The Oxford Union debated the question of gay marriage in the Church this Thursday, with Anglican bishops, Christian theologians, and students taking part. In an otherwise balanced debate, two speakers’ views stood out as “very bigoted”, according to some members. The debate also featured an impromptu floor speech in favour of gay marriage from the visiting former Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Significant online controversy surrounded the announcement of this debate motion, which Union President Charlie Mackintosh addressed, reminding attendees that a purpose of debate was to offer freedom of speech to all religious. With this in mind, Mackintosh told the chamber he was “baffled” that anyone could contest the running of the motion.
Speakers from the opposition nonetheless caused controversy, with Dr Ian Paul comparing pro-LGBTQ+ rulings from secular authorities to the control of religion in “Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union”. However, a member from New College told Cherwell that he was “disgusted” with this argument.
Dr Paul went on to argue against a “new colonialism”, speaking against the growing number of liberal representatives in Western churches who have urged religious communities in former colonies to widen inclusivity for all sexualities in marriage. Another member attending the debate told Cherwell that some of the views expressed “unbelievably bigoted” and the opposition was “intolerant” of the LGBTQ+ community.
On the other side of the debate, speaking in proposition of the motion, the Bishop of Buckingham urged all to support same-sex marriage in the Church, claiming that “God is love”.
The second Anglican bishop to speak was in agreement with this, telling the chamber, “Sisters and brothers tonight choose mercy, choose love, choose life”.
Matt Hancock MP, who was present at the Union, said he felt moved to speak on the motion during floor speeches. He told the chamber: “If we don’t provide leadership in what is right, what is debating for?” Despite an at-times awkward address on PPE contracts and lockdown guidelines earlier in the day, Hancock spoke strongly in favour of universal gay marriage.
The debate shifted tone again with the next opposition speech. Calvin Robinson, Deacon of the Free Church of England, stressed that it is “the sin that is the problem, not the sinner”. Robinson’s real qualm is with those in the Church who promote gay marriage, as they do not have “the authority to bless sin”. In response to those advancing same-sex marriage in the Church, Robisnon stated that he heard “the Devil at work”. If passed, this change would amount to “sacremental sodomy”.
At the end of the debate the members voted overwhelmingly to accept this motion by a margin of 186-41.