Belfast Telegraph

Church can ill afford to demonise in name of dogma

By Janet Street-Porter

If marriage were a car, it would be heading for the scrapyard. Like an old banger that has repeatedly failed the MoT, a soaring divorce rate seems to indicate that modern marriage isn't fit for purpose.

The chances of the majority of unions lasting more than a decade are increasingly slim. At least when buying a car, you get a warranty - and it doesn't answer back when you lose your temper, or demand half the assets when you part company.

Having said that, I find it touching that so many gay people want to get married and this month the Government starts a consultation process aimed at changing the law - something the Prime Minister enthusiastically supports.

Most heterosexuals (myself included) have shown repeatedly that we are hopeless at marriage. It's one thing that practice doesn't necessarily make perfect.

And not all gay men and women want to get married. But why should those who do be denied the same rights as everyone else?

The Anglican Church has behaved disgracefully over this issue. Far from welcoming a new and vibrant source of supporters, it opposed civil partnerships, then dragged itself into the modern world by grudgingly accepting them. The Church still refuses to hold formal blessings or services for couples in a civil partnership, although many ministers privately do so. Instead of being inclusive, many leading clerics wring their hands and fail to adopt Christian values.

The Church acts as if it's an exclusive club that can afford to be hyper-choosy about new members. In reality, the Church is on the skids, increasingly irrelevant in modern society.

The Anglican Church is in total disarray: Rowan Williams opposes gay marriage, but the new Dean of St Paul's has said he doesn't have a problem, as has the former Bishop of Oxford and the new Bishop of Salisbury.

The Catholic Church is in meltdown. The leader of Scotland's Catholics, Ballycastle-born Cardinal Keith O'Brien, calls the proposals "grotesque" and compares them with legalising slavery, while Catholic convert Tony Blair backs gay marriage.

The truth is, whatever dictats religious leaders issue, it's highly likely gay marriage will end up on the statute book. That result will be bad news for the Anglican Church, which passed up an opportunity, as the Church of the Establishment and the monarchy, to re-engage with society.

As Dr David Ison, the new Dean of St Paul's says: "We need to make sure that the virtues that you see in married relationships are available to people who are gay."

People in loving committed relationships deserve, no matter what their sexuality, to be treasured and nurtured - not demonised in the name of dogma.

Osama bin Laden was probably shopped to the authorities because his eldest wife was unhappy that he had transferred his attentions to a younger wife.

He had dozens of children by different wives. Is that arrangement more acceptable than a relationship between two gay people who commit to love each other for the rest of their lives?

What terrible social injustices are committed in the name of religion. For God's sake, let gay people get married.

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