Target: Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Goal: Remove the discriminatory restriction that requires gay bishops to remain celibate
The Church of England recently agreed to allow gay men in civil partnerships to become bishops, but only on the condition that they remain celibate. The Church has stated that it intends to periodically question those bishops to ensure that they are not engaging in behaviors that the Church deems unacceptable.
Bishops who are single are also expected to be abstinent, but those single straight men are not questioned to ensure that they remain celibate. If the Church is really interested in equality, gay bishops in committed relationships should not be subjected to discriminatory restrictions that cannot be enforced.
Many in the UK have started comparing the Anglican Church to the Episcopal Church in the United States, which has been allowing gay men to become bishops for many years. In addition, the Episcopal Church also allows women to serve as bishops, a change that the Church of England recently voted against. This move toward equality in the U.S. has prompted conservative members of the Church to create a separate branch of the religion to maintain the traditional homophobia of the Church.
Some of the more progressive members of the Anglican Church welcome the change, as it signals an interest within the Church in becoming more accepting of the gay members of the community. Others, however, see it as an attempt to appear welcoming to the gay community while continuing to uphold anti-gay policies that enforce inequality. The Church teaches that anyone who is not married must remain celibate, but insists that gay couples cannot be married. It also teaches that sexuality is an important part of marriage, but discourages gay bishops in civil partnerships from expressing their affection sexually.
Although the Church of England cites the religion’s teachings as the reason for requiring gay bishops to be celibate, the stance seems to reflect the beliefs of the larger society. While many countries have become more accepting of the LGBT community, Western cultures still reflect a feeling of discomfort with gay sexuality.
Placing this restriction on gay bishops validates those feelings of discomfort and encourages homophobia. In order to be truly accepting of the gay community, the Church of England must overturn this discriminatory restriction and allow gay bishops in committed relationships the same freedom as married straight bishops.
Dear Archbishop Welby,
The House of Bishops recently lifted its ban on gay men becoming bishops, but only on the condition that gay bishops, even those in committed civil partnerships, remain celibate.
While this is a step forward for gay rights within the Church, requiring bishops in committed relationships to remain celibate is unrealistic and discriminatory. Straight bishops who are not married are also expected to abstain from sexual activity, but unlike gay bishops, they are not regularly questioned to ensure their celibacy.
The Church cites the religion’s teachings as the reason for implementing this restriction, but it likely stems instead from a discomfort with gay sexuality. Allowing gay men to become bishops signals a move toward acceptance of the LGBT community, but restricting the private lives of those bishops indicates that they are still not being fully accepted.
The Anglican Church is still far behind the Episcopal Church in the United States, which has accepted both gay bishops and female bishops for many years. Please consider removing the celibacy requirement so that gay bishops in civil partnerships will be given the same freedoms that the Church gives to straight married bishops.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: bhsher via Flickr.