Separately Equal

Dear Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and possible successor to Dr. Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury in the not-too-distant future,

I read with interest this week your comments part-published in the Daily Telegraph about allowing gay couples to marry in civil ceremonies.  You said that gay couples should enjoy “complete equality” with heterosexual couples, which was beautifully refreshing to hear from a man in such a position of power and influence as you.  I applaud you for saying this and thank you for adding your voice to the many others who are coming out in support of the gay community at this time.

I would like to thank you for then going on to give us, your faithful readers, such a clear and novel explanation of what “complete equality” actually means.  For many years, people have believed that “complete equality” means equal treatment under the law and having the exact same rights as other people, when, in fact, as you point out, it means the exact opposite!  For, as you say, even though gay people should enjoy “complete equality” with heterosexual people, they mustn’t be allowed to get married in the same way as them.  So, according to your definition, being totally equal, except for a few things = “complete equality”.  This is interesting and outré thinking from a possible future Archbishop of Canterbury.  This is the kind of “complete equality” the world is lacking in.

It’s great to see you coming out so boldly and explaining to us all this true definition of “complete equality”, in which a powerful majority of people, in charge and enjoying full freedom of rights for itself, bestows, as it sees fit, similar (but inferior) rights on a weaker minority, so as to stop them complaining too much.  This has been the case with Civil Partnerships, which the Labour government granted to gay couples back in 2004, and which you say meet the legal needs of gay couples perfectly well, thus negating the need to allow gays to marry and be legally permitted to call each “husband and husband” or “wife and wife”.  You truly are a clever man, Dr. John, to be able to take a situation that some might argue is inherently unequal, denying as it does some human beings the right to do what other human beings are allowed to do merely on account of their sexuality, and call it “complete equality”.  The Church of England is lucky to have you.

I can’t help but think it reminds me a bit of the situation in the Deep South of America during the 100 or so years after the Civil War in which black and white people had practically the same rights as each other (e.g. they could both ride on public transport, go to the cinema, hold down jobs, go to school etc.), but with marginal differences (e.g. black people could not ride in the same sections of public transportation as white people; black people could not attend the well-maintained and glitzy cinemas attended by white people but had to attend smaller, often grubbier, segregated ones; black people had to attend segregated schools that did not receive as much government funding, if any, as white schools).  This, if I have understood you correctly, is the kind of “complete equality” you support, in which a minority group of people (in this case African-Americans) is allowed to do the same things as the majority group (in this case white Americans) but not in the same way or to the same degree because of an arbitrary physical difference between the two groups (in this case the colour of their skin).

I can almost hear you now asking what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was banging on about when he already had practically the same rights as white people in the Deep South anyway.  And, in your eyes, it’s the same for the gays today.  Why are they moaning on about being allowed to get married like straight people when they can already get civilly partnered?  Don’t they see that civil partnerships give them almost the same rights as straight people, which, according to your logic, makes them completely equal?

It must be tiring for you having to continually explain to your flock and the rest of the British populace the true meaning of equality, but I thank you for going out of your way to do so.  When your work is finally done, and the British people (especially the gays) understand that “complete equality” means people having almost the same rights as each other but not quite, you will be able to rest on your laurels with pride and reflect on all you have achieved in your life, not least becoming the first black Archbishop of York, a position which, at one time in history, some people would have said, quite wrongly, a black man should not occupy, but which, thanks to the hard work of many anti-racist campaigners over the centuries, you are now able to hold.  This is “complete equality” in action if ever anyone wanted to see it: you having the complete and unhindered right to live your life the way you want to live it without discrimination on the basis of an arbitrary physical difference and gay people almost having the right to do the same.

Yours equally,


P.S. Just to prepare you, I think, as the great Mr. Bob Dylan wrote in 1960s America at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, “the times they are a-changin'”, and soon you may see gay people in the UK allowed to marry just like straight people and actually be allowed to call it marriage.  Don’t hold it against us; we just believe in “complete equality” for all, and not just for archbishops in the CofE.

UPDATE: The Archbishop replied to this letter via his Director of Communications. Read the reply in the comments below. And my reply to his reply here.