Comments: more on the civil partnerships story

The bishops' actions, as reported by Stuart White, made me quite cross.

Posted by Bill Dilworth (BillyD) at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 12:59pm GMT

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

Iain McLean makes a gracious and flattering statement on our constitution's amendment, but if truth be told, we Americans have been terrible hypocrites in letting religion here also dictate what government allows and disallows. One only had to look at the infamous California Proposition 8 and see that organized religion pulls the strings here as well. Perhaps in the country we once rebelled against can we see a true distinction and challenge for justice.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 2:01pm GMT

"One only had to look at the infamous California Proposition 8 and see that organized religion pulls the strings here as well."

Strangely enough, I was under the impression that it was the citizens of California who voted on Proposition 8, and the California Supreme Court that passed on it thereafter, and a federal court now entertaining another challenge.

This still being a free country, churches and secular interest groups and individuals are all free to weigh in on matters of public law. Somehow I doubt that the citizens and the Courts were cowed and coerced by the Mormons.

It continues to amaze me how little is understood about how freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, and freedom of speech are so fundamental in a democracy, that it is the cacaphony of different voices and interests whose unfettered assertions and challenges to assertions provide the premise and rationale for decision-making by the people (or, if you prefer, by the mob).

Posted by rick allen at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 5:21pm GMT

Said here better than I could ever hope:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/are-there-secular-reasons/

Posted by rick allen at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 5:53pm GMT

"Somehow I doubt that the citizens and the Courts were cowed and coerced by the Mormons."

Follow the money. The the word "duped" enter your lexicon?

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 5:59pm GMT

The Mormons have bankrolled the anti-gays will millions...yet Mormon doctrine teaches that in the afterlife marriage will be polygamous and a man may have up to 999 wives... the Moslems only allow 4!

Four of the present Mormon Apostlers are widowers who have been sealed to more than one wife for eternity Although they only live with one in this life.

The Mormon Church abandoned polygamy in 1890, but the leadership practiced it until 1904. Marriage is essential to Mormon exaltattion..the unmarried are servants for all eternity.

The mormon Church is the wealthiest financial institution west of the Misssisssipi river.

Posted by Robert Ian williams at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 6:15pm GMT

"Somehow I doubt that the citizens and the Courts were cowed and coerced by the Mormons"

Certainly not the courts, but the Mormons spent a lot of money in an effort to influence the vote, in which endeavor they were successful.

That said, you are right about the cacaphony of freedoms - would not have it any other way. More spech, not less, more religeous freedom, not less, more press, not less.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 6:22pm GMT

Still, I have to agree with the Quakers. England has a long and checkered history of religious discrimination. It was the direct result of the persecution of many religious groups that our American founding fathers insisted upon the separation of church and state. And, while religious views still compete in the marketplace of ideas, and may have an inordinate influence in the minds of some, it is not a case of the government preferring a particular denomination over another, or forcing particular religious views down everyone's throats--as seems to be the case here.

As an Episcopalian, I believe that the Church of England would, in all important respects, find disestablishment salutary. Aside from the loss of power and prestige by the purple shirts, the church would have to take responsibility for itself, and be more attentive to the people in its pews. Perhaps it would someday elect its bishops, as we do.

Posted by Henry Austin at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 7:19pm GMT

Rick, when the iron hand of demographic change gives voters in multiple states an opportunity to undo these bigoted restrictions on marriage by a simple majority I trust that you will defend the results of those elections with as much support for the will of the people. Because no matter how hard you try to fight it justice and mercy will prevail. Just please remember to defend those election results, too.

Posted by Dennis at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 7:21pm GMT

Forgive my ignorance, but I haven't seen this spelled out in any of the linked articles I've read...

Just what would happen if a religious group conducted a ceremony for a same-sex couple on its premises? I see that it is illegal to do so (and to use "religious language"!!!), but what would happen if someone did it anyway?

Do they still throw people in the Tower of London? Chop off their heads? Hang them? Inquiring minds want to know...

