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INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS – VOL 167 NO 5 3 Government makes religious same-sex union pledge 4 Army approach to London schools recruitment queried 5 Activists call for end to Haitian debt 6 A key for the future
Judy Kirby 7 Comment
Alison Leonard and Grace Crookall-Greening 8-9 Letters 10-13 The Friend in Kenya 10-12 We are family
Jez Smith 13 Giving thanks to God on life’s highway
Jez Smith 14 Quakers and the Bible
Michael Wright 15 ‘No’ to the Old Testament
Michael Oppenheim 16 q-eye: witness 17 Friends & Meetings
In my second week in Kenya I was offered a hot bath by my Quaker host family. I accepted eagerly without thinking that they didn’t have running water let alone hot water. When it had been prepared I was led to the bathroom and presented with this tub on a stool. Within moments the penny dropped and I gave thanks for the kindness of my hosts. Unfortunately, due to my height I couldn’t stand up straight in this cubicle so I washed outside. After all, who would see? As I cheerily washed the first plane that I had seen in two weeks flew low overhead! I waved. Jez Smith
Cover image: Jez Smith with young Friends from the Chwele Yearly Meeting youth choir at the Young Quakers Christian Association Africa Triennial in western Kenya, December 2009. Photo: Chwele Yearly Meeting youth choir.
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the Friend, 29 January 2010 News
Government makes religious same-sex union pledge
Symon Hill reports on the House of Lords debate on Monday that led to a government commitment ‘to look at this issue further’
The government will consider measures to give legal recognition to religious same-sex partnership ceremonies, following campaigning by Quakers and other groups.
The commitment marks a significant shift from the government’s previous position. Until this week, they had maintained that no change was needed to the law on same-sex civil partnerships, which does not allow the use of religious language or religious premises. Campaigners are now waiting to see if the commitment is followed up.
Speaking in the House of Lords on Monday 25 January, minister Glenys Thornton said that she was ‘not unsympathetic’ to the case for legal recognition of religious samesex partnerships.
‘We fully accept the fundamental importance of this issue to many same-sex couples’, she added, promising to listen ‘particularly to those churches and organisations who do wish to perform same-sex unions’.
The issue has been of major concern to Quakers, particularly since Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) resolved last year to lobby for a change in the law to put same-sex marriage on an equal footing with mixed-sex marriage. Similar calls have been made by other religious groups, including the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Unitarian Churches and Liberal Jews.
Gillian Ashmore, speaking on behalf of BYM, said that
Quakers ‘are encouraged by the commitment of the government to listen and consult and give this measure serious consideration’.
The government’s new position was revealed during a debate on the Equality Bill. Waheed Alli, a gay Muslim and Labour member of the Lords, proposed amendments to allow the use of religious language and religious premises in civil partnerships.
‘This is not meant to be an attack on the tenets of religion,’ said Waheed Alli, ‘It is the Quakers, the Liberal Judaism, the Unitarians, who want this provision’.
He suggested that ‘the mood outside’ of the House was supportive of the proposal. Most speakers in the debate expressed support in principle. However, some, such as the Liberal Democrats’ equality spokesperson Anthony Lester, said that the law needed to be more clearly drafted and nuanced in order to avoid difficulties.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Glenys Thornton argued that allowing religious language in civil partnerships could lead to discrimination against mixed-sex couples in civil marriages, in which no religious language is allowed. In response, Waheed Alli pointed out that a mixed-sex couple can choose whether to have a religious or civil wedding, whereas for a same-sex couple, only a civil partnership receives legal recognition.
However, Waheed Alli agreed to withdraw his amendments following the government’s promise ‘to look at this issue further’. Gillian Ashmore said that Friends looked forward ‘to working with government to seek a solution’.
However, it seems unlikely that the government will make much progress on the issue before a general election, which must be held by June at the latest.
It is not clear what position the Conservatives would take on the issue if elected to government. David Hunt, a Tory spokesperson in the Lords, said ‘I agree we’ve come a long way [on gay rights], but we have to pause for a moment’. However, he acknowledged that there were many same-sex couples who wished to celebrate their commitment to each other in the context of their faith.
Later in the debate, there was surprise when the Lords narrowly passed another amendment to the Equality Bill allowing religious organisations greater exemption from anti-discrimination legislation.
The result was welcomed by socially conservative Christian groups who want to be able to refuse employment to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. However, the vote drew criticism from Cutting Edge, a coalition of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular groups opposed to discrimination. It is as yet unclear how the government will respond.
the Friend, 29 January 2010