LGBTIQ+, Intersectionality and Islam conference

 

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Conference report LGBTIQ+ Intersectionality and Islam conference 2019 Saturday February 2019
I have just used first names for the speakers, following the practice on the Hadiyah website. I am happy to add surnames, but I am not sure what level of openness each speaker is comfortable with. I am not Muslim and if I have made any mistakes in my understanding of what was said, I am happy to correct these mistakes.

This excellent conference took place at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. This was a really positive event and showed the level of thought that the organisers had put into the details that really matter. For example, all the toilets in this section of the building had been taken over for the conference and all had posters on them that they were gender neutral and contained individual stalls. The hospital prayer space was desegregated for the event, as prayers were held there during the conference.
There were about 200 people attending the conference and tickets had been snapped up very quickly. The organisers had attracted a wide range of people, from Muslims to Christian clergy. There was good provision for those who were trans or non-binary and name labels had pronouns on them. There was good intersex visibility as well. It is these things that make a conference a really affirming experience, even before you get to the talks.
The conference hashtag is #QueerIslam2019

The format of the day was an opening introduction to the conference and then we split into workshops. Parallel workshops were offered. I can only comment on those which I attended.
The first one I attended was Life as an LGBTQI+ Muslim in the UK, with Drew from the organisation Hidayah.  He is doing an ongoing survey and gave us a brief outline of results so far and compared these to results from Stonewall, showing the percentage of people who are open in their faith community about their sexual orientation or gender identity. These percentages are worryingly low. One significant factor is that they believe that their mosques would not be welcoming. This seemed a particular problem in respect of trans people.
Theologically being intersex or trans is not a problem in Islam. However, Islam and UK society are conflating ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity, in a way that is not helpful. There is a fear about bringing shame or dishonour to their families. This means that those who do come out do not always get the support that they would want. There is a need for more role models for LGBTQI+ Muslims, there are very few.
One significant issue is safety in places of worship, this needs to be addressed. When it is not safe, then it leads to people living a double life and exposes them to increased risk of racism or islamophobia. There is a need for inclusive mosques and for more work to be done on safety.

Next, I went to Martin’s talk on Being Intersex: gender and sex diversity affirmation in Islam. Those who are intersex have sex characteristics that do not fit the binary. They make up 1.7% of the population. It is a biological sex, not a gender identity. 52% of those who are intersex identify as heterosexual, but there is a spectrum of orientations.
Those who are intersex, including the speaker, are subjected to genital surgery as children, this surgery is carried out by the NHS. This form of genital mutilation is illegal under the Malta Declaration, but the UK has not signed this. Traditionally Islam is affirming of intersex.
Islam recognises four genders: male, female, intersex (khuntha) and transgender / gender queer (mukhannath). When praying in a mosque, many mosques separate people on gender lines. An intersex person can pray behind the men and in front of the women. They can also be imams for other intersex people and women.
Those who are Mukhannath, with male bodies, who present as female or gender queer are not proscribed against. They were welcomed into the home of the Prophet, according to Sura 24.31. Mukhannaths were the ‘guardians of sacred boundaries’, so they guarded sacred haram in Madina and Mecca.
Transgenderism in Islam is theologically unproblematic. In his book Tahrir al-wasila, Ayatollah Khomeini stated ‘if someone is confident of his / her belonging to the opposite sex, surgery does not transform him / her to the opposite sex, it rather reveals his / her true sex that has so far been hidden.’
However, there may be social problems and unsupportive families to contend with.

Next, in A journey of intersectionalities, Faz talked to us about his experiences as a trans Shia Muslim man. This was a lot of intersectionality to experience.
He knew he was trans from an early age and early memories of this focused around the length of his hair, which he wanted short, contrary to his family who wanted a more traditional girl like presentation.
Coming out to his family and social groups was fraught. There is always danger in these situations because of the danger of rejection and family status. Eventually his family reached the point where he could present as male, except on formal family occasions, such as weddings, but eventually he stopped having to go to these events.
He also shared some of his experiences of the working environment, where being a person of colour was a bigger source of discrimination.

Lunch was superb. Buffet style and lots of vegetarian and vegan options as well as halal food.

After lunch Quisar’s talk was Don’t read the comments: Queer Muslim self-care in a digital age. Major piece of advice – turn off the comments or at least do not read them.
Online discussions for QTPOC can focus on issues of colonisation. Colonised bodies are discussions by people who do not have the same bodies. Colonised minds, don’t fight on other people’s terms. Colonised spirit is how Islam is thought about and propagated by colonial forces.
A colonised mind is when we respond to the attacks of others and allow others to set the agenda. Some people on the internet start a discussion with an inflammatory statement and then encourage a debate in the comments, simply to try to show how ‘big’ their intellectual muscle it. Don’t respond to the provocation. Instead find your own community for support and discussion.
If you are asked to do something ‘get paid and add tax.’

Colonialism also featured at the start of Hafsa’s talk on Choosing Identities. Colonialism is an undercurrent which encourages those with intersectional identities to ‘ditch Islam’ as the primary identity. This colonialism ‘cultures’ people to act in a certain way.
There are also societal pressures, wanting queer Muslims to make a choice between serving God and finding love. This choice is horrible. Hafsa then used research from the Ozanne Foundation’s Faith and Sexuality survey to give some of the statistics about the attitudes of society and the way that LGBTQI+ people have to hide their identities and the conflict with their faith.
Forcing someone to be what they are not is damaging. We must call out bad behaviour. In particular, we must campaign to get conversion therapy banned, especially for young people. There is a huge need for safe spaces.

The final talk I went to was Ezra’s on Showing solidarity: including trans people in our mosques, meetings and minds. She explained that Allah is clear in this, that people were created different in order for us to learn tolerance, acceptance and celebration of our difference.
Iran is the country that carries out the second most gender confirmation surgeries. Thailand carries out the most. The Iranian statistics are not good news, because gay people are forced to transition, so they become ‘straight’.
When someone transitions in a mosque, you need robust equalities policies. Segregated spaces can cause problems. These segregated spaces are a problem for non-binary people too. There is a need for mosques to be inclusive and safe.
To be inclusive, if you have a meeting, do a pronoun round at the start of the meeting and get everyone to state their preferred pronouns. Then if someone is misgendered, deal with it straightaway.
Each of us can be an ally. In order to make trans people feel secure, you have to treat the concept of trans people first. Don’t wait for a trans person to arrive before you have the discussion.
Ezra used a poster to illustrate her talk and this was uploaded to twitter afterwards. I was not able to do a direct link to the post, but you can access it below.

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Updates

I have added new material to the resources and links page.  These are about Islam and LGBTQI+.  This page can be accessed here.

I have added a new event to the upcoming events page.  This page can be accessed here.

Coming next, the report on the excellent LGBTIQ+ Intersectionality and Islam conference 2019.

Why the bishops are right.

In July 2017 the Church of England’s General Synod passed the Blackburn motion asking the House of Bishops to consider introducing new liturgy to affirm trans people in their faith after transition.  In the end, the bishops decided not to introduce new liturgy, but said that the existing liturgy for Affirmation of Baptismal faith should be used and they would issue new guidance.  The new guidance was issued in December 2018.

LGBTQFaithUK wholeheartedly supports the House of Bishops on this matter.

The pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops can be seen here.

Now, a petition has been launched online, which people can sign, to oppose the new guidance.  The text of the petition can be seen here. 

Unfortunately, the petition contains a number of factual errors, misstatements and confused thinking.

My first concern with the petition is that it is not clear who is the author of the actual content. This has been put up on a website that was created for the purpose, as evidenced by the bespoke website address. The petition contains numerous inaccuracies and instances of inflammatory language. It is not a balanced objective response to the House of Bishops guidance.

Nor does it seem to understand the nature of what ‘guidance’ means. The guidance from the House of Bishops sets out to explain how to carry out services in which people reaffirm their baptismal vows. It achieves that objective. It is a false premise to criticise it for not doing things that it was never intended to do.

In this article, I will go through the petition and show some of the flaws in their presentation.

