British Quakers Make Waves about Marriage & Gays

In a move to unify their stance on marriages between two men or two women, the British Yearly Meeting of Quakers have had long discussions about their practice and beliefs. In the UK although people of the same sex can partner legally, marriage is reserved for opposite-sex couples.

According the British Yearly Meeting blog a minute has been put forward to extend fully equal treatment of same-sex couples–to recognize AND record these marriages, even if it means defying the law.

We therefore ask Meeting for Sufferings to take steps to put this leading into practice and to arrange for a draft revision of the relevant sections of Quaker faith and practice, so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are. We also ask Meeting for Sufferings to engage with our governments to seek a change in the relevant laws so that same sex marriages notified in this way can be recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages celebrated in our meetings. We will not at this time require our registering officers to act contrary to the law, but understand that the law does not preclude them from playing a central role in the celebration and recording of same sex marriages.

The BBC has reported this story here although they don’t have the story quite right. Jacobus Rex, a gay Christian Quaker friend in Wales wrote on my Facebook wall,

I’m not sure that the article is entirely accurate. One of the men from my meeting is on the Meeting for Sufferings that was looking at this in advance of Yearly Meeting. I believe that, though pushing for a change in legislation was considered by them, they decided not to advise the Yearly Meeting to do that. I believe that YM will rather be discussing making changes to Quaker Faith and Practice (Friends’ book of discipline) so that committed relationships of same- or mixed-sex couples are referred to with parity throughout.

This will not be the first time British Quakers stirred up the marriage waters or took on the gay issue. Early on in the late 1700s Quakers refuse to get married by priests of the established church. In regards to homosexuality, British Quakers issued strong supportive statements as early as 1963 with the publication of Towards a Quaker View of Sex, “which affirmed that gender or sexual orientation were unimportant in a judgement of an intimate relationship and that the true criterion was the presence of ‘selfless love'”

Hat tip to UK friends Auntie Doris and Rob Hunt for greeting me this morning on Facebook with this announcement (and Heidi who would have posted it if Anna hadn’t beaten her to the punch.)


This post has 19 Comments

  1. Gil Skidmore on July 31, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Peterson

    I have been at Britain Yearly Meeting Gathering this week and posted this minute as a note on my Facebook page along with many other Ffriends.

    The Spirit has moved us further than the recommendation from Meetings for Sufferings and we are indeed going to lobby for a change in the law, although what might be most helpful here has yet to be decided.

    One of the problems at the moment is that civil partnerships [legal same-sex unions] are not allowed to be held in a religious building or use any kind of religious language. It is therefore impossible to hold a same-sex marriage in a Quaker meeting house even if the Quaker registering officer were qualified to register civil partnerships. There is a basic inequality here which needs to be addressed and it is not the only one.

    This may well run and run but at least we have restated our basic position that neither we nor the state do the marrying – that is God’s work. We have gone further now and said that the basic qualification for marriage is love and commitment not gender. Watch this space!

  2. bridgeout on July 31, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Good for the Quakers! I had a colleague who was a Quaker who drew me out at work to tell her I was a lesbian. She then went on to say how much the Quakers supported LGBT relationships.

  3. Anna Langlois on July 31, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Actually, I should point out that it was my lovely boyfriend who pointed out the article for me.

  4. Zach on July 31, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Great news!

    Though I should say, my recollection of “A Quaker View of Sex” was that it was supportive of queer sexuality, but perhaps not “strongly” so. In particular I remember a passage that basically decried the level of promiscuity common among many gay men, which still smack of heterosexism – imposing straight standards of how much sex is normal onto non-straight people. (After reading your post on “Brüno” I imagine you might agree.)


  5. p2son on July 31, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Gil! Thanks so much for the first hand report. Thrilling and heartwarming news.

  6. p2son on July 31, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    bridgeout, I love this story. One of the things that has been most inspiring and challenging among Friends has been the testimony of Integrity. So many times when I am trying to find discernment or feel tempted to fudge my words, I remember this testimony to truth telling.

  7. p2son on July 31, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Anna, you need to give that big ole lump of a guy a kiss from me! 😛 And tell the gang in Guernsey I said HI!

  8. p2son on July 31, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Zach, yes, I recall that part from when I read A Quaker View of Sex some years ago. For its time it was bold, strong and liberated much like some of the early Quaker writing on slavery.

    Will I get to see you at NEYM? I hope so.

  9. Dan BD on August 1, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I’m am very proud of my Quaker brothers — now it’s about time the rest of us Christians followed suit…

  10. p2son on August 1, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Dan, thanks for stopping by. Quakers have done some wonderful things, but we also have our issues and blind spots. Religious communities would be perfect if it weren’t for all the people in them. 😛

  11. Mark UKquaker on August 2, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I wasn’t at yearly meeting, but the minute was read out during meeting this morning and it blew my mind. I just cried and cried! This is so absolutely wonderful! Just to hear the phrase – same sex marriage – as opposed to – same sex “marriage” – was brilliant.

    So many denominations place their faith in their institutions/structures/hierarchies which I feel hampers the Spirit. The only Quaker institution is our business method, the sole purpose of which is to facilitate the discernment of the Spirit and her movements. I am convinced that is why Quakers have been light years ahead of the rest of the church. Also, Quaker youth (under 18s) were fully involved in the discernment process.

    God Bless the Quakers and the light they are for the world! Let it shine!

  12. p2son on August 3, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Mark, thanks for writing! Yeah, it is a real marriage. Go Quakers!

  13. kathz on August 4, 2009 at 1:53 am

    HI! I’m a British Quaker who picked up your blog through Twitter. BYM was brilliant – there were about 1200 Friends in the Meeting that was led to go beyond the recommendations of Sufferings and, despite a couple of voices of doubt and dissent (and it was right that these were heard too) it was very plain where we were being led. Minds and hearts were changed in the week and it was very good to move forward at last. We feel rather late on this – the matter of same-sex marriage was first raised, as we were reminded, 22 years ago. One of the young Friends present pointed out that this was longer than her lifetime. We were much helped by the Friends in same and opposite sex relationships who shared their experiences – and also by the involvement of Junior Yearly Meeting (110 15-18-year-olds).

    There are various errors that are made in the reporting of Friends’ decision-making and processes but I think the one that most concerns me is the assumption that this decision is just made for gay Friends. The entire body benefits from a change that is in keeping with our testimonies to Truth as well as Equality – we witness marriages and if we pretend that they are less than they are, we are false to ourselves. I’m a straight, single mother in my mid 50s and I rejoiced at the leadings and the minute because they felt so right for us all. I felt privileged to be at such an amazing Yearly Meeting.

    Incidentally, registrar aren’t yet called on to break the law (that “yet” is important) but they will report ALL marriages in meeting houses to the state. The only delay now is the time it will take to make the necessary amendments to Quaker Faith and Practice to bring back to the next Yearly Meeting – the major re-drafting is too big and complicated a job to be conducted by 1200 people. I don’t know what will happen in the meantime but I hope that some same-sex marriages will be celebrated, following the spirit of the minute and taking advice from Friends’ House.

    Greetings to all at NEYM.

  14. rhiannonproblematising on August 4, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Just popping by to agree with Kathz and others that our YM this year was amazing, especially those Thursday afternoon and Friday morning sessions when we were so clearly led. I wrote a little about it and my reactions at my meeting’s blog Beeston Quakers.

    The misreporting which really annoyed me were the stories which claimed that we’d “voted”!

  15. Peter on August 5, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Do I detect hat honour in p2son’s closing remarks?

  16. p2son on August 5, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    😀 Well Peter, as one who always wears a hat and refuses it to take it off in churches and homes or in honor of anyone in particular, you can trust that my ‘hat tip’ is simply a formality. I cannot speak for the non-hat wearing bloggers.

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