Comments: civil partnerships: Ecclesiastical Law Journal article

Just what is the precendent for assuming that the ability to conceive children is part of the legal definition of marriage? Why does this whole discussion keep coming back to begetting children?

Posted by k1eranc at Friday, 3 February 2006 at 2:07pm GMT

That is a very poor reading of what she says. In fact, elsewhere in the article she says:

"Whilst the conception and nurture of children is seen as one of the goods of marriage within Christian doctrine, in neither Christian doctrine, nor the law of England, is the conception or nurture of children a prerequisite of a valid marriage."

So it is not part of the definition of marriage but her point is rather that it is one of the very few differences in the eyes of the law between a marriage and a civil partnership, being a fairly obvious corollary of the fact that the two members of the partnership are of the same sex.

Posted by Sean Doherty at Friday, 3 February 2006 at 4:43pm GMT

This site is visited by people from both sides of the debate about the proper attitude to homosexuality and civil partnership. Perhaps I could, in all humility, attempt some dialogue across the divide so I can increase my own understanding.

There are two opposing views. In a recent ad clericum +Nazir Ali said "it is in its careful mimicking of marriage that the [civil partnership] Bill can be said to undermine the distinctiveness and fundamental importance to society of the relationship of marriage". This mirrors a commonly stated thesis that civil partnership damages christian marriage.

By contrast, in a more recent posting Jacqueline Humphreys said "no coherent case has yet been advanced as to how a couple of the same sex living together in a voluntary, permanent, faithful relationship in any way makes another couple's marriage more likely to break down. It is difficult to see how one couple's marriage undermines another couples' civil partnership, or vice versa. In fact the introduction of a marriage-like status for couples for whom traditional marriage is not an option is rather affirming of the status, rights and responsibilities of marriage. These are seen as such a good thing that more couples should have the opportunity of sharing in them."

This confirms my own experience. It seems to me that my own church-blessed partnership with my same sex partner has strengthened, and become a part of, the network of family relationships within which I live.

With that in mind I am genuinely interested in the opposing view. This is not a trick question. What are the reasons that can be put forward, from a christian background, to explain how my partnership damages the institution of marriage, or damages the marriages of my friends and relatives?

Yours in genuine curiosity


Posted by Simon Dawson at Friday, 3 February 2006 at 6:19pm GMT

Dear Simon, I don't think that the argument that CPs mimicking marriage "harms the distinctiveness and fundamental importance to society of the relationship of marriage" is the key argument against an anglican Christian entering into a CP *that involves sex* (or any form of homo-sexual relationship for that matter). The key issue is that homosexual sex is sinful; according to GS 1988, the HoB 1991, Lambeth 98, and the Primates Meeting 2005 and the ACC 2005.

Individualism and the liberal humanism "rights" mentality has in my view harmed the institution of marriage, and individual marriages, much more that the provision of CPs for [same-sex non-blood-related] people who are not able to marry. Marriage is about relationship, not individualism. It is a joining of the two halves of humankind to form a unit; it can produce and nurture children in a balanced way; it is a generational relationship and a community relationship; it is not just a romantic attachment. But "post sixties" legislation is really based just on the rights of the individual - giving in my view no real weight to the value of the relationships. Personally I think that our society is driving down a blind alley on this one, becoming noticeably weaker; it may even destroy itself on the altar of the god individualism.

Having said that, CPs certainly do (and were intended to) imitate marriage; even the Blair government's website used terms like "wedding bells"; surely that reduces the distinctiveness of marriage... And if the distinctiveness of marriage is a good thing, then that could be said to have been "harmed". In addition, trying to treat marriage the same as a CP (ie reducing it to "only a relationship between two people") inevitably damages the institution of marriage compared to how it was treated. This may be done for "good motives" such as equality but, as mentioned above, marriage is more than just a relationship between two people who love each other.

I hope that might help you understand "the other side" a little. But as I said, CPs don't bother me much compared to the destructive humanist god of individualism. But I would prefer that CPs were available for all people in an interdependent relationship who are unable to marry.

What do you think ?

Posted by Dave at Saturday, 4 February 2006 at 2:37am GMT

Simon there are no reasons and everyone knows it. God bless you.

Posted by Ruth at Saturday, 4 February 2006 at 2:44am GMT


Thanks for your thoughtful response. In fact I agree with a lot of what you say.

I can understand the logic of the argument that says that from a Christian viewpoint homosexual sex is sinful. I don't agree with that statement. I believe it represent a mistaken view of the relationship between Old and New Testament moral teaching. Nevertheless I can see where that argument comes from.

What I don't understand, and am asking for comments on, is the argument that says that CP damages marriage. Where does that argument come from within Christian teaching?

I agree with you where you say "Marriage is about relationship, not individualism. It is a joining of the two halves of humankind to form a unit; it can produce and nurture children in a balanced way; it is a generational relationship and a community relationship; it is not just a romantic attachment."

I would argue strongly that Civil Partnership (or even "Gay Marriage") strengthens this aspect of marriage in its imitation of it.

By the way - I don't want to write off post 60's humanism totally. I would argue that it was the the modern emphasis on human rights, and especially the rights of the woman, which turned marriage into a "joining of two (equal) halves of humankind to form a unit". Before that marriage (even Christian marriage) was the giving of one to the other, not an equal share.

I don't want to go off topic topic much, but I think that it is capitalism/consumerism - "you can have (buy) it all" - that is producing this damaging individualsm, not necessarily human rights based liberalism.

Best wishes - and thanks for engaging in this discussion without the rancour which spoils some other "dialogue" on this site.


Posted by simon dawson at Saturday, 4 February 2006 at 10:35am GMT

For those of you entering into Civil Partnerships:

John Boswell's Book: Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994)has some beautiful Same-Sex Blessings at the end of it.

Here are two Greek ones:

O Lord our God, who made humankind in your own image and likeness and gave them power over all flesh, and who approved your saints and apostles Philip and Bartholomew becoming partners, not bound together by nature, but in unity of spirit and by faith, you who did consider your saints and martyrs Serge and Bacchus worthy to be united, bless your servants, N. and N., joined not by nature but grant them to love each other and to remain unhated and without scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God and ever virgin Mary. Because to you belongs all glory, honour and worship.

Lord our God, glorified in the council of the saints, great and awesome ruler over all around you, bless your servants N. and N., grant them knowledge of your Holy Spirit. Guide them in your holy fear, grant them joy, that they may become united more in the spirit than in the flesh. Because it is you who do bless and sanctify those who trust in you and yours is the everlasting glory.

Posted by mary at Sunday, 5 February 2006 at 7:12am GMT

The Civil Partnership legislation is very specific in the legal distinction between Civil Partnerships and Marriage. Marriage is a lawful impediment to Civil Partnership and Civil Partnership is a lawful impediment to Marriage. What is so serious is that the word Marriage is being constantly used by the written and broadcast media to describe a Civil Partnership.The "Sun" on 2nd Feb carried a front page banner headline of "Exclusive: First Gay Soldiers'Marriage" and the extensive story included phrases such as "wonderful to get married", "Vanessa proposed marriage", "asked me to marry her", and then had a phone in number for readers to answer the question "Are you a gay Forces couple thinking of marriage". This illegal mis-use of the word Marriage is extremely offensive to all who hold the sacrament of marriage as holy. It is a creation ordinance, and the word cannot be re-defined. Yet gay couples are determined that eventually the word will be applied to them. I am fully supportive of the legal and financial equality which Civil Partnerships has brought to gay couples. But they need to show their respect for the institution of marriage as well. The Government and the Church need to come out strongly now to ban the use of the word marriage in any context relating to Civil Partnerships.

Posted by Barry Makin at Sunday, 5 February 2006 at 7:43pm GMT

Dear Simon, Yes it's nice to be able to appreciate each other's views, even if we can't agree.

