Oxford Union votes in favour of same sex marriage in the Church

This Thursday evening, in a spirited debate – featuring a surprise appearance from former Health Secretary Matt Hancock – the Oxford Union debated the motion ‘This House Supports Same-Sex Marriage in The Church’.

The debate began with remarks by the Union leadership. President Charlie Mackintosh emphasised the importance of the debate, noting criticism from anonymous student forums but arguing that it was ‘Anglocentric’ to think that the motion was not worth debating, noting that 87% of the global population lives in countries where same sex marriage is outlawed. Librarian Disha Hegde and Treasurer Sharon Chau echoed these remarks.

Secretary Tom Elliott also announced the cocktails for the sides of the debate, with the proposition receiving ‘same sex on the beach’ and the opposition receiving an ‘old fashioned values’.

The Oxford Student approached speakers Calvin Robinson and Martin Gorick for comment on why they had chosen to speak at the debate. Gorick, a proposition speaker and the Lord Bishop of Dudley, remarked that he has been committed to equal marriage since he was 18 years old, and that he was more than happy to share his understanding.

Robinson, an opposition speaker, Deacon of the Free Church of England and a GB News commentator, stated that he ‘[believes] in the values of the Oxford Union’, such as ‘diversity of thought and opinion, honest and open debate, no cancel culture, free speech’. However, Robinson was drawn to ‘this debate in particular… because it’s about the orthodoxy […] of Christian faith, and I think we need to stand up for it and affirm it as much as possible, especially when we see heretics trying to drag the church into apostasy […] the danger of that is negligent’. A motion carried in November, ‘This House believes woke culture has gone too far’, was widely interpreted as affirming the principles that Robinson referred to.

Mackintosh also noted that every Roman Catholic bishop in the country had been invited, but none had agreed to speak.

Jennifer Heath (Secretary’s Committee, Oriel College) began the debate for the proposition with a stark dilemma for the Church, arguing that it had the opportunity to choose between a path of faith and love or a path of oppression. She also argued for a more ‘nuanced’ understanding of the Bible as opposed to a ‘black-and-white’ one, noting the importance of love in the Bible and arguing that, while science had rendered the story of Creation false, the metaphor of God as omnibenevolent and omnipotent creator was still relevant. Why, she argued, would gay marriage be any different?

Chloe Davis (Secretary’s Committee, Pembroke College) argued for the opposition, noting the ‘sensitive’ nature of the debate. However, arguing against the motion, she noted that it was ‘gravely oversimplified’ and argued that the real role of the debate was to determine whether the Church still had religious liberty in holding socially conservative views that exist in conflict with modern social liberalism.

Bishop of Buckingham Adam Wilson and Gorick spoke for the proposition. Wilson argued that the Church had for a long time had no formal doctrine in marriage, with its first being established from 1922-1937. Wilson also gave some of the most memorable quotes of the night, stating that ‘If you believe same sex marriage is wrong, please don’t marry a homosexual’.  He argues that ‘9 verses out of 32,000’ were merely fine print, which contrast against the Bible’s overarching theme of love. Gorick argued that the only current choice for homosexuals in the Church was one of repression or sin, imploring the audience to ‘choose mercy, choose love, choose life’ for homosexual people.

The tone of opposition speakers Ian Paul and Robinson was significantly more polemical, with both men not shying away from making big claims. Paul, a adjunct Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, argued that voting in favour of the motion was to detach the Church from the teachings of Christ and impose a ‘neo-colonialism’ of liberal social views on Christian nations in Africa and Asia. Paul also argued that voting for the motion would be to be in tandem with Nazi Germany in the imposition of secular authority over religious authority.

Robinson began his speech with a sign of the Cross and noted that he had struggled to sleep in advance of attending the debate. Robinson likened support of the motion to ‘sacramental sodomy’, arguing that 2000 years of Christian doctrine ‘cannot be altered to suit our modern views’. Robinson also argued that while ‘God is love […] he sets the terms, not us’, stating that the motion was ‘virtue signalling’. Robinson also asserted that he knew ‘many LGB people’ in his speech and ended his argument by stating that ‘if the world is against truth, then I am against the world’.

A series of floor speeches from Union members followed. Among them was former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had given an address to the Union earlier in the day. Hancock remarked that he ‘came to listen, but [he] was moved to speak” in favour of the proposition – remarking that he had ‘never seen a debate worth supporting where the opposition cites history and Nazi Germany’.

The debate ended with two final speeches from proposition and opposition. John Inge, the Bishop of Worcester, spoke for the proposition, arguing that the Church’s current perspective on gay marriage was anachronistic, citing recent strides in representation for women within the Church and the remarriage of divorcees as examples of progress that the Church had made.  Joe Finberg, of St. Edmund Hall, argued for the opposition, reasoning that marriage has always been a ‘legal institution’ meaning that the question is meaningless as the church can’t assign legal contracts. He illustrated his point by comparing the church issuing marriages to the church issuing driving licenses.

The motion was carried 181-41.

Some quotes and comments have been edited for clarity.