Comments: civil partnerships: Peter Selby

Well said, +Worcester.

I hope there will be more to follow.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 19 August 2005 at 11:38pm BST

Bravo +Worcester. As an American obstetrician who has gradually attracted a number of wonderful lesbian couples having children(who are greatly loved and supported) simply because my office staff and I are welcoming of ALL people, I salute any part of our Church moving beyond traditional strictures. Unfortunately, the unilateral US behavior in Iraq makes some of us reluctant to agressively support the Episcopal Church in its lonesome support of same-sex unions within the Anglican Communion. It's a damned mess that only Our Lord can resolve. Pray, but don't give up the good fight.

Posted by John D at Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 12:31am BST

I agree - very positive and very encouraging. The Rachel Boulding article is excellent.

Posted by bls at Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 1:04am BST

In his article the Bishop says "I find this fear difficult to understand, since nobody has ever been prepared to tell me that their own marriage was threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships."

It is rather telling that he should imagine anyone would ever say such a thing. The argument is profoundly secular and depends upon diagnosing irrationality in opponents for any force which it might carry, by way of analogy with "homo-phobia" - an alleged fear of homosexuality.

It is therefore a profoundly disreputable way of carrying on debate even in a secular context, let alone among Christians.

The confusing thing for those within a Christian context is to find debate about sexuality and sin conducted in such a manner, as if only the prevailing sexual culture had anything to say, and as if the current decadence and depravity of modern society were some kind of evidence of miraculous technological and scientific progress.

The Church does have much to say about human nature and sexual morality, and bishops are supposed to be representative of the Church's teaching throughout the ages and throughout the world. But while some of our church leaders are no more than apologists for the loss of faith in the university theology departments of the 1960s, one can expect this sort of thing to appear in print from time to time.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 11:59am BST

Vincent Coles considers it unimaginable that anyone would say that marriage is "threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships", and that arguments against this viewpoint are "profoundly secular".

Yet certain proponents in the USA have been loudly claiming that "The legalization of homosexual marriage will quickly destroy the traditional family", and producing books such as "Marriage Under Fire" which provide "more ammunition in the battle against gay marriage".

Such arguments are made by politically influential Christians such as James Dobson.

Personally, I don't consider "diagnosing irrationality in opponents" to be a particularly secular approach but more of a God given common sense approach. Selby is far from the first to have questioned this particular argument in this way.

I have personally yet to hear a convincing response (in a Christian context or otherwise) that can explain how recognition of stable relationships within a small (3-4%?) portion of society can threaten another individual's marriage. I do not feel that this is a "disreputable" question to ask, and I am genuinely interested in thoughtful responses. Needless to say I found James Dobson's responses neither convincing nor particularly thoughtful.

Posted by J at Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 5:34pm BST

J, let me spell it out for you. By defining the debate in advance by claiming that an opponent is "homo-phobic", or that a particular couple's marriage is somehow "threatened" by the advent of civil partnerships, one is not engaging with the issues, simply reducing the discussion to an ad hominem form of abuse. An abuse which says "you have psychological problems."

That is what the old Soviet Union did to its political opponents, like Solzhenitsyn, who were sent for "medical" treatment in far away places. It is also how some bishops treat some people in their dioceses with whom they either can not be bothered to debate, or lose the arguments when they do. Such clergy and laity are therefore marginalised, or even actively discouraged or harassed until they resign or move elsewhere.

Take for example Giles Fraser's comments reported today by Thinking Anglicans:

"the place to find the most neanderthal religious homophobia in Britain today is in an organisation called Reform"

Fraser is fortunately not a bishop and if this is his attitude he never should be. But similar views are routinely expressed by the hierarchs about any number of people and organisations. It belongs to the same category of abuse as alleging that someone fears for their marriage because of civil partnerships.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 6:31pm BST

J: Dobson's argument, which leans upon comments by U.S. Justice Scalia in Lawrence v. Texas, is really very straightforward: if marriage is defined, in libertarian terms, as a private consensual (freely entered) compact of human beings, instead of a religiously based, trans-cultural fact (i.e. a creation ordinance) then there really is no final argument against polygamy, group marriage, incest or other consensual arrangements. This is not scaremongering but logical perceptiveness. If we find these 'relationships' unacceptable, that may be because of lack of familiarity with the mores of rural Utah or Saudi Arabia - but watch this space. Arguments for polygamy are increasingly being made in the West, as the number of conservative Muslims grow. And to press the point, why should adult incest be illegal? Thoughtful atheists are already addressing this question.
So if the state attempts to change the character of marriage (something which Catholic and Orthodox Christians say is wholly illegitimate because marriage is God-ordained, not man-devised), it means that the meaning of the marriages of *our children* will become confused and problematic.

