Review of David Blamires (2012) Pushing at the frontiers of change; A memoir of Quaker involvement with homosexuality. London: Quaker Books. (ISBN 978-1-907123-23-8, paperback 100 pages)
Changes in attitudes to homosexuality in the Western world have been dramatic over the last 50 years. No less so within the Religious Society of Friends. David Blamires has been involved in these changes for much of that time and his book gives a valuable insight into Quaker responses.
Although David was not part of the group which wrote Towards a Quaker view of sex, published in 1963, he knew many of the authors and gives a full account of the lead-up to that booklet. Not only was it ahead of its time, it caused much discussion both within and without Quakers, including in Australia. Curiously, much of the discussion was about the authors’ call for acceptance of relationships outside marriage as much as their accepting attitude to homosexual relationships.
Although the booklet was published by Quakers it was not an official view but that of the contributors. The same applied to David’s own book Homosexuality from the inside, published ten years later in 1973. It was this booklet which resulted in him being invited, whilst he was on a visit to Sydney that year, to fly to Brisbane with the help of Queensland Regional Meeting and give a public lecture. Out of that came the suggestion to our Yearly Meeting in 1974 that we should support the decriminalisation of male homosexual acts, culminating in our public statement at Yearly Meeting 1975.
Since then in both the UK and Australia there have been many, sometimes very painful, discussions around support for homosexual relationships and the more recent acceptance of gay marriage. Through all that time Quakers have struggled to balance the testimony to equality with the conventional idea that marriage was for heterosexual couples. This, of course, culminated in the acceptance of gay marriage and calls for changes in the law by Britain Yearly Meeting in 2009 and Australia Yearly Meeting in 2011.
David’s final comment is ‘The story of Quaker involvement is still worth telling … because it shows how small groups, working together under concern and prepared to devote the necessary time, made a difference to the resolution of an important area of social injustice.’
The history of homosexuality and homosexual relationships has been largely hidden over many centuries, and our understanding of all types of relationships is very different from that of our ancestors. It is important to document recent changes as fully as possible so that future generations can see how we dealt with them. David’s book is an important, interesting and very readable contribution to that process.
A Group of Friends (1963). Towards a Quaker view of sex. London: Friends Home Service Committee.
Blamires, D. (1973). Homosexuality from the inside. London: Social Responsibility Council of the Religious Society of Friends.