Wednesday, 25 January 2006

civil partnerships: Clifford Longley's view

Clifford Longley recently wrote a column in The Tablet which was headed with this pullquote:

Love is always good, said Cardinal Hume, including love of the same sex.

The column is about civil partnerships and how the church should deal with them.

Although Mr Longley is a Roman Catholic and is writing for a Roman Catholic journal, the article may be of interest to Anglican readers. The Tablet has kindly given TA permission to republish the article. The full text is below the fold.

Clifford Longley article of 7 January 2006
All over the Western world, legislators have come round to the view that the law should not treat homosexuals in any way that is different from heterosexuals. They have passed laws allowing gay marriage or at least “civil partnerships”, and permitting gay couples to adopt. In country after country, Catholic bishops have railed against this rising tide of homosexual equality. They have argued that the legal recognition of homosexual relationships undermines marriage, that children adopted by homosexual couples would be at risk of harm, and that, in general, homosexual liaisons are immoral. The latest such protest was made by Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Edinburgh as homosexuals were given the right to a civil partnership in Scotland, a right they have also just gained south of the border.
What emerged clearly from the widespread media coverage of the first few celebrations of these newly legal relationships was the overwhelming sense of satisfaction and pleasure - the word “joy” is not inappropriate - that came to the couple concerned when their love for each other was at last officially accepted and recognised. It is very hard indeed to argue that that was a bad thing. As the late Cardinal Hume once said in a related context, love is always good, including love between persons of the same sex.
These couples were making a commitment that henceforth their own needs and wants were not the most important thing in the world to them, but those of this other person whom they loved. They wished each to be the next of kin of the other, and together they would be a unit. They wished to provide for each other in sickness and in health, and indeed even after the death of one of them. Why, pray, is that dedication to an unselfish future life so intolerable to these leaders of the Catholic Church? Indeed, in a culture that seems increasingly unsympathetic to traditional marriage, why isn’t the enormous compliment they are paying to that institution by imitating it not welcomed with open arms by those trying to defend it?
It is not difficult to see that the supposedly practical grounds offered for opposing the legal recognition of gay relationships are not based on empirical observation, for there are too few examples to provide reliable evidence, but derive from the basic moral judgement that homosexual relationships are immoral per se. One has to suspect that if evidence emerged that the introduction of civil partnerships for homosexuals was actually of benefit to the institution of marriage in general, these critics would merely shift their objections to other grounds.
As for the adoption of children, it is undoubtedly true that children thrive when they are cherished within a stable two-parent heterosexual family. But the law has never said that a single-parent unit is so bad for children that they must forcibly be taken from it, not even when a single parent takes a lover of the same sex. It says the circumstances should be judged according to the interests of the child, and if that means the child being raised by homosexual parents, then so be it. The personality and suitability of the substitute parent is overwhelmingly more important than his or her sexuality. But if that is the law at present, is anything greatly changed by allowing homosexual parents - or more usually, just one of them, the other being the natural parent - formally to adopt?
The Church employs many lay people, some of whom, we may be sure, are homosexuals living with a partner. There are dioceses in Britain where they can expect the sack if found out, and others where someone’s private life is treated as their own affair. It is a wise and Christian policy, and points to a principle which needs wider application in this area. It introduces a sense of proportion. A homosexual couple keeping themselves to themselves cannot be accused of harming anybody else. Where there is sin, it is usual to judge the gravity of it by the ill it does to others. In such cases, therefore, one would have to judge the degree of sinfulness as minimal at most. This is so even if one accepts the traditional teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered; all the more so if one thinks such a view mistaken.
In the population at large as in the mass media, homosexuality is ceasing to be an issue. The small minority of young people who indulge in bigotry and violence towards homosexuals is isolated from its peer groups, who are, in contrast, more tolerant than ever before. Against this background, a very harsh and discordant note is struck by Catholic bishops who protest vehemently at the gradual acceptance by society that homosexuals are ordinary human beings with ordinary human needs. It is noticeable that the vast majority of Catholics do not raise their voices in support of the bishops who issue such denunciations. They are voting, as it were, by their silence, their refusal to be stirred up.
But perhaps they now have to go further. They need to say, as respectfully as they can - not in our name, thank you. Sorry, but we are just not with you on this one. There are far worse evils to fight, so let us go forth together and fight them.

© The Tablet 2006

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 9:10pm GMT
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Opinion

Thanks for this Simon - It was good to read it in answer to Bishop Nazir-Ali's ad clerum previously discussed here.

Bishop Nazir Ali makes a statement I have always found puzzling - Civil Partnership law "will have the effect of undermining that very teaching on marriage which the bishops are wishing to uphold". To which the obvious response is made by Clifford Longley - "in a culture that seems increasingly unsympathetic to traditional marriage, why isn’t the enormous compliment they [i.e.civil partners] are paying to that institution by imitating it not welcomed with open arms by those trying to defend it?" and "One has to suspect that if evidence emerged that the introduction of civil partnerships for homosexuals was actually of benefit to the institution of marriage in general, these critics would merely shift their objections to other grounds."

I also like another quote later in the piece - "It is noticeable that the vast majority of Catholics do not raise their voices in support of the bishops who issue such denunciations. They are voting, as it were, by their silence, their refusal to be stirred up."

Bishp Nazir-Ali bemoans the lack of enthusiasm of his fellow bishops in opposing civil partnership. It seems to me that his fellow bishops too are voting with their silence.


