Monday, 21 February 2011

More happy news, with a little side order of controversy

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

My brilliant and very tall friend N is getting married to his boyfriend. The official invitation is out, plans are being set in motion, and I must buy a frock. I got a picture of the happy couple by email last night, and they are bathed in joy.

It should just be a thing, shouldn't it? Another lovely piece of good news; more love in the world; two delighted people. In my mind, that is exactly what it is. But as I contemplate the delight, I am haunted by an article Melanie Phillips wrote last week about how letting gay couples marry is immoral and wrong. The headline set it out in stark terms: Making a Mockery of Marriage, it screamed. I was going to write about it at the time, it made me so cross, but in the end I thought: it's just Melanie Phillips being furious, and it's same old same old, and even embarking on the subject makes me feel inexpressibly demoralised.

Now, though, it's personal. Ms Phillips, who is an intelligent, highly paid commentator, is telling me that my friends are attacking the Bible with their bare hands. They are, apparently, with the connivance of the Prime Minister, on a mission to 'erode society's core values'. They are not just making a lifetime commitment to each other, oh no; they are 'overturning centuries of Biblical understanding of the sacrament of marriage'. Oh, and for good measure, they are 'destroying moral and sexual norms'. I wonder if they knew that this was what they were doing, as they got out of bed this morning. What with all that undermining morality and turning the Bible on its head, I wonder that they have time to do a job.

I'm a bit puzzled by this basing our entire morality on the Bible thing. The Bible is not my book, but I know that many kind and intelligent people regard it as a great book, and the King James version contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language. It's just that it also contains some things that we mostly don't do any more, for fairly good reasons. Is Miss Phillips suggesting that we should still sell our daughters into slavery, to be maidservants or concubines, as it says in Exodus? Exodus also says that those who work on the Sabbath should be put to death. By not writing this into statute, is Mr David Cameron going even farther in 'eroding society's core values'? And, since we are on the subject, am I to presume that Miss Phillips spends half her time giving up burnt offerings, as Leviticus instructs her at amazing length? (The instruction about the bullock and the ram and the exact manner in which the blood should be sprinkled goes on for chapters.)

It seems to me that most Christians understand very well that their book was written a long time ago, by men who lived in another time and another place. So, they cherry pick. They take the brilliant stuff about loving thy neighbour and turning the other cheek, and the wonderful parables about the good Samaritan and the friend in need, and they leave the parts about stoning people who blaspheme, or the keeping of slaves, or killing girls who are not virgins on their wedding night. There is nothing controversial about this. It would be really weird, and most unChristian to go about slaughtering all the non-virgin brides. (Deuteronomy says it must be done by stoning, and by the whole town, which would be logistically tricky, to say the least.)

I am no theologian, as you may have guessed by now. It just seems strange to me that Miss Phillips is so insistent on the purity of marriage because it is in the Bible. Is she going to get furious with my friends because they wear clothes made of two different threads? Shall she race around the restaurants of London attempting to stop people eating cockles and mussels because the Bible says that is an abomination? Will she insist that all the mediums be put to death? I'm just asking. I may be being a little sarky about it, because she's bashing people I love, but on an intellectual level, I am genuinely confused.

On an emotional level, I wish she would stop making unkind accusations about a man I have loved for twenty-five years. He is a good and honourable fellow, even if he does sometimes eat shellfish on the weekends.

You see what happens? I was just going to write about a bit of good news, and then I got cross. Now I shall clamber down off my hobby horse, take a deep soothing breath, and give you some nice nature pictures.

Leaves and stump:

21st Feb 1

(It is another dreary old day, but for some reason the moss is as green as Granny Smith apples.)

The burn:

21st Feb 2


21st Feb 3

Older niece's miraculously beautiful ducks:

21st Feb 5

21st Feb 6


21st Feb 8


21st Feb 7

21st Feb 10

Ladyships, most elegantly taking their ease in the long grass:

21st Feb 9

21st Feb 9-1

Now for today's hill. The whole point about photographing the hill every day was to watch how it changes over the year, to see how each morning it looks quite different. Since the dreich set in, it has looked exactly the same; quite invisible behind a low grey veil of cloud. Forgive the monotony:



  1. I think a lot of religious organisations have been hijacked by conservative people who are mostly angry and scared. Fear is the opposite of love after all.