One last point. Mr Fraser, an Anglican vicar, called the Anglican organisation Reform 'neanderthal' and 'homophobic'. I guess the second word means 'against homosexual relations', but carrying a sense of social disapproval of those who do so. My understanding is that Reform is very similar in its teaching on sexuality as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, so he must be making the same criticism of these churches. Is this a charitable or appropriate way to talk about other Christians? I am sure most of the black led churches in London would also agree here with Reform. Does the use of 'neanderthal' mean that Mr Fraser is more theologically enlightened than Pope Benedict XVI or Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople?

Posted by Mark Beaton at Saturday, 20 August 2005 at 10:32pm BST

No, Vincent, in common parlance, homophobic simply means 'anti-gay'. Thats the way in which the word is used colloquially.

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 12:57am BST

Civil marriage, Mark, is definitively not religiously inspired - no religious symbolism or content is allowed within those marriage ceremonies. Civil marriage is not the concern of religionists.

As far as the rest of the points are concerned, the usual scare tactics.

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 9:47am BST

Merseymike, I was writing on the meaning of marriage as a Catholic Christian, not a secularist. Catholics recognise 'civil marriage' as real marriage, even if God's name is not invoked. It doesn't make any difference that 'religious symbolism' is presently forbidden in England; that will change as it has in Scotland, where humanists can now perform marriages with their own 'vows'. Civil marriage developed in Britain out of Christian marriage, so it *is 'religiously inspired'. This will change further as (barring a miracle) Christianity largely disappears from Britain in the next 30 years or so (as it did in North Africa in the 9th and 10th centuries). Already pension and inheritance law in Britain is having to take account of polygamous relationships. Can you really tell me why, in a secular society, a law against adult incest should exist? I know the Catholic teaching on this, but how does a secularist argue on this?

Posted by Mark Beaton at Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 3:33pm BST

Humanists can, but that is because humanism is not Christian. The churches themselves are those who most want to keep civil marriages and religious content separate, no doubt to keep them ( the churches) in business - theres money to be made out of weddings.

Simply because something 'developed' from an original does not mean its meaning does not change over years - civil marriage is now completely separate from church marriage. Otherwise, atheists would not be able to get married.

The secular arguments against polygamy would be based on the rights of women, and as far as incest is concerned, largely linked to procreative problems. But, of course, its a red herring, as firstly it has precisely nothing to do with gay relationships, and there is no linking between one and the other - indeed, as incest is usually heterosexual, it is easier to compare it to marriage. And secondly, it is extremely rare for siblings to wish to embark upon an incestuous relationship, and it does not mark any sort of sexual orientation. Thus, any arguments for ewither of thse things on secular lines would be very different, since the argument for recognition of gay couples emanates from a belief that gay people are gay by orientation and that the orientation is valid and worthy of status.

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 21 August 2005 at 7:31pm BST

MM, I rather think that Dr Fraser uses the term "homophobia" in precisely the sense which I indicated.

Not that even colloquial misuse justifies a term of abuse which is arguably meaningless.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 12:03am BST

No, I don't think he does.

And it isn't 'misuse', merely that the meaning of the word has changed - a bit like 'gay' ( an aside ; notice how conservatives always use 'homosexual'!). Far from being meaningless, it describes the position of those who wish to impose anti-gay attitudes upon gay people.

As the Religious Tolerance website explains:
Homophobia - engaging in a behaviour aimed at restricting the human rights of persons who have a homosexual orientation and/or who engages in homosexual behaviour. This behaviour can take many forms: signing a plebiscite; sending an Email to one's senator or representative; participating in a demonstration; voting on a school board; voting to elect a homophobe; talking to coworkers or friends, delivering a sermon; etc. These rights include what many believe to be the most important human right: to be married; to have their spousal status recognized and registered; and to be assigned benefits and obligations by the government. Other rights are protection from hate-motivated crimes, protection in accommodation, and employment security.

Homophobe - a person who engages in homophobic behaviour.

Homophobic, an adjective referring to a behaviour which attempts to maintain special rights for heterosexuals.

Posted by Merseymike at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 10:43am BST

My point exactly - it is used as a term of abuse to prevent free discussion of the issues involved.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 1:49pm BST

We are wandering off the point again: if you want your comments published, relate them clearly to what Peter Selby said.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 2:07pm BST

Peter Selby said, "I find this fear difficult to understand, since nobody has ever been prepared to tell me that their own marriage was threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships."

This fear only exists in Peter Selby's imagination, but it is used like the implied psychological implications of "homophobia" as a device by which to propel a rather unconvincing argument.

It is the institution of marriage which is threatened by New Labour equating it with something which is not, in the understanding of classical Christianity, marriage at all. On the contrary, the relationships which New Labour seeks to validate are profoundly sinful, since the new Act clearly envisages that they will be of a sexual nature.

A number of bishops foolishly voted for the Act in the House of Lords (eight versus 2) and have now supported a public statement by the House of Bishops saying that they can only tolerate civil partnerships by clergy who are prepared to undertake to remain celibate within those relationships.

To quote Homer Simpson, "doh!"

Posted by Vincent Coles at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 3:28pm BST

But marriage is not primarily the property of 'classical Christianity'. The majority of marriages in the UK are civil, and I see no reason at all why couples would not opt for marriage, nor why marriage as an institution would be in the least threatened, unless you have a vision of marriage which isn't shared by the bulk of those who enter it.

Personally, I think you must view marriage as a very weak institution, if you think that giving rights and responsibilities to gay couples is going to have such a devastating effect on marriage.

'Oh, we can't possibly marry now, it means NOTHING now gay people can register civil partnerships'

Not very convincing!

Posted by Merseymike at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 6:15pm BST

You have missed the point altogether MM. Christian marriage is very much the property of the Church. Nowhere else in the UK are religious vows exchanged by husband and wife at the solemnisation of the union, celebrated in a rite which speaks unmistakeably about the intention of the ceremony as a Christian commitment to one another and to the possibility of procreation.

The intention of some, evidently including the New Labour machine (to judge from the debates reported in Hansard) and the Bishop of Worcester is to equate Christian marriage with other forms of relationship, including the newly devised civil partnership which is a civil marriage in all but name. The Church of England will not be forced to carry out same-sex ceremonies just yet, but it won't be long, given the apparent confusion of its bishops.

That is where one threat to Christian marriage is to be found. The other threat is to family life as envisaged in the marriage service 1662, ASB or CW. Children should be born to husband and wife and brought up within the security of that family, but already this week there are calls to loosen the restrictions on IVF, so that it is easier for unmarried women to have babies whenever they want, whatever their circumstances. What a travesty of family life!

The CP Act is all of a piece with New Labour's programme of subverting every building block of society, wrecking every institution and parodying every value. "Drink, gamble and fornicate" is the message from the government. It's your human rights, innit.

Precisely the point at which the Church has to be prepared to proclaim the radical alternative of repentance and conversion to an ordered and godly way of life to a society which is fast dissolving into atomised individualism, with the sad assistance of at least one senior church leader.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Monday, 22 August 2005 at 9:51pm BST

'Christian' marriage is no different to any other sort of marriage, in legal terms, and most marriages do not take place in CofE churches.

Hence, if we are talking about 'marriage', then it is the civil institution which is what the State has involvement with. The CofE has involvement as a result of establishment, but for the State, marriage is not an exclusively Christian institution.

I wonder , if all those marrying in church were asked, whether they would have the same interpretation as you? Or did they marry in church because they liked the building and the DVD would look nicer?

It is the role of the State to treat its citizens equally. Civil partnership relates to civil marriage in terms of comparison. Not your 'take' on 'Christian' marriage. Again, civil partnerships have no effect on that. People can still marry in church, and, who knows, some of them will have the same interpretation of the event as you. Civil partnerships do not affect that.

You appear to be wishing to enforce your religious values on to people who do not share them, via the civil law.

Posted by Merseymike at Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 9:00am BST

MM, It's a free country, for the time being at least, and people are free to have whatever civil ceremonies the state devises for them, or they devise for themselves.

No one is obliged to have a Church wedding, which is the context here, since we are discussing the Church of England bishops' response to the Civil Partnerships Act, and in particular the views expressed by one Church of England bishop.

If someone chooses a Church wedding, then it is a requirement that the order of service is either the BCP, or one of those authorised as alternatives in more recent times by the General Synod. The words of all of these express a clearly Christian understanding of marriage.

