Independent on Sunday, 24 March 2013
It’s a giveaway that senior clerics aren’t much interested in lesbians, while presiding over institutions that struggle with the notion of treating women as equals
There are many things to worry about in the modern world, so I try to follow a simple rule: don’t fret about gay sex. I have to say it works for me; I’ve spent many pleasant evenings with gay and lesbian friends without giving a moment’s thought to what they do in bed. In the admittedly unlikely circumstances that I ever find myself giving a pre-enthronement interview, I promise I won’t even mention it. And if the new Archbishop of Canterbury had any sense, he would have avoided the subject last week, instead of sounding like a Private Eye parody of an agonised Anglican cleric.
Justin Welby offered his views on gay sex to the BBC a few hours before he dressed up in floor-length yellow, white and turquoise robes – how camp is that? – and banged on the doors of Canterbury cathedral with a stick. (No one could accuse the Anglican church, or indeed the Vatican, of trying to pass itself off as a cool, modern institution.) “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship,” Welby declared, managing to patronise gay couples while continuing to deny them the right to get married.
Does he have a “stunning” relationship with his wife? And who is entitled to judge? I don’t think it’s any of his business who takes advantage of what is more often than not a civil ceremony, and should certainly be open to gay people. Even David Cameron agrees with that, and he’s hardly a radical.
It’s also a bit rich of the Anglican church, which has had its own share of paedophile scandals, to stand in judgement on consenting relationships between adults. They aren’t what religious leaders need to worry about in a society where some men have got away with abusing children for decades, thousands of women and girls are raped each year and domestic violence accounts for around one in six recorded crimes. The conjunction of sex and violence is a significant social problem although it gets much less attention, in clerical circles, than the perennially fascinating subject of what gay men do with each other. Even Scotland’s most senior Catholic, the recently disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien – accused last week of having been in a long-term relationship with a priest while he publicly excoriated gay marriage – couldn’t keep off the subject of homosexuality.
It’s a giveaway that senior clerics aren’t much interested in lesbians, while presiding over institutions that struggle with the notion of treating women as equals. The popular press struggles too, going through a mystifying daily ritual of discovering that women have breasts. But the clerical obsession is with male anatomy. That’s no mystery when you look at photographs of Welby’s enthronement, where the queuing Anglican primates look as though they’ve stepped out of a Renaissance painting. It’s my old friend phallocentric discourse! Call me a feminist, but these guys need to get over the (ahem) amazing exploits of the penis.