Thinking Anglicans

House of Commons: Same-sex marriage and civil partnerships

The House of Commons Library has published a briefing note, dealing primarily with the situation in England and Wales, and summarising published responses to the recent government consultation on equal civil marriage. It gives a good deal of space to the arguments put forward in the official Church of England response.

The full briefing paper is available here, as a PDF file.

Two members of the House of Commons have recently published their own views on this topic.

John Howell MP has written a paper on Gay Civil Marriage. He says:

I have had a number of e mails over the past weeks both from those who support gay civil marriage and those who oppose it. Many of the latter are based on template instructions issued to constituents by the Coalition for Marriage when writing to MPs and reflect a standard suite of points. However, the issue of Gay Civil Marriage is not one which can be boiled down to a few bullet points without radically undermining the complexity of the issues involved or producing a simplistic standard campaign letter.

In addition, some of those who have written to me predominantly from a religious perspective have not sufficiently recognised that what we are talking about is gay civil marriage or that the theological arguments are themselves complex and allow for different approaches even within a Christian tradition.

I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been made and I read with care the reasons given as to why some oppose this change. However, I have to say that I do not agree with them. However, in recognition of the sincerity with which many have put their views forward I have attached a paper to this page as a pdf download which I have put together myself and which sets out my own perspective on this issue. It runs to 7 pages which is, at the very least, an attempt to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves and hopefully makes a thoughtful contribution to the debate whether you agree with me or not.

His full paper can be read here (PDF).

Tom Harris MP has also written. He titled his article Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical.

The vast majority of opposition to the idea of equal marriage comes from the Church and the followers of the other non-Christian religions. Homosexuality is a sinful state, they believe, therefore gay relationships should not be endorsed or approved of by the state.

I should say at the outset that I consider myself a Christian. Not a very good one, I admit, but a Christian nonetheless. In a former life I was very evangelical and spent a lot of time studying the Bible and trying to “convert” my less enlightened, hellbound friends. These days I am what a parliamentary colleague rather wonderfully described as a “recovering evangelical”. I’ll settle for that.

I still have lots of friends who were better at staying the course than I was. At least three of them are full-time leaders of their respective churches, and many others remain far more regular attendees at worship than I. So when I hear members of the clergy or lay members of the Church decrying moves towards equal marriage, or when I receive letters from local church members in my constituency warning me of the dire consequences of this move, I kind of understand where they’re coming from. I don’t agree with them, dearie me, no. I’m forthright and unapologetic in my support for equal marriage, largely on the (some might say counter-intuitive) basis that I’m a strong believer in marriage and therefore want to encourage as many as possible to give it a go…

This has provoked a response from Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, which is titled Response to a Recovering Evangelical.

…The key point in our submission on same sex marriage is that the virtues of faithful homosexual relationships cannot embrace everything that is good about heterosexual marriage. There is an inescapable difference and complementarity between men and women that allows procreation to be an important component of a marriage between a man and a woman. Yes, of course many marriages are childless, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that a flourishing society needs some sort of social institution that celebrates and encourages having children and their upbringing in a family with their biological parents wherever possible. Our concern is emphatically not to say that same-sex relationships are wicked, but to ask what sort of a society we would have if the social meaning of marriage was stripped of any expectation at all that it involved having children. You don’t have to agree with our analysis of this, but many would surely agree that it is a question worth asking.

Unfortunately, the Coalition’s consultation on Equal Marriage is based on a profound ignorance of the current laws about marriage and, to be blunt, is a dog’s breakfast of erroneous assumptions and begged questions. The mistaken assumption that “religious marriage” and “civil marriage” are two different things in law is only the most egregious example of the GEO document’s failings. These points have nothing to do with Christian approaches to sexuality, but the church had no option but to oppose a proposal which would be based on such an utter misreading of the law and of the Church of England’s present role as a “purveyor of weddings to the nation”…

22
Leave a Reply

avatar
3000
22 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
18 Comment authors
JeremyLaurence RobertsWilliam R MacKayeFather Ron SmithSusannah Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Mike Homfray
Guest
Mike Homfray

But it is the Church itself and its negativity which has caused the division into civil and religious marriage.

