“The most significant intervention yet into the debate on gay marriage”
So says John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor of The Daily Telegraph, on the statement issued by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
The Archbishop is of the view that ‘gay marriage’ would be a ‘profoundly radical step’, and has issued a letter to be read from the pulpit of 2,500 churches during Mass this Sunday, reminding them of their ‘duty’ to support their church’s teaching. Since there isn’t to be a referendum on the matter, it is difficult to see why this is ‘the most significant intervention’ in this debate. Not least because Archbishop Vincent is by no means the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the land.
That status surely goes to Cardinal Keith O’Brien (if not, in England and Wales, to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who has been rather trappist on the matter). Cardinal O'Brien is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and he accused the Coalition of a ‘grotesque subversion’ and of ‘shaming the country’. He said ‘gay marriage’ is a further ‘aberration’ of a ‘degenerating’ society, and is akin to slavery. This was indeed a ‘most significant intervention’.
And then there’s the Church of England. Though the Telegraph derides it at every turn, mocking its leadership and pouring scorn over its internal debates, it remains the Established Church in England, and so rather more ‘significant’ in terms of political intervention. We have heard from former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who says that the ‘gay marriage’ proposal ‘constitutes one of the greatest political power grabs in history’; it amounts to ‘cultural vandalism’.
And we’ve also heard from the Church’s second most senior cleric, the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, who compared David Cameron to a ‘dictator’ for changing a fundamental social structure. He threatened a ‘rebellion’ in the Lords and told the Prime Minister: "You’re going to get it from across the benches and in the Commons." That’s pretty significant, don’t you think, Mr Bingham?
And then we have the most senior cleric in the land, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams who is of the view that the state has no right at all to legalise same-sex marriage, reasoning that human rights legislation ‘falls short of a legal charter to promote change in institutions’. The Archbishop has told Parliament that Anglican churches will not solemnise ‘gay marriages’, and is adamant that marriage will remain a union between one man and one woman.
With respect to John Bingham, who appears to be locked in the Telegraph’s peculiarly myopic Romeward-gazing bubble, this is by far ‘the most significant intervention yet into the debate on gay marriage’, not only because it comes from the Primate of All England and the Primus inter Pares of all primates of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, but because Dr Williams is a known liberal-lefty and a self-declared, long-time supporter of gay rights. We fully expect Roman Catholic cardinals and archbishops to submit to the Magisterium and bow to the infallible authority of the Pope in the dogmatic teaching on faith or morals. There is absolutely no surprise when an evangelically-inclined former Anglican archbishop seeks to uphold the Church’s traditional teaching on the family and human sexuality. And when an Archbishop of African heritage talks of ‘dictators’ trying to change our cultural heritage, this does not astonish or amaze.
David Cameron said: "I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative." In doing so, he aligns his conservatism with the rather antithetical socialist instinct to engineer society, and also with the modern liberal tendency to tolerate all lifestyles and beliefs under the increasingly intolerant aegis of human rights.
When the Prime Minister faces opposition from the liberal-progressive leadership of the Church of England – as well as from its conservative-evangelical and High-Church traditionalists – he surely has a fight on his hands.
That, Mr Bingham, with all due respect, is why the Archbishop of Canterbury has made what is by far ‘the most significant intervention yet into the debate on gay marriage'. For if David Cameron cannot carry a liberal-lefty cleric with him on this liberal-lefty reform, the argument is lost, and the political fallout for the Conservative Party will be immense.