a union between people of the same sexual inclination.

This is not a question of equality. Gays are equal to non-gays, and rightly so. They are given full legal protection within a civil partnership, and therefore many non-gays wonder what the fuss about same-sex marriage is all about.

This controversy is not going to go away, but I respect the Church of Ireland for having the courage to bring it into the open, and to try to give a hearing to both sides. I wonder how the Presbyterian Church will handle this divisive issue, and some people think that it is only a matter of time before it comes to the floor of the General Assembly.

Now that would be really interesting, though the outcome would seem fairly obvious right now. Perhaps by that time the Anglicans will have found a formula to satisfy both sides, which other Churches can adapt, but don't bank on it.

Belfast Telegraph

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