Archbishop Jonathan Blake

The Most Reverend Jonathan Blake, Presiding Archbishop of the Open Episcopal Church B.A. (Hons), Dip. Pastoral Studies. Mobile: 07767 687711 The Church is a member of The International Council of Community churches and the World Council of Churches. Married and a proud Dad.

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Location: London, Kent, United Kingdom

Gassed Tehran, seized Kabul, helped Mother Teresa, funded TB hospital, priest 1981, went Auschwitz, wrote on Parliament, convicted, began 1st inter-faith NHS chapel, 12 yrs Anglican cleric/vicar - left, baptised 1000's in homes/Mt Snowdon/at circus, wedding underwater, wrote ‘For God’s Sake Don’t Go To Church’, nailed 95 Theses 2 Canterbury cathedral, arrested, co-founded the Society for Independent Ministry, consecrated a bishop, co-founded the Open Episcopal Church, did 1st gay wedding on morning TV, sued Associated Newspapers, co-consecrated 1st women bishops 4 England,Wales,Scotland, accommodated the homeless, posted Mass/took it 2 sex workers, elected Archbishop, arrested 4 climbing with sons,founded ‘When No One’s Watching',made ICV, did Jade Goody's wedding,invited 2 Downing St, wrote 'That Old Devil Called God Again', conviction 4 campaigning against child abuse quashed on appeal, convicted 4 successful blogging 2 stop paedophile. His Christmas Lights raising £79,000 4 Water in 4 Gambian villages. Published "The Tales of Henry the Lovable Hedgehog", the SAFE New Testament + Psalms + radical Book of Common Prayer, ordained priests for UK,US,Thailand,Spain,Ireland

Monday, October 26, 2009

The need for inclusive marriage legislation

I was invited to open the debate in support of a motion for gay and lesbian rights at The University Philosophical Society of Trinity College Dublin on October 15th.

I delivered extracts from the following:

I am assuming I can be bold.

I am hoping that before me are those who are at the threshold of inaugurating a new Society.

I am believing that you are not in the grip of anyone, or any philosophy, religious teaching or cultural presupposition.

I am expecting that open minds can fly above the past mistakes and cobbled compromises and at least in thought and vision aspire after the best.

That is why my proposal is that this house should not only approve of Marriage legislation for the gay and lesbian community but legislation that would accommodate any relationship commitment between adults.

This because the only legislation that is fit for a modern inclusive society is that which affords equal access to the state of marriage and its concomitant rights to any people who wish to express or have already expressed a relationship commitment to each other.

Their commitment may or may not involve sexual intimacy.

This will apply in the main to couples and will include heterosexual couples, gay and lesbian couples, bisexual, transgender and transsexual couples, transvestite couples, sibling couples, platonic friendship couples, and any form of cohabiting couple.

Additionally it may also include more than two adults, committed to living faithfully together.

My argument rests on six factors.

1. That society benefits from securing stability in the practice of relationships and encouraging their longevity.
2. That sexual intimacy is not an essential ingredient.
3. That procreation is no longer an obligation or expectation of marriage.
4. That committed relationships create a family unit.
5. That children thrive where people are committed to each other and to them.
6. That children are often raised by adults other than their birth parents.

Any legislation that falls short of incorporating these factors enshrines discrimination within the law at the very time we are attempting to eradicate it.

Of course, some may gasp at the audacity of such a proposal particularly from a Bishop, but then again this whole journey since 1993, when homosexual sex was decriminalised, has been one of gasps.

Ireland has astonished the world. Having been imprisoned by the church into reactionary models of thinking, in under two decades it has undergone an extraordinary transformation.

There have been significant milestones:

Mary Coughlan’s social welfare legislation in 2004 that caused a storm over the definition of the word spouse.

Franco Frattini’s statement the same year that EU states were obliged to recognise the family life of couples in non marital relationships.

In 2006, the reform of the EU residency rules that included the right of gay couples to reside anywhere and have their relationships ‘facilitated’.

In December of that year the Kal case.

The years have seen political parties scrambling to be first to present avant garde approaches and proposals.

Campaigning groups have arisen such as MarriagEquality, Glen, Glue and Noise.

And what has taken the world’s breath away is the overwhelming support that has been indicated within Ireland for reform.

