New Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admits gay relationships have value but won’t shift on same-sex marriage, activist Peter Tatchell has said after meeting with him.
Tatchell urged Welby to reconsider gay marriage equality, apologize for past church persecution of LGBT people and engage with activists in Africa where parts of the Anglican church are leading a wave of homophobic hate.
But Tatchell emerged from meeting Archbishop Welby this afternoon (18 April) with an agreement to further dialogue as the biggest concession he could secure.
Tatchell said: ‘It was a very constructive, engaging meeting. But also quite frank with a number of disagreements.
‘Quite clearly Justin Welby is struggling with how he reconciles Christ’s gospel of love and compassion with the church’s current position which is to oppose marriage equality.
‘I think he took on board my point that discrimination is not a Christian value.
‘He kept on saying it is not discrimination, that same-sex marriage is not the same as opposite-sex marriage. He believes there is an “intrinsic difference” in the nature of same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships.’
However, Welby couldn’t be drawn on what that ‘intrinsic difference’ which justified discrimination might be, according to Tatchell.
Tatchell said: ‘I pressed him the church over centuries had evolved on many policies and had once supported slavery, colonialism and the denial of votes for women. These were all traditional church teachings but they have all been changed. So why can’t this also change?
‘I put it to him “you believe in love and marriage, surely you should welcome the fact that gay couples love each other and want to get married. That’s consistent with your own personal and theological views.” His reply was “they are different”.
‘We agreed same-sex relationships can be of extraordinary quality and great moral character. But the Archbishop’s stumbling block is he couldn’t make the further step of acknowledging that justified marriage equality.’
Tatchell said they hadn’t discussed the new agreement from Church of England traditionalists that same-sex couples could have some form of church blessing. Nor had they talked about rumors that Welby may be ready to back gay civil partnerships on church grounds, although not full marriage.
Tatchell added: ‘My key argument with Justin Welby is the church should reach a new historic compromise with the gay community. Whereby it will run its internal affairs based on its internal values but it will allow civil society to legislate for marriage equality for same-sex couples.’
Welby already supports civil partnerships as a legal function. Now it seems he wants them extended.
Tatchell said: ‘Archbishop Welby very clearly stated he believes the current ban on heterosexual civil partnerships should be ended. He indicated very clearly that he supports an amendment before parliament to open up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Which is a new development I haven’t heard before.’
Both sides agreed further dialogue was needed – although there is no firm decision on when talks will continue or who they will include.
Tatchell said: ‘Obviously I do not represent the whole LGBT community. So I asked the archbishop to begin a further, wider dialogue with a spectrum of LGBT campaigners, Christian and non-Christian, both here in Britain and particularly in Africa where sections of the Anglican church are leading the campaign to persecute LGBT people.
‘I also urged him to consider making a public apology to the LGBT community for the centuries of suffering inflicted by the church on them. He smiled and said he would think about it.’
Welby was criticized for using his first public remarks, after being formally appointed Archbishop in February, to attack the UK government’s plans for same-sex marriage equality in England and Wales.
But Tatchell said: ‘The archbishop struck me as very open-minded and willing to engage in dialogue. It’s hard to tell he really is struggling with his own current opposition to same-sex equal marriage.’
Just getting in the door is an achievement for the human rights campaigner who has previously stormed the pulpit and climbed into the garden of Lambeth Palace – where today’s meeting was held – to attract the attention of former Archbishop George Carey, a major homophobe.
And asked if he would be taking his campaign to the newly appointed Pope, he said: ‘Wait and see’.
By contrast to Tatchell's very public comments, a spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop's formal residence and office in London, told GSN they would not be commenting as it was a 'private meeting'.