In my view, there should be marriage, and individual congregations should be able to choose who they marry, given that is a directly ‘religious’ duty. Given that those who refuse will soon be seen as bigots, these would soon become restricted to the headbangers, who the average person in the UK regards as unbalanced and bizarre in any case

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“Our concern is emphatically not to say that same-sex relationships are wicked, but to ask what sort of a society we would have if the social meaning of marriage was stripped of any expectation at all that it involved having children.” – Dr. Malcolm Brown – Archbishops’ Council – ‘The social meaning of marriage’ will not be ‘stripped of any expectation…etc’ by the simple legal entitlement of Same-Sex monogamously related couples to enter into a Civil Marriage contract! After, all., many heterosexual couples today are legally married – even in Church – who have no expectation of begetting children, for… Read more »

Feria
Guest
Feria

Dear Father Ron,

Quite right. It’s also worth mentioning that the the marriage service in the 1662 BCP specifically allowed a particular passage about procreation to be omitted ‘where the Woman is past child-bearing’. I’d say that means that the liturgical infrastructure for overcoming this issue for same-sex marriages is already in place.

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

I notice that the Archbishops’ Council’s website lists its objectives as: *promoting spiritual and numerical growth *enabling and supporting the worshipping Church and encouraging and promoting new ways of being Church, and *engaging with issues of social justice and environmental stewardship It’s hard to see how those objectives are furthered by their opposition to civil marriage. (And of course religious marriage and civil marriage are two different things. If they weren’t, the CofE’s regulations concerning marriage would be mandatory for everyone getting married in the country.) Even from another Province across the Atlantic, it’s embarrassing to know that this is… Read more »

Lionel Deimel
Guest

Father Ron Smith makes an interesting point. Because of population pressure, the day will no doubt come when marriages producing children will be branded as selfish and antisocial. The church, if it still exists at that time, will likely be an advocate of childless marriage. Or not.

SJH
Guest
SJH

Malcolm Brown asserts that the bishops’ document supports civil partnerships strongly. Exactly how? Just saying it, does not make it true. They still refuse to bless couples, refuse to register civil partnerships in churches and insist clergy in civil partnerships must remain celibate.
Not quite what I would call strong support.

Ian Arch
Guest
Ian Arch

It seems unfortunate that the good questions raised in the C of E’s response and in Malcolm’s piece are continually obscured by irrelevant negativity from the Church. I’m just an average Vicar, but it was more than clear to me that whoever wrote the consultation document knew less about marriage law than me. The Church needed to point out to a government which doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing that there really is no distinction in English law between religious and civil marriage. But that is lost because the Church says nothing to address what might be done positively… Read more »

Murdoch
Guest
Murdoch

It’s the same-sex couples who are raising children who benefit most from same-sex marriage. Odd how gay families seem to be as invisible to traditionalists as gay persons used to be.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

John Howell, MP, wrote: “some of those who have written to me predominantly from a religious perspective have not sufficiently recognised that what we are talking about is gay civil marriage …” Game, set, match! Marriage is a religious institution, but it is also a government function. Regardless of the status of the Church of England in England, I assume that, in this day and age, people in England can get married without benefit of clergy, simply “by going down to City Hall”. If two men or two women want to get civilly married, they should be able to do… Read more »

Gerry Lynch
Guest

The Church of England speaks out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. When pressured by the secular press, it claims it has no problem with civil partnerships and celebrates the virtues of faithful same-sex relationships. Its official policy remains, however, that Priests in same-sex relationships should be sacked and I presume Dr. Brown is well aware of this. If faithful same-sex relationships are virtuous, why was David Page refused Permission To Officiate for not answering Wallace Benn’s impertinent questions about his sex life? And why is Howard Cocks’ ministry at risk? Why was Jeffrey John so determinedly… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

Dr Malcolm Brown is quite persuasive…

…in the sense of persuading me that I want (my church, TEC) to have NOTHING to do with “the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England” (a group clearly captive to a certain *segment* of the CofE, and does not reflect the many ssm-affirming CofE-Anglicans I know)

