Evangelical Alliance criticised for slur against same-sex couples
The Evangelical Alliance UK is facing criticism from both Christian and secular commentators for an ìoutrageousî remark made by Don Horrocks, the EAís head of public affairs, in which he equated allowing same-sex couples to marry with ìpeople wanting to marry their horseî.
The comment appeared in an Observer newspaper article (28 May 2006) examining the controversy surrounding a High Court challenge being made this week by two women, both Canadian academics, who want to have their civil partnership recognised as a marriage.
Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger married in Canada and say that their relationship should have the same status in the UK. They are making their claim with reference to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
But the Evangelical Alliance and other conservative Christian groups are horrified by the development, saying that it is against traditional church teaching and will undermine the institution of procreative, heterosexual marriage.
ìWhere does it stop?î the EAís Don Horrocks is quoted as asking in The Observer on Sunday. ìSoon there will be people wanting to marry their horse.î
ìOr perhaps,î he went on ìthree or four people [will] all want to get married.î
Claiming that the case vindicated the arguments the Evangelical Alliance made when opposing the introduction of civil partnerships, he commented: ìIf the word marriage is going to be infinitely plastic it loses all meaning.î
But the Rev Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, which works for inclusion within the Anglican Communion irrespective of sexuality, told Ekklesia that he found Mr Horrocksí remarks ìsimply incomprehensibleî.
Describing the comparison with horses as ìoffensive to Godî, he added: ìWhat it reveals is the extent of the fantasy inhabiting the minds of those who do not wish to affirm lesbian and gay people in the churchÖ It bears no relationship at all to the claims that are being made for proper recognition.î
Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK think-tank and news service Ekklesia, which has argued that Christian tradition and the Bible is no bar to the full acceptance of gay people in the church, said: ìI suspect that even many who agree with the EA over gay marriages would consider likening them to bestiality quite outrageous.î
Ekklesia sought a clarification and response concerning Don Horrocksí quoted comments from the Evangelical Alliance today. But acting senior EA press officer Bill Shaw said that no comment would be forthcoming until after the court case.
Keith Porteous-Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, has also condemned the remarks and has written to The Observer to point out that Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzingerís marriage was a civil ceremony, not a religious one.
ìThat Don Horrocks portrays this as soon leading to ëpeople wanting to marry their horseí says more about the Evangelical Alliance than it does about the civil rights of these womenî, he told Ekklesia.
Of the court case, which begins on 2 June 2006, Professor Wilkinson declared: ìIf a different-sex couple went to Canada and got married and returned to England it would be automatically recognised ... This is about equality.î
Wilkinson and Kitzinger have been together for 16 years. They married in August 2003 while Wilkinson was working in British Columbia, one of the first places in the world to recognise same-sex marriages.
Since civil partnerships were introduced in the UK, gay and lesbian couples have had the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
But after objections from the Church of England and others, a distinction has been maintained between such partnerships and marriage as reserved for heterosexual couples.
Last year the Anglican Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Dr Peter Selby, affirmed civil partnerships as ìsigns of commitment and responsibilityî and criticised his own Church, which has been deeply divided on questions of sexuality, for its ìgrudging and fearful responseî.
He added at the time: ìNobody has ever been prepared to tell me that their own marriage was threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships. My experience of lesbian and gay friends in relation to my own marriage is only of support and insight.î
There are disagreements within the lesbian and gay community, as well as within the churches, about the appropriate definitions of marriage and partnership. Some seek to be married, while others reject the institution. But moves for full equality of regard and legal status are bound to continue.
Some say the issue is further clouded by the current elision of sacred and secular definitions of marriage, with many in the churches resisting a civil ceremony independent of religious meaning and vice versa.
[Also on Ekklesia: Bishop of Worcester supports gay civil partnerships; Affirming Catholicism and two bishops back civil partnerships; Christian to be first MP to enter gay civil partnership; Christian MP to enter gay civil partnership; Blessings for same sex relationships increasing in C of E; Affirming Catholics challenge C of E on same-sex unions; Global leaders query Church of England state link; Bible supports gay partnerships, says leading Anglican bishop; Papal envoy says gay partnerships should be acknowledged; US faith group opposes constitutional ban on same-sex marriage; Christian MP apologises for anti-gay campaign; Orthodox suspend Lutheran links over gay blessings; Senior Anglican sanctions liturgy for gay couples; Pro-gay Anglicans say Nigerian Church 'obsessed' with gays; Conference to address gays and the future of Anglicanism; Primates disown open letter to Archbishop of Canterbury; Historic first meeting for gay Nigerian Christians; Evangelical aide has Bush taped on drugs, UN and gay sex]