Today, members of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church were sent a paper on “the theology of marriage as currently articulated through the Canons and Liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and exploring whether there is a case for change based on tradition, scripture, and reason”.
This has been sent out in advance of the bulk of the Synod papers, and we have been asked to devote some time to reading and digesting it in preparation for what is suggested will be substantive debates at Synod in June. It clearly represents an enormous amount of work by the Doctrine Committee, and they are to be praised for their commitment to it. I believe it has the potential to be a very useful document, both in framing and informing such debate. The purpose of this document is not to take a position, but to outline all the positions and the arguments for and against them. It starts by suggesting cases for no change and for change to Canon 31 (which it calls Options A and B, and, recognising that those arguments tend to be in direct opposition to one another, lays them out as far as possible in parallel. At the end, it suggests a case for what it calls an Option C, which represents the argument to allow recognition and blessing of same-sex partnerships but not to allow them to be called marriage.
It is this last part that is my concern.
And let me be very clear: I am not criticising the Doctrine Committee for fulfilling their stated purpose and outlining all possible options. I do not think that this option was dreamed up by the Committee; I think that it represents a position that exists and has been thought of already by many people and was always going to be proposed in one form or another.
As an option that has now been articulated and put out there into the world, I think it is important that we talk about it.
Because let me also be very clear: Option C is not a real option.
In an effort to be clear about their meaning, the Doctrine Committee explain that what this suggests is ‘a rite equivalent to marriage for same-sex partnerships but called something else’. Again, this is not language peculiar to the Doctrine Committee; it is an explanation that I have heard in synods and committees and Cascade Conversations for the last three years from well-meaning people who have never read Animal Farm.
In the world before civil partnerships, Option C was something that we might have grabbed with both hands. In a world where I had never campaigned for marriage equality, I would have said that this was the best we would get and more than I had ever dared hope for. I know now that that is not true. The world has changed, and will keep on changing. I live now a country where marriage is just marriage, where equal means equal, and where I know that we can believe in and fight for better.
During the House of Commons debate on marriage equality in England and Wales, in a speech that will go down alongside Martin Luther King in the history of great human rights speeches, David Lammy said, “Separate but equal is a fraud. Separate but equal is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. […] It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and the racists. It is the same statement, the same ideas, and the same delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote — but not until they were 30. […] It entrenched who we were, who our friends could be, and what our lives could become. This was not ‘separate but equal’ but separate and discriminated, separate and oppressed, separate and browbeaten, separate and subjugated. Separate is not equal, so let us be rid of it.”
If an Option C is passed by the Scottish Episcopal Church, it will achieve something that is not fair or just or right and that pleases no one. Option C will alienate couples who are married out there in the world and are… what, when they walk through the doors of a church? Option C will not guarantee an end to homophobic and separatist policies such as the ones enumerated in the Bishops’ Guidelines in December. Option C will stall the fight for real equality as we live through a decade or more where people like me will be expected to sit down and shut up because we will be thought to have won. Option C is something people will expect me to say thank you for.
The lie of separate but equal is one that sustained apartheid in South Africa and segregation in America. It is a lie that today allows a political campaign to flourish in Britain through the language of hate, and that in the Church aims to make us all believe that the struggle for gender equality in Lambeth Palace has been won and is over when nothing could be further from the truth. It is the language used by those who believe that men are better than women, that black people are inferior to white people, and that gay people are deserving of less than straight people, but who do not have the guts to say any of it out loud in a world that knows how wrong they are. It is a lie that has no place in a civilised society, and it is one that I will never vote for.