Posted by Doxy at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 8:03pm GMT

"The Government has yet to decide whether to back the amendment. It wants to avoid another confrontation with church leaders, having had to back down recently over the employment of gay staff in religious organisations after an intervention by the Pope." - Times on Line -

So, then; an intervention by the Bishop of Rome has inhibited the British Government from implementing what is seen by certain Christian religous bodies in the U.K. as the more charitable action of tolerance towards faithful same-sex couples, by allowing them to seek the blessing of their Churches?

Thank God there are some Bishops of the Church of England who have enough Christian charity to at least allow other Christian communities to do what they see as the work of the Gospel towards members of their Churches who seek the blessing of God on their legally-contracted partnerships.

Let's hope that the Quakers and the other religious bodies in the U.K., who do not harbour the same parsimonious lack of care for the LGBT community that has been exhibited by +Winchester
in the House of Lords lately, will spur the British Government and the hierarchy of the Established Church to vote for Lord Ali's Amendment.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 9:42pm GMT

Proposition 8 is a little off-topic, but ... as far as I'm concerned, just because "we the people" voted for something doesn't automatically make it right. "We the people" approved laws discriminating against blacks and women. It took the Supreme Court to start changing those laws.
Back on topic, I admit I'm a Yank, and therefore don't understand the complexities of British law and custom. But am I right in thinking that Tuesday's and Monday's articles state that, as of now, Quaker, Unitarian, Liberal Jewish, and other religious institutions can't hold wedding or other ceremonies for gay or lesbian couples with Civil Partnership licenses? That religious institutions can't carry out their rites as they believe God (or a Higher Power) is leading them? My mind boggles!
If a rabbi, priest, minister, shaman, or whomever grants wedding rites to a civilly-partnered couple, of what concern is it to Her Majesty's government?

Posted by peterpi at Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 10:02pm GMT

"I trust that you will defend the results of those elections with as much support for the will of the people."

"just because "we the people" voted for something doesn't automatically make it right."

My intention was neither to defend the Prop 8 results nor claim that garnering a majority makes anything right. It was simply to point out that a successful job of persuasion by a religious minority hardly amounts to that religious group "pulling the strings" of governance.

On the main topic of discussion, I would agree that the British government has no more right to dictate Quaker ceremonies than Catholic ones.

Posted by rick allen at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 2:37am GMT

Any church can conduct any ceremony it likes, but from the point of view of the State it is just a piece of fancy. What is being asked for is the registrar to be present at a one and only Partnership ceremony so that it takes place in a church, meeting house or synagogue or possibly elsewhere with religious words and personnel.

When I married in a Unitarian church, a registrar came out. We used all sorts of words (I wrote the ceremony) but certain legal words had to be said. The registrar heard them, and the marriage was legal.

At present a Civil Partnership has to take place first with only secular language allowed. After that a private ceremony can happen, but it's just a private view about its significance.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 2:58am GMT

Churches have every right to sway votes, as long as they also accept the responsibilities of taxation, etc.

They don't. They shouldn't. Let's make it so they can't.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 4:50am GMT

Quakers in England have a long history, and it includes public acts of disruption and protest. I hope they go back to their roots.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 11:58am GMT

"If a rabbi, priest, minister, shaman, or whomever grants wedding rites to a civilly-partnered couple, of what concern is it to Her Majesty's government?"

It matters to state governments sometimes, too. I was once told by an Episcopal priest in Texas that he could not conduct a wedding without a marriage license.

Posted by BillyD/Bill Dilworth at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 1:15pm GMT


Rick
I have read the link you posted here and I would like to say that I don’t think the main argument supposedly made by liberals “what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made” is actually what we’re saying.

What we are saying is that the state has to make decisions that apply to everyone and therefore have to be accepted and lived by everyone.
Religion cannot claim to be universal. Leaving aside the fact that we do not even have one single Christian voice on any issue and that it would therefore be impossible to speak authoritatively for one religious view, the real problem is that laws applying to me should not be made on the grounds of Muslim principles, just as you would not like it if laws that apply to you were made on the basis of Hindu principles or pagan ones.