Having said that homosexual sex is sin effectively wipes it out as something that can be blessed or approved of (to me) of course. I keep mentioning that I have friends who have homosexual orientation - some choosing to remain celibate, some in partnerships (may even be "married" as they live in Belgium) - havent seen them much since we met up on holday in Italy the other year.
But then we have friends who are divorced and remarried, living together outside marriage and probably some who have more "interesting habits". I don't think it is for me to condemn but I can't approve, I think they are making a mess of their own lives and of societal relationships, and defacing the image of God in some ways. However I can continue to love - just like God does..

After all we are all sinners, and where would I be without His gracious love and forgiveness ? !

Posted by Dave at Sunday, 5 February 2006 at 8:57pm GMT

Thanks Mary,

Don't forget that Same Sex Blessings have been banned by the Bishops now, so those blessings can't be used. But we are allowed to enter into civil partnerships however, so how about using this one, also from Boswell, a partnership agreement betwen two priests in Lombardy in the eighth century.

"In the name of God. In the third year of the reign of our lord, Charles, the King of the Franks and Lombards, when he began to rule Lombardy, on the eighth of the kalends of July, in the fourteenth indiction [776 C.E.].
Be it known that I, Rachifrid, a cleric, the son of Fredulo the merchant, do by this document establish, confirm and appoint you, Magniprand, a cleric, the son of Magnipert, to share my dwelling all the days of our lives - that is, the parish house of my church, Saint Dalmatius, and my home within the city near the same church, and my other buildings, and everything belonging to the said church in whatever way, and all the servants attached to it; you should live there and [share] control over the said church and its property, and should have the power of disposing of its servants, except for Magnuculus, a cleric, whom I had previously emancipated.
. . . that as regards the said church of God, and all those things and persons belonging to it, you should be therein my partner [frater] and my heir, so that we should never at any time make division of the said church or the things or persons attached to it, either movable or immovable, but should, as I stated before, live there together, and possess and dispose of whatever belongs there. And if I should predecease you, I ordain that the said church and all things belonging to it should come under your authority, and you may be able to do with them as you wish. But if I outlive you, everything will revert to my control." - (continues)

I like Boswell's books. He leaves no doubt that whatever the orthodox might protest, gay priests in same sex partnerships have been in the church since the church began. It is just that in some centuries they were more public about it, and in others they had to be a bit more discreet.


Posted by simon dawson at Sunday, 5 February 2006 at 9:54pm GMT

Barry ; I think the reality is that most people do not associate marriage with anything to do with religion these days, and that civil partnerships will undoubtedly become known, officially, as civil marriage, in time.

What religionists choose to do is their business but in turn they should keep their nose out of civil marriage which is explicitly free of religious interference.

I don't want the church involved in my civil partnership/marriage. Why have a homophobic institution involved in my special day?

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 5 February 2006 at 10:32pm GMT

Boswell's work on 'adelphopoiesis' is wishful thinking and tendentious special pleading that has convinced no serious historians of the Middle Ages. 'Ritualized kinship' or 'brother-making' is the subject of these rites, not 'gamos'; 'frater' does NOT mean 'sexual partner'. See this refutation of Boswell's claims:

Posted by Peter Bergman at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 7:47am GMT

Its irrelevant anyway. This is the 21st century - the social mores of past generations are of no import.

Posted by Merseymike at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 11:13am GMT

I am a bit puzzled as to this idea of marriage being “sacramental”. To the Lutheran tradition and to the Church of Sweden (not as Lutheran as some think) marriage is a c i v i l institution, not a religious one, having to do with Creation, that is with all, not some.

“There is not one marriage for the Christian and an other for the Turk”, as Dr Martin Luther puts it in his characteristic manner.

It should be noted that up to the hostile take-over of the Church by the Absolutist State in 1686/1687, it was the Diocesan chapters that ruled upon marriage and divorce, accepting the wish of the parties in 40 % of the cases – even when this went against the express wording of the Swedish Canons (1571).

Traditionally, in academic theology both Eastern and Western from the 10th century up to the 1960ies (Zerwick 1966) the unmarried state and the non spilling of semen remained the norm. The ultra-modern view that hetero-marriage is somehow mandated in Genesis 1-2 cannot, as far as I know, be traced further than the 1970ies (Focus on the Family) and is first found in written form in 1978.

The idea of marriage as sacrament must come from Rome, but it should be noted that the Tridentine decretal Tametsi, which introduced the Calvinist innovation of a mandatory (State-church) ceremony; the forma tridentina, was not made compulsory until the revised Corpus iuris canonici of 1918.

Up till then, marriage in Roman Catholic countries was Civil, the rite called for by the Tametsi being lead by a civil servant, the presence of a priest desired but not mandatory.

Mandatory religious ceremonies were first introduced in Prussia in 1794 and later in the 19th century in most of Germany. From 1876 these were, however, exclusively non religious in Germany and Hungary, a change which was prompted by political troubles between the Calvinist and Roman minorities.

A heightened form of the forma tridentina (the presider performing the union in law) was only introduced in Swedish law in 1915 and made mandatory with the abolition of the Consensus of the Parties in 1918, whereas from the 1920ies the advance of Democracy has made all other Western countries to return to the Consensus abandoning this residue of 16th century Absolutism, which from the 1940ies is also true of most churches. Witness the change in Roman Doctrine at Vatican II, declaring the parties the makers of the union (cf the new People of God ecclesiology).

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 11:21am GMT

Barry Makin writes: "This illegal mis-use of the word Marriage is extremely offensive to all who hold the sacrament of marriage as holy. It is a creation ordinance, and the word cannot be re-defined. Yet gay couples are determined that eventually the word will be applied to them... The Government and the Church need to come out strongly now to ban the use of the word marriage in any context relating to Civil Partnerships. "

Secular marriage existed before Christian marriage. The church can refuse church weddings, but it cannot stop marriages existing under other auspices. The Church has approved a law which completely severs civil partnership ceremonies from the church: they cannot take place in church and religious services cannot take place in conjunction with them. The Church has thereby forfeited its ability to contribute to public perception and understanding of civil partnerships at the moment of their creation.

The Church holds religious services at the opening of the legal year, on school anniversaries and on such occasions as the anniversary of the migration of a family from one country to another hundreds of years ago, but when two people enter into a civil partnership, the church's influence for good or ill has been reduced to nothing except shouting from the sidelines.

Words in ordinary use are constantly redefined and laws cannot stop that - see the evolution of the word "nice" for example. The poll tax was a poll tax, and was universally known as such, notwithstanding the legislators' chosen euphemism of "Community Charge".

Whether or not a civil partnership is a marriage is in the eye of the beholder, including the participants. No doubt opinions will differ. You are entitled to yours, but it is neither desirable nor possible that terminology differing from yours should be "banned", by Government or by the Church.

Posted by badman at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 11:35am GMT

Peter Bergman writes: "Boswell's work on 'adelphopoiesis' is wishful thinking and tendentious special pleading that has convinced no serious historians of the Middle Ages. 'Ritualized kinship' or 'brother-making' is the subject of these rites..."

Some civil partners will choose not to engage in sexual activity - perhaps because they accept your point of view that such activity is incompatible with scripture. Would you approve of such partnerships?

Or, to approach it from another angle, do you approve of 'Ritualized kinship' or 'brother-making'? If not, what is wrong with it? If so, are you happy for there to be accompanying religious ceremonies?

Posted by badman at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 11:41am GMT

Barry Makin observes accurately how the media are reporting Civil Partnerships. His remonstrations are shared by many gay people who are unhappy to see their CP’s described as a marriage. While some (like Dr Mike!) say that it is, many, for a variety of reasons see CP’s as different even if they do enjoy the same legal protections.

Jacqueline Humphreys makes an interesting contribution to this debate as does Chancellor Mark Hill in his gentle (but withering) editorial comment.

In my own case our upcoming CP was headlined “ ….. to Wed ….” and careful comments we made to the reporter altered to “marry” and “marriage” – we were later told that this “suited the newspaper’s House Style”. Having been a sub-editor I have a little sympathy for headline writers struggling with Civil Partnership, “marry” and “wed” fit so neatly.

