Tom Sutcliffe reflects on a changing scene
Age brings change we don’t like. The past beckons attractively. The future threatens. Friends die. Shops one counted on close. Shoes one always trusted are no longer being made. Changes in the language turn one into a stranger in one’s own land.
My Oxford contemporary, David Stancliffe, when running the Liturgical Commission, came up with, ‘It is right to give thanks and praise’ in the Sursum Corda to spare us the horror of sexist language. But thank God for the Pope John Missal introduced to St Peter’s Streatham by the Dean of Westminster when he was our vicar – and still in use. We have no problem with God’s ‘him-ness’. Our hearts need not be lifted to the Lord, nor thanks plus praise be wielded with no object in mind. Is it right to give thanks and praise like a flowing tap? It depends surely on who’s at the receiving end.
And what about ‘equal marriage’? Is gay marriage the same as ungay? Or is marriage unequivocally the foundation for generations of future children, granted to partners who have engendered them? What is unequal about gay marriage? Children are costly to raise, taking immense amounts of time and care. Pink pounds are powerful because most gay people do not go in for child-bearing or child-raising. That is the reality. Gay and straight couples unblessed by children have more comfortable and stress-free lives, though maybe less rewarding. The children of ‘equal marriage’ cannot be engendered by gay partners, but only by parents who do not share the same gender. Is rent-a-womb really less wicked than abortion? Children always want to know who their real parents are. To adopt is usually virtuous, but to be adopted, however fortunate, always feels like abandonment. To have two men or women as parents can be better than being raised by a single parent who may not be up to it. But who would rather not have a mother? Or not have a father? It seems to me that ‘gay marriage’ should not honestly be called ‘equal marriage’ because for the children it is unequal. Only one of the gay partnership, at most, is the parent; the other is an adoptive parent. The sealing of a marriage with wanted children stemming from both parents is fundamental to human life. Does honesty always matter more than slippery political correctness?
The Inheritance at the Young Vic is an immensely long and gripping play of great interest and moral concern about homosexual men in the USA, and where they have got to after the impressively quick defeat of AIDS and the introduction throughout most of the western world of not only tolerance and legalization of homosexual activities but also the introduction of civil partnerships and (finally) gay marriage. Matthew Lopez’s extraordinary almost six and a half hour-long play (in two parts) addresses many issues that will and should concern not just Christians but everybody with clear uncompromising eyes. Stephen Daldry’s wonderfully-cast, straightforward, unpretentious direction may well be the very best work he has ever done. My wife Meredith worked with Stephen when he directed Ödön von Horvath’s marvellous play Judgment Day in 1988, and our daughter Chloe, aged eight, played a small spoken role in it which of course I have never forgotten. I first encountered Tirso de Molina’s challenging Catholic drama Damned for Despair in Stephen’s superb production at the Gate Theatre 25 years ago.
What is inheritance without children, and what are children without parents of each gender? Is it safe or wise to classify oneself on the basis of sexual inclination or choose a gender on the basis of how one feels about oneself rather than what one is (though a few are born hermaphrodite)? The moral behaviour which The Inheritance demonstrates at its best and fullest is inescapably Christian – though untouched by the teaching of Paul and Leviticus on sexual morality. Nobody in The Inheritance seems to be a practising church-going Christian, but conclusions drawn by characters in this play about what they should do for each other are profoundly Christian. Christian churches’ understanding of virtue is not the only means whereby the word in the Gospels comes to fertilize the life we share.
The absence of women from the play (with the exception of Vanessa Redgrave in the final winding down of the story as a mother of a gay son who had died of AIDS) is a quite accurate reflection of where we are now in the ‘Out’ homosexual world. Conservative evangelicals who get to see The Inheritance will have their prejudices or viewpoint confirmed. By the word: ‘Inheritance’ the playwright Lopez is thinking of a house that was a haven for AIDS victims, but also of the liberation that today’s homosexual community has been able to reap. AIDS became notorious as a ‘gay’ plague, though in fact in Africa the disease has been no more targeted on homosexuals than syphilis was in the late 14th century when it first arrived from South America. Nowhere in this play is there any recognition or discussion of the fact that human beings learn more from a partner of a different gender, and are more profitably challenged, than if they simply have to deal with the like-minded who share their tastes – though there is some recognition of the fact that sexual activity is to some extent a choice and a taste. The sons of one of the leading characters, a billionaire property magnate and Republican party member, are not sympathetically portrayed. But an awful lot of this saga rings true.