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