Belfast Telegraph

It's not about being gay or straight, but being human

By Alf McCreary

The subject of same-sex marriage bores some people and makes others angry, while it also provides a voice for those who are most affected and feel the pain of "inequality".

I do not support the concept of same-sex 'marriage' because I have never regarded gay, lesbian and transgender people as being in any way unequal to me, and also because it alters the traditional concept of marriage.

However, I realise that if people feel themselves unequal or if they suffer pain about their sexual orientation, I must try harder to understand where they are coming from.

As I write this I am listening to glorious music by Tchaikovsky, who was gay, and what a tragedy it was when he committed suicide, partly because the pain of his situation in Tsarist Russia.

The whole question of same-sex relationships is a topic that the Churches will continually need to address. Last weekend, psychotherapist and play therapist Alison Morrow, with an impeccable Presbyterian heritage, took part in the Belfast rally to support same-sex marriage.

As to why she had taken part, she said that she had gay friends and had worked with gay and transgender people: "I have great empathy for their life experience, and I am conscious of how many of them feel excluded ..."

I admire Alison's courage in coming forth and stating her views in public, and I noted her claim that many Presbyterians feel that "there is little room for debate within the Church, and that many people are expected to toe the line".

I know what she is trying to say but, in all fairness, the Presbyterians did hold a debate at the tail-end of this year's Assembly. There were what were described as "heartfelt" speeches on both sides, but the Assembly then voted - unwisely in my view - to boycott next year's Assembly in Edinburgh because the Church of Scotland had decided to ordain ministers who are in same-sex relationships.

In doing so, the Irish Presbyterians showed a discourteous lack of toleration of other people's views, despite their plea earlier by their own Moderator, Dr Ian McNie, for greater toleration by the secular world of the views of the Churches. Subsequently, I tried to gauge the views of Presbyterian clergy and laity on these issues, but no one was prepared to talk to me on the record.

Therefore it is not the Assembly that is necessarily closing down debate, though the conservatives are in the ascendency. Rather it is the Presbyterians from the pews and manses who are not willing to talk about it.

Two days ago, I also talked to the leader of Corrymeela, Padraig O'Tuama, who is gay. He made the important point that the crucial issue in the debate is not the subject of same-sex relationships, but how the Churches can deal with the subject of "difference" in a Christian and charitable way, without making those who are different feel dehumanised.

That applies to many other controversies, political and social, in our community life. If only we could see people who differ from us as human beings and not as gay or straight, green or orange, young or old, this would be a much better place in which to live.

Padraig O'Tuama told me that through Corrymeela he had learned "to meet hostility with hospitality". That is the way forward for all of us.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph