The Arc of History: UK and the Inevitability of Gay Marriage

With the Queen’s assent on Wednesday to the Marriage (Same – sex couples) Bill, equal marriage is now part of British law, applicable to England and Wales. All that remains is the practical details of when gay weddings can begin – probably, with effect from summer 2014. As I followed the news as it developed earlier this week, what most surprised me was how very undramatic, how inevitable it all seemed, coupled with astonishment at how very quickly things have changed in little more than two years.

Images of QEII, assembled as rainbow flag

Opponents of marriage equality have frequently complained that this was not included in any of the parties’ election manifestos , in 2010, and there is some truth in that. Some leading politicians were reported to have spoken informally in favour, but there was no definite printed commitment, from any of them. Mr Cameron himself went no further than a qualified statement that if elected, he would “give consideration” to gay marriage, which at the time I treated with great suspicion.  (more…)

UK Marriage Bill – More Equal Than Expected?

The Marriage (Same – Sex Couples) Bill has easily passed through its third and final reading in the House of Commons. It goes to the Lords today, where the real battles over detail, and final approval (or rejection), will take place early next month. With 60 Anglican bishops among them, and an age profile somewhat older than that of the Commons, the bill is likely to have a rougher time there than it did this week. Some opponents are confidently predicting that it will be thrown out, but I’m not so sure: the amendment to permit civil partnerships on religious premises was expected to meet stiff opposition in the Lords, but in fact passed fairly easily.

Instead of anticipating what will happen, let’s consider what has happened, with the clear victories this week, beginning with the unexpected amendment to begin a process to extend civil partnerships to other – sex couples.

Equal Marriage, Equal Civil Partnerships

When the original consultation on equal marriage was announced, this was specifically excluded from the terms of reference. Even so, the consultation report noted that there had been numerous submissions asking for such a provision.  Still, the matter was not included in the Bill. When it was introduced as an amendment to the main bill, this was together with a series of amendments to water it down, by an arch – opponent of equal marriage, so was widely seen as a deliberate attempt to delay implementation (possibly until after the next general election), and became known as the “wrecking amendment”. The strategy not only failed, it backfired, badly. To neutralise the wrecking element, the government first proposed an alternative amendment to review the possibility of extending civil partnerships, possibly after five years experience with equal marriage, then accepted instead a Labour amendment to begin such a review immediately. Instead of delaying the main equal marriage bill, the wrecking amendment has had the effect of accelerating a move to equal civil partnerships, which was not even on the horizon a year ago. British “equal marriage” will be even more equal than originally expected.

Recent polling by Yougov shows that the British public supports this expansion of civil partnerships, even more strongly than equal marriage:

This support however, seems to be based on a principle of equality, rather than personal desire for their own relationships.

Still, marriage remains the more popular institution. Nearly three-quarters of the public (74%) would prefer to be married to someone “in an ideal world”, compared to one in twenty (5%) who would prefer to be in a civil partnership.


Yougov does not report the reasons for preferring civil partnerships – even if the question was asked, 5% of respondents would be far too small a sample to support any further analysis – so we can only speculate. The reasons I have come across fall into three broad groups. For some progressive couples, it’s a principled decision to avoid the patriarchal, unequal relationship structures that have been part of the historical baggage and symbols of traditional marriage. For others, it’s a corresponding desire to avoid the religious connotations and associations of traditional marriage. But for others, it’s a desire for some legal protections for their relationships, with a somewhat reduced burden of expectation, responsibility and commitment.

There’s irony here, for the religious leaders who so strenuously opposed extending marriage. Had there not been such vigorous attempts to restrict marriage, it’s likely that there would not have been the same pressure to expand civil partnerships – which is likely to reduce marriage rates for opposite – sex couples. In France, where the PACS system of civil unions was introduced for all couples, the Catholic bishops are concerned that it has been widely adopted  by heterosexual couples as an alternative to full marriage. The Anglican  Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was quick to speak out against any amendment to extend civil partnerships, no doubt aware of this danger.

Catholic Support

At the second reading, there were many Catholic MPs, from all parties, who voted in favour, and even spoke out publicly, some stressing that they were supporting equality not in spite of their faith, but because of it.  I’ve not yet seen or compiled a comprehensive list of Catholic votes in favour, but we can confidently expect that the pattern was repeated for the final reading. During the debate, some commentators echoed this tweet by Ben Bradshaw:

Really superb & very moving speech in debate by my Roman Catholic colleague @CatMcKinnellMP

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell decribed how her support was influenced by traditionally Catholic strong family values – and a gay brother.

“They say that the family that prays together stays together and that is very much the case with us. We are a close-knit unit, sometimes to the point of that being overbearing, but whenever there is a crisis or something to celebrate, we are all there in droves.”

Drawing on more family ties, she said: “A big part of my childhood was spent with my brother, who is two years older than me and he shared with us the fact that he was gay in his early 20s.

“He was my best friend growing up, my playmate, my partner in crime and my defender when in trouble, and I found it challenging when the announcement came because of my Catholic faith.

“It has been a journey in which I have had to question my faith and understanding of the world, but I believe that the experience has not only kept my faith intact but renewed and enriched it.”

Read more: Journal Live 

Before the last general election, David Cameron tried to convince gay and lesbian voters that his party was the best hope for LGBT equality. It is true that the election saw more openly gay Conservative MP’s than in any other party, and that Cameron’s personal support was crucial in getting the marriage equality bill off the ground, but subsequent events have shown conclusively that the party as a whole remains the nasty party. Opponents of equal marriage have consistently maintained (correctly) that opposition to gay marriage is not in itself a sign of homophobia  - but some of the statements the same people made in the debates definitely are. Moreover, those most strongly opposed are convinced that they represent the views of ordinary Britons, demonstrating how totally out of touch they really are. It doesn’t apply to all Conservatives, but with such vocal hostility, they remain on balance the Nasty Party, on gay rights as much as on their complete insensitivity to the real problems of families in need.

The extraordinary thing is that the reactionaries are convinced that they represent the views of ordinary British people. Lord Dear, who is expected to lead the opposition in the Lords, has said that the British people are “massively opposed”, a view which is completely contradicted both by the government’s own consultation, and by a succession of scientific public opinion polls. Sound and sensible Conservative commentary by James Forsyth at The Spectator

After all the parliamentary back and forth yesterday, gay marriage passed third reading by the comfortable margin of 366 to 161. Tory sources are briefing that fewer of their MPs voted against at third reading than second reading, though we’ll have to wait for the division lists to confirm that.

We probably now have only a couple more Commons votes left on this; there’ll be on any amendments made to the bill by the House of Lords.

The atmosphere in the House as the result was read out did not seem particularly historic. There was some clapping from the Labour front bench, but the Treasury bench didn’t join in and it rather petered out. But, I suspect, that in years to come this will be remembered as one of the more significant things that David Cameron did in office. If it is followed by a series of other measures to strengthen marriage, it might end up being seen as a moment when the fundamental importance of marriage to our society was re-stated.

- but the vitriolic response by his own readers is ample evidence, if any more were needed, that the Tories have a long, long way to go if they can ever be credibly seen as remotely gay – friendly: For evidence, read the comments thread – if you can stomach it.


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Opponents’ Attempts to Weaken UK Equal Marriage Going Down – Heavily (Updated)

British opponents of the Marriage (Same – Sex Couples) Bill have seen the writing on the wall. Knowing that is going to become law, they tried to weaken it, by introducing a number of amendments, supposedly in the name of protecting religious freedom (but in fact, attempting to allow people to practice religious discrimination by one set of people imposing their religious ideas on others). So far, these spurious religious “protections” are going down, and by large margins.

By 150 votes to 340, David Burrowes has lost his amendment for registrars to be allowed to “conscientiously object” to having to carry out a gay wedding by 150 votes to 340 – a majority of 190 for the pro gay marriage camp. Superficially, this looks like an attempt to protect religious freedom, but it is not, as the courts have consistently found when registrars have tried to take a similar stand against conducting civil partnerships. Registry office weddings are civil ceremonies to conclude and witness legal contracts, not religious rituals. (If they were, the registrars insisting on their religious freedom would also object to marrying two atheists, or wiccans). If a registrar were to claim a religious defence in a refusal to conduct weddings between people of a religious or ethnic group s/he disapproved of, there would be a major outcry. In the same way, disapproval of same – sex couples, based on religious faith or simply prejudice, does not constitute a justifiable reason to refuse to fulfill an employment obligation as a civil servant.

A second amendment tabled by David Burrowes, saying that believing that marriage is between a man and a woman should be a “protected characteristic of religion” under the Equality Act 2010, has also gone down, by 148 votes to 339.

Another amendment tabled by David Burrowes, to strengthen the section in the bill saying that people cannot be penalised for not conducting a gay marriage, was defeated 163 to 321. This protection already exists in the bill – there’s no need to strengthen it..

These defeats for spurious “religious protections” were not based on hostility to religion: an amendment which clearly was based on freedom of religion, to protect chaplains in hospitals and schools from fear of penalties over same – sex marriage, was accepted by government and will be included in the final bill.

Meanwhile, things are not going well either, for the so-called “wrecking amendment” (which aims to immediately extend civil partnerships to opposite- sex couples. The leadership of all parties have agreed that this is desirable, but that it should not be incorporated into the present bill: there are too many details to be worked out, which would delay the implementation of equal marriage. There is now general agreement that there should be an introduction of civil partnerships for all, but not until a careful review of all the implications; the review should begin as speedily as possible; and it should concentrate on the detail, not the principle.

UPDATE: The vote on the wrecking amendment was also beaten, and by an even wider margin: 375 votes to 70 – a majority of 305. Earlier, the government’s own amendment to extend civil partnerships to all but only after an urgent review (which was in effect forced on the Minister by Labour and Liberals to forestall the wrecking amendment),  passed by 391 votes to 57 – a majority of 334.

The main substance of the bill, to approve equal marriage, must still be voted on tomorrow, and then get through the Lords. Technically, it’s still possible for it be beaten back in the Upper House, but with this strong a head of steam behind it, that possibility is pretty remote.

Equal marriage is on the way for England and Wales, possibly for implementation by the summer, 2014.

(This legislation does not apply to Northern Ireland, and Scotland has its own bill under way).








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Poll shows most Britons want gay marriages and straight civil partnership

New YouGov poll shows majority of Britons support same-sex marriages and civil partnerships for straight couples

Newspaper headlines on the state of the Marriage (Same- Sex Couples) bill now in its third reading in parliament, suggest that the bill is in trouble, under threat from strong opposition inside his own party. The evidence is rather different. A new opinion poll by Yougov, and an analysis by Yougov President Peter Kellner, puts the record straight.

Gay marriage poll, Yougov May 2013

The Conservative Party is indeed divided on the matter – but certainly not strongly against – and the public as a whole are in favour, with a clear but not overwhelming majority in support. Older  voters, Conservative activists among them, are opposed, by a substantial two to one margin – but even so, Conservative voters as a whole are evenly split. Younger voters are even  more strongly in favour, by a three to one margin.

Reports today that the entire bill could be scuppered by a superficially attractive amendment, to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples, were premature. The amendment is in fact a transparent attempt by opponents to derail the entire bill.The British public supports the principle of this extension by an even larger margin than the support for equal marriage. Both the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties agree – but have not been fooled, and will not support the amendment.

It will be a while before the dust settles , and some amendments to make further compromises for religious objections may still be approved, but the Bill remains on track to pass successfully through the the Commons. Next month, it will be taken up by the Lords, where the outcome is less clear.


Most Britons back same-sex marriage legislation with only a third against.

That’s the result of a new poll by YouGov.

It indicated ongoing support for the legislation going through the UK Parliament for the change in England and Wales. Separate legislation is being developed in Scotland.

The survey found 54% of Britons support same sex marriage legislation, with 36% opposed. Among Conservatives, more people oppose the measures than support them but the margin is narrow (48% to 45%).

And 64% of Britons support opening up civil partnerships to straight couples. Heterosexuals in a relationship were the most likely to back the change (73% supportive).

Civil partnerships give couples similar legal rights as civil marriage and have been available to same sex couples since 2005. At present, straight couples cannot have a civil partnership.

The poll also looked at whether people preferred marriage or a civil partnership. Nearly three-quarters of Britons (74%) would prefer to be married to someone ‘in an ideal world’. Only one in 20 (5%) would prefer a civil partnership.

This shows why it is important to allow same sex couples to marry – most Britons still see marriage as the ideal, preferring marriage to a civil partnership.

-continue reading at Gay Star News.


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Bishops Warn of “The Consequences of Gay Marriage”. Why?

Today and tomorrow, the British parliament is debating the third reading of the Marriage (Same – Sex Couples) Bill. Once again, Catholic bishops are intervening, warning about the supposed “grave dangers” and risks to the long – term consequences of marriage. Equal marriage however, has been around now since 2002 as full marriage equality in the Netherlands, and since 1989 (almost a quarter century) as near – marriage, in Denmark. What have been the adverse consequences?

Deval Patrick, an Governor of Massachusetts, has been in a position to observe the consequences for not quite as long as the people of Denmark, or of the Netherlands, but still for a reasonable time – nine years:

Nine years ago Friday, same-sex marriages started happening in Massachusetts, and the time since then has proved wonderfully unremarkable. The sky has not fallen. The earth has not opened to swallow us up. Thousands of good people, contributing members of our society, have made free decisions about whom to marry. Most have been joyful and lasting. Some have failed. Ho-hum. And even as this principle of government treating people equally spreads to 11 more states and the District of Columbia, even as mean-spirited politicians stoke discord over marriage equality in election years, people just keep on being people, choosing their life partners by the same old mysteries, regardless of sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians, like blacks and whites a generation ago, want nothing more than to be ordinary.

via  - The Washington Post.

The most important consequence of extending marriage is (surprise!) people getting married.

It is certainly true that marriage as an institution is in a great deal of trouble: a quick check of the statistics confirms that in many areas, people are choosing cohabitation rather than formal marriage. Where they do marry, very often this decision comes after conception, not before the decision to start a family. Of those that do marry, many end in divorce. But generally speaking, the areas where marriage is in the greatest trouble is NOT where equality has been introduced. Internationally, overwhelmingly Catholic Colombia has one of the highest rates of unmarried mothers and cohabitation – but no gay marriage. Straight couples there are destroying marriage entirely unaided, with no help from the gay or lesbian community.  In the US, the comparable indicators, and those for divorce, show that marriage is in the deepest trouble in those red states where there are rigid prohibitions on gay marriage – not in Massachusetts. On the contrary, there is evidence that marriage equality has strengthened families (queer families), and been good for the health of both parents and their children.

Part of the bishops’ concern is that gay marriage will undermine the link between marriage and “openness to children”. But another heavily Catholic country, Italy, has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. No evidence of an automatic link between marriage and children there, then, even without gay marriage.

In the USA, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, was more specific in lamenting the passage of Minnesota’s equal marriage legislation, for its supposed harm to children, saying

….. the new law “renders senseless” the National Fatherhood Initiative of the Obama administration, since it claims “that a mother and a father together are superfluous and can be replaced by two men or two women.” He added that sexual relationships outside of marriage are harmful to individuals as well as society.

“Instead of strengthening, the Minnesota legislature’s decision to redefine marriage weakens motherhood and fatherhood, and so strikes a blow to all children who deserve both a mother and father,” he said.

I completely fail to understand the logic of this. An alternative Catholic argument against gay marriage is that a same – sex couple is incapable of procreation, so if two men or two women marry, and then fail to produce any children – which children, precisely, are deprived of both a mother and a father? He’s presumably thinking of the children that these couples may conceivably adopt – but they may equally choose not to. Gay adoption and gay marriage are independent issues. (And for the children that they do adopt, the choice may well be not between two opposite sex parents and same – sex parents, but between two same – sex parents and a single parent, or life in an institution with no real parents at all).

The core problem with Catholic bishops’ pronouncements on gay marriage, and on human sexuality more generally, is that they are usually based entirely on speculation and supposition, made with little or no recourse to evidence – and none at all to the real – life experience of loving, committed sexual relationships, of which they have none themselves.

That is why it is so important that those of us who do have such experience, and some understanding of these relationships illuminated by more than dusty theological manuals from the medieval theologians and the Council of Trent, should speak up and speak truth to power, whenever and however we can.

A second complaint of Catholic bishops is that equal marriage legislation, in the UK and in the USA, represents a restriction on religious freedom. This claim is even more  bizarre – the law in both Britain and Minnesota (and Delaware, Rhode Island and elsewhere) has been very carefully drafted to include extensive protection for freedom of religion, What it does not do, and the bishops appear to want, is to allow people of faith to discriminate in their secular lives, against people who do not share their views, or to prevent those denominations that believe with the Gospels in the importance of full equality and inclusion for all, from exercising their own freedom of religion.

At Huffington Post, the Conservative Member of Parliament Damian Collins, writing as a Conservative and as a Catholic, fully committed to the value of marriage and family, and to freedom of religion, writes that “Freedom of Religion Cuts Both Ways”. He is right.

I believe that everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law, and that the lifelong commitment people make to each other when they make their marriage vows means something profound to them, and benefits society as a whole. I believe that these vows have great significance to the couples taking them regardless of their sex or sexuality. I say that as a father, a husband, a Roman Catholic and a Conservative Party Member of Parliament.

The question I would put to people who are generally opposed to same sex marriage, is that given the freedom of the churches to decide who they marry is protected, why are you against equalising civil marriage ceremonies, conducted in registry offices, so that they are also available to couples of the same sex. Which when you boil down the Bill is what it amounts to. What is the moral or religious argument for not allowing this in our civil law?

Some may say that allowing same sex marriage is a further step down the path of our society becoming more secular and marginalising the position of The Church and its teaching. In response to this, the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself” comes to mind. If the social and moral authority of The Church has been undermined, it has not been by parliament, but more by the actions of men like Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

- read more at Huffington Post

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Gay Marriage: Where Next?

The passage of marriage equality in Uruguay will take to fourteen the number of  countries where equal marriage applies country wide, either by legislative means (eleven), or de facto by court ruling (Mexico, Brazil). Several more are preparing to follow.


Time for an update.

Gay marriage, Europe.

Full marriage equality already applies in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Spain and Portugal.

French proposed legislation has been approved in the lower house and is now before the Senate, which just this week approved the key article, redefining marriage as a union between “two individuals of different sex or of the same sex” Final approval should follow, soon.

British legislation is undergoing scrutiny in the committee stage. We cannot anticipate what details may be changed, but approval of the core principle is virtually assured. It’s possible that the Lords will delay final approval, but is unlikely to block it completely.

A Finnish plan to introduce legislation this year was blocked by a small conservative bloc in the governing coalition, but a voters’ ballot initiative seems likely to override that:

A petition signed by at least 50,000 people can be forwarded to parliament for consideration.

The same-sex marriage petition garnered enough signatories to clear the hurdle on its first day, and as of Tuesday (March 25) had been backed by over 138,000 citizens.

Organizers hope to collect 250,000 names before the deadline in September.

- Independent Online 

The time frame is unclear, but Finland will join the rest of Scandinavia in full marriage equality – with the support of the Finnish Archbishop, Kari Makinen

Luxembourg legislation has been languishing since 2010, but after redrafting in 2012, the justice committee has since approved it (in February 2013) for submission to the full chamber.

In Ireland, the subject will be one of several up for up for debate at the Constitutional Convention next weekend, where, says the Irish Times, “The marriage debate has drawn the biggest public response of any issue at the convention to date, with more than 1,000 individuals and groups having made submissions”. Opinion polls have shown strong public support (73%), even in spite of strong opposition by the Catholic bishops.

The really big prize would be Germany, where there are not yet any formal moves to legislation, but anything could happen if Angela Merkel loses this year’s federal election to the Social Democrat opposition.

Between them, these could easily result in the number of European countries with full equality increasing from the present eight, to twelve or more over the next two years.

In virtually the whole of Western Europe, countries which do not yet have full marriage equality offer civil unions. The glaring exception is Italy – but even that could change soon: one of the parties in the governing coalition has just announced the introduction of a bill covering civil partnerships/ gay marriage.

Gay marriage, Americas.

Full marriage equality already applies in Canada and Argentina, and (de facto) in Brazil and Mexico.

Uruguayan legislation waits only for the President’s signature, and a time lag to come into effect.

Colombian marriage equality must begin by the end of June, either by legislation, or as a result of a court decree.

Elsewhere in Latin America, several countries have civil unions. On the downside, there remain constitutional bans on same – sex marriage in Bolivia, Paraguay, Honduras and several islands of the Caribbean.  Any form of gay male sexual activity is illegal in Guyana, Belize and some Caribbean islands.

United States

With the ballot box wins last November, and two cases before the Supreme Court, the situation in the USA is more fluid at present than anywhere else. For present purposes, I am assuming that the Court  ruling will be cautious and minimal, effectively leaving decisions at state level.

Full marriage equality already applies in nine states, DC and three Native Americans’ territorial authorities.

California is the big prize, and will almost certainly have equal marriage by the end of 2013. It many come with a Supreme Court decision in June, but if not legislators will put a fresh proposition on the ballot for November, to overturn the earlier ban. This time, equal marriage is likely to win comfortably.

Legislative proposals have already been introduced this year in Illinois,  Rhode Island, and Minnesota – and in Delaware, legislators announced today (Wednesday 11th April) that they were  filing legislation. Also today, a Senate committee in Nevada approved a proposal to begin the long process towards overturning the existing constitutional ban on gay marriage in the state (the earliest it could make on to a ballot, would be 2016).

New Jersey has already approved equal marriage legislation, but had it vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. Legislators are now faced with a choice between attempting secure enough votes to override that veto (they’re struggling to do so), or to go for a public ballot (which they oppose in principle, but are likely to win).

After the success of the Maine ballot to overturn the state ban on gay marriage, initiatives have begun in Oregon and Ohio to overturn their own state bans. More will follow –  and proposals to introduce constitutional bans on gay marriage in those few states which do not already have them, have stalled (for instance, in Indiana).

Across the US, the tide has clearly turned. Even some Republican politicians and high profile conservative commentators have started to support the principle. (Stephen D Foster at describes this as “Hell Freezes Over“)  Others have conceded that opposition is a lost cause. It’s now just a matter of time, but unless the Supreme Court makes a sweeping ruling affirming a constitutional right to gay marriage countrywide (unlikely), one by one the states will approve equal marriage.

Africa and Australasia.

Elsewhere, only South Africa already has equal marriage legislation, while in the New Zealand parliament, it’s easily passed the second and most crucial of three votes. Final approval could be come later this month, or next. In Australia, political pressure continues to build, but as in Germany, real progress is unlikely unless the next election brings a change of political leadership.

Adding New Zealand and the South American examples to the countries of Europe which are currently preparing legislation, there could soon be over twenty countries with full marriage equality – but mostly in Europe and the Americas.

In Asia, there are not at present any legislative processes towards gay marriage under way, but at least some politicians are starting to talk about it.

In Africa (outside South Africa) and the Middle East, the issues are far more basic. Instead of marriage equality, the challenges in many countries are to overturn laws criminalizing gay sexual activity, or even to stave off the death sentence. It is these harsh measures that have commanded the headlines, but under the radar, even here there are some hopeful signs, with some African leaders speaking about a need for change. This is not the place to go into this further, but it is my guess that as acceptance of gay marriage or civil unions completes its sweep across Europe and the Americas, we’ll start to see  corresponding moves in Africa and the Caribbean to decriminalization.

As Martin Luther King  observed,

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.



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Catholic MP’s Back Gay Marriage

It’s now well known that in the USA, Catholic opinion has departed from the lead of the bishops on gay marriage: Catholics in general are more likely than other Christians, and as least as likely as the general population, to support equality, and in many of the states which have legislated for same- sex marriage, Catholic politicians have been prominent in the struggle. Does the same principle apply in the UK?

Gay marriage supporters

Gay marriage supporters, outside parliament

This came to me by email, from my friend and colleague, Martin Pendergast:

This weekend’s Tablet notes that ‘a majority of Catholic MPs voted in favour of allowing same sex marriage …… Out of at least 82 Catholic MPs, 47 – almost 60% voted in favour …… 32 Labour, 12 Conservative, 2 Lib. Dems, 1 SDLP. Sadly, some of those with previously positive LGBT-friendly voting track-records didn’t: Stephen Pound, Paul Goggins, Sarah Teather, of course, indicated obliquely the way she was going to vote in her recent Tablet interview.

This set me digging. A column in the Guardian Politics Live blog on the day of the vote, identified all MP’s and how they voted. Comparing a list of identified Catholic Members of Parliament and the voting records reported in the Guardian, I was able to confirm that 47 voted in favour (names listed below), with 27 against, 7 did not vote or votes were not listed and 2 were no longer members of parliament.

It was to be expected that Labour MP’s Catholic MPs would mostly vote in favour, but it’s the Conservative supporters that I found most interesting. Included in their number, were some that for different reasons, are particularly notable:

Ian Duncan – Smith, as Secretary for Works and Pensions, is probably the  best known of the senior Conservative Party caucus identified as Catholic. In the early run-up to the introduction of the bill, it was widely speculated that he would vote against. He voted in favour.

Damian Collins MP called on the example of St Thomas More , pointing out that while parliament had the authority to pass laws on matters of marriage, it could not force Catholics to agree with them. The Equal Marriage Bill meets that standard – it provides for same – sex marriage, but does not force cimpliance on anybody.

‘I will be supporting the Same Sex Marriage Bill because I believe in a society where people have freedom of religious expression, but also one where outside of religion people are equal in the eyes of the law. But as an MP of Roman Catholic faith, I have been drawn to considering over the last few weeks, what Thomas More would have made of this issue.

Saint Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor and a former speaker of the House of Commons is famous for the moral stand he took against his King, even though it cost him his life. It was learning about his example at school which prompted me to choose him as my Confirmation Saint. Thomas More is particularly remembered because he could not in conscience swear an oath recognising the Succession to the Crown Act 1533 which had the effect of annulling one of Henry VIII’s marriages and therefore changing the royal succession. He could not swear the oath because, although he would abide by the Act’s content, he could not in conscience say that he agreed with it. Parliament, he said, had the right to decide matters of marriage, and had the right to require all subjects, including Catholics, to abide by its laws, but it could not have the right to require Catholics in conscience to agree with them. As a result he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and then executed.

The Same Sex Marriage Bill is not seeking to tell the different churches and religions what they should believe, or to restrict them practicing their beliefs as the do now.

Conor Burns, the openly gay MP for Bournemouth West had at one time expressed his doubts about the need for this bill, as he believed the present civil partnership arrangements provided adequately for our needs. But shortly before the vote was taken, he spoke of some particularly unpleasant statements in lobbying emails from constituents opposed to the bill, and indicated that he was likely to vote in favour. As a gay man, he said, he could hardly vote against equality:

He told the Bournemouth Echo “The lobbying that has been undertaken by those against this bill has been some of the most unpleasant spiteful, hateful things that I’ve ever known,” he said.

“Some of my constituents have written in opposing it. I don’t know what sort of relationship they have with their God but he’s not the God of compassion that I recognise. They’ve been hateful.

“They talk about homosexuality being a disease that will lead to destruction of the human race and gays swirling around in a cesspool of their own making.”

He said he did not think there was a clamour for the gay marriage proposal but added: “That said, it’s being presented as bringing greater equality and as a gay man I don’t see how I can vote against something that’s presented as bringing greater equality.”

- Pink News

I would add, that it’s not only as a gay man that one should support equality – but also as a Catholic.

It’s unfortunate that debates around equal marriage are so seen as a tussle between secular, liberal principles of equality, against religious belief. They are not in opposition. The equality argument is a religious one.   When Jesus first spoke in the temple, the text he chose, was about “setting the downtrodden free” – a principle that he demonstrated throughout his ministry. As a South African, educated in Catholic schools, living for over 50 years against a background of the struggle against apartheid, this principle of justice part of what Catholicism and Christianity are all about. St Paul says that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free. And nor should we be making distinctions based on gender or affectional orientation.

As Daniel Kawczynski MP wrote in an article in the Shrewsbury Chronicle ( Thursday, February 7, 2013),  entitled  ’Why I voted in support of gay marriage ‘:

” Jesus says: ” Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

I’ve concentrated here on the Tory MP’s voting in favour, but here’s one Catholic Labour MP, who’s gone on the record as saying that he supports Equal Marriage because he’s a Catholic, and not in spite of his faith:

On learning that I am in favour of same-sex marriage, one of my local Catholic priests wrote to me recently saying that he would pray for me. Another local priest expressed his disappointment in me by adding that he had hoped that my Catholic background “would have prompted a more thoughtful response and decision”.

As someone who still regards themselves as a Catholic, whose children are being educated at Catholic school, I have no objection to being prayed for. Indeed I welcome it. We all need praying for. But I thought the suggestion that my support for equal marriage was somehow contradictory to my Catholic upbringing was rather odd.

I don’t go to Mass every week and it’s been a while since I did R.E at school. But I have yet to see anything in the Gospels where Christ voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage. I don’t, for example, recall that after Jesus had turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, Our Lord then went on to tell the guests at the celebration that he would not have been so hospitable had the marriage involved two people of the same gender.

I was always told that Jesus taught us compassion, understanding and to treat others as we wished to be treated ourselves. I am married – so why shouldn’t two gay people similarly be allowed to get married? At weddings, we often quote from St Paul’s famous first letter to the Corinthians where he told us to abide by three things: faith, hope and love, “but the greatest of these is love”. When the Commons votes today, I will be voting in favour of equal marriage because why shouldn’t two people, who love each other and who want to make a long-term commitment to one another, be able to get married, regardless of their sexuality?

- Michael Dugher, Labour MP

(continue reading at Speaker’s Chair)


Here’s the list of identified Catholic MP’s who voted in favour of Equal Marriage:

Conor Burns Con Bournemouth West
Damian Collins Con Folkestone and Hythe
Ian Duncan Smith Con Chingford and W Green
Jane Ellison Con Battersea
Damian Green Con Ashford
Ben Gummer Con Ipswich
Mark Harper Con Forest of Dean
Damian Hinds Con East Hampshire
Daniel Kawczynski Con Shrewsbury and Atcham
Patrick McLoughlin Con Derbyshire Dales
Mark Menzies Con Fylde
Eric Ollerenshaw Con Lancaster and Fleetwood
Charles Walker Con Broxbourne
Christopher White Con Warwick and Leamington
Kevin Brennan Lab Cardiff West
Andy Burnham Lab Leigh
Mary Creagh Lab Wakefield
Jon Cruddas Lab Dagenham
Jim Cunningham Lab Coventry South
Margaret Curran Lab Glasgow East
Simon Danczuk Lab Rochdale
Gloria De Piero Lab Ashfield
Thomas Docherty Lab Dunfernline and W Fyfe
Gemma Doyle Lab West Dunbartonshire
Jack Dromey Lab Birmingham Erdington
Michael Dugher Lab Barnsley E
Paul Farrelly Lab Newcastle under Lyme
Stephen Hepburn Lab Jarrow
Meg Hillier Lab Hackney South and Shoreditch
Huw Irranca – Davies Lab Ogmore
Helen Jones Lab Warringron North
Barbara Keeley Lab Worsley
Siobhan McDonagh Lab Mitcham and Morden
Pat McFadden Lab Wolverhampton South East
Anne McGuire Lab Stirling
Ann McKechin Lab Glasgow North
Catherine McKinnell Lab Newcastle North
Jim Murphy Lab East Renfrewshire
Pamela Nash Lab Airdrie and Shotts
Theresa Pearce Lab Erith and Thamesmead
Bridget Phillipson Lab Houghton and Sunderland South
Chris Ruane Lab Vale of Clwyd
Gerry Sutcliffe Lab Bradford South
Keith Vaz Lab Leicester East
Valerie Vaz Lab Walsall South
Mike Hancock LD Portsmouth South
Mark Durkan SDLP Foyle

(links to, UK)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994)412 pages

Comstock, Gary David: Gay Theology Without Apology

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage  (Seabury Books)

Heyward, Carter:   Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage(Univ of Chicago Press)

Moore, Gareth OP: A Question of Truth : Christianity & Homosexuality(Continuum Books, 2003) 

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality(Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival(Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Sullivan, Andrew: Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con 

Vasey, MStrangers and Friends: New Exploration of Homosexuality and the Bible



(links to, USA)

Boswell, John: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Harper-Collins, 1994) 412 pages

Glaser, Chris: As My Own Soul: The Blessing of Same-Gender Marriage (Seabury Books)

Hunt, Mary: Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship (Crossroad, 1991)

Jennings, Theodore W. The man jesus loved (Pilgrim Press)

Jordan, Mark:  Blessing Same-Sex Unions: The Perils of Queer Romance and the Confusions of Christian Marriage (Univ of Chicago Press)

Stuart, Elisabeth: Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships (Mowbray, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality (Picador, 1995)

Sullivan, Andrew: Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (Chatto & Windus, 1998)

Vasey, MStrangers and friends: A new exploration of homosexuality and the Bible


Should Catholics accept gay marriage? Austen Ivereigh and Tina Beatti

Tina Beattie :

I have never been able to understand the argument that same-sex marriage threatens marriage as we know it. Marriage is far more threatened by a consumerist culture in which the demand for instant gratification is worth the sacrifice of any relationship or responsibility which involves commitment and struggle, and by an ethos of sexual libertarianism which so easily mutates into predatory and exploitative relationships involving young and vulnerable people, and which fosters unrealistically high expectations of sexual performance among adults who ought to know better.

In this context, society stands to benefit from any move towards a deeper understanding of the value of “lifelong fidelity and commitment” between two people, whether of the same sex or of different sexes, as a basic building block for community and family life. And let’s be honest – the gay subculture is such that there may be relatively few men in particular who want to agree to “forsake all others” and opt for lifelong monogamy, which is implicit in the understanding of marriage informing the current debate.

When evangelical preacher Steve Chalke recently argued in favour of same-sex Christian marriage, one gay person complained about the “enforced monogamy” that this entailed. This is only one of many complex and messy issues that surrounds the proposed change, but life is complex and messy. Christianity recognises that, and at its best it seeks to nurture the most favourable social conditions for human flourishing and for care for the vulnerable within the muddle and mess of our human fallibility.

- continued at Comment is free, Guardian.

Austen Ivereigh:

Across the channel, in one of the most remarkable civil-society revolts of modern times, close to a million people took to the Paris streets last month to protest against same-sex marriage. In the UK, on the other hand, a great silence supervenes; the media barely consider it worth debating. The “equality” frame, expertly constructed by Stonewall’s lawyers, has silenced us: who dares to favour “discrimination”? But the hard questions about the drive to gay marriage must still be faced.

At present the law recognises a marriage as unique and different from all other forms of love and commitment – and it “discriminates” against those unable to meet its norms, in order to preserve that meaning. Marriage of a man and a woman is the only environment capable of generating new life and giving children the opportunity of being raised by their birth parents. All the other elements of marriage – sexual exclusivity, sexual difference, lifelong commitment, cohabitation – support that environment. The government’s new definition strips from marriage sexual difference, and indeed sex itself, as well as any link to children; it defines marriage as a mere domestic partnership of any two people. And it enshrines a new principle: that sexual difference doesn’t matter.

- continued at Comment is free, Guardian.


UK Breaking News : Equality Wins!

As expected, the vote for a second reading of the equal marriage legislation easily passed in the House of Commons a short while ago, by a vote of 400 to 175, with about 140 Conservative MPs voting against ( a majority of the caucus that voted), and only 35 against, from all the remaining parties. This does not yet end the matter: there’ll still be a lot of haggling over details, and then it must pass in the Lords, where opposition is expected to be stiffer (especially with a sold phalanx of Anglican bishops taking their seats), but even so, it is unlikely that equality will be prevented.

According to the Guardian Politics Live blog, voting in favour were  Labour 217; Conservative 126; Lib Dem 44; Others 8

voting  against were Conservative 136; Labour 22; Lib Dem 4; Other 10

and Did not vote/abstained were Conservative 40; Labour 16; Lib Dem 7

What interested me when the news broke, rather more than the predictable outcome, was the reaction of voters – so I took a look at the comments thread on the BBC website, where by a similarly large margin to the House – the “Ayes” have it!

rainbow britain

Here are the site’s top – ranked comments, as at 20:04 GMT:

  1. Can you please run an article on the first marriage between grooms called Adam and Steve, just to annoy the Tory backbenchers. Please!
  2. Gay people allowed to get married? Whatever next? Votes for women?…
  3. As proud & happy as I am for this, 175 MPs voted against this. Yes 400 voted for it, but 175 didn’t. Appalling. On the bright-side, it’s passed! Equality at last! Get religion out of politics: no place there. I respect your views, but not that you think you can control MY life with YOUR views.
  4. Why should anyone be against? For the majority it has no effect and for a minority it’s good news. Truly who can personally say they are harmed by this change?
  5. Proud of Parliament today.
  6. A tremendous move forward. I was shocked to hear some of the straw man arguments made by MPs who opposed it – one claimed this was “about Christianity” when it’s not, it’s about love and commitment – religions have been given special permission to be bigoted if they want, but apparently that wasn’t enough. Glad it’s moving forward, hope it soon becomes full law.
  7. Please put your red coats back on and come take us back. We seem to be stuck in the 1700s over here in the USA!
  8. Well done to the Commons! A huge step forward for equality. Lets see what the Lords make of it now…
  9. Nice to see sense triumph over religious idiots!
  10. Historic. In fifty years time we will look back and wonder why it took so long……and hopefully being gay or lesbian will be as significant as being left ha nded….i.e. not an issue.
  11. Now Gay Bishops. This heralds a new sexual revolution where bigots shall be expunged from every quarter of our society.
  12. Great news, a clear sign that the House of Commons is in tune with the people on at-least this one issue. Now lets hope the bill passes with similar ease through the House of Lords!
  13. About time too!
  14. One step closer to a fairer world. Common sense and humanity won today.
  15. (Responding to “Bored”:  ”The validity of my marriage has taken another hit” Why? Did you suddenly realise you married the wrong person? Obviously it can’t be that other people who love each other can now marry, because someone else’s happiness doesn’t diminish your own.
  16. Brilliant! How refreshing to see politicians granting freedoms for a change instead of voting to take them away. Democracy at its best!
  17. Excellent news. I cannot imagine how these homophobes (because yes, you are, no matter how much you deny it) can possibly imagine there is anything wrong with two people who love each other wanting to get married. It’s the bigoted moralists who are the shameful ones, not people in love
  18. Today is a very very good day. It signals the end of religious bigotry.
  19. About time.
  20. Good news. Now, can MPs have a free vote on everything and party whips be banned so we can have something approaching proper democracy? (i.e. the MPs we have voted for making decisions by themselves)

And no, I’ve not censored out the disappointed comments – I couldn’t find any, in this listing of top ranked responses.




Accelerating British Support for Equal Marriage, in Church

Three polls in the last 10 days have shown strong and rapidly expanding public support for marriage equality in law – including support for same – sex weddings in Anglican churches.

gay church wedding 3

The British opponents of marriage equality have been vociferous in their insistence that government proposals are in contravention of the public wishes. This is nonsense – reputable opinion polls have consistently shown that a clear majority of UK voters support the proposals for same – sex marriage. Three polls over the last week have confirmed this, once again.


A Yougov poll released last week, for fieldwork conducted 13th and 14th December, showed that 55% support “changing the law to allow same – sex couples to marry“. Just 36% are opposed. The strength of support is also on the side of equality – 30% are “strongly” supportive, and 21% strongly against.

In common with regular findings from the US, support is heavily skewed by age group: only the 60+ age group is opposed, with those aged 16 – 24 heavily supportive, by 74% to 16%. Politically, both Labour and Liberal Democrat voters are strongly supportive, with Conservatives equally divided, 40%/40%. (It is likely that UKIP voters are the only significant party clearly against, but their responses are not disclosed in the cross – tabs). Together with reports of mounting rebellion in the Conservative parliamentary party, this gives the lie to Conservative claims to being the natural home for gay and lesbian voters – but I’m not going to hammer that point.


Another poll just released, focuses specifically on government proposals for same – sex marriage, in church, and the deliberate exclusion of the Church of England from this provision. This was a Comres survey conducted for the Independent, which reports

The public want the Government to go further on gay marriage by allowing Church of England vicars to conduct same-sex weddings, a poll forThe Independent reveals today. As some religious leaders used their Christmas sermons to attack David Cameron’s plans, the ComRes survey suggests that the Church of England is out of touch with the public by opposing gay marriage. It defines marriage “as being between a man and a woman”.

By a margin of 2-1, people oppose the Government’s proposal to make it illegal for the Church of England to conduct gay marriages. Asked whether its vicars should be allowed to perform such ceremonies if they wanted to, 62 per cent of people said they should and 31 per cent disagreed, with seven per cent replying “don’t know”.

- Independent

The Independent does not release any more detail, continuing instead with reports of the responses by some bishops  to the plans, and Comres has not published any on its website. Pink News has a little more:

The idea of gay couples marrying in Church of England weddings is more popular among women with the figures 64 per cent in favour to 27 objecting. Among under 44′s, almost three-quarters of people support the idea of church gay weddings. It is only in the over 65′s where there is a majority in opposition, although it is not sizable – 50 per cent to 38 per cent.

Guardian / ICM

More than three in five voters support David Cameron’s wish to introduce gay marriage, according to a poll conducted for the Guardian. The strong backing for a change in the law comes after the archbishop of Westminster queried the democratic legitimacy of the coalition plans.

The ICM poll conducted just before Christmas found 62% of voters now support the proposals, with half this number – 31% – opposed. Most previous polls have found opinion leaning the same way, although the two-to-one margin revealed on Wednesday is particularly emphatic.

What is most striking in this poll, is in how sharply opinion has shifted in favour, during the course of the year.

An ICM online survey for the Sunday Telegraph in March asked the identical question – which expressly reminds people that the option of civil partnerships already exists for gay couples – and established a 45%-36% lead for the reformers.

That significant hardening of opinion during the year will encourage Cameron, whose embrace of gay marriage has proved controversial, not only with religious leaders but also with the Tory backbench. And the new poll reveals a particularly significant swing towards the reform among the Tory base.

The Opponents’ Claim

And yet – the opponents of equal marriage regularly trumpet the findings of their own survey, which allegedly finds that a strong majority of voters are against gay marriage.

The Government’s plan to redefine marriage in order to open it to same-sex couples could face serious opposition from the general public, according to a poll commissioned by Catholic Voices which is published today, a week before the Government begins its official consultation on the matter.

Seven out of 10 British people believe that marriage should continue to be defined as a lifelong union between a man and a woman, and more than eight out 10 think children have the best chance in life when raised by their biological parents, the ComRes online survey of more than 2,000 people found. The poll also found that people think the state should promote marriage, and that most people support the idea of civil partnerships.

“The results show that most people support the idea of civil partnerships for gay people while being firm that marriage should remain between a man and a woman,” said Austen Ivereigh, Catholic Voices coordinator. “The survey also shows that most people understand marriage to be a conjugal institution, which benefits children above all.”

- Catholic Voices

How are these seemingly contradictory results reconcilable?

This merits a closer look at the details of the survey on which it was based, conducted in February 2012, and released in March. Here’s the crunch question, taken from the ComRes published tables :

Q.1 Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

There are two distinct technical problems in putting the question this way. As Anthony Wells has frequently noted at his respected blog, UK Polling Report, asking people whether they “agree or disagree” with any proposition, has a built-in tendency to produce results that favour “agree”. When the question is presented as “Do you agree or disagree that gay marriage should be legally recognized”, the result is likely to be completely different. A second problem is that the question on equal marriage was presented as the final statement in a series on marriage, with the preceding statements acting as a softening up process, leading to the result the survey sponsors were hoping for.

An additional, non – technical flaw lay in the presentation of the survey results. Although the questions did not in any way refer to the law, results were presented as if they represented opposition to changing the law. Here’s the exact statement:

Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman

This refers simply to “continue to be defined” – not “defined in law”, as the survey sponsors have presented it, in their campaign in opposition to marriage equality. Furthermore, the application is highly selective. It has been interpreted as opposition only to same – sex marriage, but could equally be used to support a campaign to end legal divorce, or to criminalize adultery. But these are claims the so-called “Coalition for Marriage” does not make. They, and the American National Organization for Marriage, are not really interested in working to strengthen marriage, or the genuine threats to existing marriage – merely ensuring that marriage should not be extended to same – sex couples. They are not working to strengthen marriage, but to restrict and so weaken it.

Significance of these findings

What can have caused this remarkable shift? ‘Nothing in particular has occurred during the  year to move opinion – except the consultation itself. Before the government announced its intentions, there was very little debate about gay marriage. There appeared to be a fairly general acceptance that civil partnerships existed, and were virtually equivalent in law to full marriage – so that change was not needed. But that changed with the launch of the consultation process. Suddenly, private discussions, public debates and organized campaigns were everywhere – including the largest ever petition drive the country has yet seen.

All three of the most recent surveys are in broad agreement with the consistent findings of all previous polling research on gay marriage and the law: a clear and growing majority of the British people want marriage equality. The overwhelming support from the youngest age groups will ensure that this support will continue to grow, and is likely to accelerate once it becomes fact, and part of everyday life. This latest poll suggests that with public support also for gay marriage in the Church of England, pressure will start to build not just for gay marriage, but also for that denomination to revise its own opposition.

There is a delicious irony in complaints from the opposition that there was not proper “consultation”. It is clear that there was – and it was this very process of consultation that led government to take very seriously the point made by the Church of England submission, that as the established church, legal provision for equal marriage could force it to provide for gay marriage in contravention of its own laws. It was for this reason that the Church was given a specific and very explicit provision in the present proposals, to prohibit it from conducting same – sex marriages. This has raised an outcry in some quarters over the apparent discrimination for which it has been singled out. This is not a flaw in the proposals, but in the Church itself. It can resolve the problem in one of two ways – either by taking a decision to remove its own present absolute prohibition on gay marriage, leaving decisions to local dioceses (as applies in Canada and the US), or by applying for disestablishment – removing its present privileged position in British religious life. Neither course is likely to be easy – but the problem is of the Anglican bishops’ own making.

A rather different problem confronts the Conservative Party. Yet another recent poll has shown that for his clear support and vigorous action in support of gay marriage, David Cameron now has strong support from gay and lesbian British voters – but his own party is bitterly divided on the issue.  He is losing support among Conservative members as party leader, the promised free vote in parliament will see many Tory MP’s voting against – and on the sidelines, his party is hemorrhaging voters and members to UKIP – in part, over gay marriage. David Cameron is out of touch with much of his own party base – but that base itself is out of touch with the country as a whole, and especially with the younger voters it must attract to win in the future.

Looking ahead, the message is clear. If there ever was any doubt that the country was ready for equal marriage, the consultation process has dispelled them. Support is overwhelming and growing, across a wide spectrum of the population. There has been extensive public discussion and debate, informally, in the press, on-line, in radio and television broadcasts, and in a formal government consultation process. The opponents have had ample opportunity to make their case against, which they have done to the best of their ability, with extensive practical support from the Catholic Church. They have made their case – and lost the argument.

The British people have instead decided in favour. Equal marriage in civil law, is on its way. Equal marriage in an expanding number of churches, will follow. It’s just a matter of time.


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