Thursday, 17 February 2011

Civil Partnerships and Marriage: comment


Among all the noise about this, there have been some thoughtful articles.

Leading article: A welcome blow against discrimination

Much attention around the expected change to the law will concentrate on whether the churches will now have to allow gay marriages to take place in their places of worship. Certainly, it will be interesting to see how the Church of England, which remains bitterly divided over the ordination of gay priests, responds.

If changes to the law force what is still the Established Church in England to clarify its muddled and often disingenuous thinking on the question of sexual equality, so much the better. But in an age when a growing number of marriages take place in civil settings and have no religious element to them at all, this is at the same time a peripheral matter.

Much more important than anything the churches have to say is that Britain is now a world front-runner in the field of equality for sexual minorities. If the Coalition Government succeeds in following through on Ms Featherstone’s expected proposals, it will be to its credit.

Tom Sutcliffe What’s undermining about gay marriage?

Michael White Same-sex marriage cannot be the same as heterosexual marriage

Giles Fraser 500 years of church intolerance

…But just as the government ought not to impose gay marriage on churches that are still not ready for it, so too the church must not impose its own institutional homophobia on gay Christians who want to use the Bible in a civil marriage ceremony. Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, is currently preparing plans for marriage equality. She must not be distracted by a nervous church protecting its control of biblical hermeneutics. People ought to be free to use the Bible as they feel the spirit leads. The word of God exceeds the limited imagination of the church. It always has.


Another good article, which first appeared in The Times has now appeared at the website of the Australian, see Gay marriage is good conservatism by Daniel Finkelstein

When civil partnerships were first suggested, the idea was advanced that providing legal status for gay couples might undermine heterosexual marriage. The means by which this would happen were obscure, but whether or not this was ever a sensible argument, it is apparent the fear is groundless.

The opposite point should recommend itself to Tories. Marriage strengthens commitment between couples and therefore brings stability into the lives of those who enter in it. The advantage of extending that to gay people is obvious. Nevertheless, there is an objection that the difference between marriage and gay civil partnership should be maintained, because marriage is intended for procreation. Another odd argument. Lots of people marry when they don’t intend to have children, cannot have children or are too old to do so. Should these people be forced to have civil partnerships?

Against this is the important fact - that to deny gay people the right to marry in the full sense is to deny people the dignity and respect they deserve. And who better than a Conservative can understand the desire of an individual for dignity, respect and social status?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 8:48am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

Some sensible articles --hardly rocket science ! B-ll-x to Michael White with talk of lobbies and tortuous 'thinking'.

Why share such confusions in the press ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 10:00am GMT

I am afraid the Indy leader is right: from the point of view of the state, what the Church of England thinks about this is peripheral. Indeed, since the government press release quoted the Recording Clerk (chief exec) of the Quakers in Britain but nobody from the C of E, it seems to be paying more attention to my tiny denomination than to your large, Established, one.

The simplest, cleanest remedy is for the C of E to give up on establishment, and to remove the bishops from the legislature gracefully before a future UK government turns them out gracelessly. If it will not do that, will it least ensure that its bishops do not presume to speak for religion on matters like this, as they did last January and March, when faith communities are divided on the issue?

Posted by: Iain McLean on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 12:53pm GMT

Yes, Iain, size matters !

Nice to see two Quakers commenting pronto !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 5:07pm GMT

Michael White's reservations about gay marriage are based on the idea that the prime purpose of marriage is producing children, and that children adopted by s/s couples will have an inferior childhood. I'm sorry I can't offer specific studies, but I have read that such studies show that s/s couples are equally good as parents as opp/s couples.

Following his reproductive logic, no opp/s couple in which the woman or man is sterile, or the woman is past menopause, should be allowed to marry, either.

This is silly.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 5:52pm GMT

Iain McLean:
'to remove the bishops from the legislature gracefully before a future UK government turns them out gracelessly.'

Oh well, perhaps the form letters have been prepared in advance to say something like: 'Proud prelate. If you do not immediately comply with my request, I shall unfrock you, by God'.

They're probably signed and ready for despatch should the CofE refuse to capitulate or cower before Cameron's court!

