Wounded in the Stones

Glen Newey

In words that the secretary of state for education has caused to be placed in every school in the land, ‘He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord’ (Deuteronomy 23.1, King James Version). Like the rest of the good book, this instils a useful lesson for life: it never rains but it pours. You get kneed in the nuts behind the bike shed, only to learn you’re not going to heaven either.

Never mind the stones. We already knew that God doesn’t like lesbian and gay people any better than He does the genitally mutilated (e.g. in Romans 1.26-28 St Paul says He judges them ‘worthy of death’). Like their Roman Catholic counterparts, many Anglican clergy are gay, some openly and happily so, but the Church’s submission to the government’s consultation on gay marriage includes some daft arguments against it. For example, that ‘enabling all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony’ will create a two-strata system of civil and religious nuptials. The Church, and front bodies like the Coalition for Marriage, then argue that because there’s now a one-tier system, Anglican parishes will be wide open to gay entryists wanting to marry in church precisely to rub traditionalists’ noses in it. The response also accuses the government of committing a ‘category error’ by confusing marriage as an institution with the wedding ceremony. First insist that marriage is indivisible, because recognised as such in law; and then argue that because it’s indivisible, it should be such in law.

This all amounts to having one’s multi-tiered cake and eating it. Some other Anglican arguments for the status quo aren’t much better. One is that allowing gay marriage may trigger disestablishment – which is a bit like a hostage-taker threatening that if he doesn’t get the ransom, he’ll blow his own head off. It’s tempting to reply: blow away.

At least the Church rejects the slippery-slope argument, according to which gay marriage will lead to troilist or n-person conjugation, to coupling with siblings, the dead or animals. Predictably the Bible has a downer on bestiality (e.g. Leviticus 18.23, 20.15), which perhaps reflects how endemic heavy petting was in ancient Palestine; a 1533 act denying priests benefit of clergy when charged with bestiality suggests that early modern English clerics, too, were no strangers to a rubdown with Clover.

For David Cameron, the debate throws up useful chaff. Austerity is tanking the economy. The Tories’ floparoo in the local elections and the budget’s implosion have left the prime minister wounded in the stones. Diversions are running short: the diamond jubilee’s now chip-wrap, and England winning the football is as dim a prospect as the pearly gates are for a gay eunuch. It lets the Tories toss a bone to their coalition partners. And, for a government keen to badge itself as ‘progressive’, the church’s bah-humbug rejectionism offers a handy foil.

That said, gay marriage is something of a late bottled vintage in the government’s policy cellar. It’s hard to believe that c.1988 the swanking tailcoats of the Bullingdon Club were plotting that as soon as they got into power they’d foist gay marriage on an unsuspecting nation. Still, there’s more rejoicing in heaven etc. Whether it will do the government much good is another matter.


  • 13 June 2012 at 7:24pm
    scotfish says:
    Marriage has surely become observed as much in the breach as in the observancein "conventional" cases. Is it a class issue, I ask? Sincerity, enduring and loving should be recognised. Bishops who comment tend to dress like outrageous Rio street partiers and to be a long way from dwindling flocks. They may find that gay marriages increase congregations. That may put lead on the roof.

  • 19 June 2012 at 1:29am
    Xynthia says:
    While it's true that Deuteronomy won't allow eunuchs (or Moabites) into the 'congregation' it appears this meant they couldn't serve in priestly functions, not that they weren't part of Israel. In Isaiah 56.3, God explicitly reassures a worried eunuch that if he will keep the Lord's covenant and sabbath, He will give eunuchs a place in his house and "an everlasting name which will not be cut off." It's actually a very touching passage. It's also worth remembering that the very first Christian convert (in Acts 8.27) is both a eunuch and a person of color--an Ethiopian Phillip meets along the road, who, after hearing the gospel from Phillip, asks to be baptized right then and there. The fact that the writer of Acts makes this story so prominent surely is intended to underline that men who had the misfortune to undergo emasculation were not in any way excluded from the body of the church.