Equality is the new God

Same-sex marriage consultation to go ahead despite Christian opposition Photo: REUTERS/Kim White

Just when you thought Richard Dawkins had kicked God into the long grass, today's consultation on same sex marriage has ensured he is back centre stage.

Around him once again are his deniers and worshippers, both using him as a starting point to argue about what kind of society we are, and what sort of values we uphold.

I am constantly surprised that in this increasingly secular society, where only one in fifteen people attend church regularly, we care so much about what is and is not allowed in God's eyes.

But care we do, particularly at moments that matter: when we are born, die or when we get married - which is why the issue of same sex marriage resonates. Marriage is a defining moment for those who decide to do it and for society as a whole.

Conservatives in the Church have been galvanised by the issue; many horrified at the thought that two men or two women could have a union solemnised by God.

"Equal? - yes! Uniform? No!" is the mantra of clergy who have soul searched and prayed to justify the way different relationships deserve different treatment within the church.

It is a difference, they say, based on centuries of Christian teaching, faith and enshrined in law.

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, held fast to this legacy this weekend when he announced his opposition to any reform which would allow gay marriages in the Anglican church

The Bishop of Leicester told me he fully supported the rights of gays and lesbians to hold civil partnerships but that marriage was a different matter, involving a man and a woman and the "possibility" of children.

Meanwhile, Roman Catholic bishops in the UK have been even more steadfast to their values and beliefs. On Sunday the strength of their opposition was made clear when a letter outlining their opposition was read out from every Catholic pulpit in the land.

If gays and lesbian couples want to say "I do" in a Catholic church here, they will find the resounding answer from within is : "We do not."

Sections of the Anglican church will echo that too - albeit in a typically C of E sotto voce reply.

But I do not think supporters of gay marriage - the young and the liberal of this land - many amongst them Christian - will let that answer stand.

The actor Simon Callow certainly won't, pointing out that gays once condemned for their promiscuity are now being rejected by the church when they turn to it to bless their monogamy.

"Values have changed and are changing still," he says.

"Thank God homosexuals are now accepted and deserve full, complete, equal treatment. Nothing less."

Many of today's young people agree. Opinion polls show strong support for a change.

This is a generation which has grown up with gay school friends, watched them fall in love, supported them through their civil partnerships and even stood as Godparents to their children. For them anyone who "differentiates" effectively discriminates.

And discrimination is the new evil - whether on grounds of sex, colour age or sexuality. It is the new secular sin in Britain 2014. Just as equality is the new God.

David Cameron has made it clear that he expects to see same sex marriage introduced here by 2015. Today's consultation will begin the process that will almost inevitably take us there.

It may be that the outcome will see civil partnerships made available to heterosexual couples just as religious marriages are made available to homosexual couples.

If so what's really changing here isn't the nature of marriage - it's the role of the church.

Metropolitan Community Church Reverend Sharon Ferguson and her partner Franka Strietzel Credit: REUTERS/Toby Melville

The desire to hold onto morals and values is honourable and admirable, but in today's secular world the principle of equality is paramount.

If the church does not welcome those who ask for a religious marriage - whether gay or straight - fewer may turn to it at times which matter. It is in danger of side lining itself.

If that happens then the church's mantra might be:

Equal? Yes!

Uniform? No!

Empty? Certainly.

And few will be listening anymore.