The survey in 2008 that indicated that 84% of Irish people supported Civil Partnerships.

Then the Irish Times poll that 63% of people favoured same sex marriage.

That 58% of those polled under 50 agreed with same sex adoption.

Ireland has shaken free of many of the shackles of the church and is coming to terms with a new identity.

In 1949 it had been one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.

It joined the EU in 1973 and is now the 31st economic power, has the 6th highest GDP and is ranked as having the highest quality of life in the world.

The economic boom has attracted international companies to invest bringing with them good equality and discrimination policies.

People have become empowered to make their own choices and be honest and go public about them.

Divorce was legalised in 1995.

In the 2006 Census cohabiting couples rose from 77,000 4 years before to 121,000.

Same sex couples from 1,300 to 2090.

The rise of the super pub and gay venues has helped to make minority communities visible.

In September there was the biggest ever gay pride march in Dublin.

Even the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Martin, has indicated that he has no problem with providing legal rights for same sex couples, but not by being brave enough to lead on the issue. His argument being that society should be protective of any couple in a caring situation where issues of dependency have arisen.

Against this though there has been the Article 41 backlash. ‘That the State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.’

And Cardinal Sean Brady has spearheaded the manipulative attempt to halt this push for equal rights with the remark ‘Stand clearly on the side of Christ or depart from him’

Ironical as Christ never once said anything about Gay and Lesbian issues.

So I’d like to turn the Cardinal’s words on their head and claim them as our moral imperative. Christ is the reforming radical requiring us to aspire to the resurrection vision that society must be structured so that there are no walls or barriers, no exclusions or discriminations, that all are equal in the sight of God and must be afforded equal rights.

And if I may deal swiftly with one area of potential criticism. The Bible Brigade.

Lets be clear that anyone suggesting the Bible provides a marriage blueprint has to be intellectually challenged. King Solomon had 700 wives and co-habited with 300 other women for his additional pleasure.

King David appears to have been bi-sexual as well as polygamous.

Jesus never disclosed his sexuality but from the accounts could have been bisexual, with intimate references to John and Mary Magdalene.

The nature of how the community recognised commitment in relationships evolved over the centuries of biblical tradition and there is no one divinely favoured model.

Just as we don’t barbeque bulls for God anymore. ( Lev 1.9) .

We don’t sell our daughters into slavery Exodus 21.7)

Tampons and Sanitary Towels mean we continually have contact with women the bible warns us are unclean (Lev 15 19-24).

We don’t take up God’s offer of buying slaves from other nations. (Lev 25.44)

We don’t put the staff at Tesco’s to death for working on the Sabbath, even though the Bible says we should, and they sell shellfish too and that is an ‘abomination’ (Ex 35.2) –(Lev 11.10)

We don’t believe in a prejudiced God who doesn’t want the wheelchair bound or even those with contact lenses to be priests. (Lev 21.20)

These are some of the admonitions made by this Bible that is often quoted at us.

But we have moved on.

In the past what the priest said was law and you quaked at their rebuke. Not so any more. Their control over our lives has been broken. There is no easy set of religious answers to roll off the tongue at the pressing social issues of the day. We have to think for ourselves, aspire after the mind of God particularly as we are made in God’s image and God’s Holy Spirit abides is us.

What God’s mind and God’s Holy Spirit in me tells me is that the present legislation is flawed, is second rate.

Yes it may be a historic step in the right direction, a stepping-stone towards equality but Amnesty International’s Ireland Executive Director Colm O’Gorman expresses it well ‘ It will create a second class form of marriage for what the government clearly feel is a second class group of people.’

So let me pause a moment.

The word marriage includes among its meanings ‘any close or intimate association or union’.

The word family includes among its meanings ‘ a group of persons who form a household.’

The definition used by the United Nations is:

Any combination of two or more persons who are bound together by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibility for, inter alia, the care and maintenance of group members, the addition of new members through procreation or adoption, the socialisation of children, and the social control of members.

Article 16.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

The United Nations accepts that the concept of family is not restricted to that of the traditional family based upon marriage.

It is claimed that because Article 41 connects family to marriage it precludes reform.

Not though if the legislation broadens these definitions to include all unions.