The religious freedom you are asking for is really nothing more than the demand that one particular brand of Christianity should be elevated over all other faiths and become the yardstick for secular law – just because you happen to believe in it.
A democratically elected government that has to represent all the citizens of a country simply cannot prefer one group of citizens over another.

In the civil partnership case the irony is particularly apparent . As Simple Massing Priest puts so succinctly: “Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, has written an article for The Guardian in which he explains that the six Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords voted against amendments to the Equality Bill in order to preserve religious pluralism….. But in the name of religious pluralism, +Winton and his ecclesiastical cronies decided that the rights of Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews don't count.”

That is what happens when religious organizations believe that their faith and their faith alone should matter in society.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 1:40pm GMT

I hope to live to see the day when couples of the same sex can marry in church, not least because I think it will be a wonderful day of revelation for the Church. It will be too late for my partner and I but we have been fortunate to be able to celebrate our partnership not once but twice in very blessed circumstances.

Many, many years ago when we reached our twentieth anniversary, we were invited to hold a service of thanksgiving in one of our ancient cathedrals. For logistical reasons, it eventually took place in a royal chapel! It was a very grand affair, lots of pomp and ceremony, specially composed music, the works. A hundred and fifty people: family, friends and work colleagues, attended.

When the opportunity finally came that we could initiate a civil partnership, we had to think long and hard whether it was necessary after so long together, and whether we were prepared to go for a ‘second best’ option. In the end, we decided it was important for us to have our relationship recognised in law. Our partnership had already been acknowledged by those important to us at that service twenty years earlier but we felt we wanted something ‘legal’. Again, a hundred and fifty people attended, including clergy friends, and the Registrar and her team did us proud. They filled the council chamber with flowers and candles. More importantly, the local policy is that there should be no difference between gay and straight civil ‘weddings’ and we were not allowed to design our own ceremony. So we again had ‘the full works’; everything from the opening challenge – did anybody present know any just cause or impediment, etc.; through the taking of vows “to death”; and then the exchange of rings. Finally, the pronouncement “by the powers vested in me” that we were Civil Partners.

The amazing thing was that it proved to be a deeply spiritual occasion certainly for us and I know for all those present. Perhaps even more so than that church service many years before. Somehow, despite the ban on any religious element, God made His way to that town hall on that Spring morning and we rejoiced in His presence. We need not have worried that we were not having a church wedding, at all.

Posted by Terence Dear at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 3:20pm GMT

"Religion cannot claim to be universal."

If that is so, then Christianity can no longer claim to be Christianity.

"A democratically elected government that has to represent all the citizens of a country simply cannot prefer one group of citizens over another."

But recognition of religion freedom does not prefer one group of citizens over another. It simply recognizes, across the board, that there are areas into which the democratically elected government will not intrude.

"As Simple Massing Priest puts so succinctly: “Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester, has written an article for The Guardian in which he explains that the six Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords voted against amendments to the Equality Bill in order to preserve religious pluralism….. But in the name of religious pluralism, +Winton and his ecclesiastical cronies decided that the rights of Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews don't count.”"

Please note I don't disagree with you about this inconsistency, though I would ground my position in the concept of religious freedom rather than in that of religious pluralism. "Pluralism" strikes me as a value derived from pragmatism, whereas the notion of religious freedom is rooted in the inherent dignity of the human person, the prior value of free consent and the inviobility of conscience.

So if Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews want to recognize as marriages unions which the state doesn't recognize, they should be free to do so, just as the Catholic Church should continue to be free not to recognize unions in conflict with its understanding of marriage.