Sentence 2 of paragraph 1 states ‘Because it has affected a very small proportion of people, evidence from the medical and social sciences is often conflicting and of poor quality.’ Trans people are a small part of the population, but this does not mean that any studies about them will necessarily be conflicting or poor quality. The population of trans people in the world is large enough for accurate, statistically significant studies. The statement chooses to ignore the world class research studies that have been done and are continuing to be done in universities and scientific establishments around the world.

The next sentence in paragraph 1 ‘Although gender dysphoria has been recognized for many decades, in recent years controversial new theories about the relationship between biological sex and the social meaning of gender have been linked to gender dysphoria’ conflates several different ideas together in ways that obscure, rather than illumine, current understandings. As society changes, the social meaning of gender will change and indeed the social meaning of many things will change because they are part of an ever-changing social context. Theories about the interplay of biological sex and the meaning of gender have been studied by academics for decades and will continue to offer fresh insights for a long time to come. What has changed is the amount of publicity and visibility that is given to gender and gender variance.

Gender dysphoria is a medical diagnosis. It will be influenced by biomedical research, rather than by research in the social sciences. The social science academic research helps us to understand gender, but does not define it for an individual.

Paragraph 2 shows a misunderstanding of the difference between medical research, social sciences and educational research. The paragraph introduces the concept of ‘harm’, but does not justify what harm is being considered. Safeguarding is of paramount importance in schools. Any intervention that was likely to cause harm would not be allowed. Even a quick search on Google Scholar will turn up a significant amount of academic literature showing studies into harm reduction for trans students in school. Research shows that the biggest risk is an unsupportive environment.

Paragraph 3 introduces the idea of political debate as well as philosophical and anthropological issues in public debate and theological analysis, but does not discuss any of them. Instead it criticises the House of Bishops guidance for being brief. Everyone writes for an audience and the House of Bishops were writing for clergy who needed advice on how to use existing liturgy, it needed to be brief to serve it’s intended purpose.

The theological rationale had already been published and did not need to form part of the published Common Worship books.  It can be accessed here.

Paragraph 4, which introduces the 7 bullet points, may restate some of conservative evangelical orthodoxy, but it will be read very negatively by those who are LGBTI+. ‘We, the undersigned, are unreservedly committed to welcoming everyone to our churches and communities of faith, so that all might hear and be invited to respond to the good news of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.’ It will be heard by trans people as it is by lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians as a call to repent from being the person that God made us to be and a doubting of our Christian faith. It would be good to be welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ. The paragraph continues by saying ‘But we do not believe that the Guidance is the right way to do this,’ but it does not specify what ‘to do this’ actually means. In some respects, the two sentences are a non sequitur.

Bullet point 1 is just factually incorrect. The House of Bishops have called their guidance Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition. They have not given it ‘The title of ‘gender transition services’.

Bullet point 2 essentially just says – ‘we don’t think you should do this’. Using phrases like ‘dominical sacraments’ are redundant, when the Anglican church only recognises two sacraments, baptism and ‘the supper of our Lord’. Articles XIX and XXV refer to the types of sacraments and to their efficacy as signs of grace. A reaffirmation of baptismal vows is not a sacrament, it may be a vehicle for God’s grace and blessing but it is also a way for the church family to support and affirm their commitment.

Bullet point 3 seems to regard transition as nothing more than a change of name. It is far more than that, it is a change of direction in life and affects every aspect of a person’s life, so the parallels with the scriptures are very appropriate. These scriptures are ones that have meaning for trans people and are sources of inspiration where they are nourished by God’s word. Whoever wrote this material might find that if they took the opportunity to listen to trans people and heard the scriptures as they are understood through the lens of their experience then the writer may realise that the Bishops got this one right.

Bullet point 4 starts with factual errors. It says ‘The possibility of celebrating gender transition appears to be based on the rejection of physical differentiation between male and female (known as ‘sexual dimorphism’).’  Surely, the possibility of celebrating anything is based on the idea that what is being celebrated is a good thing. I would suggest that, considering the number of people who choose to have surgery, such as a double mastectomy or facial feminisation during their transition, that any surgical changes reinforce the physical differentiation rather than reject it.

