NEWS STORY: British Churches Embroiled in Controversy Over Easing Anti-Gay Law

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

LONDON _ Like their counterparts in the United States, Britain’s major Christian denominations are sharply divided over the role of gays and lesbians in church and society.

The debate has been ratcheted up a notch with controversial remarks by Cardinal Thomas Winning, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Glasgow, strongly objecting to a proposal in Scotland to scrap a law barring schools from”promoting”homosexuality as a form of family.

While the law is in force across Britain, Scotland’s new parliament is considering repealing the law in Scotland. Polls, however, show a majority of Scots are opposed to lifting the ban.”Today, society is facing a new threat, aided and supported by governments and politicians: the threat to equate homosexual partnerships with marriage,”Winning said in a speech to the Catholic Families Association in Malta on Jan. 21.

He took note of the debate over the effort by the Labor government in Scotland to repeal what is known as Article 28, but warned that while the situation in Malta might appear to be different, his listeners should not be complacent.”All over Europe an active and militant homosexual lobby is pushing for greater power, and the threat to Christian family life is very real,”he said, adding that the threat to Malta’s way of life”comes not from the air raids but the air waves.””In place of the bombs of 50 years ago, you find yourselves bombarded with images, values and ideas which are utterly alien to the noble Christian traditions of the good people of Malta,”he said.”Today, just as much as 50 years ago, you need to resist such an invasion of your culture.” Some Scottish newspapers took the passages to suggest Winning was comparing homosexual activists to the Nazis, a suggestion he indignantly repudiated in a subsequent statement.”The section of my speech dealing with homosexuality and Section 28 made no reference whatsoever to World War II,”he said.”The word Nazi does not appear at any point in my address, and I believe it would be inappropriate, offensive, and fatuous to compare the current debate to what happened in Germany in the war years.” From south of the Scottish border, Winning picked up support from the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones, who came out strongly in favor of retaining the law. The article, he argued, seeks to prevent”the promotion of a gay lifestyle as a moral equivalent to heterosexual marriage.” Those who give moral and social priority to marriage are”not necessarily homophobic,”he said.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, spiritual head of the Anglican church, in a”hate-the-sin, love-the sinner”sermon on Jan. 23 said he saw the law as preventing gay relationships being presented to children as the moral equivalent to marriage but also condemned prejudice against gays.”I condemn totally prejudice against anyone on the basis of sexual orientation,”he said.”But I also resist placing homosexual relationships on an equal footing with marriage as the proper context for sexual intimacy. With or without Section 28, we need to be sure that there are adequate safeguards in place for schools and pupils.” In Scotland, meanwhile, at least one Roman Catholic parish priest has objected publicly to Winning’s use of the term”perversion”to describe the homosexual act.

The Rev. Gordon Brown, of South Queensferry, near Edinburgh, said he thought”enough is enough”when he heard Winning had used the term.”I’ve been a priest for 30 years, but I’ve been gay for longer,”the 61-year-old priest said.”I’d have to tell Cardinal Winning he is wrong. There are a number of gay priests like me throughout Scotland, and the feeling is that enough is enough. The word perverted is deeply offensive, and it seems in the eyes of my church it’s all right to be and not to do.” Brown said he did not have a partner and led a celibate life,”but there’s a major part of me that has had to be shelved.” The moderator of the General Assembly of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, the Rev. John Cairns, meanwhile, has expressed his personal support for repealing the anti-gay law and criticized what he called the lack of”rational discussion”on the topic.”It ought to be possible to devise sex education in such a way that, without promoting any kind of sexual activity, you can talk about what actually happens in the world,”he said.”That is what children should be educated to deal with.”DEA END NOWELL

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