Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Love, Honour, and Dismay

It did not come as a surprise that the Church of England has rejected the government consultation on same-sex marriage. While the Church has always been a wide coalition of opposing viewpoints it is currently dominated centrally by a conservative outlook. And if we're not ready to permit women equality with men then giving any acknowledgement to non-heterosexuals is asking quite a lot. And yet, knowing all of this and thinking myself prepared for it, the Response itself has still given me fresh disappointment. 

In its opening paragraphs the document highlights the importance of, "the possibility of procreation" in marriage, an element which is optional to the marriage service and which places a value on the institution no higher than the fertility and compatibility of a couple's genitals. They go on to wheel out clich├ęd but nonsensical arguments; I have never had it explained to me in what way other people being married changes the nature of marriage for heterosexual couples, nor why the constant and never-ending shifting definition of words is suddenly to create a seismic event.

However, I was most shocked to discover the document defending its stance by arguing that allowing same sex couples to marry, "deliver[s] no obvious legal gains given the rights conferred by civil partnerships". Of all institutions, the Church should be able to acknowledge that the gulf between marriage and the legal trappings that accompany it is as wide as the difference between death and the handling of your estate. A religious marriage is about presenting your relationship to God and to your family and community (whatever shape the latter takes) and asking for their combined blessing and support in sustaining it. A civil ceremony may attempt, sometimes successfully, to capture some of these elements, but it cannot capture all of them, and for members of the Church the legal similarity of the two is completely irrelevant.

It is only since 2002 that the Church of England has officially sanctioned the re-marriage of divorcees (somewhat ironically given the Church's origins). The mechanisms of marriage available to ordinary people has changed a number of times over the centuries, without radically overhauling what that mechanism symbolised to the couple involved (though that has happened too). But all other things aside, for the Church of England to use the standard secular arguments to defend its position is utterly ridiculous. It completely misses the point of marriage, in a way which the Church of all organisations really ought not to. If it is an issue of theology, then say so. If it is an issue of doctrine, then say so. Don't hide behind weak irrelevancies and thinly-veiled prejudice.

The Church of England's website has a page discussing the background to the Church's position on marriage. On it, Rowan Williams says of same-sex marriage, "issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law". For once, I could not disagree more. The government, community leaders, and yes especially the Church, have a duty to take the lead on such issues and set the tone for culture to follow. It is what we are called to do as Christians, and are in an unusually strong position to do so as an established Church. This Response is cowardly and embarrassing. And wrong.


  1. I'm afraid I've not been following the public argument over this with any real interest (when at all). But that's not because I have no interest, rather because I fail, like you, to see why there needs to be an argument.
    Churches offer marriages, and specify what kind(s) and in what manner.
    The state offers unions which it labels marriages, and can specify what kind(s) and in what manner.
    The only reason that the existing heterosexual marriages provided by one are recognised by the other is a relic of the time when church and state were effectively one. Today's society, secularised as it has become, fails to recognise the two distinct types and forms of marriage, assuming instead that alteration to one must inevitable affect the other.
    Very well said., mate!

  2. I'm not sure I read the same article as you Naf.

    I am so astonished at the speed with which the gay lobby have gained so much credibility in our society. While I defend people's rights to behave as they see fit, I cannot defend the belief that the relationship should receive equal recognition in society. But as no-one seems to dare to state that homosexuality is indeed wrong any more, we are just counting time until gay marriage is a sad reality.

    1. I did, live on radio five and BBC radio Merseyside. The media, especially the BBC is full of homosexuals, I do not care what any one says, there is an agenda to promote homosexual and lesbian relationships as equal to that of husband and wife, and to get them equal and in my opinion, superior rights. OK, bring it on, I am waiting for the barrage of disapproval but I stand my ground.

    2. Man from the closet13 June 2012 at 14:39

      As a gay man I entirely support that agenda, it sounds excellent. What a great idea!

    3. Lyn. I'd be more interested or impressed by anything you had to say if you backed it up with any logical argument or evidence. WHY is homosexuality wrong? Bear in mind that if we are allowing divorce and second marriages, then we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the Bible so don't bother referring to that (never mind the fact that it's not even there in the earlier language, (excl. Leviticus) only in the modern translations. Why? Because much of it is condemning capitalist greed, which the publishers of Bibles are often guilty of, either in the publishing of the Bible or other parts of their professional lives. So, without reference to a book which in my opinion I pay more attention to than those who claim to consider it to be infallible, explain to me how showing the same respect for all peoples is contrary to Christ's Teachings, Life and Works? As for your apparent view that because you have an objection to it that nobody else should be allowed it legally. I don't eat pork because of my interpretation of the implications of my Christian faith for the killing and eating of animals as intelligent as pigs.

