A side order of controversy

A lovely post by Tania Kindersley

My brilliant and very tall friend N is getting married to his boyfriend. The official invitation is out, plans are being set in motion, and I must buy a frock. I got a picture of the happy couple by email last night, and they are bathed in joy.

It should just be a thing, shouldn’t it? Another lovely piece of good news; more love in the world; two delighted people. In my mind, that is exactly what it is. But as I contemplate the delight, I am haunted by an article Melanie Phillips wrote last week about how letting gay couples marry is immoral and wrong. The headline set it out in stark terms: Making a Mockery of Marriage, it screamed. I was going to write about it at the time, it made me so cross, but in the end I thought: it’s just Melanie Phillips being furious, and it’s same old same old, and even embarking on the subject makes me feel inexpressibly demoralised.

Now, though, it’s personal. Ms Phillips, who is an intelligent, highly paid commentator, is telling me that my friends are attacking the Bible with their bare hands. They are, apparently, with the connivance of the Prime Minister, on a mission to ‘erode society’s core values’. They are not just making a lifetime commitment to each other, oh no; they are ‘overturning centuries of Biblical understanding of the sacrament of marriage’. Oh, and for good measure, they are ‘destroying moral and sexual norms’. I wonder if they knew that this was what they were doing, as they got out of bed this morning. What with all that undermining morality and turning the Bible on its head, I wonder that they have time to do a job.

I’m a bit puzzled by this basing our entire morality on the Bible thing. The Bible is not my book, but I know that many kind and intelligent people regard it as a great book, and the King James version contains some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language. It’s just that it also contains some things that we mostly don’t do any more, for fairly good reasons. Is Miss Phillips suggesting that we should still sell our daughters into slavery, to be maidservants or concubines, as it says in Exodus? Exodus also says that those who work on the Sabbath should be put to death. By not writing this into statute, is Mr David Cameron going even farther in ‘eroding society’s core values’? And, since we are on the subject, am I to presume that Miss Phillips spends half her time giving up burnt offerings, as Leviticus instructs her at amazing length? (The instruction about the bullock and the ram and the exact manner in which the blood should be sprinkled goes on for chapters.)

It seems to me that most Christians understand very well that their book was written a long time ago, by men who lived in another time and another place. So, they cherry pick. They take the brilliant stuff about loving thy neighbour and turning the other cheek, and the wonderful parables about the good Samaritan and the friend in need, and they leave the parts about stoning people who blaspheme, or the keeping of slaves, or killing girls who are not virgins on their wedding night. There is nothing controversial about this. It would be really weird, and most unChristian to go about slaughtering all the non-virgin brides. (Deuteronomy says it must be done by stoning, and by the whole town, which would be logistically tricky, to say the least.)

I am no theologian, as you may have guessed by now. It just seems strange to me that Miss Phillips is so insistent on the purity of marriage because it is in the Bible. Is she going to get furious with my friends because they wear clothes made of two different threads? Shall she race around the restaurants of London attempting to stop people eating cockles and mussels because the Bible says that is an abomination? Will she insist that all the mediums be put to death? I’m just asking. I may be being a little sarky about it, because she’s bashing people I love, but on an intellectual level, I am genuinely confused.

On an emotional level, I wish she would stop making unkind accusations about a man I have loved for twenty-five years. He is a good and honourable fellow, even if he does sometimes eat shellfish on the weekends.

Tania Kindersley is a British author. She has published seven novels, and written widely for various British newspapers and magazines. She lives high up in North-East Scotland with two excellent black dogs and one very grumpy pig.


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