Quakers celebrate 50th anniversary of ground breaking pro-gay publication

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Quakers in the UK celebrated the 50th anniversary of the publication of the groundbreaking book “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” which was a pioneering and hugely controversial book.

It provided the very first faith-based affirmation of gay equality and went on to sell 500,000 copies. The book focussed most closely on homosexuality, which was then still illegal, and took decidedly liberal attitudes towards premarital sex and adultery. The News of the World was shocked.

Keith Wedmore is the sole survivor of the original group behind the book. Now 81 and a retired barrister living in California, in 1957 he was among a group of 11 Quaker authors from different disciplines gathered together by zoologist Anna Bidder to consider issues surrounding homosexuality. Wedmore, then 25, was bisexual and deeply aware of the pressures facing gay people; a few years earlier he discovered the body of a fellow undergraduate who had taken his own life.

Just meeting was a big Secret Squirrel. The group spent seven years meeting once every two months in the comfortable surroundings of the University Women’s Club in central London.

“JK Rowling would have loved it. We would go into the library, and if you go to the right bookcase and touch it, it opens up and there’s a room behind. You shut it again and no one would know you were there. So we could say anything we liked. We’d come out for this gorgeous lunch and then go back in again. We took the food and water out of Quaker expenses but we paid for our own wine. We examined each issue completely freely, and you don’t often get a chance to do that.”

The book concluded: “Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: one must not judge it by its outward appearance but by its inner worth. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection, and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse.”

The Quakers formally adopted gay marriage as an aim in 2009.

SP

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