The rest of bullet point 4 brings in intersex and marriage. It repeats the idea that people who are intersex are ‘a very small number who are biologically intersex’. The proportion of people who are intersex is 1.7%. The population of the UK in 2016 was 65.64million, which means that there were just over a million intersex people in the UK alone. That is not a small number that can be ignored just because it is theologically inconvenient. Even taking the, smaller, percentage of those who are equally male and female, such as those who have one ovary and one testes, the percentage is 0.05%, which would give over 3000 in the UK alone.

The church is obliged to marry any couple that comes to them for marriage, provided that they are one man and one woman. If one of them is a trans man or a trans woman, the law still applies and the church has to marry them. An individual priest could optout of doing the wedding, as they could for a couple where one had been divorced, but they would have to arrange for another priest to take the service. Trans actually reinforces the dominant narrative about marriage.

Bullet point 5 starts with inflammatory language. In my work I come across families where a relative is transitioning or has transitioned. The language of ‘traumatic’ etc is not used. The language is ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging.’ What they need is support. Where there is an unsupportive environment, then the situation becomes more difficult. Unsupportive church environments are a big source of harm.

It is nice to see that conservatives have embraced the idea of ‘not talking about us without talking to us’, we have been saying that for years, but they have taken no notice. I wonder how many trans people and their families they consulted before making this petition public.

Then, for some reason, the bullet point goes back to the idea of ‘novel and largely untested theories’ and ‘potential for harm … of children and young adults’. This merely repeats the ideas of paragraph 2.

Bullet point 6 starts with ‘The notion of gender transition is highly contested in wider society.’ I don’t think the notion is contested, gender transition has been happening for almost a century, at least. How it works out in practice may be under some debate, and the consequences are still being worked through.

  • Then follows a sentence of 95 words (the total of the whole petition is only 952 words, including the title). This massive sentence, conflates together several different ideas in one go. In taking this approach, the writer introduces contradictory theses and does not offer evidence for their claims. It appears quite confused.  Just to take a few of these ideas:
    ‘There is widespread concern at the idea of biological males claiming to be women when they have not shared their personal and social experience;’. I question the claim of ‘widespread concern’. The idea of biological males claiming to be women could take several books to unpack, but what is missing is any idea of biological women who are transitioning to male. Under some understandings, any surgery or medical intervention would confirm the sex that the person already knows themselves to be. I wonder what would be the case for ‘biological males claiming to be female’ if they did share their personal and social experience. It sounds like the personal and social experience is being seen as more important than biology.
    • The idea of ‘a worrying increase in rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD)’ is challenged at all levels. There is only one scientific paper on the subject. The quality of this research has been widely criticised, as has the methodology of using online questionnaires from three sites aimed at parents who do not support their children in their transition. We may be back in the area of evidence that is ‘conflicting and of poor quality’. There is no consensus that ROGD even exists.
    • The next concern is the one about ‘the long-term effects of ‘puberty blocking’ hormones given the poor quality of the research;’. Does the writer of this petition realise that long term effects, in medical terms, may mean a 25 year study or longer? These drugs have not been used widely enough or for long enough for these studies to happen yet. It is an area of ongoing and high calibre research.
    • It says ‘there is no scientific or medical consensus that surgical and medical interventions (‘gender transition’) effectively address the complex symptoms associated with gender dysphoria over the long term.’ What is certain is the consensus of the harm of not intervening in the short term. It has been extensively studied, in high calibre academic studies, that trans youth have a higher rate of suicide, self-harm and depression. Not intervening may mean that the young trans person does not have a long-term future at all.
  • There are long term studies showing the positive effect of interventions and support. Since the 1970s the World Professional Association for Transgender Health has published extensive guidelines on the internationally agreed Standards of Care for trans people. This is based on extensive high calibre research, showing the consensus among healthcare professionals.  The current, 7th edition, can be downloaded here.

Bullet point 7 is probably the first part that I come close to agreeing with. If it were a new liturgy, then it could be understood as a development in doctrine. However, I don’t think that a guide to how to use a liturgy is sufficient to count as a new liturgy.