Posted by rick allen at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 3:50pm GMT

Terence,
thank you for your very moving and affirming story.
It is true that God is with us wherever we celebrate our loves however much people may rant and rave against it. Thankfully, he isn't tied down by their certainties and attempts to place obstructions in our paths.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 4:06pm GMT

BillyD, if a Texas TEC priest married a same-sex couple, that couple's marriage would not be recognized by the state of Texas, but the state of Texas can not bar the priest from performing such a ceremony -- although, depending on the bishop, the bishop might be very upset. In which case, the priest might be in hot water, but the hot water would come from the TEC bishop.
To use another example: Reform Judaism has decided that Reform Jewish rabbis, if they wish to do so, can perform full religious marriage ceremonies for Jewish gay and lesbian couples. Those marriages are valid in the Reform Jewish movement. The state of Texas won't recognize such marriages, and those religious marriages will have no legal or civil validity under Texas law. However, neither the state of Texas, nor any local Texas government, can prohibit Reform Jewish rabbis from performing such religious ceremonies.
To me, it sounds like in Great Britain, Parliament HAS prohibited religious ministers from performing religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples with Civil Partnership licenses. That is, not only will the British government not recognize such marriages as valid marriages, but Liberal Jews, Quakers, Unitarians, or any other religious denomination can't even perform gay or lesbian religious marriage ceremonies for members of its own flock, even if those ceremonies are valid for those religious denominations and those religious ministers have the religious authority to do so.
If I'm reading articles here correctly, that's the difference. Texas won't recognize such ceremonies for civil purposes, but can not make it illegal for ministers to perform them. Great Britain does make it illegal.

Posted by peterpi at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 4:51pm GMT

Thank you Terence Dear for sharing that wonderful experience that most of us aspire. It is indeed surprising in how and when God makes His/Her way into our lives. That is s a "successful job of persuasion" on behalf of God if I ever did see one.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 5:55pm GMT

I think it is worthwhile to quote from the NExt Left article to which Simon linked, to answer RickAllen's PoV:

"I don't want a 'secular society' any more than the Bishops do. But I do want a secular state.

This is because there is no such thing as 'religion' - there are, rather, religious viewpoints, plural and frequently conflicting. So when the state bases its laws on the precepts of a religious viewpoint, it thereby, inevitably, takes sides between different religious viewpoints. It plays favourites between citizens with different religious (or anti-religious) beliefs.

The demand for a secular state - a state which does not act from specifically religious considerations - is a demand that the state stop playing favourites like this. It is a demand for the equality of all believers - and non-believers - in the eyes of the state. And, frankly, if you don't believe in that basic principle of civic equality then you have no right to call yourself a democrat."

Posted by IT at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 6:20pm GMT

Peter, I think you might have misunderstood slightly. For clarity, marriage and civil partnership law in the UK stands as follows (in my understanding):

There are two types of (heterosexual) marriage ceremony in the UK: religious, and civil. Marriages in an Anglican church require only that the priest be present and the register signed, because Anglican priests are automatically also marriage registrars - one of the privileges of Establishment. Other churches, and synagogues, can legally marry people, but the local (civil) registrar has to be present to hear the vows and watch the signing of the certificate. I always thought it must be quite a nice job to have, to spend a lot of time visiting weddings!

Civil marriage is held in a council registry office or (since a more recent liberalisation of the law) in any building licensed for that purpose, such as a hotel or stately home. It is presided over by the registrar and no religious references - poems, hymns, prayers - are allowed.

Civil Partnerships are equivalent to civil marriage and are carried out in exactly the same way with one tiny legal difference: in marriage, the couple saying the vows is the legal contract, while in civil partnership it's signing the register. But otherwise it's identical, including the prohibition on religious references.

This means that gay couples with religious faith have absolutely no means of having their Civil Partnership as a religious ceremony - by law it has to be without religious content.

Any religious community can offer whatever ceremonies it likes to whoever it likes, and plenty of gay couples have celebrated their relationships in churches and synagogues. But these celebrations are merely ceremonial and have no legal significance.

The current debate is about whether those religious communities that wish to offer civil partnership ceremonies to their gay congregants should be allowed to do so, on the same basis that (non-Anglican) churches to marry straight couples: have a religious ceremony that counts as the legal ceremony as long as there is a registrar present.

