Gay Marriage: The struggle for equal rights is a Quaker one, too

Quakers first decided to seek a change in the law in 2009, and the community has fought against injustice throughout its history

Lucy Care
Tuesday 05 February 2013 14:22
Terry Gilbert, left, and Paul Beppler were among the first gay couples to legally marry in Seattle at the weekend
Terry Gilbert, left, and Paul Beppler were among the first gay couples to legally marry in Seattle at the weekend

“What is life for if it isn’t to help each other?”

As a child, I must have heard my father say this a dozen times or more. It would often be when he’d done some kindness for someone. It was his way of saying he was pleased to be able to help.

I was privileged to grow up in a free-thinking family. My parents were both Quakers, socially concerned and politically liberal. As children we were encouraged to be aware of people’s needs beyond our immediate household, and to try to look at things from different viewpoints.

In the 1970s and early 80s – during my teenage years and early twenties – I attended various Young Quaker events with discussions, workshops and practical activities. One of the speakers I particularly remember was a gay man, probably in his 40s.

He described his search for love and finding his ‘Mr Right’. He talked about his joy and loving commitment towards the man with whom he hoped to spend the rest of his life. The emotions which he described seemed to me then – and now – to be the same as those sought for, and often experienced, by heterosexual couples, including now in my own marriage.

Quakers had already been expressing support for same sex relationships in the 1960s, and they continued to explore what changes were appropriate in coming years. This willingness to explore new ideas, and seek out new truths, is part of the nature of Quakerism.

Quakers don’t have a creed or fixed set of beliefs. Most would agree that there is ‘that of God’ within everyone, and we seek truth through listening to this ‘light’ within us. Quakers make decisions corporately in a similar way, seeking to be led to decisions which ‘feel right’. Thus Quaker views are not static but change over time – some might say as part of a continuing revelation.

I wasn’t at Britain Yearly Meeting – the national gathering of Quakers – in 2009 when it decided to seek a change in the law to allow same sex marriage. When I heard, I rejoiced at the decision - and my thoughts went back to that discussion many years before…

I have always found Quakers to be wonderfully non-judgemental and open-minded when it comes to their dealings with people. Just because Quakers want to be able to conduct same sex marriages in our Meetings for Worship – in the same way as I married over 25 years ago – it doesn’t mean we want to impose this on others. We just want individuals and groups – religious and otherwise – to have choice. That’s why we support the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

However Quakers don’t shy away from leading – and seeking to influence – decisions which will lead to fundamental changes. And we can also be fiercely determined and single-minded when it comes to fighting for issues that we see as unjust.

Quakers led the fight to recognise and outlaw slavery. Our respect for life and peace resulted in the formation of the Friends Ambulance Units in the two world wars. Quakers work closely with the UN and in current conflict zones such as Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The vast majority of people who want equal marriage are not Quakers, but together our voices are louder as we ‘speak truth to power’. “What is life for,” as my father says, “If it isn’t to help each other?”

Lucy Care was the Lib Dem candidate for Derby at the last general election and is on the party's Federal Policy Committee

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