    I've heard Christians talk about stoning "sinners" who seem to conveniently forget "let he who is without sin throw the first stone".

    I think Vatican 2 was amazing and is needed again as the world has changed and continues to change.

    I think that people should stop expecting people to live by rules that were made as much by the people who were intepreting the world as anything else.

    Surely as a Christian the example offered by Jesus is the one to try to follow, rather than the Old Testament.

    So yes, I too am rather puzzled. I think people getting married helps strengthen the institution rather than mocking it.

    I wish your friends every happiness and hope you can go back to enjoying thier happiness soon too.

  2. Siobhan - what a lovely and thoughtful comment. And I so agree with the point about strengthening the institution. Here is to love winning over fear. :)

  3. I've just been reading a series of books by an American author (a PFLAG mom) and as you might expect, there are some really well drawn gay characters in them. She writes really honestly about the sort of discrimination they face and I was being mildly smug to myself about how much more accepting the UK was. Then you read things like that article Melanie Phillips and somehow it doesn't seem like quite such a big difference after all.

    I find it hard to comprehend what there is to get so worked up about. Two people that love each want to get married - we should be celebrating that for the lovely thing it is, not shrieking in horror because they don't fit someone's idea of what is "right".

  4. Alex - yes, yes, let us celebrate! (And you know I avoid exclamation marks except on very special occasions.) Lovely and cheering comment, thank you.

  5. I couldn't agree more about the cherry picking. Wishing long life and much happiness to your friend and his partner.

  6. Also, hetrosexual couples are allowed to have civil marriages and (on the whole) we aren't seen as attempting to bring down society - though I occasionally wish I had the energy to do so! So what's all the kerfuffle about? Why does it become a matter of religion?

  7. Intolerance is the lazy man's way of staying still in the face of change. Totally bonkers.

  8. Tania, thank you very much for this post. Sometimes I can't bear to think about the narrow minded stupidity that seems to wash around us like a tide. And sometimes I think - well, I can't change their minds about this, all I can do is make sure they understand they can't say X in front of me. But I'm never going to meet Melanie Phillips face to face, and even if I did I don't suppose she'd come out with her version of X right away, so I probably wouldn't get a chance to tell her not to say it with me listening. I am having a harder and harder time believing some of what I hear and read (a doctor's surgery here in Key West, where I am lucky enough to be staying, had a TV tuned to Fox news and I thought that was bad enough. And it was) but it can't stop us celebrating and cherishing what we know to be true. Please give your dear friend a hug from me, and wish him well.

  9. I wish your friends the most wonderful life together. Hope you take the opportunity to wear your gorgeous red shoes.

    And there is hope... at a recent grownup-type dinner my 14 year old daughter was seated next to someone I thought was charming. A thirty-ish funny man; an architect, well travelled and with a lovely way of drawing my daugher into the conversation. Then a friend's name was mentioned along with his plans to marry his partner. The man screwed his face up and in the same instance I saw my girl's face change. She sat up straight and said something so perfect and cutting, then turned her back. Her father and I looked at each other. Proud doesn't even come close!

  10. Jennifer - lovely comment, thank you.

    Sarah - so agree about so much kerfuffle (excellent word) over so little.

    Tattie Weasle - love that pithy intolerance line.

    Lillyanne - thank you. I WILL give a hug.

    Em - your daughter sounds like an absolute diamond. :)

  11. The Old Testament does seem a bit strange but it's important to remember these were a people who felt a deep sense of sin in how they were conducting their lives, both with their God and their neighbour. The rules put in place were put there in an effort to help them lead more responsible, loving lives. Instead of whole tribes attacking each other in revenge for a wrong doing, a rule such as '...any eye for an eye...' was put in place. As God continued to reveal himself/herself through the prophets, these rules not only helped the people to lead 'better' lives but also to understand their God in a deeper way, how he/she would have them live and love. God finally revealed himself/herself through Christ who refined the Law (rules) even further when (as an example) he said "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles..." (From the best sermon in the world - Matthew 5:1ff). The whole point of the cross was that there would be no more sacrifices, no more burnt offerings; God was in fact making Himself the final sacrifice. In Hebrews 10 4:1ff 'The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

    So, what am I trying to say here? I feel an appeal to the Old Testament's rules as an example of how things have changed is not a good argument for any debate. The Old Testament was a shadow of what was to come and must be read in the 'light' of the New. The New Testament replaces the Law of the Old Testament with the Spirit of the Law. When Jesus overturned the tables in the temple in anger, he saw a people coming to make sacrifices and the priests making demands people couldn't meet. He saw the Spirit of the Law in the people (they were aware of their failings) and the Law of the Old Testament in the priests. At the end of the day, the Spirit of the Law must always rule. And it is this Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ who should be our teacher and guide.

