Archbishop Welby struggles to support gay equality
He supports opposite-sex civil partnership
“I am hopeful that in time the Archbishop will resolve his moral dilemmas and encourage the church to move closer to gay equality. He struck me as a genuine, sincere, open-minded person, willing to listen and rethink his position,” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
At the meeting, Mr Tatchell urged the Archbishop to “embrace a new historic compromise and rapprochement with the gay community:” that the church can continue to believe that homosexuality is wrong but that it will agree that homophobic discrimination is also wrong – and actively oppose it.
“The Archbishop did not accept that the ban on same-sex civil marriage amounted to discrimination. He told me: ‘I don’t accept the word discrimination,’” said Mr Tatchell.
Welby said he was “apprehensive” and “cautious” about the “consequences of redefining marriage,” adding that he was unconvinced that it would be to “the advantage of society.”
However he added that in future “marriage may evolve.”
Justin Welby said he mostly opposes the government’s same-sex marriage bill because it is a “bad bill”. He supports a proposed amendment to open up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, which is something Peter Tatchell has campaigned for ever since the Civil Partnership Act was legislated in 2004.
“Parliament has a right to legislate same-sex marriage”… (and) the church has a right to oppose it… I am in favour of the state recognising same-sex relationships but not in favour of redefining marriage,” said Welby.
Mr Tatchell urged Justin Welby to “apologise on behalf of the Church of England for the centuries of homophobic persecution it inflicted on gay people. If not an apology, then some expression of remorse and regret.”
The Archbishop replied: “I hear what you say. I will need to think about that.”
Mr Tatchell also urged the Archbishop to meet other LGBT organisations and campaigners, from within the UK and in Africa.
“I don’t represent all LGBT people. It is important that a wide range of LGBT voices are heard; especially in countries like Nigeria and Uganda where the Anglican church is actively stirring anti-gay hatred and supporting repressive homophobic legislation.”
The meeting between Welby and Tatchell was the first ever meeting between an international religious leader and a leading international gay rights campaigner.
The meeting was offered by the Archbishop in response to the Open Letter that Mr Tatchell wrote to him on 20 March. See the letter here:
Archbishop Welby replied:
“Dear Mr Tatchell, Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. It requires much thought and the points it makes are powerful. I would like to explain what I think to you without the mediation of the press, and listen to you in return.”
Mr Tatchell’s Open Letter criticised Justin Welby as “homophobic” for supporting a legal ban on same-sex civil marriage. He also criticised the Anglican Communion for colluding with local dioceses in Africa that endorse the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in countries like Uganda and Nigeria.
Commenting further on the Archbishop’s stance on LGBT issies, Mr Tatchell said:
“Discrimination is not a Christian value. The Archbishop should therefore oppose all discrimination against gay people, including the ban on same-sex civil marriage.
“While the church can maintain its refusal to conduct same-sex religious marriages, it should cease opposing the marriage of gay couples by civil authorities in register offices.
“The church is currently in the forefront of attempts to force the government to abandon its plans to legalise same-sex civil marriage. It is actively supporting the current ban. This is homophobic discrimination.
“I am asking Archbishop Welby to make a clear distinction between what he and the church believe is morally wrong and the law of the land.
“While the Archbishop is entitled to reject homosexuality as unacceptable, in a liberal democracy he is not entitled to insist that his religious beliefs are legislated into law by banning same-sex civil marriage ceremonies.
“The Church of England’s opposition to same-sex civil marriage is a direct and un-Christian attack on the human rights of gay people.
“While Anglicans have a right to refuse to conduct religious gay marriages, they should halt their campaign against gay marriages hosted by civil authorities. The church should have no jurisdiction or veto over marriages in register offices.
“This is the first time any Archbishop has formally met me. Even a liberal like Rowan Williams never welcomed me to Lambeth Palace. Justin’s invitation is progress.
“In 1997, ten of us from the gay rights group OutRage! scaled the walls of Lambeth Palace, hid among the roses and jumped out to confront the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, as he entertained 16 Anglican primates in the garden. We were protesting over his refusal to dialogue with the gay community and his opposition to an equal age of consent, fostering by gay couples and the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. This time I’m going to Lambeth Palace through the front door at the Archbishop’s invitation. It makes a nice change,” said Mr Tatchell.
After initial hopes that the Meeting agreed to by Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby, with The Revd. Peter Tatchell might result in a better understanding of issues of discrimination against the LGBT community by the Church of England hierarchy, it would seem that those hopes are no further fulfilled than they were before the meeting.
Despite the fact that the ABC agreed with Peter Tatchell that Civil Partnerships might be opened up to heterosexual couples as well a same-sex couples; this seemed not to signal that the Archbishop was really convinced that C.P.s for Gays was a good option – this, despite the fact that the Church of England Bishops appear to now be backing the idea of Same-Sex Civil Partnerships, rather than acceding to the idea of Same-Sex Marriage. The Archbishop seems adamant that the Church of England’s opposition to Same-Sex Marriage will not change in the near future.
Whatever the outcome of this initial meeting, it would seem that the Archbishop of Canterbury is actually in favour of open communication with the LGBT community. Whether that will lead to any advance of mutual understanding will depend on future meetings of the Church with people most affected by the seeming ‘status quo’.
One notes that the ‘Archbishop of ACNA’, Robert Duncan is also about to be granted a personal interview with Archbishop Justin. One cannot help but wonder what their conversation will include. Is this leader of the schismatic ex-TEC Anglicans in North America about to plead for ‘special treatment’ in the Communion? After all, ACNA is under the surrogacy of the powerful GAFCON bloc of Anglican Churches in Africa – whose support they have sought to protect them against the hegemony of TEC their former home Church. If ACNA were to find favour with the ABC, this could exacerbate relations between the Church of England and other Provinces of the Church that do not recognise ACNA.
There is no doubt that the Archbishop of Canterbury will have a lot of thinking to do – in the very near future – about his intentions towards these two very different groups of people in the Anglican Communion: the New Progressives and the Old Conservatives.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand