the friend online
02 October 2009

Committed relationships

Experience changes attitudes, discovered Phil Lucas

The decision of British Quakers, taken at the end of July, to treat same-sex marriages in the same way as different-sex marriages is the culmination of a long process. Towards a Quaker View of Sex, published in 1963, stated: ‘An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual’. Twenty-two years later, we considered a proposal that it was time for us to treat equally same-sex and different-sex relationships. We were not then ready but when a similar proposal came back nearly three years ago it started a process that led to our discovering the certainty that this is now God’s will for us.

As part of the process leading up to the decision in July, we asked Friends throughout the country to respond to a soundings exercise. An analysis of the responses indicated that many were eager for us to move forward and make changes, that a minority felt the time was not yet right and that a very few were unhappy about celebrating same-sex partnerships in their Meetings.

I was interested by the evidence that simply meeting to consider the matter had moved some to change their view. I presented the findings to Meeting for Sufferings, the guiding body of the Society, last year, confessing how far my own attitudes had changed. In my pre-Quaker years I regarded homosexuality as unbiblical and sinful. It was through getting to know same-sex couples and experiencing that there was between them the potential for the same quality of self-giving love as I have seen and experienced in heterosexual marriage that I overcame my prejudice. I understand therefore the pain a minority of Friends, especially some older Friends, expressed as we wrestled with this issue. Some had little experience of witnessing loving long-term same-sex partnerships and some were influenced by the difficulties Christian tradition has had with sexual matters. Our minute reminds us of the need for tenderness to those who find this change difficult.

Experience is at the heart of Quaker theology. ‘You will say’, George Fox is reported as declaring in 1652, ‘Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’ In the sessions leading to our historic decision, we were moved by hearing the experience of a Friend with four children, two straight, two gay and the first-hand testimony of the love for each other of couples straight and gay. The contribution of Junior Yearly Meeting (16 to 19-year-olds meeting in parallel to our annual assembly) to our consideration was unequivocal: ‘… to deny the spiritual aspect of marriage to committed couples, based upon their sexuality, is unjust’, they told us. We were moved by the Spirit to heed their advice.

Our decision is already being implemented. The recording clerk, who is the keeper and interpreter of our church government, is giving advice to registering officers, the people who register marriages, on the process they should follow pending the revision of chapter 16, the section on marriage in Quaker faith & practice, our book of church government and inspiration. Current marriage forms can be adjusted to remove gender specific references and the Quaker marriage certificate can be used without any alteration. Our Yearly Meeting has asked at this stage that nothing be done that would be contrary to the law, so it will be important for Area Meetings to heed the recording clerk’s careful advice. Parliamentary links are being pursued with a view to ending the prohibition on religious language in civil partnerships and the current ban on their taking place in religious premises.

Phil Lucas


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A testimony to Love
Judy Kirby, Editor
Circles of silence
Gerard Benson
A view of Quakers
David Wood
Testimony to peace
Helen Steven
Middle East witness
Ann Wright
Peace for all
Stephen Hanvey
Living the testimonies
Helen Drewery
Harvey Gillman
Testimony to Equality
Jonathan Dale
Committed relationships
Phil Lucas
Quaker thought in literature
Marina Lewycka
Quaker thought in poetry
Gerard Benson
Ros Smith
Marian Liebmann
Equality and social justice
Belinda Hopkins
Testimony to Simplicity
Jan Arriens and Marion McNaughton
Laurie Michaelis
Testimony to Truth
Linda Pegler
Integrity in public life
Tony Stoller

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