debate between Rod Thomas of Reform and Colin Coward of Changing Attitude this morning on the Radio 4 Today programme. I can't imagine two men with more different views and perspectives than Rod Thomas and Colin Coward, the former opposed to the inclusion of women, as well as gay people, and the latter campaigning for the full inclusion of LGBT christians within the Church of England, and I did try to see the issue from both perspectives - although I am certainly far from impartial.
I very much support the proposed change to the law to allow civil partnerships to be conducted in places of worship, I know that the Quakers, for example, have been wanting to allow conduct such ceremonies for some time and this change in the law will allow this. I would also very much like to see the day when the Church of England officially allows the blessing of same sex relationships (this now happens unofficially in some churches) and also allows individual priests and parishes to choose to celebrate civil partnerships if they so wish. One thing we should be very clear about is that this is not what we seem to be looking at here. The Church of England has said it will not conduct civil partnerships, nor allow its buildings to be used for that purpose - I do not think the change to the law will alter the right for the Church to continue such an embargo.
I would like to see, and will campaign to help bring about, a change in attitude in the Church that allows those priests who are accepting of same sex relationships to bless and conduct civil partnerships. What I do not wish to see is any priest or parish compelled to carry these out against their will or to face litigation if they refuse to do so. The fear of Rod Thomas and many others is that the law of the land will effectively force change and that there will be no allowances made for freedom of conscience. I do not know how realistic these fears are, the pace of change that we have seen in gay rights over the last decade has been astonishing, ten to fifteen years ago the way that the law has consistently upheld the principle of gay equality, such as in the recent B&B case in Cornwall, would have been unthinkable.
There are also suggestions of the possibility of allowing civil partnerships legally to be called "marriages" - many people I know refer to them that way- or allowing opposite sex partners to enter into civil partnership. That too will seem a wonderful freedom to some, but will stir up fears in others about a change to what we understand marriage to be - but that is the stuff of another blog post!