I too am grateful for the clarification about the status of the guidance. I believe that the mistake happened when the Church of England communication team set up a radio interview and advised the interviewee, mistakenly as it transpired, that the Guidance was to be mandatory.

In the concluding paragraph, I think the Bishops should refer those who have signed the letter to the work of the Living in Love and Faith project, which will be published in 2020.
On a positive note, I agree wholeheartedly with the final sentence – ‘We assure the House of our prayers as they consider the best way forward.’

To learn more about this subject, LGBTQFaithUK recommends the following books, all written by ordained clergy, based on doctorate level research and with the experience of being trans themselves.

Trans-Gender: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith
By Justin Tanis
Published by Wipf and Stock
ISBN 978-1532636424

Transforming
By Austen Hartke
Published by Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN 9780664263102

Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource Paperback
by Chris Dowd, Christina Beardsley
Published by Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd
ISBN 978-0232533118

This is my body: Hearing the theology of transgender Christians Paperback
by Christina Beardsley, Michelle O’Brien
Published by Darton,Longman & Todd Ltd
ISBN 978-0232532067

Supporting our bishops

Within the LGBTQ community there is a need for affirmation of trans people of faith.  There is a particular need for them to affirm their faith, in their new identity, after they have transitioned.

The Church of England’s House of Bishops has issued  Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition.    The full text of this document is available as a pdf document here.  The Affirmation of baptismal vows is an official Church of England liturgy which has existed for many years.  It is not a new liturgy and the guidance offers advice to clergy on how they may use this liturgy when someone who is trans wants to reaffirm their faith.  It is not a baptism service.

There has been a conservative and negative response to this guidance, which is asking the Bishops to remove their guidance.  This response can be found here.  I have been unable to find out who actually wrote the letter, but there is an open invitation for people to sign it.

The best way to respond to this non affirming material is to write to your own bishop, supporting the guidance and supporting the House of Bishops.  A list of diocesan bishops and their contact details are to be found in the campaigning section of this website or a pdf version is available by following the link here.  All the information is in the public domain.

LGBTQFaithUK wholeheartedly supports the Pastoral Guidance from the House of Bishops.

 

 

 

Praying for Bishops

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops are meeting together in Leicester.

Please join with us in praying for them.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We have committed ourselves to pray for you as you meet together in Leicester.

Heavenly Father,
We ask you to give our bishops and archbishops holiness of life and wisdom to direct and guide our diocesan families so that we may grow together in love.
Be with them and bless them as they deliberate together, give them a spirit of unity as they discern your will.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

We ask that you pray for God’s blessing on us and our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ.
Ora pro nobis.

LGBTI+ Christians Leicester

 

bi flag cross       rainbow flag cross       trans flag cross

 

This prayer card can be downloaded as a pdf file from the link below.

prayer card

Faith, Science and Sexuality Conference part 3

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Professor Peter Hegerty from the department of Psychology at Surry University spoke about intersex people.

A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here.

Prof Hegerty’s talk was preceded by a talk from intersex activist Sara Gillingham describing her experiences of being born intersex and some of the ways that this had impacted her life.
In the Bible, when Adam is first described, the Hebrew can be understood in more than one way. It is unclear if Adam is male or both male and female. Intersex may have been present from the Creation.
Prof Hegerty is involved with the SENS project, looking at how people make sense of sex development that deviates from a binary.
When children are born with genitalia that does not fit many people’s binary expectations, they are often subjected to medical or even surgical intervention. It is necessary to distinguish between interventions that are medically necessary and ones that are carried out for cosmetic purposes, such as hypospadias, (where the urethra has not grown through the entire length of the penis).
The occurrence of intersex bodies is a naturally occurring phenomena. However, the attitudes of clinicians affects decisions that are made about any interventions. Presentation of information can also affect attitudes, depending on whether the information is presented medically or socially. One thing is clear, that there should be more psychological help available for those with intersex in the family.

Dr James Barrett’s talk was preceded by a talk from Revd Dr Tina Beardsley who is a member of the co-ordinating group for the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project. A pdf of her talk can be downloaded here.

