Tuesday, 17 February 2009

On Same Sex relationships

I'm feeling sad and angry at the trouble we seem to be having as a community to resolve the issue of equal rights for same sex couples. This whole debate has uncovered for me the level of non acceptance of same sex couples and our strong attachment to traditional religious marriage. I'm left wondering how much those wonderful words in Quaker view in sex (1963) are a sham. It seems to me we are struggling to live up to our description of ourselves as 'Radical and Contemporary'. I'm sorry this sounds so belligerent, but I'm hoping if I put these words out then I can stop turning them endlessly around in my head.


S Fred Langridge said...

Chrissie, do you mean 'we: Quakers in Britain', or 'we: Quakers in Sheffield'?
I am certainly worried/perplexed by some of the views that seem to exist among some Quakers in Britain (e.g. that "marriage" can only mean a union of partners of opposite sexes), but I didn't detect as much of a divide in Sheffield. My impression is that we in Sheffield want the same result but have different ideas of how best to go about achieving it.

Alan Hurford said...

I must say i was surprised to get the impression that the same sex partnership issue was not straightforward . I had assumed from the little I had read that it must be some sort of legalistic matter that was getting in the way ;but maybe it is more than that ?

For myself I would want same sex partnerships to be blessed in the same way as others .

Alan Hurford

chrissie h said...

Thanks for your responses. I do mainly mean Quakers in Britain Sharon and I am thankful that our Area Meeting seems to be one of the more progressive ones on this. I think my frustration is that we seem to be struggling to find a way forward and there's an urge to be very cautious and conservative which I'm finding difficult. I'm losing a sense of us a radical force for positive change but I'm still very committed to my Quaker family!

Craig Barnett said...

I think there is a strong 'urge to be cautious and conservative' in British Quaker culture, which is not limited to this discussion. I don't think it has anything to do with Quaker spirituality - it is an aspect of that White, middle-class Englishness that I have complained about so often...

I wasn't at the last Area Meeting where this was discussed, but at the previous one I was surprised and heartened at the energy and determination that is around in our community on this issue. I am hopeful that Quakers in the Sheffield area can take a lead on acting for full equality in our celebration of same sex partnerships. This could be a gift to the whole of BYM, if we can be an example of putting faithfulness to the Spirit over worldly caution and compromise.

Thank you Chrissie for your anger and passion, and your willingness to share it. This is something we need to hear and reflect deeply on.
'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.'

Gordon Ferguson said...

To me there are two overlapping objectives - the political objective of equality in society, and the religious objective of a true and full understanding of committed relationships.

The political objective is straightforward – join organisations and campaign for equality before the law and protection from discrimination. Until the law on 'committed relationships' is changed such that any socially recognised bona fides group representing a community can apply for the legal registration of any sort of life-long commitment within that community, linked to any sort of celebration of that commitment, so long as there is some minimal legal recognition of what has taken place, I for one will never be able to be a registering officer for a Quaker Meeting. So I support our recent minute stating that we may want to take some sort of action to highlight our concern at this level.

The religious objective is much more difficult, because we are dealing with the deepest understanding of the meaning of being persons. We do need to take things slowly, and make sure that the spiritual understanding of our community is properly turned around to the fullest possible recognition of what it means to have and be in a life-long committed relationship. Politically we can afford a majority decision to get the law changed; spiritually we must be united in our sense of the meaning of such relationships. As we reach that point of unity, some may leave us,unable to reconcile themselves, others may hesitate to join and still others will yearn to join us.

This is painful. It is serious conflict. Sadly, as Craig points out, we have become substantially white middle class liberal intellectuals with an underlying deeply conservative (small-c) approach, coupled with very negative approaches to conflict.

To me, the decider will be how we approach the use of the word 'marriage'. The fact that Britain Yearly Meeting seems to be going down a path of avoiding the use of the word suggests that political considerations around conflict avoidance are coming to the fore. Chrissie, your ministry at our last Area Meeting was for me about the only really spiritual thing said on the whole item. We need to be radical, not politically using force and bullying and exclusion, but spiritually, in love and understanding and forbearing, but without compromise.

A good starting point is a spiritual understanding of 'marriage' that is totally inclusive. A major stumbling block is that, as far as I know, all Christian denominations emphasis the procreation of children. In the Church of England, the bold statement is made: 'First, It was ordained for the procreation of children...'. Only thirdly (and lastly) is it about loving commitment and support. God help childless couples and all women dominated by men who are defined only in terms of rearing children.

For me, marriage must be understood in terms of the relationships of free and equal persons. This must be distinguished from the social and functional roles of ‘marriage’, which includes procreation, sexual morality and social structures.

The reason why marriage is sacramental is because it enables (though does not necessarily produce) the prototype model and ground for the nurture of free and equal persons in relationships, both between the partners and with any children involved. This is just another way of saying that the family is the building block of community. It is where we learn how to have free and equal relationships, and from where we take this knowledge out into the community. Marriage is distinguished from ordinary friendship by the commitment of the partners to a life long relationship supported by the community. In practice, there is probably a fairly linear progression of the depth and strength of friendships through into marriages, with possibly some friendships without formal commitment being more ‘sacramental’ than some ‘marriages’.

Now since sacramental marriage has nothing to do with sex, procreation or social structures, there is to me no constraint on the sexuality of the partners – or even a constraint on the number of partners – monogamy is merely a social construct. Children can be (and are) adopted, for it is the nurturing of children as free and equal persons that is sacramental, not the actual procreation, which we merely share with all other creatures. One adult can (and many do) nurture children in a sacramental family. Two men or two women can commit to the nurturing of children in a sacramental family, as well as commit to the building of their relationship as free and equal persons – i.e. have a sacramental relationship.

So if ‘marriage’ is to be used as the term for the ‘religious’ quality of persons in relationship, then there must be no constraint on the use of this word based on the sex or sexual activity of the participants.

I will not rest until 'marriage' is the term we use when we celebrate and promise to support life long committed relationships. I will abhor having to witness on a certificate of 'commitment' (though would do so out of love for the couple), and suggest that another way we could take unilateral action is to insist on using the word 'marriage' on certificates from our Meeting.

S Fred Langridge said...

This Friend speaks my mind. Thanks, Gordon.

Simon Heywood said...

For some reason I can't put my finger on, this whole issue brings to my mind the feeling I've always had that the Quaker way is a way of paradox. I wonder if we sometimes try too hard to make sense of things, resolve paradoxes like this one too neatly and too quickly, rather than go through the painful process of upholding the paradox until it transforms us. Something like that. I'm not sure I'm describing it right. I'm not sure if I can.

chrissie h said...

The paradox for me is that since I spoke out my sadness, anger and impatience, I now feel much more at peace with taking the time needed in the way you describe Gordon. This is a great opportunity for reflection and for thinking beyond the narrow box of traditional heterosexual marriage. I'm very encouraged by Friends responses here. Thank you!

Simon Heywood said...

Go Chrissie!! :)) Me too.