Posted by: simon dawson on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 10:29pm GMT

Thank you, thank you, thank you. What I find most encouraging is the observation that gay people are capable of a life-long committment to each other; at last, a recognition that gay people are just as human as the blessed breeders. Given the way that those who are 'entitled' by orientation to marriage have treated it down the years (a revolving door comes to my mind in some cases), perhaps a few gay couples with a more serious committment to each other might do something to redeem it. The notion that gay people might commit to each other unselfishly and be 'capable' of a lifestyle based on faithfulness rather than promiscuity also takes the discussion out of a grindingly familiar rut. Of course, it is all so obvious, but in the way the Church does things, never so clear.

Thanks to the Howard government, same-sex couples in Australia have a long wait ahead of them. The Attorney General has now instructed his department to refuse to issue certificates of single-status to Australians wanting to enter same-sex unions elsewhere. There is a friendly and supportive place for those fearful bishops in Australia if they don't mind the heat.

There is just one small string of questions on the issue of same-sex couples adopting/raising children that popped into my mind:

Did not the religious orders of the Catholic Church run boarding schools and orphanages?

Were not these places almost entirely gender segregated situations?

Could it be that the fear of harm to children raised in same-sex households expressed by various bishops and other ministers of various hues is based on the stories of abuse arising from the Church's own institutions?

There are some obvious differences to the situations, but the common factor is children living in a situation that involved the general exclusion of people of the opposite sex. One suspects that children of same-sex couples would have easier access to a wide range of people, including those of the opposite sex, than would have been likely in an old-style Catholic school or orphanage...

Posted by: k1eranc on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 11:24pm GMT

I thought twice before posting a comment about this. After all, I'm an ex-Anglican (obviously I maintain an interest because I read this excellent blog). It is only by the courage of publications like 'The Tablet' in giving a voice to views like those Longley expresses that the ingrained prejudice of the institutional church can ever by challenged. But I wonder if it will ever make any difference. We have to face the fact that it is the church's attitudes which give the murderers and bashers (however few they may be) the green light (see Leonardo's comment on the 'Nigeria: government moves against civil partnerships' thread).

Posted by: Rodney on Thursday, 26 January 2006 at 1:00am GMT

It would be interesting to compare Mr. Longley's piece above, w/ today's statement, re "love", by the Pope. Though I haven't read the text yet, I've heard B16 makes much of the difference between "agape" and "eros".

While I will not argue that there IS such a distinction to be made, what I cannot understand is why agape should *automatically* be LOWERED to the level of eros, merely because the "naughty bits" become (in SNL "Church Lady's" immortal phrase) "all engorged and tingly", leading to a predictable release of nervous tension. (Or failing such an automatic and inevitable fall, that this lowering to eros must proceed when the bits are of the same general type, as in a same-sex relationship)

Selfless, self-giving love . . . AND mutual, sensual pleasure between two persons of the same sex? Why not both?

The "legislators all over the Western world", and "in the population at large as in the mass media" have been a damn sight better at grasping the (God-given) obvious, than have the Churches!

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Thursday, 26 January 2006 at 2:47am GMT

The point that Clifford Longley makes about homosexuality ceasing to be an issue in the media and the population in general is a very important one. If we accept the government statistic that 6% of the UK poulation is homosexual, that is a fairly sizable minority in a population of 55 million plus, but a minority the churches seem happy to alienate. But the point I would make is that it is not only this minority who is alienated. For Homosexuals have friends, mothers and fathers, relatives, work colleagues etc most of whom no longer find it an issue because it is an aspect of somebody they love or care about. It ends up with the church alienating a far bigger group of people (and for the future even larger than that when we take into account the more liberal views of young people - as Mr Longley points out). It's all very well for hierarchs to issue encyclicals on Love when the public image of the church appears to display so little of it. At the heart of this is a question of the church's mission. In England the Church of England is declining. Rowan Williams and the House of Bishops have effectively put the maintenance of the Anglican communion before the mission to England in that they can so happily alienate so many people. Their pronouncements on this subject may very well end up being the Humanae Vitae of the Church of England.

Posted by: AlaninLondon on Friday, 27 January 2006 at 10:53am GMT

Oh, the Church of England is essentially finished. It will decline to be little more than a bunch of flat-earther fundies, crouching in the church to avoid the real world.

And it needs to die, for only then can something else , free of unnecessary dogmas and traditions, rise up to take its place.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 27 January 2006 at 4:17pm GMT

Dear Editor,

Clifford Longley (The Tablet, 7 January 2006) writes that love is good, that legislation recognising same-sex civil partnerships is also good, and that opposing views (such as those of Bishops) ought to be rejected. The legislation concerns the recognition of specifically sexual relationships: siblings, for example, cannot form civil partnerships. The crucial question in this debate is: can homosexual sex be an adequate way of embodying love?

The Church holds that sexual activity of a procreative type (even if not actually fertile) truly unites and is uniquely fitted to express spousal love. Monogamous marriage owes its very existence to the procreative dimension of sexual activity: it is the kind of social institution which best protects the interests of children. Sexual acts of a non-procreative type fail to have a unifying principle: they harm oneself and are incompatible with the effective expression of love for another.

David Morrison, the founder of Courage Online, a former practising homosexual and Catholic convert, realised this and told his long-term partner: “I love you. Can we please stop having sex?” Homosexuality "ceased to be an issue" for him when he realised that sincere love for God and for his friend meant that the kind of choices Longley apparently condones would need to be resisted.

Posted by: Anthony on Wednesday, 1 February 2006 at 11:34am GMT

Anthony, you approve only of "sexual activity of a procreative type (even if not actually fertile)"

What does this mean? If it means sex between a man and a woman, then your argument simply goes round in circles.

Also, would I be right in understanding the logic of your argument to be that you are opposed to the pill, condoms and other forms of contraception which do not allow for the possibility of conception?

That is a view formerly held very strongly by the Anglican Communion but most Anglicans no longer hold it.

Where do you stand on this?

Posted by: badman on Friday, 3 February 2006 at 6:59pm GMT
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