I share with Simon Dawson and others the feeling that there has been no case made for CP’s being an “attack” on marriage or that extending the rights enjoyed by married people somehow diminish marriage. If this were the case then I wonder why the Bishop of Rochester and so many in the House of Lords went to such lengths to extend those specific rights and protections to a much wider group of people.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 12:49pm GMT


Your comment invites several responses. The first being that John Boswell, who was the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University, should be regarded as a serious historian himself.

In his writings Boswell acknowledges this is a difficult area. Scholars who are sympathetic to homosexuality will see relationships such as the ones in these documents as probably sexual, in addition of course to being loving, mutually supportive, lifetime friendships. Scholars with the opposite view of homosexuality will read a different context into the same documents.

If you were to look at the huge amount of writen documentation about my own life, including my partnership ceremony, there is no open evidence there of a sexual content to the relationship. Similarly I am aware of a recent memorial service for an elderly financier where many of his colleagues and family were astonished to hear of the man's forty year, loving relationship with a working-class, black, life-partner. Even today an absence of written evidence does not signify an absence of sexual content to a gay relationship. This is different from a heterosexual marriage where a stated provision for children can be taken as evidence of sexual content to the relationship.

In my opinion it is possible to argue, from a mass of supporting evidence, that many of these relationships were probably sexual. I would also argue that it it is NOT possible to imply, simply from an absence of evidence, that they were not.


Posted by Simon Dawson at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 1:29pm GMT

Simon: so what? Hugh Trevor-Roper is an eminent historian as well and that didn't stop him making a major boo-boo. The fact remains that Boswell's book, based principally on three obscure texts from the eastern Mediterranean in the Middle Ages and an awful ot of special pleading, has not convinced scholars that 'homosexual marriage' ever existed as a church-sanctioned institution. It's one of those cases of someone seeing what he wanted to. Read Shaw's review carefully; I think you'll find it's representative of what just about all medievalists had to say about the book.
A 'brother' is NOT a sex partner.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 5:12pm GMT

Simon said,

"....John Boswell, who was the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University, should be regarded as a serious historian himself."

Professor Boswell's reputation and rigorous scholarship are undisputed. He was a very, very distinguished historian of religion and of the medieval period, one of the very finest if not THE finest of his generation. He was a reknowned scholar.

To say that he is not taken seriously by medieval scholars is very erroneous.

Posted by RMF at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 5:31pm GMT

Peter Bergman wrote: "The fact remains that Boswell's book, based principally on three obscure texts from the eastern Mediterranean in the Middle Ages and an awful lot of special pleading, has not convinced scholars that 'homosexual marriage' ever existed as a church-sanctioned institution."

But he doesn't say it did. Boswell talks "only" of "same-sex unions". The word gay marriage is not used. You are the one who says it's (not) "homosexual marriage".

So it is about Partnerships. Whether "sexual" or not, only those involved can know.

Just like the English Civil Partnerships ;=)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 7:07pm GMT

Peter said, "has not convinced scholars that 'homosexual marriage' ever existed as a church-sanctioned institution."

Is he arguing that they were church sanctioned, or that they occurred, and in some churches?

Mind you I am positioning from memory, as it has been many years since I have looked at the work, but I do not recall that the issue was how high up the food chain per se, the ceremonies were sanctioned.

Churches often perform ceremonies or masses or blessings in contravention of a particular policy or proclamation because the people and clergy at a particular one do not agree with a particular proclamation or policy.

So I suppose one issue raised is, what do you mean by "church sanctioned"?

Posted by RMF at Monday, 6 February 2006 at 7:20pm GMT

Goran: a distinction without a difference. I meant of course a sexually active 'same-sex union', which is what Boswell meant as well.

RMF: I mean 'recognized by synods, councils, episcopal hierarchies etc' - however something is recognized by the Church at large as being 'de fide'. Obviously some local action without synodical or episcopal approval is hardly representative.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Tuesday, 7 February 2006 at 9:56pm GMT

Peter Bergman appears to assert that fraternal language ("brother") excludes spousal relationship ("sex partner"). On the contrary, the tradition records the use of fraternal language within spousal relationships, perhaps the most famous being the bridegroom's address to "my sister, my spouse" from the Song of Solomon chapters 4-5.

Boswell's assertion that the rites of brother-making were used by some people (even if the church did not intend them as such) as a means to celebrate a spousal relationship is attested by independent sources, some of them predating Boswell's work. I first came across a mention of this phenomenon in an old issue of the Cowley Father's (SSJE) newsletter, in an article in which an elderly Russian Orthodox priest "ruefully observed" that the brother-making rite was indeed used, from time to time, as a form for celebrating same-sex relationship.

Like it or not, "unions" are made by the people making them -- not by the church or the state, which only regulate, but do not create such relationships.

Posted by Tobias S Haller BSG at Tuesday, 7 February 2006 at 11:02pm GMT

Tobias Haller: not quite right. The Song of Solomon says (4.9, 10, 12; 5.1): 'My sister, bride' ('ahoti callah). Your mistranslation 'spouse' misses the fact that 'callah' is a feminine noun and purely female in reference. It can't mean 'husband'. (And I don't have to mention that SoS is a flagrantly heterosexual book!) It is never used by a male to a male. 'brother' and 'sister' are used in ANE poetry between lovers, included married lovers, as an indication of the closeness of their bond, but that bond is male-female.
Your anecdote only illustrates how people will distort an institution. Nothing new here. There is a long history of the distortion by individuals of the intended meaning of ordination, certainly of marriage, and even the vows of celibacy in religious orders.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 7:30am GMT

Pter Berman wrote: "I meant of course a sexually active 'same-sex union', which is what Boswell meant as well."

You wrote "homosexual marriage", not "sexually active" union.

Surely, what Boswell says is that these were both?

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 9:11am GMT

Peter Bergman, Do I take it that you have no objection to lesbian civil partnerships, even if sexually active? There is no condemnation of lesbian relationships in scripture, is there?

I also wonder if you are going to answer my question above: Some civil partners will choose not to engage in sexual activity - perhaps because they accept your point of view that such activity is incompatible with scripture. Would you approve of such partnerships? Or, to approach it from another angle, are you comfortable with 'Ritualized kinship' or 'brother-making' (to quote your characterisation of the historical precedents discussed by Boswell)? If not, what is wrong with it? If so, are you happy for there to be accompanying religious ceremonies?

Posted by badman at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 9:52am GMT

A pre-modern society is composed of Households of different social standing (power). A number of biologically (or politically) related households form a household group, a Clan.

In this dis-Society of kinship, anyone who does not belong to a House is an outsider, whence the repeated insistence of Deuteronomy on Hospitality towards “the Levite, the poor and the stranger”.

The Household consists of the Husband; his several wives, eldest son, sons, brothers, brothers in law, uncles, cousins, their wives, daughters, children and slaves.

All members of a Household stand under the tutelage of the Husband, who has absolute power over them, even to kill them, cf V. Commandment; Thou shalt not kill!

In Europe, these rights of the Husband over the Household have eroded in the last few centuries. In Sweden first the right to beat employees over the age of 18 (1858), the wife (1908), employees under 16 (1920), school children (1954), own children (1966). Finally, smacking was outlawed in 1978.

But “honour” killings (both Christian and Muslim) are still around today, both in the Middle East and in Europe.

The X Commandments address this pre-modern context in the second person, singular, masculine imperative: Thou shalt!, Thou shalt not! It is the Husband who is spoken to. Only from Ezraic times were the Commanments understood as individual, that is addressing a l l grown-up men.

The structure of the X. Commandments is the following. The Great Commandment is found in Exodus 20.2 and Deut 5.6: I am the LORD your God, followed by 3 theistic ones about the relationship of the Husband to his God, then 3 Collective Commandments about his relationship to his Household, and lastly 3 Social Commandments about his relationship to his neighbour; the next Husband.

(So VII. (6th) Commandment moixeía, unfaithfulness, originally was that of the Husband towards his Household, whereas modern, marital, “adultery” is in the X. Commandment: Thou shalt not covet thy Neighbour’s House!)

The Husband is the only one who according to modern notions can be called a person, an individual, a Citizen; the only one who has political, social and economic rights: capacity, connubium and commercium in Latin.

The members were mere functions of the House, and so to a degree was also the Husband, cf today’s honour killings. Everyone was owned by their material conditions, cf today’s’ India.

Adoption to a Household generally was by marriage – the special legal institution of Adoption; arrogatio, being a relatively late phenomenon – cf 1 Samuel 18.16ff, and note, that David calls Saul is “father” in 1 Sam 24.12!

The alternative to marriage was the Partnership, whereby Jonathan and David, who were not yet brothers in law, became “brothers”, see 1 Sam 18.3-4 (the Partnership formula, “heterosexual “ to us, is in 1 Sam 30.42).

It is interesting to note that the Latin distinguishes between biologically and non-biologically related brothers. “Germanus” signifying blood relation and “frater” signifying brother by choice, either collateral adoption or (later) in a monastery. Germanic languages have only one word; brother.

In the pre-modern dis-Society of un-equal kinship groups of related Houses, being siblings was the closest one could get to today’s perceptions of a necessary Equality between parties.

Hence the language – somewhat incestuous to us – of the Psalms, the Book of Samuel, Kings and so on: my brother, my sister, my love.

That these Household relationships did not (pace Peter Bergman) exclude love, erotic and otherwise, is clear from 1 Sam 20.17 and attested from the European Middle Ages onwards. Also, we have the scene of Saul’s jealousy in 1 Sam 20.30: Thou Son of an unfaithful woman… where Saul uses the language of the Lev 18 Taboos: ten aschemosúnen, the unmentionable parts.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 10:58am GMT

I think it a bit tough to say, on the one hand, that these ceremonies didn't happen because they weren't "church sanctioned"--but they did happen. The point is not either that they are representative, or normative for the time--simply that they occurred.

I also think it tough to say that because the two people called themselves brother or sister, the point of it all was just to ensure to the other property and "security."

None of this requires a a ceremony. It can be done with a piece of parchment. The ceremony adds another dimension to it that makes it unique. Arguing against that argues against the fact of the ceremony, thereby returning to the fact that there was a ceremony.

Posted by RMF at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 12:42pm GMT

badman: Scripture probably does refer to lesbianism in Romans 1.26, and even if this interpretation was uncertain, analogical reasoning (gander and goose) would condemn it. Remember that Scripture nowhere condemns pedophilia.
A domestic partnership that extends legal rights, protections and duties to people who share a home and have mutual care of each other is something I generally agree with. Many of the people who would benefit from this (siblings, other family members)are explicitly excluded from civil partnerships by British law. Not just, I think.
Finally, does 'ritualized kinship' or 'brother-making' (= adoption into a family relation)actually exist today and why should it be the subject of a religious ceremony? And were those who tok part in 'brother-making' (think: Native American blood brothers!) forbidden to take wives? I don't think so!

Posted by Peter Bergman at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 12:48pm GMT

They are excluded at present because civil partnership aims to give legal parity to same sex partnerships as they are viewed by the State as equivalent (but different) to marriage. The main difference being they are same sex not opposite sex.

That is reasonable because the State is not there to recreate the social mores of the first century and before which the bible reflects.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 5:22pm GMT

Thank you for your answer, Peter Bergman. I infer from your posts that you do not, therefore, object to two men, or two women, entering into a civil partnership provided there is no sexual activity in the partnership? And even if they are homosexual?

Posted by badman at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 5:23pm GMT

Peter bergman asks

"Finally, does 'ritualized kinship' or 'brother-making' (= adoption into a family relation)actually exist today and why should it be the subject of a religious ceremony? And were those who tok part in 'brother-making' (think: Native American blood brothers!) forbidden to take wives? I don't think so!"

Peter - we have come full circle. Ritualised kinship and brother making does exist today - they are called same-sex blessings. I accept that you disagree, but those of us who hold and attend such liturgies can see similarities between what goes on today and what we see written down from the past.

They are the subject of religious ceremonies because those engaged in them recognise something spiritual, something of God, within the love that such relationships contain.

You raise an interesting questions about wives. In some cases one of the same sex partners might himself be the "wife", see ;-)

Incidentally if anyone wants an interesting (but old) look at the connection between sexuality and spirituality look at this reference. (In this text Uranian is an old word for homosexual). It is an easily accessible list of texts which, despite it's age, makes some interesting points about this issue.


Posted by simon dawson at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 9:20pm GMT

Peter Bergman,
I'm afraid you misunderstood me. I was not seeking to argue that the Song of Solomon was about a same-sex relationship! Bride is indeed the meaning of "callah" -- although the KJV used "spouse" -- so I will stand by that as a legitimate, and "authorized" translation! ;-)
I was responding to what I thought was your assertion that fraternal language could not be used by lovers. I am glad to see you are aware of the frequent use of this sort of language in ANE love literature apart from the Song of Songs. As this is plainly not your belief, I'm afraid I have to say I don't understand what you were getting at in that earlier comment.
When it comes to distortions, I suppose I would have to observe that the use of fraternal language in any kind of erotic relationship is a bit of a distortion, tending to a sort of figurative incest (which in parts of the ANE, such as Egypt, was not just figurative). But to use your "goose and gander" arguement: if such language can be and has been used by mixed-sex couples, why not by same-sex couples? Why, given the prohibitions on incest, is it any more of a "distortion"? And what if it is? One person's "distortion" is another's "valid development."

Posted by Tobias S Haller BSG at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 9:28pm GMT

badman: I'm sure my views don't count for anything outside a small circle! But since you do me the kindness of asking:

1. As I understand it, the British 'civil partnerships' mimic marriage in every single respect and exclude 'prohibited degrees', though why this should be so was not made clear by the English govt.. But everyone believes it is in order to pave the way to full-blown 'gay marriage' with a stroke of the pen. So I consider them fundamentally dishonest in intent and structurally unjust in practice.
2. The Christian moral maxim of avoiding 'the occasions of sin' strongly argues against two homosexually-tempted persons binding themsleves in this way. No more should an alcoholic look for a job as a bartender.

Simon Dawson: we have not come full circle; all that is circular is your logic. You assume that these obscure and sparsely attested (three) rituals from the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans in the Middle Ages were 'same sex (homoerotic) unions', when most scholars think differently, and you retroject present practice in the modern post-Christian West onto the past. This kind of historical revisionism became pretty commonplace in the 1980s, with the neo-Gnostic Elaine Pagels supposedly 'rediscovering' a Gnostic Jesus and the feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza 'finding' a feminist (non-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, post-family etc etc) Jesus as well (until, of course, that insecure repressive St Paul came along and screwed things up). Very 'right on', I'm sure, but not much to do with real history or the apostolic church.

I would add I don't expect to convince anyone otherwise minded. Schism in the Anglican Communion is well advanced and will probably be irreversible after GC this summer.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 10:13pm GMT

Tobias Haller: I didn't misunderstand you about SoS, but you are correct that the KJV renders 'callah' in that book as 'spouse'. As 'spouse' is used interchangeably today for husband or wife, it isn't a good translation today for that feminine noun.
'Brother-sister' language used in marriage may be odd to our modern ears but it isn't 'figurative incest' except to the sexually obsessed. It simply(!) denotes intense emotional closeness between lovers, likened to the closest natural relationship a man and woman could have, i.e. to be born of the same womb. My wife is also my 'sister' in the Lord and I hope I am similarly a 'brother' to her. And I can think of numerous people who have been spiritual 'fathers' and 'mothers' to me (including my natural mother). You see what 'odd' things we do with familial language in the spiritual realm. This is something you should readily understand, *Brother* Tobias. But do not allow spiritual relationships constituted by vows to be corrupted by sinful behavior.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 10:44pm GMT

Peter Bergman: I certainly do understand the multivalency of fraternal/familial language. People use words like "sister" "brother" "mother" "father" to describe literal family relationships, spiritual relationships, or intimate spousal relationships.

It appeared to me earlier that you were denying this multivalency. Thank you for clarifying.

