So, a few weeks back I read about the Archbishop of York’s comments on allowing gay people to get married (according to him they shouldn’t be allowed) and I decided to write him an open letter in my usual style (i.e. somewhat sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek) in an attempt to point out the harm that I believe his way of thinking causes. Over the past year, I’ve written similar letters to former candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination Michele Bachmann; homophobic former Australian tennis star and devout Christian Margaret Court; the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has refused to change anti-gay laws in her country and yet has been showered with awards by the West; the vociferously homophobic Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in the US; and Bernard Membe, the Foreign Minister of Tanzania, who claimed that his country was being picked on when David Cameron said that aid from Britain might be withheld from countries who failed to improve their LGBT equality record.
These letters have been fun to write and have raised a smile or two, and even several kind comments, from friends and passers-by to this blog, but, as far as I know, they’ve never been read by the intended recipient…until now. After posting the letter to the Archbishop of York, I tweeted the link to him, as I do to all of the people to whom I write, and thought nothing of it. The Archbishop, however, did think something of it and, after reading the letter, decided to reply to it. Well, at least, he decided to ask his Director of Communications to reply to it.
Now, despite enjoying writing witty and sarcastic pieces that, hopefully, point out some of the ludicracy of the anti-gay opinions of the people to whom I write, I have decided to respond to the Archbishop’s response as seriously as I can. The reason for this serious response is that, deep-down, homophobia (whether it be virulent and hateful, like that of Michele Bachmann, or couched in kind words and nods towards equality, like that of the Archbishop himself) is deeply, deeply damaging, psychologically, to the gay community across the world, especially to young gay and lesbian people who, at an extremely vulnerable and impressionable time, when they should be developing confidence and pride in themselves and learning how to deal psychologically with life’s joys and disappointments, are being told that they are wrong, that they do not deserve the same rights as other people, that they should not be proud of who they are. Homophobic opinions damage young people so, so much. It’s as simple as that.
Imagine that I took a child (straight, gay, doesn’t matter) and everyday they were growing up I made them feel inferior by denying them the same rights as other children and I told them everyday that, although they might be a nice person, they did not deserve the same happiness as others and, when they asked me why I behaved as unfairly as I did, I said it was because some ancient book written by people I had never met told me to do it or that it was simply because I thought they were slightly distasteful, I would be thrown in jail for child abuse, and quite rightly so. Now imagine how young gay and lesbian children and teenagers must feel when they live in a world that tells them these things day in, day out. Is it any wonder that LGBT youth are more than twice as likely than their straight friends to suffer from depression and more than twice as likely to attempt suicide? Most people who spout homophobic opinions do not realise, I think, how much damage they are doing to young people. Most of them, including the Archbishop, are, I suspect, ‘nice’ people, but ‘nice’ people can inadvertently do bad things, so we need to help them see the pain and damage their opinions cause. And, yes, that includes the Archbishop of York.
So here are the Archbishop’s Director of Communication’s reply and my response. My comments are in red. You might want to read my original letter first.
“Dear Mr Queripel
Thank you for sending an open letter to the Archbishop of York. The Archbishop has read your blog post and asked me to reply on his behalf.
I am both pleased and honoured that he has felt it necessary to reply.
To address your main point, the Archbishop agrees that those in same-sex relationships should receive equal treatment in law – this is why he supported the introduction of civil partnerships. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 ensured that those in same-sex relationships have the same legal and economic rights as everyone else. However the Church is clear that the definition of marriage is that it is a life-long commitment between one man and one woman.
As in my original letter, I applaud the Archbishop for some of the things he has said and done in support of the gay community, notably supporting the introduction of civil partnerships. He is correct in saying that civil partnerships give gay people the same legal and economic rights as marriage does for straight people. He is incorrect in his assumption that having two separate systems (marriages, that can take place in any licensed venue and allow the couple to call themselves husband and wife, and civil partnerships that cannot take place in churches and legally only allow the couple to call themselves the anodyne and loveless civil partner) is equal. Separate but equal is not equal. He is also incorrect in his implied assumption that, because the Church of England has always defined marriage historically as being “the life-long commitment between one man and one woman”, civil partnerships are as far as we can go. There is nothing stopping the Church of England changing its definition of marriage if it wants to. Several other denominations have done so.
The Archbishop has said same sex relationships must not be diminished, condemned, criticised, or patronised in any sort of way. He has offered support and pastoral care to those in same-sex relationships long before civil partnerships came into being.