Kyrie eleison.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

We all know by now – as does the general public – that, for Christian Gays at least, there can no longer be any doubt; the initial prejudice of the Church against Same-Sex Civil Partnerships being Blessed in the Church has given rise, directly, to the cause for Same Sex Marriage – at least in the Civil Sphere. The Church must learn to live with the consequences of her churlishness! If the Church had allowed Same-Sex Blessings in the first place, there may not have been the same pressure towards Same-Sex Marriage – by couples who want to obtain the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

One needs to be aware of the official rebuttal to the Church of England’s fear of being persecuted or prosecuted for withholding its Blessing from any Same-Sex legal Partnership – made by no less a personage than the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in this news-released statement: “In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 5 October 2011, the Prime Minister also supported the issue of same-sex marriage: ‘I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Malcolm Brown’s (Director of Mission and Public Affairs, the Archbishops’ Council) response to Tom is ignorant and homophobic through and through. And lacking in the humility to see it. ‘the opposition of some Christians to gay lifestyles and all that goes with them,’. Does he not know that the use of the ‘lifestyles’ is deeply insulting to gay christians ? And the words ‘and all that goes with them’ is an appalling innuendo based slur. How dare he imply or state in fact, that lesbian and gay relationships are inferior to the ‘fullness’ of heterosexual ones ? And this person… Read more »

Edward Prebble
Guest
Edward Prebble

John Howells MP is quite correct when he states that these issues are highly complex; on the other hand, it is possible to cut through much of the verbiage to find a reasonably simple issue. Of course a union between a man and a woman is qualitatively different from one between two people of the same gender. No clear-thinking person can deny that. The question is whether that difference is sufficient to require a same-sex union to be called something other than marriage, and the ceremony bringing it about to be called something other than a wedding. I agree with… Read more »

Murdoch
Guest
Murdoch

My (then) wife and I used to look at our friends in a midwestern university town and say, “There are a hundred different arrangements, all called marriage.” What holds one couple together may be quite different from what binds another couple. As E. Prebble notes, it’s the together that’s called marriage, notwithstanding the differences.

From the slough of despond
Guest
From the slough of despond

Feria has it precisely; the BCP conception of marriage – which others have observed is the only legal extant definition of what a marriage is – already allows for a union based not primarily on having children but on ‘mutual society, help and comfort’, which seems to me to be the best justification for any marriage or civil partnership. But to turn this into a workable proposition needs much more work than the clearly superficial and hasty consultation document from the coalition anticipated and, in turn, a far, far more nuanced and engaged response from the Church of England. The… Read more »

Susannah
Guest
Susannah

We continue to get submissions from ‘The Church of England’ that give the impression there is one, uniform view within the organisation, and there is a failure to represent *all* views and acknowledge that the Church of England is deeply divided on this issue. There is no consensus. To represent the Church as if the support for Equal Marriage in its own membership is not there… seems like a partisan act to me. When representing what the Church of England’s views (in the plural) are on Gay and Lesbian marriage, it would be much more honest to say: “Actually, we… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Apparently, according to scripture, “In heaven, there will be neither given, nor being given in marriage. The only marriage to be encountered in the hereafter will be at the Marriage Feast of The Lamb – ALL believers united with Christ. so what’s all the great fuss, here, about marriage?

In the Book of Common Prayer, marriage is for two distinct purposes; one, for procreation; and two; for the mutual comfort of the two partners. There are many heterosexual couples whose marriage does not include procreation. does that prevent them from being married – in church?

William R MacKaye
Guest

It’s depressing to see a spokesperson for the mother church of the Anglican Communion so out of touch with the emerging Christian life of the 21st century. The Episcopal Church in the U.S., of which I am a member, is struggling with the issue, but is rapidly coming to a full recognition that unions of two people of the same sex are potentially holy and are genuine marriages. There are five priests associated with my congregation. Two are widowed. One has a spouse of the opposite sex. Two have spouses of the same sex. Love abounds and God is present… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘the emerging Christian life of the 21st century’.

What a beautiful expression. Kudos.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Hear, hear, William Mackaye!

It is not only depressing, it is outright embarrassing and counterproductive for TEC to be associated with a church that clings to obscurantism.

Out of touch indeed.