Megan Moore is Deputy Chairman of Isle of Wight CF.
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The Archbishop of York's comments on gay marriage in the Telegraph are not only entirely unremarkable for an Anglican priest, but also wholly inoffensive for anyone possessing of an open mind. Facebook and Twitter, however, have once again conspired to ensure that nothing in this world can ever again pass as unremarkable or inoffensive. By defending the Christian teaching on the nature of marriage, while acknowledging the value of committed gay relationships in civil partnerships, the Archbishop has shown himself to be the perfect mix of principle and pluralism: staying true to his beliefs, while accepting that others, for wholly good and decent reasons, may disagree. His opponents, however, have done him no such service.
The general consensus on the Archbishop's remarks can be summed up in one word: 'bigot'. This is the word I see used again and again, in Tweets, blogs and Facebook statuses, by those in my party in favour of gay marriage to describe not only John Sentamu, but indeed anyone else who opposes gay marriage. For people who, in their support of what they see as gay equality, presumably pride themselves on their enlightened and tolerant attitudes, the Archbishop's critics seem oddly quick to denounce – in vicious and ad hominem terms – a kind and principled man who happens to disagree with them.
The Archbishop's assertion that 'We’ve seen dictators do it [alter social structures] in different contexts,' received a particularly derisive reaction – a reaction I see as not only hypocritical, but disingenuous. Hypocritical because Conservatives in general are prone to dictatorial hyperbole – the 'EUSSR', anyone? 'Eco-fascists'? – and disingenuous because those who flap and fluster at the Archbishop's remarks would, I am almost certain, accept the bare logic of his argument in any other situation, dismissing the mention of dictators as a rhetorical flourish.
It is a logic that runs as follows. Civil society depends on institutions whose value is not obvious to a single person, or even a single generation, but becomes evident through the accumulating moral capital of their contributibutions to society, enriching our national character in subtle, if not near-undetectable, ways. These institutions – marriage, the family, churches and schools – should have freedom from the state, and thus from the political whims and intellectual pieties of the day, in order to endure. And if Cameron truly assumes that he is entitled to overturn centuries of tradition and moral consensus by meddling in the innate workings of an institution that is the lifeblood of civil society, then he is making a incredibly arrogant assumption about the extent of his authority as Prime Minister – and a barely elected one at that – which, while perhaps not dictatorial, is nevertheless worrying.
Critics have also called the Archbishop 'homophobic' – making the sadly all-too-prevalent assumption that if you hold orthodox Christian views on marriage and the family then you have some kind of particular animus against gays. I genuinely do not understand why homosexuality – barely mentioned in the Bible, and hardly the main concern of Christian sexual ethics – has become the focal point of certain people's frothing, dogmatic opposition to religious belief, people who like nothing better than getting outraged on my behalf over the Christian (and especially Catholic) attitude to homosexuality. So kind of them, but in fact, I'm perfectly capable of outrage myself – and I have no wish to direct it at Christianity, whose teachings provide ample room for tolerance and compassion towards gay people. The Archbishop himself asserts in his interview that we should not 'diminish, condemn, criticise, patronise' same-sex couples, and has on other occasions spoken out against the repressive anti-gay laws of his native Uganda.
Personally, I see the system of civil partnerships we have at the moment as a perfectly satisfactory compromise: by encouraging and allowing gay couples to demonstrate their love and commitment, it operates as de facto marriage while not impinging on the institution itself. I know that not many people – let alone many gay people – would agree with me, and I won't pretend this is in any way an easy or straightforward issue. When both sides hold firm and at times dogmatic beliefs, the need for tolerance becomes ever greater. And the model for tolerance is, as is so often the case, provided by our own Graeme Archer, again in the Telegraph:
'Tories aren’t anti-ideology because they’re intellectually incapable of catechising one; it’s humility and acceptance of diversity that resists a Theory of Everything. The “J” and the “Gay” in JSoc and GaySoc were obviously important, but the “Soc” mattered more. We were of Society, not against it, and not against one another.'
I think at least we can all agree on that.