A photo a day kept inspiration at play – Now can we be married and gay?

WHEN I STARTED this blog I aimed to write a short post each week. I managed for about six weeks, but some of the posts were not so short as I was writing about issues and experiences that had been on my mind for months and years.

But life began to take over and I lost momentum for a few weeks. Then I noticed my partner’s sister was sharing ‘A Photo A Day’ on Facebook, inspired by the Australian blogger Fat Mum Slim. The idea was simply to take a photo each day inspired by the theme suggested in a graphic like the one on the right posted each month on the Fat Mum Slim blog.

As my aim was to practice writing regularly, I decided most days to use the theme as inspiration for reflection as well. Some were pictures I took myself on the day, as Fat Mum Slim suggested. Some were images I found online which I felt best illustrated the theme and what I wished to write about. A few were professional photos from our civil partnership, as marriage equality is an issue close to my heart since we were the first couple to register our civil partnership in a place of worship in the UK in 2012.

I managed a post a day for the whole of November. Sometimes it was easy and obvious, at other times I really had to reach for inspiration. At times like this it was tempting to skip a day or two. But keeping the discipline had some surprising results, encouraging me to look up and around, pay attention to creative opportunities for taking a photo, researching an image, and interpreting a theme.

I decided to try keeping it up for December too, and managed it for 12 days. Then work, play and Christmas prep took hold and I have missed the last three weeks. So for the new month and new year, I have decided to return to a weekly update, or a more ad hoc response to issues and concerns.

It’s a happy coincidence that I managed 42 days – I started this blog the day before my 42nd birthday and, in the science fiction spoof The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Galaxy by Douglas Adams, 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question, the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. The trouble is, nobody knows what the Ultimate Question is!

So, at the start of this new year, do I have the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything?

Do I even know what the question is?

Certainly not!

Do I have something to say that might help, inspire and motivate others to make a difference?

Increasingly I have come to believe that I do. I started blogging to share the experience of reconciling spirituality and sexuality, with a view writing my ‘coming out’ story as a gay Christian. When I began writing this story in 2009 I thought the outcome would be how I managed to remain a gay Christian within the Roman Catholic tradition of my upbringing and education. When it became clear that this was not going to happen, for reasons I explained in this early post, I stopped writing for a while until a new direction became clear.

Then, last year, my partner and I learned that ours would be the first civil partnership in the UK to be registered in a place of worship. The experience was so affirming that it became clear that this was the new destination of my story, and I began writing again, sharing some of my reflection via this blog. In the four months since I have begun writing again, the pace of change has increased, and it appears I may need to get a move on!

The current UK Government had stated an intention to enable same sex couples to marry before the next General Election,  i.e. before May 2015, but due to objections by the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, it seemed likely that this would only be for civil marriages and not services in places of worship. So I thought I had a few years to pull my story together and consider how best to share it to contribute to the debate around marriage equality and faith.

Then in March 2011 the Government began a consultation on proposals to enable faith groups to host civil partnership registrations, as this was originally prohibited by the Civil Partnership Act 2004. In December 2011, a change in the law came into effect to enable civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises where religious organisations permit this, and the premises have been licensed for the purpose. The new law also stated, for the avoidance of doubt, that religious organisations are not obliged to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church said they will not host civil partnership registrations. Other faith groups, including the Quakers, Metropolitan Community Church, Liberal Judaism and Unitarianism supported the revised legislation.

We had already chosen an Unitarian Church for a blessing after our civil partnership at the register office in Liverpool. When the law changed a year ago, it became a possibility that we could register our partnership and have our blessing in the same place, if the church could get a licence from the local authority in time. It was a close call, as the minister did not receive the licence until days before our service in May 2012, but we made it and the experience was exhilarating. We felt truly blessed and called to share this unexpected gift.

As we prepared for our civil partnership, the Government launched another consultation in March 2012,  on proposals to enable same-sex couples to have a marriage through a civil ceremony. At that time the Government intended that it would not be possible in law for religious organisations to solemnise religious marriages for same-sex couples. This received the biggest response ever seen in England and Wales to a Government consultation. I reviewed some responses in this post last month. Two types of response were significant in changing the Government’s proposals. The Church of England  raised concerns that there might be a successful legal challenge to the plan to limit same-sex marriage to non-religious forms and ceremonies. Some respondents considered that religious organisations which wanted to solemnise same-sex marriage should be allowed to do so.

So, last month, the Government published its response to the consultation, confirming its intention to make civil marriage ceremonies available to same-sex couples, and to allow those religious organisations that want to conduct same-sex marriages to ‘opt in’, without obligation to do so. No religious organisation or its ministers would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples and there is to be a ‘quadruple lock’ of additional measures which the Government states will put this ‘utterly beyond doubt’.

The debate is likely to continue this year as the Government’s proposals come before Parliament. If they pass into legislation, there will be a delay between enacting the legislation and it coming into force, just as there was following the consultation on civil partnerships on religious premises. So it may still take another year or two.

But the need to share the insights of our experience seems greater and more urgent, so we can be part of the debate about our rights and responsibilities, and not sit idly by while those who think they know what’s best for us pass judgement on our lives and love.

So, as stimulating and surprising as the Photo A Day Challenge was to keep me creating and writing regularly, it’s time to refocus on the reason for my writing.

It’s time to resolve to finish the telling of my story as a gay Christian, and our story as a committed couple who believe that legal protection and affirmation from our society and our faith community does not threaten anyone, except those who have other reasons to feel insecure.

The ‘reasons’ that politicians and pastors have published in recent weeks against marriage equality deserve to be challenged by people like us whose life experience exposes the aim of their rhetoric to alienate others against marriage equality for fear that it might be the move that causes their house of cards to fall.

In the coming year I aim to respond to the controversy over marriage equality as it develops, in England and Wales and around the world. It seems like an idea whose time has come.

The invitation, to me and others like me all over the world, is to seize the moment and call for equality. As the traditional Christian marriage rite says:

Speak now or forever hold your peace.

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