A BRIDGE of sorts was built yesterday when the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, broke an Anglican “no dialogue with The Gays” tradition, and agreed to meet human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
But despite Tatchell indicating afterwards that he appreciated having the door of Lambeth Palace opened to him, a gulf still exists.
Archbishop Welby is clearly struggling to reconcile his support for loving, stable same-sex relationships with his opposition to same-sex marriage. I got the impression that he wants to support gay equality but feels bound by Church tradition. He accepts that discrimination is not a Christian value but can’t bring himself to state publicly that banning gay couples from getting married is discrimination and wrong.
The Archbishop told me ‘gay people are not intrinsically different from straight people’ but there is an ‘intrinsic difference in the nature of same-sex relationships’ and this is a sufficient reason to deny gay couples the right to marry, even in civil ceremonies in register offices. When pressed to say why this ‘intrinsic difference’ justified banning same-sex marriage he merely replied: ‘They are just different’.
I am hopeful that in time the Archbishop will resolve his moral dilemmas and encourage the church to move closer to gay equality. He struck me as a genuine, sincere, open-minded person, willing to listen and rethink his position.
At the meeting, Tatchell urged the Archbishop to “embrace a new historic compromise and rapprochement with the gay community:” that the church can continue to believe that homosexuality is wrong but that it will agree that homophobic discrimination is also wrong – and actively oppose it.
The Archbishop did not accept that the ban on same-sex civil marriage amounted to discrimination. He told me: ‘I don’t accept the word discrimination’.
Welby said he was “apprehensive” and “cautious” about the “consequences of redefining marriage,” adding that he was unconvinced that it would be to “the advantage of society.”
However he added that in future “marriage may evolve.”
Tatchell also urged Welby to:
Apologise on behalf of the Church of England for the centuries of homophobic persecution it inflicted on gay people. If not an apology, then some expression of remorse and regret.
The Archbishop replied:
I hear what you say. I will need to think about that.
Because of the refusal by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, to discuss gay issues with homosexual rights groups, ten members of OutRage! – including Peter Tatchell – scaled the walls of Lambeth Palace in 1997, hid among the roses and jumped out to confront Carey as he entertained 16 Anglican primates in the garden.
We were protesting over his refusal to dialogue with the gay community and his opposition to an equal age of consent, fostering by gay couples and the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. This time I’m going to Lambeth Palace through the front door at the Archbishop’s invitation. It makes a nice change.
This is the first time any Archbishop has formally met me. Even a liberal like Rowan Williams never welcomed me to Lambeth Palace. Justin’s invitation is progress.