On Sunday, the Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt wrote an open letter to the Bishop of Portsmouth (where her constituency is). In it she called on him to vote to ‘back reform’ and, as demanded by a coterie of radical bishops, change forever the Anglican stance on same-sex marriage. Today the Church of England has partially rejected that demand, and will not allow clergy to conduct same-sex ceremonies, although it is proposing to allow ‘prayers’ and ‘blessings’ for same-sex couples in civil partnerships.
Mordaunt’s intervention was perfectly legitimate, you might think. What’s wrong with a democratic representative pressing for her constituents to have the ‘right to have their relationships solemnised in their local parish,’ and for an end to the ‘pain and trauma’ of gay people who see themselves treated as ‘second-class citizens’?
In this case, actually, there is quite a lot that should worry us.
For one thing, what she is demanding from the bishops is theologically very awkward. The biblical view of homosexuality is admittedly convoluted, but one thing is clear: the disapproval of it which lies behind the prohibition of same-sex unions is not simply some kind of hoary Old Testament taboo which any enlightened worshipper can airily sidestep.
In scripture there is a consistent view of marriage as a special mystical relationship – rather more than just a commitment between two people who happen to be sexually attracted to one another. And there is Paul’s disapproval of sexual relations, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, outside marriage. To say that this all should be set aside by a vote of prelates, and that the Anglican hierarchy from now on not only condone, but actively approve and encourage relationships that scripture regards as a sin, is a big ask.
Despite the fact that Mordaunt has called for a re-examination of the church’s theology, it’s not as if her arguments are particularly theological.