Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Bishop of Leicester responds to Government consultation on equal marriage

Bishop of Leicester responds to Government consultation on equal marriage

11 December 2012

Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church, the Rt Rev Tim Stephens, Bishop of Leicester, reminded Parliament in a response to the Government statement on equal marriage in the House of Lords, today.

While the forms and legalities around marriage had evolved over time, he said, one fundamental feature had remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.

The Bishop asked for assurances that, for example, teachers would not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings and that proper time would be given for consultation.

The Bishop of Leicester’s response in full:

“Those of us on these benches entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. That is why many of us supported civil partnerships as we believed that the rights and obligations that flow to those who wish to formally mark and celebrate their commitment to each other should not be denied to people simply because of their sexuality.

“However, my Lords, civil partnerships, while conferring virtually the same legal benefits, are not the same as marriage. Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church; and while the forms and legalities around marriage have evolved over time, as the noble lady minister has pointed out, one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.

“Does the Minister recognise that our concern here is not primarily for religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England’s position, but rather a more fundamental concern for stable communities? Can the Minister assure us that teachers for example in Church schools will not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings? Can the Minister assure this House in spite of the accelerated pace of this process, proper time, even over a Christmas holiday, will be given for adequate consultation with the Church of England’s Canon lawyers on the legislative drafting. Can the Minister assure us that the great majority of members of the Church of England and other faiths will not be labelled as prejudicial to gay people for taking a traditional stand, and perhaps most troubling my Lords is the fact that the Government and Opposition have together in their proceeding with this Measure led to division, not only within the country where polls consistently show half the population against this change, but also between the political class and the vast majority of practicing religious people. What plans does the Government have for working towards a degree of consensus on this matter?”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 6:06pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

Does he (does anybody, in fact?)really fear that calling Civil Partnerships for what they are, i.e. Marriages, is going to cause society to collapse?

If that is what is truly feared, it is homophobic, by definition of the word.

Posted by: mark nicholls on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 6:25pm GMT

Didn't anyone tell Tim the CofE had been exempted - or did he think, 'I spent hours on this speech, and I shall give it no matter what" ?

He was over-taken by events and made no sense.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 6:32pm GMT

Oh dear, oh dear. He repeats that "many of us supported civil partnerships". Some of us have been trying to nail that one for several months now, assisted by research from Church House itself, which reports that the large majority of bishops in the House supported a "wrecking amendment" (Church House's words not mine)to the Civil Partnerships Bill in the name of the then bishop of Winchester. This has been linked from TA before. Looks as if it will have to be linked again.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 6:34pm GMT

"one fundamental feature had remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman"

Really? Surely that is contradictory both to current practice and history. Polygamy is certainly present in the Bible, and the CofE now condones (within the conscience of the presiding priest) the remarriage of divorcees.

"Does the Minister recognise that our concern here is not primarily for religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England’s position, but rather a more fundamental concern for stable communities?"

Can anybody point to any evidence that shows that allowing SSM would destabilize communities in any way? Anyone? Anyone?

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 6:38pm GMT

What a dreadful speech.

Let's start with the inaccuracy - the Church of England does not support civil partnerships. It bans them from being blessed on its premises. In a small Dioceses, a priest entering a civil partnership will almost certainly lose their licence if it becomes public.

Then the wilfully misleading bit - the claim that polls consistently show 'half' the population against equal marriage. This is just wrong. Let's just start with the fact that today's IPSOS/Mori poll shows a 73-24% majority in favour of marriage equality.

Finally, the scaremongering - the Church of England is has a "fundamental concern for stable communities". In what way does gay marriage threaten the stability of communities? What a ludicrous bit of Daily Mail-ery! Us queers have been labelled a threat to society since time immemorial and it is sad to see the C of E perpetuating this tradition.

No wonder there was such a steep fall off in the number of people identifying as Christian in England in the last census. The hierarchy of the C of E has clearly learned nothing from the missionary disaster occasioned by last month's headlines on women bishops.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 7:11pm GMT

I do wish bishops and others would read their Bibles. It's quite clear from the earliest pages of the Old Testament that the union of one man and one woman has not been a 'fundamental' feature of marriage from earliest times. Indeed by and large the examples of marriage there, were they to replicated widely in the uk would really give the bishop something to worry about. And perhaps the bishop should look at the survey I quoted on an earlier post showing that 75percent of those polled that marriage should be available to same sex partners. It is no longer enough for bishops and others to say 'it's not right because I say so and therefore you shan't have it'.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 7:58pm GMT

"one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman"

You tell 'em, Bishop.