I have no doubt that the Archbishop is a kind and caring man and that he has offered support to same-sex couples for several years. He might like to consider how effective his love and support can be when they are accompanied by his clearly expressed view that gays and lesbians must not be allowed exactly the same rights as straight people (i.e. the right to marry). It’s not quite so admirable being kind and caring with the one hand whilst supporting discrimination and inequality with the other.
There is no question about the equality of all human beings, “heterosexual” or “homosexual”. The Archbishop believes that none of us is of greater value than anyone else in the eyes of the God who made us and loves us.
So if God believes we are all equal and should be treated as such, why doesn’t the Archbishop?
While it may be the perception that the Archbishop spends most of his time talking about those in same-sex relationships, it may be worth noting that in reality this is far from true. The Archbishop was asked during an interview in January, in Jamaica, about his views on marriage and same-sex marriage. He replied that, whilst he supports civil partnerships for those in same-sex relationships, that the Church views marriage as being between one man and one woman. Given the responses that the Archbishop received to the reporting of this interview, the Archbishop this week wrote and published a longer paper setting out his views concerning marriage and civil partnerships.
I am quite certain that the Archbishop spends much of his time focussing on things other than the issue of equal marriage.
You may care to read it here – http://www.archbishopofyork.org/articles.php/2481/a-response-on-marriage-and-civil-partnerships
Thank you, I have.
In the last 8 days the Archbishop has written 5 articles for 4 different national newspapers. One article was about marriage and civil partnerships. The others were about end of life care, global poverty, Ascension Day and hope, Rogation Sunday and supporting farmers. Other issues he spoke about publicly this week include the importance of tackling poverty, the Church taking practical steps to address poverty, pilgrimage, Pentecost and improving standards in the media.
As stated previously, I am certain that the Archbishop spends a lot of time on many different issues and it would be remiss of him if he did not. I have no doubt that he has said very intelligent, considered and compassionate things about the topics mentioned above.
A short look back at what the Archbishop has said previously about the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people would show that he has repeatedly spoken out against the intimidation or discrimination of the LGBT community. For example, he has consistently spoken out against the anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda and spoke out condemning the murder of former York resident David Kato in Uganda.
Again I applaud the Archbishop for standing up for the gay community, particularly in Uganda. Society needs more influential people like him to start changing the world for the better. Imagine the positive message we would send to countries in which homophobia is institutionalised if here in Britain we could say that there is no discrimination in our country between straight and gay people, that here in Britain straight and gay people are 100% equal (which, I’m afraid, includes marriage).
The Archbishop is focussing on his role working hard in York, nationally and internationally to seek justice for the vulnerable – and looking to bring hope to those in need. He has just returned from South Sudan to support the churches there in their difficult and challenging task of restoring peace, justice and human flourishing.
I wish the Archbishop well with his work in York and his worthy endeavours around the world, particularly in South Sudan. He must be mindful of advising other countries about the importance of justice, however, when he lives in a country, and represents a Church, that does not believe in full justice and fairness for everyone.
Thank you for taking the time to set out your views.
You are most welcome. I thank you for replying on the Archbishop’s behalf.
With best wishes,
Director of Communications for the Archbishop of York”
And there endeth the Archbishop’s reply. I hope I have responded intelligently and compassionately to his points and I hope that it is clear that I think he does much good and is a kind man. But I hope it is clear too that I believe that his argument that civil partnerships go far enough, and already provide the equality for which I am asking, is fundamentally wrong.
In my original letter, I drew an analogy between the Archbishop’s view of civil partnerships offering separate, but equal, rights for gay people and the “separate but equal” policy of the institutionally racist Deep South of America between the Civil War and the 1960s. It was, perhaps, quite a shocking analogy, which might explain why the Archbishop did not comment on it at all, but it most certainly was not flippant. And I think it still stands. In the Deep South in the years after slavery was abolished and before the Civil Rights Movement began, the racist white majority (and not all white people were racist remember) contented themselves with the view that because black people could do the same things as white people (e.g. get married, go to school and use public services), just in separate, non-integrated locations, then black people had equality. This was called “separate but equal”. It did not take a genius to realise that if it was separate, it could not be equal, and, thankfully, through struggle and hard-work, the Civil Rights Movement eventually quashed the policy. The current-day view that LGBT people in this country have full equality with those who are allowed to marry because they are allowed to sign a piece of paper and call each other civil partners is the same as the “separate but equal” view of the Deep South of America before the 1960s. Until the law says that gay people can marry wherever they like (just like straight people) and that, legally, they can call themselves “husband” and “wife” (just like straight people), the situation in this country will be separate and unequal. And I don’t think anyone, Archbishop or otherwise, can say that that is right.