This writer is not normally interested in what goes on within the Windsor family. A few days ago, however, my attention was caught by an interview with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and what he had to say about the current discussion on LGBT concerns.
The Prince was asked how he would react if his children were LGBT. His response was to say that, “I wish we lived in a world where it’s really normal.” He went on to say that, “particularly given their position, his children would face persecution and discrimination.”
It seems that William Windsor’s comments made it big in the social media and were interpreted by some as a major step forward in the cause for LGBT rights. Contrary to the gushing perspective of the BBC (isn’t it always the case with the BBC when reporting the royals), it seems pertinent to ask what decent parent and human being would not support a child who is LGBT?
The media show great interest because William Windsor is the Duke of Cambridge and, under the present constitutional settlement, is second in line to the British throne. Moreover, as the reigning king, William will automatically become the head of the Church of England – the nation’s established church (whose adherents only number around 14% of the British population). The Church of England presently opposes equality for LGBT persons. Such a future position will face William Windsor with a dilemma. Will he respond as a father, or as the Church of England’s CEO?
With thanks to the National Secular Society’s recent Newsline publication (27.06,2019) called “Equality for LGBT people requires a secular head of state” and authored by Chris Sloggett, let me rehearse some of the areas where there is opposition to the Church of England’s influence in British life and how this might influence LGBT matters.
The established church does not allow gay marriage, even though some C of E clergy are in marriage relationships with same-sex spouses. Notwithstanding, when ordained to the priesthood they must pledge not to enter sexually active same-sex relationships.
The C of E bishops have automatic and unearned places in the House of Lords, where their presence is used to oppose bills that would permit greater liberty within the church over sexual matters. Indeed, the presence of elite clergy in the House of Lords is used to try and get Parliament to make decisions for the C of E that the church’s leaders would not risk, or be successful in, making, themselves.
Evidence of the C of E’s homophobia can also be seen in the fact that it does not allow a bishop to bring a same-sex partner to major church conferences.
So, as and when William Windsor ascends the British throne and, thereby, he becomes the “Defender of the Faith”, he will take an oath, as Head of the C of E as well as the Head of the British State, to uphold the privileges of the Church of England in a multi-cultural and multi-faith or no-faith British society. These privileges include, as Chris Sloggett points out, “state patronage, automatic places in the House of Lords, a leading role in our national ceremonies, and control over thousands of state-funded schools.”
It should be added to the previous statement that confessional teaching takes place in these C of E state-funded schools. So too, there is clear evidence that these schools promote anti-gay attitudes and syllabus content that runs counter to the national syllabus specifications related to the teaching of relationships and sex education.
It is relevant to the above to point out that William’s father, Charles Windsor, the Prince of Wales, has indicated that he might choose to adopt the title “Defender of Faith” when he becomes, as expected, the next British king. Whilst this might suggest a more overt move towards greater spiritual democracy in the UK and might well be an objective move towards the disestablishment of the C of E, it would no doubt enrage entrenched opinion and privilege within the hierarchy and the pews of the C of E.
In his article Chris Sloggett further states that “All of this means its [the Church of England] anti-gay positions have a significant impact on the wider pursuit of equality for LGBT people.” It is appropriate, therefore, to once again ask the question: At such a time as his responsibilities include being a ruling monarch, will William Windsor’s response to any of his children being LBGT be that of a father, a monarch or the head of an established church? Even now the British public have a right to know more about what this future monarch will do in that role.
His contemporary comments might be good for his family and be regarded as trendy in the present climate of British public opinion. After all, along with his family, he seems to enjoy his apparent celebrity status. Moreover, his comments come across as those expected from any tolerant person in society. How deep, however, do his convictions with respect to LGBT people really go?
In the light of his present convictions would he be prepared to renounce any future leadership claims to become the head of the C of E, the institutionally established church, an institution that undermines and opposes the cause of equality for LGBT people? This situation could become a serious bone of contention, for both himself and the C of E.
Not only does the British public have a right to know about the character of its political leaders; it demands to know the same of its royalty – especially when these royal persons also assume leadership of an established church, a minority institution that has the ongoing audacity to presume such a prominent place in British public life.
Successive reports from the National Secular Society have stated that “arguments for disestablishment are compelling” and that “overt support for establishment remains weak.” The NSS is of the view that “Secularisation, increasing cultural diversity and the divergence between Church leaders’ ethical views and those of wider British society will undermine current justifications for establishment.”
It is pertinent to reflect on the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he says that establishment (of the C of E) “reflects a slightly odd 16th century view of the absolute inseparability of the Church and State, which is realistically not where we are now.”
However, in the UK the voices of religious privilege are loud and their vested interests are strong. Whilst it is hoped that it may be otherwise, in the event of him becoming the head of the British state and the executive leader of the C of E, those same voices and interests may well result in a change of Williams Windsor’s heart and mind on the matter of LGBT rights.
It is incontrovertible that, in the interests of equality, LGBT people require a secular head of state. What is true for LGBT people is true for all persons in the UK. Has there ever been such a just and timely case for the separation of Church and State and the disestablishment of the Church of England as there exists today?