Who's going to let Solomon, David, Abraham... know?

Posted by: Joan of Quark on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 7:58pm GMT

The poll by IPSOS referenced on a thread below gives 72% in favour of gay marriage.

Perhaps this bishop had missed that one.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 7:59pm GMT

"one fundamental feature had remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman"
He's not read the Old Testament, has he?

Posted by: sjh on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 8:48pm GMT

This is a weak argument, and it suggests the Bishop doesn't know much history. As a CofE member I find it annoying and embarrassing.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 9:08pm GMT

@Laurence Roberts - reread the statement. This wasn't "I've forgotten the C of E is exempted". This was "I've noted the C of E's exemption but I still think marriage equality is bad".

Awful. They really never learn.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 9:44pm GMT

So 1 Kings 1 of no consequence? When choirs proclaim 'Zadok the priest...' we should disregard the embarrasing details not present in Handel's anthem?

The quadruple wedlock lock may have secured for the Church hierarchy cast-iron guarantees that no gay couple ever darken the door of a church in search of ceremonial acknowledgement of life-long fidelity, but what of the remnant? Will heterosexual couples be enthusiastic about tying the knot in a fortress-like, hermeneutically-sealed institution where gay siblings, friends and colleagues are specifically outlawed from doing so? The Archbishop of Wales quite rightly argues this may be a step too far, and his counterparts amongst the Lords Spiritual might be advised to do likewise.

Posted by: Andrew on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 10:25pm GMT

I feel a letter coming on:-

mailto:bishop.tim@leccofe.org

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 10:55pm GMT

I am appalled that the bill now makes it illegal for the C of E to conduct gay marriages. We MUST resist this

Posted by: jean MAYLAND on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:05pm GMT

The bishop stands up in the House of Lords and he lies. At least three lies. So, what is the point of granting seats in the House of Lords to bishops? Certainly not for their wisdom or moral guidance. The CofE is caught in a spiral of self-destruction.

Posted by: karenmacqueen+ on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:09pm GMT

With regard to the "one fundamental feature" - don't the expressed gospel views of Jesus of Nazareth trump those of Solomon, David and Abraham?

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 12:00am GMT

The same argument deployed by +Leicester (that marriage is not the 'property' of either the church or state) is exactly the one used by honest Anglicans who claim that the priesthood is not 'ours' (in the CofE) to change or play with. The radical change in tradition would need agreement across the denominations and Catholic Christendom. I don't think he believes this argument when it comes to women's ordination, and so am not convinced he actually believes what he is saying on this matter either.

Posted by: Neil on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 12:23am GMT

"Can the Minister assure us that the great majority of members of the Church of England and other faiths will not be labelled as prejudicial to gay people"

God forbid anyone prejudicial to gay people be LABELLED "prejudicial to gay people"!

{sarcasm/Off}

Damian Thompson: "Christianity is fading away in Britain" . . . and statements like the Bishop of Leicester's is precisely WHY. Mercy, the CofE is depressing me. Again this Yank says "God bless the Episcopal Church!"

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 4:24am GMT

In the US, in states where marriage is legal, TEC is starting to do marriage. I really don't want any grief from the ABC about how we are not "in unity" with this kind of thinking. Untruths and thinly varnished homophobia are really hard to rally around...

Somehow I can't imagine that the CoE's leadership's responses would be so lame if there were women bishops in that leadership. I am empathizing with the frustration of the majority that long for a Church that "gets" that all people are created in the image of God, and that that truth has consequences for one's polity and one's engagement with the world.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 6:08am GMT

Fr David -
The Bishop of Leicester's point was that marriage had always been between one man and one woman. This is patently untrue.

Jesus did not ban polygamy or say anything specific about it at all - in Judaism, it was not banned until 1000AD. As far as I understand it, monogamy was a Roman idea not a Biblical one.

Posted by: sjh on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 7:38am GMT

So is Bishop Tim actually saying that the government doesn't have the right to legislate about marriage? Not about dead wives' sisters? Not about divorce law? No, I didn't think he was.

Parliament makes the laws in this land, and if parliament makes a change to law regarding who may marry whom it has every right to do so - because they are the legally elected body representing all of us.

His representation of -
1. the Bible on marriage
2. the attitude of the C of E to civil partnerships
3. the nature of marriage through time and history
are all of them, it seems to me, at best misleading and in the case of CPs a downright lie. The C of E fought to stop them happening (just as it is fighting now to stop equal marriage) - and its discriminatory attitudes are coming home to roost - just look at the census figures.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 7:52am GMT

Well, the government just undermined the CofE good'n'proper. Now, it is completely irrelevant to decent people of goodwill and a desire to know God in all others.

Nothing done *against* the CofE could've made dis-establishment easier. Well done, Parliament.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 7:52am GMT

I've tried to avoid 'slippery slope' arguments, but when commenters here suggest that the case against polygamy is no more settled than the case against same-sex marriage, you can't help but think that they're attired in the debating equivalent of alpine skis and googles.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 9:21am GMT

Neil says: "The same argument deployed by +Leicester (that marriage is not the 'property' of either the church or state) is exactly the one used by honest Anglicans who claim that the priesthood is not 'ours' (in the CofE) to change or play with. The radical change in tradition would need agreement across the denominations and Catholic Christendom."

The point is (though I am not sure the Bishop of Leicester appreciates it) that people will define marriage as they want to - right now across the world many people think of the union of one man with several women as marriage, or indeed in some cases one woman with several men). It is increasingly clear that many now think of the committed union of two gay people as marriage also.

That does not negate the ability or the need for a particular country to define marriage in a particular way for itself if it wants in any way to regulate the associated issues of inheritance and the legal responsibilities and privileges associated with marriage. We don't consider it wrong to insist on marriage being between just one woman and one man despite the fact that through much of history and in many parts of the world (including the world of the Bible - Old and New Testaments) that was not the case. We consider we have the right as a state to decide how marriage should be defined legally in the UK despite the fact that it is defined differently elsewhere.
In the same way we have asserted the right to define priesthood in a way that seems right for our place and time. If we do not consider we have that right then we have no right to exist as a denomination at all.
The two situations are indeed analogous. We have decided as a nation that the democratically elected government of the UK, who have responsibility for our legal system, including the laws surrounding marriage have the ability to set its parameters, even if individuals might have their own feelings about whether others are truly "married" or not, which is already the case for some attitudes to the remarriage of divorcees, for instance. In the same way we have decided that the Church of England has the ability to set the parameters of what we understand priesthood to be for those within the Church of England.

Posted by: Anne on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 9:55am GMT

Richard Ashby: 'I do wish bishops and others would read their Bibles. It's quite clear from the earliest pages of the Old Testament that the union of one man and one woman has not been a 'fundamental' feature of marriage from earliest times.'

The phrase "one man and one woman" appears to originate not from the Bible, but from the marriage liturgy in The Directory for the Publick Worship of God. So I guess "earliest times" means 1646 AD. Of course, we ditched that liturgy in 1662, only to allow the phrase "one man and one woman" to sneak back in with Common Worship in 2000.

Posted by: Feria on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 12:12pm GMT

"With regard to the "one fundamental feature" - don't the expressed gospel views of Jesus of Nazareth trump those of Solomon, David and Abraham?"

I didn't know Solomon *had* a gospel view. Actually, with all those beautiful women in his harem he probably had a GREAT view, though not a moral one*.

@DavidShepherd
"I've tried to avoid 'slippery slope' arguments, but when commenters here suggest that the case against polygamy is no more settled than the case against same-sex marriage, you can't help but think that they're attired in the debating equivalent of alpine skis and googles."

I fear it may be you who is hurtling past the point. It's not that polygamy should be acceptable now, it's that marriage has not had a stable definition throughout its history. Not even within the church: am I right in thinking it was originally conducted in church porches not the sacred space, and barely made it into the list of seven catholic sacraments, and thence the four and a half* anglican sacraments?

(**Four and a half is what I make it by anglican fudge factor: if the anglocatholics say seven and the reformed say two, then we average them to get four and a half.)

*apologies for the shocking objectification of wimmin and all that...

Posted by: Joan of Quark on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 12:59pm GMT

'The Bishop asked for assurances that, for example, teachers would not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings and that proper time would be given for consultation.'