      I would also like you to explain why you think gender and sex are so fantastically simple? The one thing about human beings that isn't in God's image and therefore is nice and tidy and simple and easy to comprehend is supposedly binary sex. However, there are millions of people in the world who, like me, have brains which are physiologically, anatomically and functionally intermediate in gender and tens of millions of people who were born with a sex that could not be correctly defined as either M or F. Indeed, the group of people whose physiology is the most female, are also a group of people with a Y chromosome and testes, albeit internal ones. The condition is called androgen insensitivity syndrome. However, it is my belief as a Christian and a neuroscientist that these people are simply intermediate in certain ways and more female than any XX person in others. Now that you see that it is not God's creation which defines a binary gender but human misunderstanding, and in many cases, sin and abuse, you must surely accept that sexual orientation is not so simple and in fact who you fall in love with, like which of the many thousand possible sexes and genders you were born with, is not your choice, is not therefore a sin, but an obedience to God's plan for your life. Is equality a sad reality? I think the Enemy would agree with you more than Christ would.
      As for thinking that the media is LGBT-friendly, are you an ostrich? http://www.glaad.org/blog/washington-post-perpetuates-religion-vs-gay-myth-marriage-equality-story start here and follow along to related stories. You will see just how much the media loves to abuse a minority that has not yet been totally accepted. If you fail to see the bigotry, you should substitute the "black" or if you're a racist as well as a homophobe, you could use the word "Christian" and indeed the same blind bigotry that you call faith is used to excuse the systematic murder of people of a particular group, including both LGBT people and Christian people, in other parts of the world. Your ideas are dangerous, unChristian, illinformed, immature, and God is rolling God's eyes in frustration at the number of people who try to love God but are too busy hating one of God's children, one of God's reflections, to really live that love. God bless you and I hope God will show you the beauty that one can see when one accepts the diversity of God's magnificent, opulent, lavish creations.

  3. Nik – well said, and I am also shocked that the Church of England cannot see the difference between a legal marriage (effectively a contract) and a marriage in the religious community.

    I’d be interested to know your opinions on one point though. Whilst I was filling in the survey, it seemed at one point to ask me to choose between EITHER maintaining the ban on religious gay marriage OR prosecuting those religious leaders who refuse to conduct gay marriages. Now, I could have read it wrong and I can’t access it now because I’m having trouble with the great firewall of China (incidentally, your blog is not banned). However, this isn’t how I envisaged gay marriage at all. I always thought it would be how remarriages are handled in CofE where it’s up to the individual conducting the ceremony to decide, but it’s not banned. What’s your opinion on this?

    Could you also give me an answer to this please, and I do not wish this to sound insulting: why are religious establishments so obsessed with sex? I hear fewer arguments around charity, humility, honesty than I do about sex. Why is it such a big deal?

    On a side note I was confused about the ‘gay agenda’ as was described by a couple of commenters above. What I hadn’t previously realised was that the term comes from a book that couples the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ with Nazis’ trampling on democracy in Germany as a path to large-scale genocide. The points on the gay agenda include point 4 “make gays look good” and point 6 “get funds from corporate America” (the gay agenda has numbered bullet points because it’s an agenda and not a conspiracy theory). Perhaps the commenters mean a different gay agenda? Perhaps there’s some truth in the matter. There has certainly been a concerted campaign over the past 30 years to promote the idea that gay people lead spectacularly uninteresting lives that have little impact on anyone else. I think, as a result of this, many people are now supporting the right of homosexual people to have their love recognised by their peers, community and society. It’s been shockingly effective at convincing everyone that homosexuality isn’t akin to leprosy. I support it.

    1. Claire, I love the idea that the Gays are like the Nazis...IN PINK!!!

      The concern surrounding the prosecution of religious leaders who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages is based on anti-discrimination legislation. Currently, because gay marriage isn't possible, religious institutions can't be accused of discrimination. However, were same-sex marriage to be possible but religious leaders refused to conduct them they could potentially be prosecuted for homophobia. Hence the seperation of marriage into two categories, which might afford them some level of protection. I haven't delved very deeply into exactly how that might unfold to be honest, but I think that's the gist of it....

      I have no idea why religious institutions are so obsessed with sex. It's absolutely baffling. It's barely mentioned (in moralistic terms) in the Bible, and yet sometimes it seems that it's the only thing the Church of England talks about. Part of that is I think down to selective journalism, but only part. It's something my priest mentions almost every week, which feels somewhat hypocritical but still.

      Any help?

    2. I think it's mostly because human beings are obsessed with sex - not just those of a religious persuasion. Understandably so, to my mind: It's a fascinating opportunity for people to have meaningful interactions with each other, made slightly more salacious than necessary by the taboos surrounding it. Sex sells, And it's a topic that causes interest and controversy - it's a little harder to get worked up about humility or charity, for example (though Kudos to the priest who does) since most people already agree that those are good things.

    3. The only thing I don't like about Clair's comment is the Nazism comparison (which I realise she is not supporting!), not just because it's casting the oppressed in the role of oppressor but also because of the vast, stomach-turning numbers of LGBTQI people the Nazis murdered.

    4. This is the madness of the book...it's quite sickening, really. (Just to make it clear, the book draws that parallel and not me).

  4. According to recent news no one will be forced to conduct same sex marriage if it is against their conscience and beliefs, I have attempted to research into different points of views before settling on my own opinions and I think that this way seems fair for the majority affected. Also since the Church of England are the ones fighting against changing the nature of marriage I can't help but raise the point....didn't Henry iiiv create the Church of England in the first place to allow him to change the nature of marriage to allow him to divorce? I suppose christians have slightly different beliefs from each other, I happen to know a few gay christians, who might argue that God made them the way he intended, it is scientific fact that sexuality is not a choice, but a natural occurrence and it can also be seen in other species. I know what the bible says but didn't the Romans choose what to put in it and what to leave out? I guess the reason people have altering beliefs is because of this. And didn't protestants, as well as the Church of England come to be a little later than the original Roman catholics because of altering beliefs? proving that change can sometimes be necessary? I am terribly sorry if any of this offends anyone, I simply think that this is a debatable subject and I do respect that this is a controversial issue for the church. I can't stress enough that I do not think anyone should be forced to conduct same sex marriage if they do not believe in it, but those who do should be allowed to do so.