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Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for September, 2013

British Quakers accept homosexuality

Timothy Kincaid

September 15th, 2013

“An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual.”

“Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: one must not judge it by its outward appearance but by its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.” Or so the Religion Society of Friends (the Quakers) in Britian say in their book Towards a Quaker View of Sex.

Okay, it’s not exactly a revolutionary statement, but it certainly was 50 years ago when they published the book. (Guardian)

To mark the anniversary, the Quakers, officially known as the Religious Society of Friends, held a meeting in a hall in London on Friday to hear the sole surviving member of the group that produced the publication explain how it came about.

Keith Wedmore, now 81 and a retired barrister based in California, was among a group of 11 Quaker authors, also taking in psychiatrists, psychologists and teachers, gathered together by the Cambridge zoologist, Anna Bidder, in 1957 to consider issues surrounding homosexuality. Wedmore, then aged just 25, was himself bisexual and deeply aware of the pressures facing gay people after having discovered, several years earlier, the body of a fellow undergraduate who had gassed himself.

“We examined each issue completely freely, and you don’t often get a chance to do that.”

The initial remit of homosexuality soon widened, he said: “We realised we couldn’t do that in isolation. They, we, aren’t some kind of strange breed where the rules apply to them alone. So we started thinking: what is a relationship, what is bad and what is good, and came to this famous conclusion.”

The conclusion was virtually unprecedented for the era, and still significantly more definitive than most religious organisations can manage half a century later.

Religious Groups in UK beg for religious marriage freedom

Timothy Kincaid

February 23rd, 2010

Marriage equality is a freedom of religion issue. Currently, in most US states, the voters have acted under pressure from some religious entities to deny the rights of other religious entities to have their sacraments accorded the same respect and legal standing. Your Congregational Church or Reformed Synagogue may conduct holy vows and say sacred prayers that have been a part of their faith for centuries, but socially conservative Christian denominations have convinced civil government that they, and only they, get to determine what is defined as marriage.

In the United Kingdom, things are both better and worse. Better, because the civil government does allow for civil partnerships that are in most ways identical to marriage. And better because most of the citizenry sees these unions as being weddings.

But the UK is worse in that civil partnerships cannot take place in premises that are either designed for, or are in use mainly for, religious purposes. And they cannot include language that is sacramental and churches are barred from offering blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

That is an unequivocal violation of the religious freedoms of those churches which wish to sanctify, solemnize, and bless the union of their same-sex parishioners. And three have come forward to protest.

In July of last year we informed you that the Quakers (the Society of Friends) in Britain formally requested that the government change the law to allow them to worship in accordance with their faith. And last month Liberal Judaism joined the Quakers and the Unitarians when Baroness Neuberger, president of Liberal Judaism, called for a change in the law to allow civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples to be held in synagogues.

Now these minority religions have received the backing of some powerful allies. A number of leaders in the Church of England have issued a letter in which they call for religious freedom.

Sir, The Civil Partnership Act 2004 prohibits civil partnerships from being registered in any religious premises in Great Britain. Three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians — have considered this restriction prayerfully and decided in conscience that they wish to register civil partnerships on their premises.

And in their call for religious freedom, these Englishmen turn for moral authority to a most curious document:

To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory. In the US it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . of religion.

The wording of the First Amendment is clear to our friends across the pond; a powerful religion cannot usurp the spiritual independence of smaller communities. Let’s hope that American jurists and political leaders can come to find the obvious meaning in our Constitution.

Australian Quakers call for marriage equality

Timothy Kincaid

January 10th, 2010

Press release:

Australian Quakers, meeting in their annual meeting in Adelaide today, called on the Federal Government to amend the Marriage Act to give full and equal legal recognition to all marriages, regardless of the sexual orientation and gender of the partners.

‘Australian Quakers celebrated our first same sex marriage in 2007 and seeking legal recognition for such unions is consistent with our long held spiritual belief in the equality of all people\’, said Lyndsay Farrall, Presiding Clerk of Australia Yearly Meeting.

A reminder that gay marriage bans really are about religious freedom, the freedom denied to those faiths that wish to honor and treat their gay and straight parishioners equally.

Truly Friends, indeed

Timothy Kincaid

December 7th, 2009

Anti-gays often declare that marriage equality is a religious freedom issue. And they are right.

When one church, or a handful of churches, persuade, coerce, or cajole legislators or voters to enact the rules of their sacraments into law and insist that other religious denominations cannot have their sacraments recognized, then religious freedom has been denied.

And it is to protest such encoding of religion into state law that a group of Quakers has taken bold action. (MN Public Radio)

A group of Twin Cities Quakers has decided to stop signing marriage certificates for opposite-sex couples until the state legalizes gay marriage.

“We’re simply trying to be consistent with the will of God as we perceive it,” said Paul Landskroener, clerk of the Twin Cities Friends Meeting, in an interview with MPR’s All Things Considered on Monday.

Please understand that this was not a decision taken lightly. Nor was it a choice to act in spite of religious faith. This decision is the direct response of how they believe that they have been divinely directed.

“The simplest way to say it is we feel very strongly and very clearly led that in the present time we simply cannot continue to participate in what we believe to be an unjust and inconsistent with our religious testimonies legal marriage procedure”

British Quakers Request Religious Freedom to Support Marriage Equality

Timothy Kincaid

July 31st, 2009

The National Organization for Marriage is right. Gay marriage IS a religious freedom issue. They’ve just identified the wrong party as victim.

Currently in the US, and much of the Western World, there are churches that devoutly believe that their faith calls for same-sex couples to enter into marriage, protected by family, conducted by church, and supported by state. Other churches do not think that chruch or state should recognize same-sex marriages.

Governments have taken sides.

They have declared that because some churches don’t wish to sanctify marriages, that therefore the state will not recognize the marriages conducted by other churches. Even the most casual glance will reveal that behind every argument against marriage equality is one theme, an argument that is never absent and which never takes a back seat to any secular claims: “I demand that the state endorse and enforce my anti-gay religious beliefs about marriage.”

Any rational person will see this for what it is: state sponsored religious preference of one church over another. In the restriction of marriage equality, it is not only same-sex couples who have lost their rights; churches have as well. But, for a number of reasons, this is seldom a part of the argument.

Now the Quakers (the Society of Friends) in Britain are highlighting this injustice. (BBC)

One of the UK’s oldest Christian denominations – the Quakers – looks set to extend marriage services to same-sex couples at their yearly meeting later.

The society has already held religious blessings for same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership ceremony.

But agreeing to perform gay marriages, which are currently not allowed under civil law, could bring the Quakers into conflict with the government.

In the UK, same-sex civil partnerships are called “marriages” in the press and in conversation, but there is one very peculiar restriction that sets these unions apart from truly being marriages: churches are barred from conducting marriage civil partnerships or allowing them on their premises. Civil Unions must be held in a civic space like a hall and there can be no religious component.

This is not acceptable to Quakers.

The Quakers – also known as The Religious Society of Friends – are likely to reach consensus on the issue of gay marriage without a vote at their annual gathering in York on Friday.

They will also formally ask the government to change the law to allow gay people to marry.

Often those who oppose equality speak in aggreived tones of a need to protect religious freedom. It will be interesting to see how anti-gay activists respond to this plea by devout Christians for a right to practice their faith.