It is interesting because there are 20-something Anglican bishops in the House of Lords, and they are being asked to vote on this. The Church of England currently prohibits gay commitment ceremonies and it certainly wouldn't (immediately) be taking advantage of any new provisions; but its commitment to religious pluralism is being tested because the bishops are being asked to vote for these provisions so that Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews and others can.

Posted by Olivia at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 7:19pm GMT

Rick
I think we agree about the conclusion that churches should be free to govern their own internal affairs, so we don’t really have a big argument here, although I suspect we might have different definitions for where the internal ends and the public starts.

So just to respond to your comment that Christianity can no longer claim to be Christianity if it isn’t universal, I think we have to separate out two different things. One is that Christians believe that the claims of their faith are universal, and we are all free to believe that.
But we must not make the mistake of deducting from this that we have a right to impose our religion on those who do not share our views, or that we try to use laws to force others to live according to our faith. To that extent, democracy is the universal good that has replaced theocracies.

And so I agree with you that the state should not intrude into religion, but at the same time, if some religious groups are asking the state to be allowed to have registrars present at the religious service for Civil Partnerships, then other religious groups do not have the right to try and stop them.
The only alternative is for the state to separate the legal aspects of marriage from the religious ones altogether and opt for a system like, say the German one, where the church can only “marry” you if you can show that you have already been legally married in a register office.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 8:29pm GMT

Thankyou Terence, for your testimony of God's presence with you in your partnership. This is quite in accordance with the Maundy Thursday antiphon:

"Where Charity and Love are, there is God"

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 8:53pm GMT

Peterpi
That civil partnership or marriage ceremonies must not contain any religious component was the State's way of accommodating the wishes of the churches which wanted to make sure that if you wanted religion you got it from the church and nowhere else.

As Pluralist explained, any church is free to perform religious marriage or civil partnership ceremonies, provided their own internal regulations allow it. This has nothing to do with the state.

But unlike in countries like Germany, where the church cannot "marry" you until you have already been legally married in a register office, priests are empowered to act as registrars and can conduct marriages that are legally valid as well as meaningful from a religious point of view.

What the Quakers, the Unitarians and the Liberal Jews are now asking for is the right for their priests and rabbis to act as registrars for civil partnerships too. If that right is granted, same sex couples can have one ceremony in a church or synagogue or meeting house and do not have to have a register office service first followed by a religious blessing.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 8:56pm GMT

Erica, I don't think we disagree on broader principles (though not everyone on this thread would agree with even those). But "where the internal ends and the public starts" is indeed the $64,000 question.

"[I]f some religious groups are asking the state to be allowed to have registrars present at the religious service for Civil Partnerships, then other religious groups do not have the right to try and stop them."

I would say, rather, that, yes, anyone, religious organization or not, has a right to advocate about any particular matter of public interest. But religious organizations in particular need to take a hard look at whether their advocacy on shrinking the area of "internal religious affairs" for others might set an unfortunate precedent for themselves.

Posted by rick allen at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 12:15am GMT

Thank you for the clarification, Olivia & Erika. The German model is fine by me.
But, this being English law, I think what the Liberal Jews, Unitarians, and Quakers are asking for is only fair. If conservative religious ministers don't want to perform such rites, they can have the backbone to say "No!" It also sounds like the CofE (or at least some of its Lords not-very-Spritual) like throwing their weight around.

Posted by peterpi at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 1:25am GMT

Recognition, not prohibition peterpi, for the individual denominations under HM Government.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 3:11am GMT

Charles Raven states; "There are courageous bishops like Michael Scott Joynt in the Church of England, but they are very much the exception than the rule."

How ironic...Scott Joynt introduced divorce and re-marriage to the Cof E.

Posted by Robert Ian williams at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 6:38am GMT

Erika - my understanding is that's not quite correct - there would still need to be a civil registrar present at a Quaker, Unitarian or Liberal Jewish wedding for it to be a legal partnership ceremony. But currently even this isn't allowed.