  12. Tania, after reading your post and commenting on it I browsed a poetry blog, and found this great quote which seems absolutely relevant to what we've been discussing here - it's from a poet called Jeffery Donaldson, of whom I hadn't heard before this moment.

    "We are made up of voice, and we are the relations between voices, inside and out. They are our judgement and our redemption, our ownness and our generosity, our origin and our promise. Perhaps something like their revelation is possible in real conversation. It may be, after all, what we live for. As Yeats says, 'what do we know but that we face / one another in this place?'

    Isn't that great?

  13. Connie - WOW. Now clearly you are someone with comprehensive theological knowledge. Thank you for all that information. I suppose my worry is that people without your breadth of knowledge tend to lay down a rather reductive morality and claim that they have the authority of the scriptures behind it. As you say,the difference between letter and spirit of the law.

    Lillyanne - that is wonderful, esp the Yeats line, which I did not know, even though he is one of my favourite boys. Thank you.

  14. I would wish your friends all the very best on their special day and hang everyone else.

  15. Jonathan, Warwickshire22 February 2011 at 01:31

    My parents are accepting of me, as a gay son. But they also read the Daily Mail, and they quite honestly read it as gospel. Littlejohn this. Amanda Platell that. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to know that a national newspaper is filling their heads with spiteful nonsense on a daily basis.
    They have bought into this ridiculous idea that same sex relationships are detrimental to "normal" family life. How ON EARTH do civil partnerships harm straight sex couples?
    Also, can't we just call it same sex MARRIAGE? I know that marriage has its root as a religious rite, but honestly. As Tania says, we shouldn't be using an ancient text as a guide for modern law and rights. There should be no distinction between same sex unions and opposite sex unions. This "separate but equal" notion our country upholds is barmy. Separate is inheeeeerently unequal. "Separate" just gives Daily Mail readers the opportunity to see gay people as different, and therefore their inferior.
    Rosa Parks made it clear that separate is unequal when she refused to give up a seat on the bus because she was black. What will it take for people to realise that discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is equally unjust?

  16. I forced myself to read the whole article by Melanie Phillips...and one thing really jumped out:
    "The sole reason marriage has universal value is that it is vital for the nurture of the next generation. This is because children need to be brought up by the two people who created them."

    What arrogance! In two sentences Phillips dismisses adoptive and single parents (including widows and widowers), surrogates and heaven knows who else!

    While I know marriage has its roots in property and politics, I grew up believing it was an expression of love and a testament to the commitment two people have for each other.
    Two PEOPLE.

    Wear your red shoes to dance at the wedding of your friends. May they have a happy, healthy, long and wonderful life together!

    Pat (in Belgium)

  17. I weep with frustration every time I see this particular argument being trotted out. I can add nothing to Tania's beautifully commonsense approach, except to recommend to you a YouTube clip that particularly affected me: Senator Diane Savino speaking about the Marriage Equality Bill in December 2009. It's well worth watching every second of its 7:33.

    God bless your happy and beautiful friends in their marriage, Tania.

  18. Mystica - I LOVE that comment; thank you.

    Jonathan - most of the time, I think of the Mail as a bit of a joke, but here is the crucible: good nice people DO believe it. This thing of 'normal' drives me nuts too. It SOUNDS reasonable, but it is actually horrible. I did rejoice when civil partnerships became legal, but lately I have been thinking that the implication is: you go and do your separate thing over here, and we normal people shall have our full marriage rights over here. Why not just have marriage for everyone? They do it in Argentina and Vermont, for heaven's sake. (You see you have started me on another rant.)

    Cassie - lovely lovely comment; and thanks for that great link. :)

  19. I agree with Em, there is hope. My daughter is nine and she was recently astonished and appalled to find out that it was illegal (for the most part) for gay couples to marry. I also had a proud moment.
    I really think multiple marriages and divorces are an affront to "the institution".
    We find someone we love and we do our best to build a life together, your friends deserve no less and I wish them all the best.


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