Dear Archbishop Justin Welby,
Your enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion will be an occasion for rejoicing by your faithful.
Like them, I wish you well.
I hope you will use your new authority to guide the church to accept equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Just over a decade ago, you expressed harsh homophobic opinions, condemning gay relationships and the adoption of children by same-sex couples. You may have since revised these views but even now you oppose marriage equality.
One of your first public statements, when you were confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury last month, was to declare your support for discrimination against gay people: namely your support for the legal ban on same-sex civil marriage.
Moreover, although you have expressed your support for civil partnerships, it is reported that you have not approved civil partnerships taking place in churches or church blessings for same-sex couples.
You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic – in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist.
Homophobia has come to mean more than an irrational fear for gay people. It includes support for anti-gay discrimination and the denial of equal rights to people who are LGBT. In this sense of the word, you are homophobic because you support discrimination in law against gay people.
Discrimination is not a Christian value; regardless of whether this discrimination concerns gender, race, faith, sexual orientation or gender identity.
You say that you are listening to the concerns of the LGBT community but you continue to ignore and reject our claim for equal marriage rights. It does not feel like you are listening. Or perhaps you listening but not hearing?
You are not without precedent with regard to LGBT equality, in the UK and abroad.
Sadly, successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to speak out clearly and consistently against LGBT human rights abuses worldwide and against the frequent collusion with these abuses by local Anglicans. Large swathes of the Anglican global communion actively support the persecution of LGBT people, mostly without rebuke.
The Anglican churches of Nigeria and Uganda are supporting draconian new anti-gay bills that are currently before their respective parliaments.
Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill intensifies the criminalisation of LGBT people, including life imprisonment for mere sexual touching and the death penalty for repeat gay offenders. It also outlaws same-sex marriage, LGBT organisations and gay human rights advocacy.
Similar repression, excluding the death penalty, is enshrined in the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.
I urge you to speak out against these totalitarian homophobic proposals.
Such concerns aside, I note with encouragement recent statements by you that may indicate a softening of your stance and a greater openness to LGBT equality.
Most commendably, you support strengthening gay relationships and recognise that love between people of the same sex is no less than that of heterosexual couples.
You are quoted as saying: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.”
Indeed, you have indicated that you are open to on-going discussion and dialogue with LGBT people, for which we thank you.
I urge you to show true moral leadership by standing against homophobic discrimination in favour of LGBT equality.
In the name of free speech, I have spoken out against the prosecution of Christian street preachers – even homophobic ones. I have defended persecuted Christians, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
I call on you to reciprocate.
It would, I believe, be wrong for you to collude – either consciously or by default – with those fellow Anglicans who reject gay equality.
I ask you: Would you make such compromises on equal rights in the case of ethnic minorities? I expect not. So why should LGBT people be treated differently?
My mother is a devout Christian. She believes that homosexuality is, according to The Bible, a sin; albeit not a major one. Equally, she believes homophobic discrimination is wrong. She makes a distinction between her personal beliefs and the law of the land.
I would, respectfully, urge you to do the same with regard to marriage equality and other legislation.
I understand and appreciate that you want to maintain Anglican unity and prevent a split in the communion. But is sacrificing LGBT equal rights morally justifiable in order to secure this goal? Is it a price worth paying to keep the church united? Should gay human rights be compromised to appease those in the worldwide communion who endorse homophobic persecution and legal discrimination?
I urge you:
Be a moral leader for universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBT people.
Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation
This Open Letter has prompted a response from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He has offered to meet Tatchell and begin a dialogue on LGBT issues; a significant breakthrough for the LGBT community, made all the more significant because Welby comes from the conservative, evangelical wing of the Anglican Communion.
Welby wrote to Tatchell:
Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. It requires much thought and the points it makes are powerful. I would like to explain what I think to you…and listen to you in return.
Welby is the first Archbishop who has offered to meet Tatchell. Not even Rowan Williams made such an offer.