Simon Heans considers how it is in lesbian and gay circles that marriage can be both rejected and accepted by the same people at the same time
The Revd Martin Reynolds is the Welsh priest who featured on the front page of The Guardian at the height of the gay adoption row of late January. Five years ago, together with his partner, he adopted the boy to whom they had been respite carers for ten years. But The Guardian, seeking as usual to make the maximum amount of mischief out of the whole affair, was particularly interested in the case because Rowan Williams had been his next door neighbour while Archbishop of Wales.
The Tablet also picked up his story and commissioned an article by Fr Martin which begins with this announcement, ‘We are a family with mixed religious backgrounds. Chris, my partner of 27 years, is a Roman Catholic and I am an Anglican priest. Our son is 19 now and preparing for college.’ A few paragraphs further on we are told that ‘our son has said the one thing he wants more than anything else when he comes home are brothers and sisters.’ Despite having misgivings about adding to their family, Fr Martin tells us, he and his partner ‘decided to try’
Ubiquity of family language
I suppose to call the process of adoption ‘trying’ for a child may be an example of’camp’, a use of language which has of course long been associated with homosexuality. Fr Martin, however, does not want us to think he is using language theatrically when he describes himself as having a son with his partner to whom any future adoptive child would be brother or sister. He really means it.
The appropriation of familial language by a gay apologist (Martin Reynolds is director of communications for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement) struck me as interesting. Once upon a time gays defined themselves, as did their early feminist allies, by their rejection of the bourgeois nuclear family. With the advent of civil partnerships and the campaign for adoption rights, gay culture appears to have made its peace with the institutions of marriage and the family.
This volte-face has also been noticed by the Radical Orthodox theologians, Philip Blond and Adrian Pabst. Writing in The
Church Times last month about the Sexual Orientation Regulations, they pointed out that ‘homosexuals now want to be the same as heterosexuals. This goes beyond equality of rights, and extends to practices such as marriage and having children – constructions that arguably are particular to heterosexual couples. Curiously…a group that is defined by difference seems to desire nothing so much as sameness.’
Renascence of natural law
Is this to be explained by the onset of middle age (Martin Reynolds is 53), what might be termed ‘Duncruisin’? Perhaps. But I don’t think it is only the whirligig of time that is bringing in his revenges here. The classical Natural Law tradition, much derided by ethicists in the aftermath of Vatican II but currently making a strong academic comeback, speaks of faithfulness and fruitfulness (bonum fidei and bonum prolis) as the two chief goods of marriage. So is the desire among homosexuals for civil partnerships (faithfulness) and adoption rights (fruitfulness) a sign that they have discovered that our sexual nature is law governed after all?
Eric Mascall was the last Anglican theologian to engage seriously with natural law ideas. In The Uniqueness of Man, the American Bampton lectures for 1958, he comments on the natural law injunction at the beginning of the Bible as follows: ‘”Be fruitful” is not an arbitrary command but a constitutive characteristic of human nature.’ The Natural Law insight, expressed here in Genesis (though not of course uniquely there) is that because our nature is sexual (‘male and female he created them’) fruitfulness is not an obligation imposed on human beings from the outside, as it were, but is intrinsic to it. Our nature is pro-creative, or, as we say nowadays thanks to the gay effect on the English language, this is its orientation.
Should we now expect the L&GCM to come out in favour of marriage and the family?
I hope Fr Martin will write and tell us.