Posted by: David Shepherd on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 6:47pm GMT

Daniel Finkelstein, as quoted, has it right.
In the mid-1990s, in the fine State of Colorado, the legislature was debating a bill to ban state recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside the State of Colorado. As you can imagine, impassioned arguments were made by all sides. However, the one argument that sticks in my mind came from a religiously conservative member of the state House of Representative who argued: Marriage increases stability, marriage reduces promiscuity, marriage strengthens relationships and families, marriage provides nurturing for children. Therefore, ... gay and lesbian couples should NOT be permitted to get married! After hearing his conclusion, I felt like Wile E. Coyote the moment he realizes he has run off the edge of the cliff in a "Roadrunner" cartoon.
If conservatives believe in marriage the way they say they do, it's conservatives who should be demanding that gay and lesbian couples get married. They believe in the value of long-established institutions and rituals, right? No new-fangled social inventions -- like same-sex-only civil unions.
But the social conservative animus for gay people is such that if gay or lesbian people fool around, they're accused of being promiscuous and coarsening society. If they want to form stable partnerships and get married, they're accused of bringing about the End of Western Civilization As We Know It -- and coarsening society.
Lastly, I can't imagine that all church leaders in the CofE feel that allowing same-sex couples to have their civil relationship -- marriage or civil union -- formalized in church will cause England's downfall. Why don't we ever hear from them?

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 8:16pm GMT

What a lovely article by Daniel Finkelstein. His Jewish provenance makes him related to me through his ethnic connection to Jesus, Son of Mary.

What eloquence this Son of Abraham has been given, and what a love of God for all God's children flows from his enlightened soul.

May God continue to bless Daniel, and all who recognise the Love of God in every person - as he does. Deo Gratias!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at 11:56pm GMT

Peter Gross: 'If conservatives believe in marriage the way they say they do, it's conservatives who should be demanding that gay and lesbian couples get married.'

I'm not a conservative, but that's like saying, 'if conservatives believe in British citizenship the way thay say they do, it's conservatives who should be demanding that all who come here get British citizenship'.

In the latter case, they maintain that it's an eligibility issue, in spite of the fact that we're all God's children and that everyone who arrives here deserves right of abode and the full benefits in this country.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 18 February 2011 at 8:37am GMT

Paul Vallely's column in todays Church Times points out just how complicated the civil partnership/civil marriage/religious marriage etc is getting. Perhaps compulsory civil marriage might be best, followed by something religious for those who want it.It would also help clergy who have to grapple with the problems presented by possible "sham" marriages which have become quite acute in some places.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Friday, 18 February 2011 at 6:33pm GMT

"Perhaps o civil marriage might be best, followed by something religious for those who want it." - Perry Butler -

As happens, of course, in some countries, where the religious element of marriage is purely consensual and, hopefully, spiritual & therefore perhaps more meaningful.

What we need to realise is that, even our friends in the R.C. Church now believe that a Christian marriage is a sacrament administered by the couple - to one another in the sight of God. What the Church does is to add it's 'Blessing'.

The fact that in certain countries the state allows the Church to be the legal instrument of a celebration of the marriage should not confuse us about the onus upon the contracteees - the couple - to bear out in their lives the charism of the marital relationship they have committed themselves to.

I've come to realise that the old injunction: - 'Those whom God hath joined together, let no man puit asunder" might only be incumbent upon those who have actually been inspired by God to marry.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 18 February 2011 at 11:59pm GMT

When did the Church actually get involved in marriage? Presumably no Christian minister conducted a marriage in New Testament times or, I imagine sub-apostolic times. When was the earliest marriage liturgy, do we know?? Lawrence Stones books on Divorce/the family etc in early modern England suggest the situation was pretty ramshackle even with an Established Church until Hardwicke's Act in 1859.Yet a lot of people seem to assume the present set up has been with us for centuries.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Saturday, 19 February 2011 at 9:46am GMT

The state has a profound interest in marriage, especially related to the legitimacy of heirs to property. That is why the state requires there to be a record of a marriage.

The general consensus is that the church's involvement in the process derives from the fact that, in most communities in the middle ages, the only (or one of the few) people in smaller communities with the capacity to record marriages was the local priest. Thus, people went to the door of the church to have their marriage registered. Doubtless many priests were asked (or proactively offered) to bless the happy couple.

Add a couple of centuries of general practice, stir well, allow to sit and Voila - the church wedding becomes the new norm.

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Sunday, 20 February 2011 at 1:23am GMT

"Sham marriages." Recalls the 1935 wedding of W.H. Auden to Erika Mann to get her out of Nazi Germany. They remained friends until her death in 1969. Also the wedding of C.S. Lewis to Joy Davidman Gresham to allow her to stay in the UK for cancer treatment. That, somehow, turned out not to b a sham. When marriage is a matter of rights and papers, people will do what they need to do.

Posted by: Murdoch on Saturday, 26 February 2011 at 2:37am GMT
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