Posted by Tobias S Haller BSG at Wednesday, 8 February 2006 at 11:47pm GMT

I don't think the rites that Boswell looks at should be dismissed simply because there aren't records of more, or that there aren't records of more being done in a church. This would suppose that every ceremony had to be recorded, or that every ceremony had to be done in a church (and then recorded), which was not the case even for marriages. After all, the rites date from a thousand years or more.

I don't think we need to suppose either that the rites were used only for same sex blessings, only that they could be the basis for such.

Posted by RMF at Thursday, 9 February 2006 at 4:08pm GMT

What interests me in much of the discussion is that a great many comments simply hop right over the crucial issues that stem from how Christians have defined homosexual behavior as sin. This cannot help but connote a whole range of approaches to reading scripture, and drawing from what is presumed to be religious tradition; typically in favor of a new conservative Christian reading that is simply stated and restated and urged, as if it had not itself painstakingly emerged from the last hundred or hundred-fifty years or so, partly in implicit conversation with modernity itself, and partly in implicit conversation with the dawning self-comprehensions of LGBTQ folks.

Now urged upon us is the definitive view that marriage is a Creation order for all humanity. This rather modernistic redaction view is so simplistically and so comprehsnively promulgated among us by new conservative believers that its very recency is implicitly obscured and denied.

Yet careful, accurate history shows us that early Christians were quite suspicious of marriage as any sort of Creation order, and only several centuries into the first millenium did an uneasy and flexible alliance of the religious dimensions of marriage become mixed into, and supportive of, some of the civil and economic aspects of marriages as they existed, diverse according to geography and era.

Now, out of that heady mix of innumerable details, new conservative believers would have us suddenly presume that their view is the only Christian view that has ever been effective, based on what they implicitly rely upon as a singular reading of both the available scriptures, as well as our appropriation of what is implicitly presented as core religious tradition.

I find it quite curious that new conservative believers so frequently and easily just hop right over all these historical details, in favor of establishing their pet views that God ordained heterosexual marriage at the very founding of Creation; when in fact, many friends of Jesus in past eras were quite exercised to be skeptical of exactly this sort of claim about marriage being a sacred - indeed, according to modern new religous conservatives, the only sacred - form of sexuality.

Further, this pet religious view neglects the profound skepticism with which early Christian believers tended on the whole to approach any claims that human sexuality articulated with any sort of sacred deep. The near universal pagan religious example of the ancient near east was precisely too involved for early Christian comfort - with claiming that holy forms or rituals of sacred sex at temples, shrines, or groves to this or that god or goddess were established, and deeply so, and universally so. Surely it would have sounded odd or unlikely to early Christian ears, to hear this new conservative religious claim that exclusively heterosexual married sex is so comprehensively just the godly ticket. How odd, then, to hear a new conservative believer claim, pretty much for his or her sex life, updated in pat modern terms, what a pagan worshipper getting it on with a temple prostitute would have claimed, more or less, in an ancient near eastern vocabulary.

Implicitly, this amounts to saying that the ancient temple sex rituals were the fake deal, while the holy sex of the new conservatives who are exclusively heterosexually married is the real deal. The whole, real deal.


How very fortunate for them, that God not only allows them to have orgams, but that God ordains their each and every orgasm in heterosexual marriage. Wow.

As one heckling poster I read once laughed out loud in print: this claim makes modern Christianity into just the sort of fertility cult that was anathema to most early Christian believers. Only Latter Day Saints' thinking about marriage, children, or family goes so far, so fast - and traditionally in favor of patriarchal, plural marriages between one studly man and several women whose main function in family religious life is to bed the man, bear children, and sustain the larger sacramentalized family. Just because new conservative religious believers have not yet embraced the LDS traditions of polygamy, for which they indeed can claim scriptural foundations (as they do); does not blur the amazing and striking similarities between these ahistoricized views whose major achievement is to make sex in straight religious marriages the only permissable or knowable form of sacred human sex.

I provisionally suspect that a great many early C.E. believers would have found this new conservative religious assertion to be heretical and astounding, because it comes so close to the pagan assertions of ritual and other connections between sex and godliness. Historically, at least, we would all be on much firmer factual ground if we could universally acknowledge that the most likely view of an early C.E. believer would have been that celibacy - even among married people - was the most ideal ethical and spiritual mode of life. The medieval church was going quite a distance when it even allowed marriages to be witnessed on the outside steps of the local church. Then, a convincing argument can be made, that the church was then the best available civil legal witness, owing probably to the presumed ethical integrity of the local priest, along with the presumed accuracy of the local parish records of such civil marriages.

If we are going to adopt the new conservative religious views of sacred heterosexuality, we should at least do so with our eyes open, and our historical facts accurate.

This new conservative religious view of sacred heterosexuality - which achieves special genital holiness by presuming a special Creation order sacrament of penis plus vagina; which implicitly urges a special sacred status for conceiving children as an innate godliness; and which claims for itself an idealized purity of maleness and femaleness which flies arrogantly in the face of all our available biology, psychology, and sociology of gender, sex, and so forth - comes so close to ancient pagan religious views of sex in its underlying force of religion that I believe we can suppose an early C.E. believer would be shocked to hear it being advanced as a core Christian view. Indeed, as the only form of sexual human faithfulness among believers.

Thus, this new conservative religious claim can be considered and debated among us, as it must be. But it cannot accurately be framed, mostly as a debate between orthodoxy and tradition, on the one hand, and change or rethinking on the other.

Both the new conservative, as well as the alternative, views are big changes from how an early C.E. believer would have understood human nature, sexuality, marriage, children, and family life.

Funny how the new conservative assertions about homosexual acts, let alone sexual orientation and related sexual diversities in human nature, run along quite similar intellectual and emotional paths.

We keep hearing about how homosexual acts are defined as sin, and that is that is that.

As conversation proceeds, this usually slides over into connoting that understanding oneself as non-heterosexual must then either be: (1)viewed as an extension of that basic sinful act definition - the new conservative religious ideas decode having a queer sexual orientation as nothing more than one becoming a placard bearer that in effect says I like doing this or that sex act and intend to keep doing so; or (2)viewed as a delusional or false inference from the sin of homosexual acts as such - decoded as I like doing this or that homosexual act so much that I will false or mistakenly infer that my homosexual acts tell me something positive or competent or good about myself.

Queer folks may, indeed, be saying that they enjoy and prefer this or that homosexual act, along with inferring that their good experiences of that act might tell them something positive and competent and useful about themselves. These ideas, however, do not completely account for the still somewhat mysterious new idea of sexual orientation as such. That is to say, my sense of myself as non-heterosexually oriented had deep and convincing and positive roots, long before I had enough physical lovemaking experiences to confidently say which homosexual acts (if any) I liked more than any other homosexual acts. Likewise, my deep and good sense of being attracted to my own body and that of other boys preceded any fully developed adult capacity for inferring this or that good or competency or use - like many other people I did not even encounter the conscious idea of sexual orientation as such, until I was well into college. Nevertheless, walking around in straight shoes which really didn’t fit all that well, I was still living life as a very queer little kid.

Now young folks run across the idea much earlier, it would appear, but that still does not alter the basic point I am making about LGBTQ stuff, which is really 3 points.

First, we are still in the process of coming to understand this mystery of this idea we call sexual orientation.

Like equality, democracy, human rights, or modern ideas of competency in empirical methods - the idea of sexual orientation is rather new and somewhat unprecedented in human intellectual history, at least in its most typical modern forms.

Discounting the idea of sexual orientation just because it is so new in human history garners much applause, particularly among new conservative religious believers; but that does not make the new conservative rush to final judgment compelling as such. We might as well indulge in rushed religious judgments to the effect that studying to become a computer scientist or an astronaut was sinful, because neither of those occupations existed much before our own times. We might as well insist - as indeed do the Jehovah's Witnesses - that blood transfusions are evil, and sinful, and prohibited. God does not want people to donate blood to the blood bank, nor to get blood infused from another human being. JW folks make a strict argument from their community reading of scripture about blood transfusions, pretty much as new conservatives are making a strict argument from their own reading of scriptures about the exclusive sacred sexual sanctity of married heterosexuals. We are no more exempted from carefully inquiring into the one set of arguments urged upon us, than we are from inquiring into the other set.

Secondly. We cannot completely collapse this mysterious and only partly fully understood notion of sexual orientation in human nature, either into specific homosexual acts as such, or into inferred ideas about human selves as such. We still have to come to understand a range of spontaneous embodied feelings, of aroused bodily appreciations of the other man or other woman, and of openness to deep bondings and attachments at a bodily level reaching deep below consciousness as aimed at another man or another woman.

My hunch so far is that the debate largely neglects just these deeper, emotional, bodily, and yes, intelligences and competencies - because of two factors. First, we are still trying to get a good vocabulary for describing these preverbal matters of feeling, body, and bonding. This challenge is made that much more difficult, because our biology is fast changing and shifting, so that we might have to try to keep up vocabulary building on two fronts, not just one. Reaching into our own individual and collective preverbal depths for accurate and informed and useful talk about feelings, about body, and about embodied bonding stretches us. Then we are possibly stretched further by the continuing flood of new biology, particularly at the moment in areas related to our growing understanding of genetics and molecular biology, as well as in connection with evolution as a major paradigm of biology.

The second factor I guess is simply that we probably fear the sheer ambiguities of seeing so deeply, so incompletely into these core aspects of what we all know – in some way or another – to be deep parts of our existence as humans who are, as Eliott Aronson put it, social animals. If I sit with this factor for a while, I think I get even more of an inkling that maybe a whole lot of folks know, experience, and live somewhere in the middles of the charged extremes – exclusive heterosexuals vs. exclusive homosexuals – which are supposed to be lethally intending to defeat one another in the new conservative religious paradigm for cultural and church war.

This means that the implicit and explicit war paradigm being so heavily urged upon us has – among its other possible strong functions – a significant purpose of distracting and dissuading us from scrutinizing the large middles which otherwise might allow us to get along with one another, regardless of our varying sexual orientations.

Even otherwise exclusively heterosexual women or men can sometimes recover to some extent some profound sense – at feeling, body, and bonding levels of preverbal allegiance – a sense of basking in the sheer physical presence of another man or another woman. Is this glass half full? In which case we may also have commonalities at these deep levels with one another, even if you are a penis and vagina sort of human and I am a penis plus penis or vagina plus vagina sort. Is this glass half-empty? And dangerous, threatening, and catastrophically lacking? In which case the non-heterosexual people who can be alleged to embody the emptiness (along with what causes it in the first place) have little or nothing in common with the straight folks who fill the glass.

So it is, I provisionally surmise, that the new conservative framework serves to strongly contrast and polarize its mistaken ways of collapsing sexual orientation issues and quandaries, into a whole range of familiar (and trite and traditional) good vs. evil categories – within which we can be urged to forget the deep matters we might have in common as humans, on behalf of recognizing how awful and evil and dangerous and demonic those homosexual acts really are. So it serves the ends of our current religious conservative warfare that we collapse deep and difficult and incompletely understood notions and experiences of feeling, body, and bonding into much easier and much more easily polarized notions of particular queer sex acts, or delusional queer self-understandings.

Third, the new conservative religious approach to shore up traditional negative thinking will require us to mistakenly construe a whole lot of things which we simply do not have to understand in only the particular ways such thinking would like to conform us all.

So far as we modern folks can really tell: homosexual acts are just not that evilly powerful, in an informed modern perspective. Neither for that matter are heterosexual acts as sex acts.

Our modern discoveries involve two doors opening.

First, a door opens onto the rest of human sexuality, besides reproduction. And a great deal of non-reproductive human sexuality looks ethically neutral or even positive, aside from reproduction. One main positive is the deep link – at feeling, bodily, and bonding levels of human living – between non-reproductive sexuality and the cherishing of the other person through his or her body, and through your own body. This cherishing of the other person’s body with your very own is hardly limited to exclusively heterosexual people. We commonly acknowledge that sex increasingly becomes dehumanized, mechanical, and compulsive – almost directly to the extent that you stop cherishing the other person embodied, with your person embodied as essential to your sexual interacting with them.

Yet the enforcement of defining away this cherishing away for non-heterosexual people is just what the traditional negative views will reliably accomplish.

As I said earlier, the moment you exclude the embodied cherishing that undeniably goes on between non-heterosexual people, you are setting up your understanding to define away much of what we moderns understand to be central and true of sexuality in human nature. So you define some non-heterosexual good in life as non-existent. You apply force in your very tradition, your very orthodoxy, to mis-name and mistake an entire deep arena of common human life which both heterosexual people and non-heterosexual people innately have in common as social animals.


Is it common sense fair or compelling to use traditional negative religious ideas and categories to ignore parts of our common humanity which are deep, positive, and which we probably all share? What sort of religious thinking is that kind of orthodoxy?

The gardens of human sexuality according to modern knowledge in our human sciences are verdant, nourishing, and diverse ecologies of human nature. Given what we know, much that was previously unknown appears to be ethically neutral – i.e., this or that aspect of human sexuality can have negative effects to thwart human well being, or it can have positive or good effects to support or nourish human well being, depending.

Anybody who can even temporarily occupy any alternative framework begins to suspect that a strong function or purpose of this tradition or orthodoxy is simply to close the door to the non-reproductive, embodied cherishing that goes on for non-heterosexual people all around the planet.

The second door that modern knowledge opens involves sex and reproduction.

Unrestrained baby-making is no longer the sole or main good in connection with human reproduction. Adult lifespans have increased far beyond what would have been typical in past centuries. Infant and child mortalities – typically at extremely high death incidence in past centuries – have steadily lessened. We have fairly reliable and effective means of contraception, so that preventing or permitting pregnancy is now a part of the modern repertoire of family life. Making babies is just the beginning, as we modern folks spend a great deal of time with raising babies to adulthood, fairly confident now that they will not have much risk of dying helplessly in infancy or childhood or adolescence.

All of that is to say, for modern people baby-making now in post-industrialized countires inevitably means long-term parenting. How you provide for and raise your child is at least as important to us, as the fact that you conceived that child in the first place. Indeed, parenting over the long years deepens and enriches and challenges us in many instances, in ways which even conception and pregnancy as such do not deepen or enrich or challenge us so immediately. For some people, how you provide for and parent your child is even more important than having that baby in the first place. The moral burden has shifted towards parenting, and reproduction is no longer the solitary center of moral value that it might have been in the religious thinking of past centuries.

Furthermore, we are coming to understand a great many things about good or bad parenting. Producing conformed, carbon-copy children is no longer the center of good value that it seems to have been in past centuries. Your child will not necessarily automatically continue in your same occupation or craft. Your child will not necessarily only know what you know. Indeed, our modern expectation is that probably our child will have to cope with and sort through and understand reams of new information about self and other and world, that we barely glimpsed in our wildest imaginative moments. This shift away from parenting as mainly an operation of conformity cannot be too frequently emphasized. It distinguishes modern life from life in almost all preceding centuries before us.

Parenting nowadays is a center whose value is that of raising a child to adulthood as a person who can critically think through and weigh new theories and new evidence.

Prior, ancient centuries always had particular persons who walked these paths of critical thought, empirical investigations, and unusual technically educated competencies.

But the majority of people in an ancient culture before now were not challenged to increasingly live as critically thinking persons. Now we take widespread literacy for granted. Reading, writing, and critical thought are baselines of modern democratic citizenship all around our planet. Equally significant, we take modern paradigms like democracy, equality, human rights, and a whole storehouse of empirical methods for granted. We are not expecting our child to be a peasant, or even a friar, or even a noble lord, who cannot write his own letters. Parenting these days must do way better than raise conformed children to adulthood who can march in lock step to unchanging human circumstances of family life or work. Indeed, we need to be able to process change in ways which prior ages would have found strikingly odd.

Not least, we now expect to live until we are seventy or eighty or ninety years of age. Baby-making and parenting are not the sole center of value for our productive adult lifespans, no matter how important these parts of our life continue to be.