I could be wrong ...

Posted by Olivia at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 8:21am GMT

"... there are areas into which the democratically elected government will not intrude."

This is not the issue. But that some sects want to intrude on civil laws and good government.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 8:35am GMT

"But religious organizations in particular need to take a hard look at whether their advocacy on shrinking the area of "internal religious affairs" for others might set an unfortunate precedent for themselves."

Doesn't seem like it.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 8:40am GMT

Olivia
yes, that's what I thought I had said.
Anyone can perform a religious blessing, but for it to be a legal marriage/Civil Partnership you need a registrar to be present.

That's what the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews are asking for and that's what the 7 English Bishops have blocked in the House of Lords because they fear that it would open to doors to intolerable pressure on them to do the same!

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 9:39am GMT

Rick
I don't remember whether you are in Britain or in the US?
In Britain, it does not seem fair that every citizen has one vote, but those who find their views represented by the conservative spectrum of the CoE have much more political clout because Bishops have the right to vote in the House of Lords. As we’ve just seen, this represents some considerable political power.

Either all religions have the same right, and all other organizations too, in which case your upper chamber would be composed of special interest groups according to some mathematically relevant key, or no special group has special rights and citizens each have one vote with the House of Lords being an upper chamber made up of independent people who do not represent a powerful organization.

There can be no doubt that the each priest has the right to talk to people about what he or she believes to be moral, just like you and I can have the same conversation.
But when, like in America, the Roman Catholic church uses its considerable political clout and money to influence public opinion in order to influence laws that then also apply to people who do not share the same beliefs, we have crossed the line of what ought to be morally (and maybe legally) acceptable.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 9:47am GMT

Let's just be clear about the House of Lords voting.
First it was eight serving bishops (i.e.ignoring the two retired bishops who are also life peers) who voted en bloc in the Lords recently.
Second, they weren't voting on the Civil Partnerships matter. No vote on that was taken, yet.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 10:49am GMT

Simon
sorry I must have misunderstood.
I read Ian MacLean's sentence "On 25 January, you were one of the bishops who helped to defeat the Government in the House of Lords on the Equality bill. At the heart of the debate were three amendments which sought to make religious organisations’ exemptions from anti-discrimination law as wide as possible." to say that there had been three amendments that were debated and voted on in the same process.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 11:34am GMT

A few small points from one of those who started this:

1. Yes, a US court would certainly find the present law unconstitutional, as violating the First Amendment which forbids Congress from interfering in the free exercise of religion. We explained this in the letter to the Times.
2. Quakers in England are in a slightly different position because under the Marriage Act 1753 we were given the same privilege as Anglican priests, to conduct our own marriages according to our own procedures. This after 100 years of persecution. But our Yearly Meeting last year, which decided (prayerfully) that we want to recognise civil partnerships in Meeting houses, did NOT ask our registrars to break the existing law, so we still want the Alli amednment...
3 ... despite Terence's very moving post in this string
4 if the Alli amendment is rejected, Quakers might think about civil disobedience but that is not for me to say!

Posted by Iain McLean at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 12:05pm GMT

"But when, like in America, the Roman Catholic church uses its considerable political clout and money to influence public opinion in order to influence laws that then also apply to people who do not share the same beliefs, we have crossed the line of what ought to be morally (and maybe legally) acceptable."

And when they LIE and DEMONIZE a group of people with multi-million dollar ads, they might as well have an extra seat in the national assembly, they have in effect had the same uneven power of distortion as the bishops in the house of Lords.

Of course the U. S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for much more of this nonsense with unlimited lobbying by corporations! The gist of all of this is the old saying in the U.S.- the "tail's wagging the dog", and as they used to say in England, "that's not cricket".

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 12:09pm GMT

"But when, like in America, the Roman Catholic church uses its considerable political clout and money to influence public opinion in order to influence laws that then also apply to people who do not share the same beliefs, we have crossed the line of what ought to be morally (and maybe legally) acceptable."


