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A great day: hope is in the air

What a peculiar place our island home can be, full of contradictions. You would think that in a community where a sizeable number of individuals have suffered from racial discrimination and injustice that there would be an eagerness to correct an injustice against another discriminated group. But, strangely, many of those who have suffered racial discrimination are precisely those who wish to maintain discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It seems to be a part of human nature that we are always suspicious of those who are different from us, whether it is skin colour, nationality or sexual orientation. From that suspicion stems the possibility of discrimination as we view those individuals as being somewhat less than and more flawed than ourselves.

As a Christian, I find it disturbing that much of this bias is driven by various churches on the island. Interpretation of various biblical passages leads to the belief that homosexuality is inherently evil and that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. We can argue about the meaning of these passages until the proverbial “cows come home”, with no satisfactory resolution. So I am going to avoid that discussion and focus on something different.

By inclination, I am always a bit suspicious of those who rely too heavily on the Bible. Abuse of sacred texts has a long and sad history, and has been used to justify slavery, the Inquisition and numerous instances of genocide. Just look at how Isis is using the sacred texts of Islam to justify its brutal campaign of terror.

For many Christians, the Bible is the word of God. In fact, it is the closest thing we have to God and many become dependent on it. But, and this is a big but, the Bible is not God. For those who wholeheartedly embrace the Bible, that recognition can be difficult. The Bible is the easy way out. We face a problem; we search the Bible and come up with a biblical solution. “Ah, doesn’t that feel good.” But I am not so sure that is what God or Jesus of Nazareth intend for us to do.

From the teachings of Jesus, we should seek direction through prayer, through a direct connection with God. And a large part of that prayerful consultation should be to look within our “heart” to make sure that we are open, loving and caring towards God and others. If you are like me, that can be very difficult to do, so we take the easy way out and rely on the Bible. In its extreme form, an overreliance on the Bible is actually a form of idolatry since we start to worship the Bible rather than God.

You can see in Jesus’s ministry that overtly he rejected that approach as exemplified by the practices of the Pharisees. They would do everything “by the book”, the book being the Torah (now our Old Testament). How many arguments did Jesus have with the religious leaders as he and his followers broke the so-called rules of righteous living.

Jesus went one step farther and called them “fools”, “unclean”, “serpents”, “vipers” and “hypocrites”, for he knew they were following the legalistic rules of their religion, but were ignoring the more important part of their being: the negative state of their heart. That is what Jesus’s revolution was all about — focusing on the state of your heart towards God and others.

Up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t think too much about the issue of same-sex marriage. I was open to the idea of civil unions, but had a sense of unease about the possibility of extending marriage to same-sex couples. Around that time, my wife and I had been spending our vacations in France, renting a cottage from a gay couple. Over the years we got to know them well and became good friends. Eric and Jean are as dedicated a couple as I have ever met. They have been together for more than 25 years.

Eric is the outgoing partner and Jean the quiet one, proving once again the adage that opposites attract. Early in our friendship, they were looking after Jean’s mother, a lovely 90-year-old woman who needed much care. Their care and devotion to Jean’s mother, and to each other, was truly wonderful to be a part of. It was good to be in their ambit.

Once again we came to France for our vacation, and Eric was settling us in to our cottage when he mentioned that they would like to have us over for a glass of champagne so they could share something important. We arrived for drinks and my wife noticed wedding rings on their fingers.

That year France had legalised same-sex marriages. Like Bermuda, it had been a very contentious campaign, but the same-sex marriage provisions passed and had been implemented. Eric and Jean told us that they had always wanted to be married, to have their relationship formalised. Marriage was important for them, not only for the legal benefits, but primarily for the sense of commitment to each other. There must be a yearning in all humans to find that one person, that one love that we can commit to. Eric and Jean reminded me that this is not just a yearning for heterosexual couples, but also for gay couples.

Because of the love that they feel for each other, they want their relationship to be recognised and formalised in a meaningful and committed way, and the only way that can happen in our society is through the institution of marriage. I could see and sense how happy they were to finally get married.

They proudly showed us the pictures of the wedding at the town hall by the mayor of their town. It was special that they shared this with us since they told us they were afraid to share their state of marriage with some people for fear they may not approve. Some of Eric’s family disapprove of their marriage and will not speak to them. How devastating for them all.

My experience with Eric and Jean changed my heart and opened me to the necessity of making marriage available to same-sex couples. My experience led me to wonder what Jesus would say if he was walking the world today? Based on what we know of his ministry, he would support same-sex marriage for he clearly loved all humans with compassion and care, in spite of all our failings. He would know and sense the great benefits of allowing gays to wed. As with the Pharisees, he would condemn the religious leaders of the day for not looking into their hearts on this matter.

The “No, No” campaign has been brutal. Imagine if we had a referendum in the 1960s concerning the legality of interracial marriage with the option of marriage or civil unions. The racist anti-interracial marriage crowd comes up with the slogan “No, No”. It’s not “No” once, it is an emphatic “No” twice. It would be a complete and utter rejection of the humanity of people of colour. Similarly, this was a complete rejection of the humanity of gay people. It has been very sad to watch.

In the meantime, we all ignore the real threat to the sanctity of marriage. The real threat has always been and still remains — infidelity. To show you how human gay couples are, it will surely be the biggest threat to the sanctity of same-sex marriages as well. If churches want to preserve marriage, they should surely do something about infidelity. I wish them luck.

It looks like the courts may come to our rescue and save us from ourselves. It is to be hoped that they will rule wisely and recognise the humanity in all of us — male, female, black, white, straight or gay — that all of us should benefit from the wonderful institution of marriage.