Marriage equality is finally legal in the United Kingdom after receiving ‘Royal Assent’ from Queen Elizabeth yesterday, making it the 18th nation to enact equal marriage rights. Now, it will be up to the British public and their religious leaders to implement the new law without further conflict — and perhaps the Catholic Church can seize this opportunity to improve relations with the LGBT community there.
After final approval from the two legislative chambers then the queen, same-gender couples will be able to marry starting next summer. The Huffington Post reports that several British politicians spoke to the importance of this legislation for LGBT people in their nation, including Culture Secretary Maria Miller:
“[She] said ‘marriage is the bedrock of our society and now irrespective of sexuality everyone in British society can make that commitment’.
” ‘It is a wonderful achievement and whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society’s respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality’…
” ‘It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.’ “
Also championing the new law are LGBT advocates like Stonewall UK’s director Ben Summerskill, who are sensitive to the religious issues at play. Summerskill gave an extended interview to The Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster (London) recently where he spoke positively of religion’s relationship in society and in regards to LGBT equality. He calls himself a “critical friend” of Christian churches, not an opponent and continues:
“ ‘I think that one thing the Roman Catholic Church has not been good at is wrestling with these sorts of issues in a constructive and supportive way. Lesbians and gay people in the Church of England might be dissatisfied with what it’s done, but it’s a church that wrestled with these issues. For a gay Roman Catholic, there is no acknowledgment that there is a community of interest within the Church.’…
“ ‘I think it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that many denominations have been insufficiently energetic in addressing some of the hatred and prejudice…Well, there’s no doubt some of them have encouraged it. But I’m wary of caricaturing a whole denomination. Of course there are good things [in the Catholic Church]. There are good things in all churches that bring people together. We now work directly with 500 schools, with a third of local authorities, on dealing with homophobic bullying. And those include Roman Catholic faith schools, which take the issue incredibly seriously. They are exemplary in the way they deal with these issues.’ “
In the United Kingdom, examples of Catholics positively engaging LGBT issues, as one London school did, are contrasted with hyperbolic statements from the Catholic bishops who previously threatened to stop performing marriages if the nation legalized equal marriage rights. Now that the law is in effect, the example of Ben Summerskill and other ‘critical friends’ of the Catholic Church should be guiding influences so that all families are provided for and welcomed by their parishes as same-gender Catholic couples begin to marry.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry