IN HIS OWN WORDS
Anglican Bishop Patrick Whites comments on the debate over gay and lesbian discrimination and marriage:
The Gay & lesbian debate, which, I have to say, I'm pleased that it is now being discussed on a wider basis and a little more open than it was when Renee Webb first started to bring it out, and it flared up and it just got swept away. Over the last couple of years, for various reasons, it's come more to the surface. The Government seems more open to dealing with it now then they were then, and so the churches have had their chance to speak, to say their piece, and the members of the gay and lesbian community have been able to say their piece. And what pleases me about that is that I really believe that if there's going to be a change, they need to feel free to speak out and to be heard, that the business of people speaking on their behalf is fine as far as it goes, but until the community itself is feeling the comfort level, the confidence level, whatever it is, to speak to the culture with confidence, without rankor, then it won't move anywhere. But that seems to be happening now and I think that's a good thing.
As far as the churches are concerned, there are as many opinions in the churches as there are in the community, and between the churches, interdenominationally and within the denominations, and certainly I can say that as far as the Anglican church is concerned, we've got as many opinions as there are out in the culture as a whole. That's an ongoing debate as far as the church is concerned.
I'm happy that it's getting to the point where it's a lot more out, and its not being swept under the table, because it's certainly here. I think, certainly, people were, while some people were comfortable to keep it tamped down, there were other people who were very uncomfortable with the rampant hypocrisy around it at all levels. So, I think that's a good and a healthy thing. Where it's going to go, I don't know, but I think that it's a good thing that it is coming out and this much more healthy, open way.
I'm in favour of changing the legislation for the protection of gays and lesbians. And my position on that is that it is a civic issue, that yes, the churches can state their opinion on it, their view on it, and they can ask of their adherents, every denomination and every faith group, and ask of their adherents to have a certain view, or to teach a certain view, but its bigger than any one denomination and its bigger than the churches. It's a social issue.
While I may differ with the views that are out there, I do have great respect for the people who are voicing them. I think it's one thing for the government to say that there's equal protections, that's fine, so they can't be discriminated against on the basis of housing, and whatnot, or employment. The fear is that this will lead then to same-sex marriages; not necessarily in churches, but if the government were to go ahead and do civic blessings, as it were, civil ceremonies and whatnot, and that that will in turn lead to a break-down in the social fabric, and whatnot. First of all, I think we're a long way away from that happening in Bermuda. Getting the equal rights protection, that may be down there in the short-term, but blessings of civil ceremonies, I don't see that happening any time soon.
I am a firm believer that no church should be forced to marry somebody or to perform a blessing for someone where they don't agree with it. We, as churches, all have the right to say no to somebody who wants to come and get married, on whatever grounds we have made the decision. Maybe we just don't think they're suitable and we can't bless it, or we know things about them that they're not admiting, or what have you, so there are grounds already for the church to say no. And also, it's clear that, as far as I know, in most jurisdictions, the church is free to say, for instance, we're not going to ordain women, and we won't emply them as clergy, and the government doesn't step in and say, 'I'm sorry, that's a violation of women's rights.' It says the church has the right to do that.
It's kind of a complicated thing, and, obviously, again, touches people at probably the deepest points of their lives. Who we are, our identity as sexual beings, is pretty critical to who we think we are, so its something that needs to be done with great sensitivity.
The other side of it is, and I've tried to convey this on official levels, is to say, when statements come out, 'The churches are against it,' I think you really have to be careful about that, because some churches are not against it, officially, and other churches have individuals within them who have quite different points of view. It's not quite accurate to say, 'The churches'.
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