Again these are shifts that are widespread and dramatic. These shifts in what we expect of modern life strongly affect what we make of sexuality, work, family life, and global human community. These shifts are so basic as to be paradigmatic for we who must live in the current era.

In contrast. What the good or the bad depends on when it comes to sexuality and parenting is hardly spoken of, in the war words of the current new conservative religious campaign to vanquish Queer Sinners. The highly idealized image of married heterosexuality simply remains silent about the importance of the new paradigm for the equality of women, say. Or, most of the time, the idealizations of exclusively heterosexual married life do not even acknowledge that something awful like marital rape or domestic violence even exists.

Why is that, I wonder?

If you take the mistaken thinking strategies that are regularly applied to non-heterosexual living, and see how they apply to heterosexual living, the operation of the strategies becomes even clearer.

Since men raping men is regularly mentioned as evidence that all homosexual acts are in some way like sexual assault, we could make the same argument from heterosexual rape. Why isn’t marital rape used as clear evidence that being heterosexual or getting married is an evil and prohibited thing? Why doesn’t domestic violence tell us something about traditional male dominance? Or traditional male gender superiority?

On the contrary. If these thinking strategies are in error when applied to heterosexual interactions or bonding, they may also be in error when applied to homosexual interactions or bonding.

Whether something is good or bad in much of our sexual life depends on complicated and lived mixtures of: (1) the effects on us, individually and collectively; (2) the effects on the other people involved with us sexually and socially; (3) the good or bad qualities or interactions which take place in our sexual relationship; (4) the varying situations and social or cultural contexts within which we are being sexual.

A fine-grained exploration of all of these aspects of ethical or unethical sexual living in today’s worlds leads us to the provisional conclusion – open to ongoing investigation and gaining new information from the flooding sciences – that much of the categorical nonsense traditionally espoused about gender, sex, and related matters is simply not true.

For example. Almost nobody fears these days that oral sex causes tornadoes or crop failure. Many, many couples enjoy oral sex, and most of those couples are heterosexual because most people on the planet are heterosexual. Earlier, religious believers simply knew that oral sex was bad because it did cause such a deep disruption of nature that who knews what awful thing might happen. Perhaps God would send crop failure, or tornadoes, as divine punishment for oral sex. Perhaps nature herself was so disturbed by oral sex that tornadoes or crop failure would result.

Yes, the Patristic Fathers or Saint Thomas Aquinas would at first be astonished that we know otherwise - until that is they were shown the modern evidence, in which case many of them might be as persuaded on a rational basis as many of us already are.

What holds true for changing our views of cause and effect in oral sex holds true for a great deal else in the varying ranges of sexuality and human nature.

Consider more along these lines.

Just our knowing, according to all modern information, that heterosexually interacting and pairbonded creatures are an apparently quite stable majority of the human and animal planetary population, while homosexually interacting and pairbonded creatures are an apparently quite stable minority of the human and animal planetary population; well this set of fairly reasonable modern facts ought to serve to defuse much of the war-mongering fear and controversy being urged upon us in connection with LGBTQ folks. This reliable information could otherwise help provide us with part of our modern foundation for reaching out to include all people, straight or otherwise. unafraid of doing so.

Yet a great deal of the new conservative religious war talk is urging us to flee in terror from the stable homosexually interacting or pairbonded minority of planetary animals and humans – as if they carried their non-heterosexual living as a sort of infectious plague which could conceivably infect and kill off everybody else. Maybe like bird flu? Or we are urged to fight to the death against the people whose non-heterosexual living will otherwise infect and kill us off. Yet these fears are not really rational, so far as we can tell from the best evidence that is available to us.

Surely if homosexual interactions and homosexual pairbonding were so entirely alien and evil and lethal to nature – it would have placed those creatures at such a disadvantage that the carriers would long ago have died out, survived by their thriving exclusively heterosexual betters.

Where do all the queers or trannies come from? Why, from heterosexual moms and dads, inevitably. Who is that queer fellow or that dykie woman? Why, she is my sister, or he is my brother.

Do you see then, why the new conservative rhetoric so desperately wishes to close the two doors that modernity opens for us?

It is easier to see how the force of new conservative religious frameworks automatically collapse the new idea of sexual orientation – along with all the emerging specifics of its possible biology, psychology, and sociology – into a narrow definition of homosexual acts, plus or minus a libertine self-delusion or two? To see how that very easy collapse then dramatically shifts our conversation in favor of harping narrowly on traditional moral categories which successfully defined homosexual acts as sin, going back for centuries?

This dubious new conservative religious strategy is a pat propaganda strategy, simply because it depends on basic definitions which will cause us to exclude both the new idea of sexual orientation, and the new evidence in biology or psychology or sociology which points toward that new idea.

Calling alternative modern thinking propaganda does not actually undo the modern basis for rethinking sexuality, human nature, and of course, sexual orientation variances.

Calling new conservative religious thinking orthodoxy does not actually undo its characteristic functions as – surprise – propaganda.

So let’s review the propaganda or spin standard once again.

What is propaganda-like? What is Used care salesman-like? What is like Modern Marketing spin?

Is spin happening when an argument relies on selective definitions, ahead of our conversation across varying points of view, which just happen to pre-establish that new conservative views will be found to be true and right and compelling?

Is propaganda happening when exclusions or elisions concerning surprising modern evidence are put in place at the start of inquiry – such as the new evidence for the well-established human competencies of non-heterosexual people – thus ensuring that our conversation can only reach a traditional negative conclusions about LGBTQ folks?

It has often been remarked that the new conservative conversation with alternative views so often turns into a monologue. The new conservative believers come to feel that they are talking past the alternative thinking believers, and vice versa. That is because the conservatives are taking one approach, while the rest of the people talking are taking another.

Let’s look at that for a moment.

The typical new conservative religious approach is what we might call a piece of categorical logic. It presumes that a priori traditional categories of negative thinking about homosexual acts must be true – and the challenge is how to confirm that conclusions which pre-exists the conversation or the investigation at hand. But this strategy is far from being what we now call a crucial experimental test of the ideas being investigated.

Thus, if you get very far into a new conservative religious conversation about non-heterosexual living, you will probably find that all sorts of negative analogies are coming up for mention. Non-heterosexual living is like: alcoholism, gambling, childhood neuroses that stem from poor parenting, childhood sexual abuse, and goodness knows what else that is problematic in human life.

Why, you can just talk to any unhappy non-heterosexual person, and you will find plenty to support and exemplify the traditional negative case.

But without noticing it, this strategy of inquiring fails to see that it presumes the definitional framework ahead of time, that if something is going wrong in non-heterosexual living, it is probably derived from whatever is not suitably heterosexual in that person’s life. This circularity is exposed when or if we try to apply the same strategy to heterosexual living.

Why, how easy it is to take any bad thing in heterosexual living, then use that difficulty to argue that heterosexual living caused the bad thing in the first place.

That would not make the argument true.

The problem with this thinking error is that it amounts to what is called a biased search for evidence: it looks for any and all evidence that might confirm the traditional negative categories or ideas, while studiously neglecting or ignoring any evidence that might disconfirm them.

The other problem that is a thinking error involves what we might call The Negative Halo Effect. Social psychologists have discovered in research on interpersonal perception that we tend to ordinarily perceive one another through our readiness to presume associations between various human qualities or traits. We can fall into the errors of either the positive halo effect or of the negative halo effect.

If I am looking at you via the positive halo effect, the one positive quality I notice about you will strongly suggest to me that you probably possess other positive qualities as well. If you are physically attractive to me, for example, I will also be quite likely to assume that you are kind or caring or have some other likeable personal qualities. Anybody who has dated very much knows how misleading this positive halo effect of physical attractiveness can be. Your newest physically attractive acquaintance may actually turn out to be quite unattractive in other ways, once you actually get to know him or her better.

The negative halo effect works, just the opposite.

I meet someone and notice that they seem to have some unattractive feature, so I quickly and strongly presume that they probably have other negative features or traits as well. This gets us into the social psychology research on prejudice, discrimination, and even violence connected with people who are perceived to be non-heterosexual.