NOISE reminds us that the majority in Ireland are calling for same sex marriage rites.

The founder of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Kadar Asmal supports the right to marry irrespective of sexual orientation.

However, the mistake of many campaigning groups is that they push their own agenda but leave out the agenda of other affected groups, though the issues are the same.

Hence the principle of partiality is allowed.

The Civil Partnership Bill does not apply to opposite sex couples or siblings or friends or dependents who are living together.

There can be little progress if some couples are protected but others not.

Additionally, a much more profound problem with the legislation involves children.

By creating a separate legal status for Gay and Lesbian Partnerships, children born within and raised by such relationships are left in limbo with no constitutional or legal protection.

Amnesty International has branded the failure to legislate for the children of gay and lesbian couples as ‘cowardly’.

This issue must also be broadened, because it may be that a single parent has a child and moves to live with a friend or their sibling and together they raise the child.

It may be that a number of people form a household or a commune and share sexual relations and raise children in the community.

A law which is not to enshrine discrimination recognizes and accommodates every identified benign form of domestic choice made within society.

So, in my submission, people, whoever they may be, who have pledged to live together should be able to apply to the State for Marriage.

Some may wish to undergo a secular or religious ceremony of Marriage, some ( cohabitees – as they are described ) may rather that their commitment demonstrated over more than say a three year period is recognized as Marriage, without any such ceremony.

It would be important to protect the Prohibited Degrees that prohibit marriage for those with a close blood relationship.

However this could easily be done by noting that those seeking marriage with co-sanguinity had by law to be non sexual relationships.

Across the country the State would be encouraging and resourcing stable relationship units and stable family units and the children raised within them would be protected.

I understand it was the Greens back in 2002 who were the only party to refer to rights for gay and lesbian couples.

By 2004 all had taken up the issue with Fine Gael the first to launch an explicit policy document.

By 2007 all parties supporting same sex unions with only the Greens and Sinn Fein supporting full civil marriage.

But despite such activity, the path to political reform has been littered with broken promises, snail like progress and now a weak and dissatisfying Bill is being considered.

Why can’t Ireland, with its bold emergent identity, do better than this?

Why can’t you make history and give the world a moral and visionary lead into how to become a truly inclusive modern society?

Why instead are you grubbing about trying to catch up with the other EU states, but doings so with further discriminatory legislation that will have to be changed.

I don’t say this from just a theoretical background.

In 1994 I became the first priest in the United Kingdom to announce my willingness to provide Marriage ceremonies for the Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered Community.

Awhile later I became the first priest to put an advertisment in the Gay and Lesbian Press offering such marriages.

I travelled the country taking hundreds of such services providing communities of family and friends with the experience of how normal, everyday and proper such ceremonies were and what a positive influence they had upon all involved.

The Media were fascinated by this innovative and groundbreaking approach from within the ranks of the Church. Finally a cleric was helping to spearhead a revolution instead of lagging grudgingly behind.

Many articles and broadcasts covered my work.

The most notable of which was my conducting the first gay wedding to be broadcast on the UK’s most popular morning TV show ‘Richard and Judy’ on Valentine’s Day, 2001.

It created a furore and has come to be regarded as one among the most controversial pieces of Television. The criticisms of it were dismissed by the Television Standards Commission and it advanced significantly the moves towards Civil Partnerships.

Since being consecrated a Bishop and founding the Open Episcopal Church I have worked hard to secure within the Canons of the Church the facility for the Sacrament of Marriage not to be reserved for heterosexuals but for adults pledging themselves in Marriage.

Wherever true, unconditional and unselfish love is to be found, there is the presence of God, there is a window to heaven.

All this has been something of a miraculous journey but this is the age of miracles.

Ireland believes in miracles.

Ireland is a miracle.

I urge you to be bold enough to add non discriminatory marriage legislation to the list.

Don’t settle for the starched clothes of prejudice and philosophical poverty.

Don’t become ensnared by the squabbles of yesterday’s world and the power broking of church and state.

Strive for a new world, a heavenly world, where justice and equality reign, where peace and harmony prevail and where people are free to live and to love and to care for others, enjoying equally the protection of the State.

Please support the motion.

The Motion was carried overwhelmingly.


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