Taking a Look Back to Celebrate Gay Marriage

In celebration of the passing of the Equal Marriage Bill , I have re-published a letter I wrote back in 2008 which responds to the case of Lillian Ladele. As I am sure some of you will remember this was a high profile case of a civil registrar in Islington - Lillian Ladele, who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies because of her religious beliefs. Follow the link to see what I thought.

Lillian Ladele: a letter from Emily Thornberry MP

Printed in the Islington Tribune, January 25th 2008


It really lifts my spirits every time I leave the Town Hall after my Saturday surgery to bump into gloriously happy couples of all types celebrating their love for each other.

I was therefore saddened by the Rev PD Johnson’s letter (Registrar hounded over her deeply-held beliefs, January 18 2008), in which he attacked “Stonewall and its fellow travellers” for throwing the “usual abuse” at a council registrar.

I understand that the registrar in question had been suspended for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies on the basis of her Christian convictions. Mr Johnson claims that registering these partnerships “would mean her condoning homosexual relationships”.

And while it is not the job of politicians to tell others what the words of God may or may not mean, I cannot sit by while others attempt to undermine equality in the provision of public service on any basis.

We do not ask registrars to pass judgement on those who enter into a union under their auspice. This registrar is a public servant, an employee of the state – I would never tell her what to think, but she must be able to do the job that the state asks of her. Just as a registrar must marry those who are marrying for the second, third or possibly a fourth time, even if they disagree fundamentally with divorce, they must register civil partnerships irrespective of their feelings on homosexual relationships.

Mr Johnson says that “the sinfulness and consequences of homosexual practices are clearly and consistently taught throughout Holy Scripture”. And I admit, it is true that at certain points the Bible implies that homosexuality is a sin (for example, Leviticus 18:22, 20:13).

Whatever the central truths of religious works – whether the Bible, the Qur’ran, the Torah or anything else – their precise pronouncements on many social issues have to be read in the context of the times in which they were written.

Am I to be admonished for the 10 per cent polyester in my 90 per cent cotton shirt, as Leviticus 19:19 would have it? What would trade unionists make of the Ephesians 6:5 instruction for slaves to obey their earthly masters with respect and fear? And I don’t know many young Islington women who would agree with the proposition that a bride found not to be a virgin should be stoned to death at the door to her father’s house (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

As a woman MP for Islington South and Finsbury, I would certainly not agree with 1 Timothy 2:1, that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission”. Far from being quiet, I was a vocal supporter of the Civil Partnerships Act, which we should celebrate as a major step towards equality.

Far from denigrating marriage, it simply allows more people to have their stable relationships recognised in law. And last year, I proudly supported the goods and services regulations in the Equality Act, which outlawed all discrimination on the basis of sexuality. As this Bill was going through Parliament, I wrote to and called up Ruth Kelly’s office to urge against any opt-outs – and fortunately we succeeded. I strongly believe that when it comes to equality, there can be no exceptions.

Mr Johnson’s views do not by any means reflect the views of all Christians. Many people would begin an answer to his question, “What should be the true Christian’s attitude to homosexuals?”, by considering the words of the apostle John: “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”

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