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Dr James Barrett, lead clinician at a Gender Identity Clinic, titled his talk on trans people as ‘A Boring Talk’. A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here

Dr Barrett stressed that he worked with Adult trans people and not children.
He talked about the myth of detransitioning. It does happen, but is statistically tiny. In a study at the Nottingham Gender Identity Clinic between May 2016 and May 2017 a randomised study of 303 patients showed one patient detransitioning. They subsequently retransitioned successfully.
A longer study over 15 years showed that the rate of detransition was 1%. Of this 1%, 4 out of 5 retransitioned successfully. Of those who detransitioned and did not retransition, only 20% expressed regret. This is a similar rate for those who regret laser eye surgery. [Note – this gives on overall detransition rate of 0.2% and a regret rate of 0.04%]. The cause of detransitioning was almost always due to unsupportive family situations. He joked that some people would benefit from a ‘familyectomy’ – removal of their family.
In respect of children, there is an increasing number of referrals from those in middle adolescence. However, pre-pubertal referrals are not showing the same increase.
Dr Barrett addressed the issue of counselling. He is often told by activists that people should be offered counselling. However, the purpose of counselling is unclear. Counselling to reduce immediate distress is different from counselling to ‘cure’. Attempts to cure are not effective and can be harmful.
In the Question and Answer session, Dr Barrett made some further points of note. Only about a third of trans men have phalloplasty, which surgically creates a penis. Much of the research done of transitioning focuses on surgery, because it is easier to study. Social transitioning is harder to measure and therefore has been studied less. There is less information from research on FTM trans people and their transitions. The rates of FTM and MTF are about the same now but in the past there were more MTF, however it is possible that the numbers from the past understate the true numbers of FTM because they found it easier to pass. Prof King noted that among the very young, below age 14, there were more FTM.

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The final speaker of the day was Professor Robert Song, professor of theological ethics at Durham University.
I would like to recommend Prof Song’s book Covenant and Calling, which covers the material from his talk in more depth. It is available to buy here.
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A pdf of the slides for this talk can be downloaded here.

Science cannot dictate our ethics. Science can tell us about the causes of homosexuality or transgenderism and how different cultures have treated gender and sexual minorities. It cannot tell you how to deal with different bathrooms or how to respond to blessing or ordaining those in sexually active relationships or whether a surgical response to intersex is ever right.
What does ‘natural ‘mean? In relation to sexuality and gender a mainstream, traditional answer is that natural is the sexual binary of male and female and heterosexual sex and marriage. So, what is unnatural is anything which crosses the boundaries of these, including those who don’t fit into the sexual binary, either in terms of gender identity or in terms of non-standard genitalia and those whose sexual desire and behaviour doesn’t fit into heterosexual sex/marriage.
Those who are deemed to be unnatural are those statistical outliers, the socially unacceptable and those who do not fit the binary male and female ordering towards reproduction.
Those who don’t fit in with the dominant social norms suffer the psychological effects of shame and rejection as social norms are enforced.
We can see this in the Old Testament purity laws that did not allow any mixing of different kinds. For example, lepers were unclean because of their patchy skin.
In the New Testament, there is a different focus, those who were unclean and excluded are now counted as clean. Excluded groups, like the gentiles, are now included. In the story of the Good Shepherd, the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes looking for the one, he does not stay with the 99, but seeks the one that is not there. LGBT people are more than 1% and the holiness of a God of Love means that everyone of us is loved and has a place and they are exactly the people that the Good Shepherd will search for.
The purity ethic is still active in the church, making belonging conditional. Those who are seen to be most sinful are made to feel most excluded. Science cannot address people’s attitudes, but it can address the basis of those attitudes. Science can show that sexual orientation is not chosen and cannot be changed.
Appealing to inclusion is not enough. We need to address the way that the male and female binary is orientated towards  reproduction. What happens to procreation in Christ? Procreation is no longer essential for our identity in Christ. We share in the blood of Christ and Christians reproduce through baptism. Marriage, for the purpose of reproduction is fundamentally reconfigured in Christ. So, if reproduction is no longer an essential part of marriage, then it is reasonable to ask why marriage has to be heterosexual and even if gender matters at all? What might matter in marriage is a commitment to faithfulness, permanence and fruitfulness.