“David and Jonathan”, c. 1505, by Cima de Conegliano: A re-reading of the Bible can bring radical new conclusions
For the last few years I have often been asked to give speeches in the United States. I usually begin with an un-characteristic modesty, along the lines of: “You might not have heard of me but I’m pretty well-known in Canada.” It usually gets a laugh. Yes, pretty well-known in Canada: as a television and radio host, columnist and author. And in that capacity I was renowned as a social conservative and someone who opposed, among other things, same-sex marriage. Good Lord, I even won a national broadcasting award for my part in a radio debate on the issue. But then last year, after a long process of unwinding and unfolding, I came out as an advocate of equal marriage.
The process was obviously incremental and also impossible to detach from my faith. I’d based my previous view on Christian teachings, the procreative aspect of marriage and the uniqueness of the genders. So the first wedge, the first opening of the door, was faith-based. A radical re-reading of Scripture can be an uncomfortable thing. Jesus never speaks of homosexuality, Paul seldom mentions it, the Old Testament devotes a tiny amount of space to it and never even refers to lesbianism, while modern interpretations of the story of Sodom and even the Pauline letters lead to some very different conclusions about their meaning.
It’s generally accurate to say that the Bible is not positive about same-sex attraction but goodness me do David and Jonathan have a lot of explaining to do, and you can throw in Ruth and Naomi, Philip and that Ethiopian eunuch on the Jerusalem road, and the centurion who so loves his slave that he will do anything to have him cured. Read the Hebrew and Greek originals for all this and you’ll be stunned.
Layered onto this were the books of numerous Christian writers, many but not all of them Anglican, such as Bishop Alan Wilson and Canon Jeffrey John and at the very least what had been a rock of certainty became a cloud of unknowing. I could no longer reconcile the pristine gentleness and tolerance of Christ with the harshness of the anti-gay Christian Right.
As for the secular and political context, the procreative nature of marriage had always been a stumbling block for me. Of course, I knew that some couples couldn’t conceive and others didn’t want to but the norm for straight marriages was still children. Here was where experience came into play. In the past two years I have met so many gay couples with children — mainly through adoption — and the degree of sacrifice and commitment drowns any natural law argument. More than this, the children adopted are often those far from top of the list for other couples; it might sound clinical but it’s true.
And with reference to natural law, while gay marriage may be unusual and non-traditional, it no longer fulfills my definition of unnatural. At the risk of daring to be emotional, it is love rather than physiological differences that defines a lasting union. Anyway, if sex is still the qualifying ingredient of marriage after 25 years I’m impressed. For us it’s a shared bottle of single-malt and binge-watching Breaking Bad. In all seriousness though, gay sex seems more an obsession for opponents of gay marriage than its participants. When it comes to nature, I became absolutely convinced that for the vast majority of gay people their sexuality was innate. Born that way or not — and it’s impossible to prove or disprove — they invariably knew of no other attraction.
From a conservative stance it’s pretty safe to say that no Western conservative party can retain its relevance and appear anything but eccentric at best if it doesn’t embrace same-sex marriage. Even the Republicans, the most evangelical-influenced party in the world, are gradually reforming their views around the issue and it’s only the fringe candidates in the party who still hold the line. That, of course, sounds pragmatic rather than ideological but what will become inescapable is that for younger people the subject is either obvious or irrelevant. In Canada, the first English-speaking nation to legislate for equal marriage, the Conservative Party has become more and not less successful with its support for the policy and the 11 per cent of evangelicals in the country continue to vote Tory. The issue is no longer gay marriage but the right of those who oppose it to speak their mind without ridicule.
Socially and economically, marriage might not guarantee stability but it does tend towards responsibility and communal concern — concepts that bleed into democratic conservatism. As for contemporary gay couples not staying the course, we’ve had insufficient time to know whether this is true and those that do dismantle tend to replicate their straight equivalents. It’s generational: old-time gay couples stayed together for decades as did married men and women, the difference being that the former had to hide, obfuscate and face discrimination.
Gay couples trend powerfully to the middle class with all that that implies about a tax base, property ownership, investment in society and the like. But at heart it’s not about money but morals, not about politics but parity. The more I thought about it, the more people I met, the more I read and, yes, the more I prayed, the more I realised I had allowed pre-judgment to obscure a clear mind and notions of fairness. I sincerely believe that we will look back on the struggles for same-sex marriage and wonder what the fuss was all about.
A postscript. I used to think that homophobia was a contrived term exploited to silence contrary opinion. I was wrong. In its intensity, sense of paranoia and grotesque perception of conspiracy it resembles anti-Semitism. After coming out for equal marriage, I was fired from several Christian and conservative publications, radio and television outlets, was accused of adultery, theft, mental illness and of being gay myself. My wife and children were also targeted. Some people have a lot of apologising to do. Actually, I am one of them.