Thus, if you combine the negative effects of both types of thinking error, you get square into the ballpark psychologies of what some people have called antigay prejudice, antigay discrimination, and antigay violence.

But most of the time, new conservative religious discourse motors forward, ignorant of its vulnerabilities to these two types of thinking errors. Thus, it cannot examine itself for prejudice or discrimination against non-heterosexual people or against non-heterosexual living, because it cannot step aside from its definitive negative ways of reliably connecting all the orthodox and traditional Christian dots.

Now. All people do biased searches in daily life.

For example, we suspect that our cousin Fred is stealing money from us to buy drugs, and then we find our wallet with that twenty dollars that went missing tucked into his pants pocket that he hung up when he went into the shower. Case closed.

What we didn’t do was search very widely for any evidence that might tell us where else cousin Fred might have gotten twenty dollars. Well, the twenty dollars was already there, wasn’t it, in his pants pocket, in our missing wallet?

What else we didn’t do was conclude that cousin Fred had stolen the money because he is our cousin. Or because we put the money in that particular sort of wallet. Or because it was Tuesday. Or because we had twenty dollars, instead of a hundred dollars, in the wallet.

If we pause to ask ourselves, why not? Probably we give ourselves a common sense answer. Well, common sense tells me that his being my cousin was not the main cause of his being a thief. Ditto, for the other possible causes. The world just doesn’t usually work that way. While, on the other hand, an addict needing drug money does help lead to theft, under at least some well-known circumstances.

Yes, these two thinking errors are made all the time in new conservative religious celebrations of the sheer sinfulness and evil of LGBTQ peoples’ lives.

First off, the new conservative religious search is for negative evidence that confirms the negative ideas we already have about those people, to start with. Secondly, whatever confirming evidence we think we have turned up, it will be attributed to not having a heterosexual orientation.

This thinking error is so easy to carry off, you can learn to do it at the drop of a parson’s hat.

If you wonder how and why every major medical or other professional association in the U.S.A. has gone on record to say that LGBTQ folks are neither criminals or mentally ill, these thinking errors (plus the rest of the available evidence that highlights their mistakenness) is mainly the reason. We are talking about: (1)American Psychiatric Association, (2)American Psychological Association, (3) American Academy of Pediatrics, (4) American Sociological Association, (5) American Academy of Family Physicians. Plus many, many more.

What compelled so many educated people to change their minds about LGBTQ people?

The standardized new conservative religious answer usually involves some slimy sounding narrative about the Homosexual Agenda. Surely we will all be shaking our heads together, and tut-tutting together about the Homosexual Agenda once we hear how this awful campaign to make LGBTQ people normal has so easily defrauded people at the university, the medical center, the mental health clinic, and – even – that alternative thinking church right down the street.

But consider further for a moment.

The memberships of these professional associations are comprised of exquisitely educated people who are often thoroughly grounded in multiple empirical methods for evaluating comparative theories, as well as for testing empirical data. Why should any of these highly informed professional groups have been so unanimously deceived by any so-called Homosexual Agenda – through which you, dear new conservative religious person, can so easily see – which you can so easily decode?

Even if these well-educated scientists and professionals were deceived for a while; surely thanks to the record-setting and compelling clarity of the new conservative, traditional religious views, people would have rushed to correct their deluded conclusions about LGBTQ folks. But that didn’t happen. And there are compelling reasons of logic and of evidence for how that still doesn’t happen.

So where does all of this leave us?

Well, if the new conservative religious believers are going to persuade the rest of us, they will have to better accomplish at least two minimal intellectual tasks.

First, generally speaking, they will have to find ways to explain and verify the negatives that they particularly claim for non-heterosexual living – without being seen to be engaging in the two fundamental thinking errors, that of the biased evidence search, and that of the negative halo effect.

I really urge all new conservative believers to put some effort into trying to avoid these two thinking errors, while getting as far as they can into what exactly is wrong with non-heterosexual interacting, mutual bodily cherishing, and pairbonding. I challenge everyone to proceed by evidence from all available non-heterosexual living, all around our planet; without relying on either or both of the two thinking errors to weigh and understand that evidence. I urge such believers to freely consider all the available animal or human evidence, but scrupulously avoid the two thinking errors.

When I have tried this sort of thought experiment, I could finally only come up with a narrow, circular argument. All I could say in the end was that homosexual acts are wrong because that is what Christians have said the Bible says, for centuries.

This reliance on the traditional, negative reading of scripture still sits with me as a vulnerable and fragile discernment. This is, I remember, exactly the way that Ptolemy’s model of the earth and stars was asserted, against emerging new evidence of the real solar system. This is the way that the Created order of white slave mastery was affirmed.

Of course, I am only too aware that nothing is scripture presumes what we mean these days by the idea of sexual orientation. That idea only surfaced in the late 1800’s. There is no way that any ancient near eastern or early C.E. or medieval text of which we have good knowledge understood this new and mysterious idea of sexual orientation, as we begin to understand it.

I cannot quiet the deep, ongoing hunch that the new conservative religious theories of heterosexuality are mainly efforts to shore up what amounts to flat earth theory.

This hunch is consistent with the real history of early C.E. beliefs, insofar as early Christian thought would have been much more likely to say that all heterosexual living was so tainted by original sin or human falling short of the mark, that only celibacy was a discernible Christian ideal. This hunch is consistent with the real history of the slow steps by which Christian communities became gradually more comfortable with even heterosexual marriage, culminating of course in the recent new conservative believers’ high idealizations of heterosexual marriage for all. This hunch is consistent with the growing storehouse of modern empirical knowledge, opening the two doors that allow us to affirm non-reproductive embodied cherishing, as well as to see that human reproduction in our own era has more than one center of moral value, even shifting a bit towards an ethical critique of thoughtless biological baby-making.

We know, for a fact, that non-heterosexual living, same sex embodied cherishing interactions, and man-man, woman-woman pairbonding is not automatically or innately incompetent or defective on any viable modern measure.

This wide ranging empirical finding of human wholeness or competency among people who are living non-heterosexual lives amounts to a set of very surprising pieces of information, as such. The traditional negative views told us, without question and without qualification, that homosexual acts always meant additional areas of this or that human defect or incompetency. But so far, methodologically rigorous empirical research cannot find evidence for it. Studies which do claim to report evidence of such defect or incompetency – so far - turns out to have serious flaws in its methods.

If you need a vigorous example, just review the research evidence reported by Paul Cameron in U.S.A. He does such poor studies that he has been expelled from good standing as a research psychologist.

Among these repeated, typical flaws of research method is the fact that the study is not carefully set up to exclude influences from just the two types of thinking error that typically show up when people try to understand non-heterosexual living from a traditional, negative point of view. That is, you cannot rely on research results unless and until you can see how the study intentionally avoided its evidence being a result of either the negative halo effect – which is a prejudice effect in interpersonal perception; or of the biased evidence search effect – which always just happens to somehow exclude any contradictory or disconfirming evidence.

Popularly put. If we are going to be persuaded by the new conservative religious claims that non-heterosexual living is dangerous, evil, and constituted as a growing Homosexual Agenda that amounts to war on all good heterosexual people – then we need to see exactly how a non-heterosexual piece of living causes some other bad thing, innately. We also then need to have a sufficient, accurate account of just exactly how – if this innate negative homosexual cause is a real cause of a real horrible effect – some other non-heterosexual people manage to acquire and maintain this or that good competency in their own living, since they, too, are still not heterosexual.

Lacking both of these sorts of repeatable evidence, verifying the awful claims of cause and effect innate to all non-heterosexual living which are being repeated ad nauseam in the marketplace of global ideas – we alternative believers have no choice but to keep on keeping on. It is not, after all, really the end of the world if we stop rushing to judgment about our non-heterosexual loved ones. It is not – and this really matters, too, to an alternative believer – not the end of following Jesus of Nazareth.

Imagine that. Thank goodness. Thank God.

Posted by drdanfee at Thursday, 16 March 2006 at 1:11am GMT
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