If the order of service is not something that the bride and groom are comfortable with as a statement of what marriage means, then the state has been providing a religion-free alternative since 1837.

I don't see how anyone is being forced to choose a Church of England wedding, and I am glad that it is becoming more and more a conscious choice as a matter of preference by those who do ask for a Church service.

Equally I would claim the right for the Church of England not to be coerced into doing something which its members find contrary to their conscience.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 6:28pm BST

Actually, no, Vincent. This is not the issue.

No-one has suggested that Civil Partnership ceremonies will take place in churches. There has been some discussion on what sort, if any, prayer or blessing could take place in addition to the civil ceremony, but thats all.

The question of church weddings is, thus, something of a red herring.

However, I think you really should get real. I know quite a few people who have had church weddings in recent years. Not one of them is anything like a committed Christian, and all chose that option for aesthetic reasons alone.

I wasn't aware that the Church of England were being coerced into anything. I think there are priests who would be happy to offer a blessing to a same sex couple, just as there are priests who will remarry divorcees. I wouldn't wish to coerce either into something they did not wish to do - after all, who wants their relationship to be blessed via a priest who isn't sincere in the belief that what he is doing is right?

But at present, priests who would be happy to partake in such a blessing are forbidden from doing so, and the Church will not accept difference of view on the matter, even though it undoubtedly exists!

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 1:49am BST

MM, you are very quick to dismiss the motives of your friends. Can it be that you are ALWAYS right and that you know even better than they do what brought them to choose a church wedding, and to make the vows which are required?

In any event it is the wedding service which defines what the Church believes about marriage, not the private opinion of any individual bride or groom.

So far as coercion is concerned, the Church of England is now legally required by New Labour to perform weddings for those who have legally changed their gender on their birth certificate; and there was talk of forcing it, like the Church of Denmark, to perform same-sex ceremonies which you would regard as marriage and which the Church would not. Thankfully even the New Labour old marxists realised that they could not afford a full-frontal confrontation with the Church of England.

You could probably find priests in the Church of England prepared to bless anything. I have seen one blessing a hunt before it set off to spend the day killing foxes. There are priests in the Church of England who say they do not believe in God. But this does not mean that the Church of England blesses animal cruelty or has ceased to believe in God.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 11:10am BST

Actually we did press the government very hard when it came to excluding religious premises from the registration of Civil Partnerships.
Our arguments were persuasive and won the day on the floor of the House of Lords, even the lead bishop of the day (Oxford) had to agree, as he said:

“In relation to that point, however, I have one or two questions to raise about the Bill. The first involves Clauses 2 and 6(1)(b), relating to England and Wales, and Clause 89, relating to Scotland. Those clauses would statutorily prevent registration from taking place in any premises designed or mainly used for religious purposes or, in Scotland, regarded as a "place of reverence".
That is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, it infringes the proper freedom of religious authorities to control such premises. As a matter of principle, it is for those authorities and not for the state to decide whether or not their premises should be available to be used for registration purposes—unless there is some overriding national interest, which is very difficult to identify on this issue. Secondly, the ban would deny some couples the possibility of a religious celebration in close proximity to a civil registration, which they may see as a commitment with a religious dimension. For example, they may want to have a civil registration in a church hall and then to move on afterwards to a religious ceremony in a church. Of course, that is not allowed in the Church of England and some other Christian denominations. But there may very well be religious bodies which would not only permit but welcome such a development, and it would be quite wrong to preclude them from having such a ceremony in proximity to a church hall, for example."

This summarised our brief issued in the lobby of the House of Lords well. Indeed it looked for a short time that the government might withdraw the prohibition on religious premises. There would have been no compulsion for Ministers of Religion to allow the registration to take place – but they would have had a choice. Several religious groups including the Quakers and Reformed Jews were keen to see this happen.
We also pressed the point that Civil Registrars were frequently present to register marriages in religious premises and asked that the Bill should take cognisance of the particular legislation which gave Civil Registrars such rights and extend them to Civil Partnerships.
We were, in the end, defeated in the back rooms and have reason to believe that the major reason for that came from a few religious leaders who were uncomfortable at having such liberty and preferred the blanket ban as they felt they would be unable to police their own buildings.
We are still considering this and believe it may have contravened European Human Rights legislation, and this may be revisited.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Wednesday, 24 August 2005 at 11:37am BST

Martin, I shall be interested to see just how much pressure begins to be applied to all sorts of categories of private opinion within the Church of England when the new Clergy Discipline Measure is brought into effect in 2006.