But Erika, here you're back where we started, with the idea that democracy requires the suppression of religious advocacy on public issues. Why?

Take an example. Here in America the vast majority of states still have capital punishment. The Catholic Church opposes it. Last year in New Mexico the death penalty was finally abolished. The Church even honored Governor Richardson in a ceremony in Vatican City.

Now, the Church didn't change New Mexico law. The legislature did. Was the Church a major factor in the change? I think so. So was that somehow illegitimate, an exercise of theocracy? Does the principle of secular government require that the courts restore the death penalty? Of course not.

Posted by rick allen at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 1:33pm GMT

I took a wedding service on the green outside this house which was written by me according to Pagan views, which was apparently meaningful to the couple (I say this because it wasn't that long after that he went and slept with a neighbour). The ceremony was nothing but fancy from the point of view of the State; however, they'd been to a register office first.

When I was married at the Unitarian church it was different because it happened there and only there, with a registrar present. That is all that is wanted regarding Civil Partnerships - for he or she to turn up and do the necessary legals, and for the ceremony to be done according to Unitarian understandings, which in my case meant I wrote it and I saw the minister (she was in Russia at the time).

Posted by Pluralist at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 2:27pm GMT

Erika
Yes, the three amendments on which votes were taken all related to the wording of Schedule 9 Clause 2, which deals with exemptions for religious organisations from the anti-discrimination clauses.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 2:59pm GMT

Rick:

I think the two examples are radically different in their effect. The church's principled opposition to the death penalty and its public support therefore hurts no one, deprives no one of rights afforded to others.

OTOH, its opposition to same-sex marriage hurts anyone who loves another of the same sex, deprives them of the right to marry the person they love, a right enjoyed by anyone who is heterosexual.

Posted by Pat ONeill at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 4:21pm GMT

I am one who, frankly, detests the influence of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church to influence USA public opinion in the area of civil marriage for same-sex couples. The LDS church, in particular, spends tens of millions of tax-exempt dollars on very effective advertising persuading the general public that allowing same-sex civil marriages will somehow force houses of worship to perform religious marriages, and lead to The End of Western Civilization.
I have thoughts about Western Civilization’s survival if same-sex civil marriages will End It, but that’s another topic for another day.
I rage at these two churches' very ability to run such campaigns.
But, …
I am enthusiastic when religious institutions publicly advocate FOR same-sex civil marriage!
Freedom for one has to be freedom for all. And the answer is not to prevent churches I don't like from speaking out, but to offer more effective advocacy to the public that these churches are wrong. That Civilization will not Collapse. That same-sex civil marriages will not force religious institutions to offer religious rites.
If religions are THAT weak, their call from their Higher Power is thin gruel indeed, IMO.
Yes, public apprehension about GLBT issues is strong, but we supporters have not done an effective job of persuading the public that our cause is the right thing to do. And our failure to persuade is not the fault of our opponents.
On British civil partnerships, it would be cricket, a level playing field, if all houses of worship had civil registrars available to register Civil Partnerships on the same basis -- CofE included. If Their Lordships feel that puts pressure on the CofE, then I would argue that they need to buck up, and make sure their call from God and Jesus Christ is stronger than the call from the State.

Posted by peterpi at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 4:40pm GMT

Perhaps Rick has a point, anybody shouldn't be deprived access to lobby their legislator (corporations and limited partnerships could be another matter). But where do we draw the line when it comes down to lying and defaming? And how much unequal lobbying should we allow in our societies?

I still stand on the fact that religion definitely had a privileged hand in getting laws passed in both lands that limit the rights of others to the benefit of nobody, including God.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 5:49pm GMT

"Allowing civil partnerships to occur in places of worship will permit ministers of religion and congregations to show their support for loving unions." - Aaron Goldstein, The Guardian -

And is this not the real point at issue in the matter of allowing religious organisations to preside over the faithful, committed, monogamous relationships of their adherents?

