I’m A Feminist Atheist Who Supports Marriage Equality — Should I Have A Church Wedding?

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Today marked my first attempt of using Twitter as a forum in which to connect with journalists and respond directly to pieces that prompted an opinion of my own, sadly it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth after a misinterpretation of my 140 characters from a feminist crusader whose work I have in the past very much admired and am sure will continue to do so. The opinion and article of which I speak was that of Caroline Criado-Perez’s “Why I refuse to get married until we have equality on the certificate” published via the New Statesman site, something which for the majority I agreed with but felt confused by certain aspects of.

As someone in a position of power such as Criado-Perez, a further explanation as to her appeal of a church wedding beyond it being “comforting, awe-inspiring, repeating words that are centuries old, in a building where thousands of couples have done the same” would not have gone amiss. This also being said in conjunction with: “I didn’t want to pledge my allegiance to such an institution. I didn’t want to assimilate my private love into a system that represented everything I hate about society.” And “I’ve never really considered a civil partnership – and not just because I can’t have one. The term sounds so bureaucratic, so soulless”.

My Twitter comment questioning the doublethink as hypocrisy and stating it possibly undermines her rejection of other traditional aspects of marriage was not and is not an attack on a woman who has successfully helped garner public awareness surrounding important issues affecting the visibility of women within our ‘supposedly’ equal society i.e. the brilliant campaign against the removal of Elizabeth Fry from the five pound note. It was a prompt to clarify the confusion I felt post-read which was met by her with a sarcastic, unhelpful response and a comment implicitly grouping me within a Dunning-Kruger brigade of thinking – the exact opposite of my intent.

I’ll happily admit that I still have a lot to learn concerning my beliefs, opinions and morals and how to articulate them but as a pro-active thinker, my response to her article was written in the hope of receiving some enlightenment; it was without malicious purpose. I had anticipated a reasonable reply which could perhaps again help expand my own knowledge and feminist response to the idea of a church wedding.

While the base of the article is a call to change the marriage certificate to include the names of both parents (a petition I have signed and wholeheartedly support) and not the issue of combining feminist beliefs with a church wedding, for me it did spark the question – as a staunch believer of equality, supporter of gay rights and feminist change with no religious inklings to speak of, what would be the appeal of saying marriage vows in a church? A church which does not recognise the rights or love of my homosexual friends, a church to which I have no spiritual ties whatsoever and from what I could gather from the article, nor does Criado-Perez.

At present my opinion is that I would feel fraudulent in borrowing a beautiful, traditional building intended for use by couples wishing to proclaim their love for one another not only in front of friends and family but also God without having any religious beliefs. Just because we have a right doesn’t mean it is right. If you don’t believe in God, why make your promises to him? Feminism is the acceptance of all genders, races, sexual orientations and decisions of the individual. I am not attacking her decision to consider drawing up a legal agreement for her marriage in a church but seeking further rationalisation. I recognize the rights of an individual in holding two opposing viewpoints on marriage but surely the tensions in doing so are clear. As an advocator of change within the traditional realms of marriage why did Criado-Perez not go further and include this huge issue of debate, alongside that of gay equality?

Moving on from the article, the question of my feelings as a feminist and atheist concerning whether or not it would be right for someone with a lack of religious beliefs to be married in a church remain. It is an issue which I have mulled over for some time and at great length. I partook in an Alpha course to better understand the beliefs of Christian friends and whilst I learnt a lot, remained an Atheist in my views. There are many who practice a faith and belong to organized religions that are not against gay marriage; many churchgoers with spiritual beliefs who support the cause of equal marriage are simultaneously justified in wanting to be married in a church because of their faith. I also support the notion of traditional gender roles within a marriage so long as they are mutually consensual. For me, however, that’s not the way forward. More emphasis should be placed on giving civil partnerships a greater level of recognition and importance as championed by Holly Baxter’s recent article published by the Guardian ‘As a straight woman, why shouldn’t I have a civil partnership?’ – they no longer need be a consolation prize offered up by the government and ought to be available on a wider basis to all couples seeking an equal union. TC Mark

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