Big Hearts, Small Steps

“We are being led to treat same sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses. The question of legal recognition by the state is secondary.” A few words from the most recent press release of Quakers UK; a few words, however, with great meaning and significance.

Quakers UK have recognised same sex partnerships since the 1960s, have had over 20 meetings reaffirming their commitment to it since 1990 and are “the first mainstream religious group to approve marriages for homosexuals”, reports The Times Online. As part of their most recent annual meeting, over 1,600 members have voted unanimously to support gay marriage, and are pressing for the government to do the same.

The UK is a rare example in this divided debate, where civil partnerships in same-sex couples are allowed; there is very little legal difference between it and a marriage in terms of property, pension and inheritance. The government has thus far failed to acknowledge same sex partnerships as marriage. This is a position The Religious Society of Friends hopes to alter, just as they have campaigned for so many other causes.

They wish to do this “so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are” and so that they “can be recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages”, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Their official website explains that Quakers were established in the 1600s in Britain, as a breakaway from other contemporary Christian groups which they believed to be too puritan. They live by testimonies of peace, equality, simplicity and truth (or integrity) and have campaigned vigorously since the 17th and 18th centuries against slavery, discrimination by class, wealth, gender or race, and for pacifism and religious tolerance.

Several prominent companies were established by Quaker members, such as Cadbury’s, Rowntrees, Lloyds Bank and Barclays Bank; Quakers have also headed innovations in the steel, iron and railway industries, according to the Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson. Quaker industries were unique for their time as they provided medical care, pensions funds and free education to employees.

A Guardian editorial further explains that “they value the experience of inspiration and share it in largely silent worship” and “the exploration of radical concepts is more important, as is the belief that there is good in everyone.” In recognising and applauding same sex partnerships, the Quaker movement is now appealing to the government to allow their ministers to recognize gay marriages as equal to opposite-sex marriages.

The Quaker movement is one of the only organisations that welcomes gay partnerships and accepts them with open arms. If this government appeal goes through, The Religious Society of Friends will be the only one to recognise gay marriage as equally sacrosanct as opposite sex marriage. Spokesman Michael Hutchison says, “They miss the public recognition [of marriage] in a religious ceremony. We hope our discussions this week will help us realise, in love, the friend whose experience is not our own and will lead us forward in exploring what true equality means.”

This endorsement and support is a huge step forward in a debate that shouldn’t take us so long to settle. Let’s hope that the Quaker movement can add gay marriage to the long list of issues they’ve helped resolve. As a young Quaker declared, “To deny the spiritual aspect of marriage to committed couples, based on their sexuality, is unjust.”

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