Not only priests who are prepared to defy the present policy in "Issues" and Lambeth 1.10, but a whole range of things which at present incur (impotent) episcopal rage. My estimate is that the House of Bishops wishes to create a much more homogenous Church of England and to silence private opinion much more effectively, not least because of their wish to enforce "Issues".

I have to say, however, that even those of us who disagree with you in this debate might yet be heading to join you in the Church in Wales in years to come, to escape the stalinism which is descending upon us here. Unless it is just as bad across the Severn?

Posted by Vincent Coles at Friday, 26 August 2005 at 12:33am BST

I am intrigued by your "estimate". Do you have any evidence at all for this assertion about the future intentions of the House of Bishops. I gather that you disapprove of any such move, so I conclude it is not wishful thinking on your part. Perhaps we should start a separate discussion thread about the CDM and its likely effects. It would provide some relief from the concentration on sexual matters, at least.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Friday, 26 August 2005 at 9:09am BST

Yes, Vincent, Wales does seem to be a different place.
There does not seem to be the same hostility on a whole raft of issues that I see elsewhere.
Here lesbian and gay people are openly present in all areas of church life while at the same time the views of those who have recently been dubbed “orthodox” are esteemed and valued equally. I recently gave a paper at a study day and those presenting the contrary view to mine are old friends and we complimented each other on our contributions and engaged in respectful dialogue on points we had not previously considered.
There has never been any doubt here that we are all Christians seeking together a way of dealing with the presenting issues.
Our Welsh bishops are in a different position to their English counterparts for a variety of reasons. I have always said that the main difference comes from the fact that you can still ring a Welsh bishop and he will answer the phone! This lack of remoteness makes a different animal!
As you probably know Vincent our Canon Law does not just apply to the clergy so our bishops are not able to make two differing rules of life and for this and other reasons we have never fallen into the traps our English brothers have. There is also a keen antipathy to lawyers here, which gives them a much smaller say in the life of our church than they enjoy across the border. This helps with our spiritual wellbeing.
As a matter of interest we are all engaged in trying our best to minimise the effects of the battles being fought elsewhere from tearing us apart here. I believe nearly all those from the widest spectrum of views here want to hold together and are hoping to preserve our unity.
Sadly there are forces at work outside our Province that may yet drive a wedge between us, but we are doing our best to stay together. If we succeed I would welcome you as a refugee from the Gulag.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Friday, 26 August 2005 at 12:24pm BST

Simon, Just to take one instance, the House of Bishops was very disappointed that their plan to upgrade the Clergy Discipline Measure to deal with doctrine and liturgy was turned down by General Synod, and a second attempt is being prepared.

We have heard so much nonsense about the Church of England being governed by the Bishop-in-Synod, when in fact there is a titanic power struggle taking place as the bishops seek to assert control over everything. That is why the Archbishops' Council has proved to be so ineffective: it is the House of Bishops which is driving the agenda.

And as in the recent farce over Civil Partnerships, it signally failed to consult Synod before launching into a disastrous policy statement which no-one on either "side" will support.

Posted by Vincent Coles at Friday, 26 August 2005 at 12:59pm BST


Thank you for your description of Welsh church life. It sounds very inviting - but for the weather!

Posted by Vincent Coles at Friday, 26 August 2005 at 1:00pm BST

To an extent, though, Vincent, that is exactly what the present compromise (1991 'Issues...) amounts to. Few think it makes much logical sense, and it pleases neither reasserter nor reappraiser.

This current statement is much on the same lines.

Really, unless we are both prepared to accept the right of the two views to co-exist in the same denomination, which i don't see happening, the only feasible outcome is to split.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 26 August 2005 at 5:13pm BST


Certainly the Bishop of Chester was upset last year by the synod's rejection (due to the clergy vote 99 for and 103 against) of the proposals for new legislation to replace the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963. But the vote against that report in the House of Bishops was only 27 for and 12 against. Quite a divide within that house I suggest.

I fail to see in any case, how that vote points at any episcopal intention wrt the use of the Clergy Discipline Measure, which as you well know does not cover matters of Doctrine. So how it can be used by the bishops to silence "private opinion" remains unclear to me.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 27 August 2005 at 11:24am BST
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