Bishop Tim will not get these assurances, thank God. He will not get them because fine educationalists recognise that there is no common mind within the Church of England as to rational traditional teaching. This concerned grandparent is not impressed with the mind of Bishop Tim. His royal 'we' assertions are an insult to the common people - ie, The Holy People of God with Christ as their King. The Holy Spirit may be rather good at un-gluing that which has been carelessly placed and pieced together in the first place.

Posted by: Rosie Bates on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 2:27pm GMT

Joan of Quark:

Thanks for your reply. You claim that marriage has not had a stable definition throughout its history.

There are aspects of marriage which have, as you say, evolved, but what has always remained is the primacy of biological kinship. To this day, the courts still take the view that the biological relationship must take precedence in determining parental and extended kinship rights.

Currently, a husband's presumption of paternity holds for children of the marriage, even in cases of assisted reproduction. HFEA 2008 Section 35 guarantees this. Let's say the proposals are implemented. This would mean that, if implemented in conjunction with the Equality Act, a presumption of parenthood would automatically be assigned to the 'wife' of the birth mother.

Hurrah, you say. No need to use UK licensed fertility clinics, and no more adoption forms, residence or parental orders for the partner to gain rights over the birth mother's children (the law was prospective from April, 2009). However, this means that a partner with no blood relationship to the child gains AUTOMATIC priority over any blood relatives on the mother's side.

Now, we’ve all watched enough of Brooke Shields in ‘What makes a family’ to realise that even civil partnership just won’t keep those pesky litigious grandparents at bay. So, the proposals push the extended family away in the event of the birth mother's death since genderless marriage will *automatically* assign that parental right to her partner, even though she has no blood relationship to the child. No need for courts to ascertain the child's best interests, since marriage does the trick.

In fact, the unrelated automatic parent could simply exclude blood relatives from the life of the child by right of marriage, telling them to get leave to apply for a Contact Order.

Yet, all of this automatic presumption of parenthood is predicated in every instance of same-sex marriage upon a biological impossibility that does not vary for any same-sex relationship.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 3:25am GMT

For those of you pointing out the bishop's "biblical ignorance," please give me one example where polygamy is portrayed as in accordance with God's will, no better yet, even positively? [deafening silence...] That the sins of humanity are redolent in the bible and even the lives of its OT leaders does not contradict the good bishop's correct theology. They do show that the offense of the cross is something humanity continues to need to hear. For all of our "advances," contemporary culture continues to pursue the same age old sinful errors. The bishop, of course, is entirely correct. And he was speaking of gov't legislation for civil partnerships. The church can never bless that which God says is sin. Otherwise it ceases to be the body of Christ.

Place the personal polygamous conduct of Abraham, etc. against Genesis and Jesus'unambiguous teachings on marriage in Matthew 19 and you will begin to understand the hermeneutics of the Bishop's teaching. Go ahead and disagree, but his theolgy is far more coherent than your criticisms.

Posted by: Rob on Thursday, 13 December 2012 at 8:26pm GMT

Rob: 'For those of you pointing out the bishop's "biblical ignorance," please give me one example where polygamy is portrayed as in accordance with God's will, no better yet, even positively?'

The bishop was not making claims about God's will, but about what has in fact happened throughout history, and it was those claims that were being challenged. Nevertheless, no-one ever actually used the word "ignorance".

Tom: 'Jesus' unambiguous teachings on marriage in Matthew 19'

I suggest that to read into Matthew 19 any "unambiguous teaching" on whether marriage should be exclusively mixed-sex and/or monogamous (or even on divorce and remarriage) is to stretch the interpretation of what Jesus actually said in that passage to breaking point and beyond. In as far as our disapproval of polygamy (and let me be quite clear that I do disapprove of polygamy) has a New Testament origin, that origin is not in the Gospels, but in Titus and 1 Timothy, where St. Paul expresses the view that polygamy ought to disqualify its participants from serving as bishops.

Posted by: Feria on Friday, 14 December 2012 at 11:47am GMT

Prominent notable exceptions do not change the common historical fact of marriage between one man and one woman. Pointing out these exceptions as if the bishop was ignorant or intentionally overlooking them to support his argument is what I was addressing. The Prohibitions you cite merely reinforce the plain, clear teaching quoted. Me stretching? You have that reversed. Yours is the argument from silence which you are filling in with contemporary cultural patterns.

Posted by: Rob on Friday, 14 December 2012 at 5:36pm GMT
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