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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Quakers "Pushing at the Frontiers of Change"

Personal stories are often most influential inpushing forward social change. In this new book, “Pushing at the Frontiers ofChange: a memoir of Quaker Involvement with Homosexuality” David Blamirescharts that history. It starts with the publication of “Towards a Quaker Viewof Sex” in 1963 and the response it provoked, to the challenges in the lead-upto 2009 when Quakers in Britaindecided to seek a change in the law to see same-sex marriage as equal to opposite-sexmarriage. It was a joyful and profound moment in Quakers’ history, but one thattook decades to reach.

Throughout, legal issues and attitudes in society are describedalongside personal accounts and an exploration of Quakers’ wider input into theconversation about homosexuality. What emerges is a frank perspective on howsmall but committed groups of Quakers – their actions, meetings, publicationsand belief in equality – have contributed towards vast social change for gayrights in the UK.

On Tuesday 20th March 2012 at5.30pm at the Quaker Meeting House in Mount Street in Manchester David will bereading from his book, talking about his personal journey and how the book hascome about. Ben Pink Dandelion, Professor of Quaker Studies, will also becontributing.

David has been a close friend of my partner’s parents since they met inthe Young Friends at university and it is a joy to see the publication of thisbook.

Unitarians responded promptly to the publication of “Towards a QuakerView of Sex” with the General Assembly in April 1963 approving the followingresolution, proposed by Martin West of the Unitarian Young people’s League,unanimously:

“That this Annual Meeting ofthe Ministers and Delegates of the General Assembly of Unitarian and FreeChristian Churches considering it essential for religious liberals to givetheir continuous attention to changing moral standards, commends to its membergroups and churches, for their sympathetic consideration, the recent Towards aQuaker View of Sex, published by the Home Service Committee of the Society ofFriends”.

The debate, as reported in “The Inquirer” (4 May 1963) “called forth an impressive volume of vocalsupport from all generations represented at the meeting" and saw a call forpressure on the Home Office to implement the Wolfenden proposals on reform ofthe law on homosexuality (which was not to be until 1967).

More generally, however, as reported by Rev Dr Ann Peart “Unitariansfollowed in a rather lukewarm fashion. Several resolutions to the annualmeetings concerning homosexuality and the age of consent failed to winapproval.” It was not until 1973 that more substantial work was initiated witha report produced for the 1974 annual meetings. This quoted and recommended thepamphlet “Homosexuality from the Inside”, edited by David Blamires. TheUnitarian report was, according to Rev Dr Peart, for its time “a brave attemptto advocate more just attitude to homosexuality.” It paved the way for theground-breaking 1977 resolutions that Unitarian ministry was open to all and expressingan abhorrence of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It was in2008 that the annual meeting, with little public attention, approved theresolution seeking the right to perform civil partnerships in religiouspremises; infact one year before the Quaker decision on equal marriage.

David’s book is available from the Quaker Bookshop, or on Kindle.

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