The Liberal Jewish community is obviously streets ahead of the Church of England in it's acceptance of committed partnerships among its congregations.
Why is the word 'liberal' so offensive to Church hierarchies, when the chief benefit of being a Christian is that we are 'freed from the law of sin and death' by the Incarnate Christ?

Perhaps the Church favours the same Tom-catting in sexual matters as pertains in the heterosexual realm - despite the legal and religious sanctions afforded to them? Why is it that committed same-sex relationship are not encouraged by the Church, when sexual promiscuity 'in the dark' has hitherto been the only possibility for gays to express their God-given sexuality.

If only for the public health benefits, same-sex monogamous relationships should be given equal acceptance. However, the spiritual benefits of a committed same-sex partnership, blessed by the Church, will ensure the LGBT community that they are no longer outcast, excluded from the Body of Christ. "I, when I am lifted up, will draw ALL people to myself" - the words of Jesus.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 8:50pm GMT

"There are courageous bishops like Michael Scott Joynt in the Church of England, but they are very much the exception than the rule. Tied to a fiercely liberal establishment by bonds of legality and history, the Church of England would need extraordinarily courageous and clear minded leadership to reverse the current trend, but that seems to be an increasingly remote prospect. Nonetheless, we can thank God that as the dissolution of the historic centre represented by Canterbury gathers pace, in his providence the basis for a new and vital focus of global Anglicanism has emerged in the faith confessed afresh in Jerusalem." - Charles Raven, GAFCON -

This sort of rhetoric, being circulated by an ex-Church of England minister, betrays his sympathy with the GAFCON movement. Interestingly, the Bishop of Winchester is being regarded by Raven and GAFCON as a 'courageous bishop' among very few in the C.of E. prepared to embrace the agenda of the 'Jerusalem Statement' issued by the GAFCON Primates. Mr Raven is not now a priest of the Church of england, but is symptomatic of those in the Church who are emphatically opposed to what they see as the 'Liberal' sympathies of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Such disloyalty to the Mother Church of England is surely not to be in any way encouraged by the Communion at large.

If this is the sort of sodality which is courting the company of ACNA and the Global South - in company with the Archbishops of Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, Southern Cone and Sydney, then Canterbury as our Founding See, might well be expected to cede it's primacy to Sydney or Uganda. This, of course, may never happen, but the signs of a takeover bid are already in the offing!

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 9:19pm GMT

The standard conservative religious argument is that when something/anything in law or public policy can be used to (A) burden-penalize, (B) hinder, or (C) prevent some mutual aspect of committed adult same sex relationships; ... then...

1. the queer folks so hindered are necessarily benefitted, according to the settled presuppositional religious views ... burdened, hindered, prevented from the presupposed categorical wrong/evil that such closed conservative religious views simply declare the phenoms of queer folks to be no matter what ...

2. the larger network of folks somehow related (six degrees of separation?) to those queer folks are benefitted, as some sort of wrong/evil has been opposed/hindered/prevented by the law or public policy ...

3. Everybody, everywhere is globally benefitted since the wrong/evil is not being sanctioned or valorized or recognized ...

Of course if any/all of these presuppositions turn out to be partly or wholly mistaken, then the whole business is something else ... something that most likely rhymes with power ...

smells like pride? Admires its own reflections, like idolatry? Alas, Lord have mercy.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 12:29am GMT

I wonder just how much these discussions of religious versus secular morality mean in a world where people howl with astonished outrage over the adulteries of a sports celebrity, and barely make a peep of protest when their own government tortures and murders prisoners of war.

Posted by Counterlight at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 12:37am GMT

Peterpi
"Freedom for one has to be freedom for all. And the answer is not to prevent churches I don't like from speaking out, but to offer more effective advocacy to the public that these churches are wrong."

Speaking out is one thing, funding massive campaigns is quite another.
Doesn't there have to be an even playing field? How are you going to engage in effective public advocacy against a massive organisation that uses tax exempt funds to lobby against the civil rightsof other tax payers?

That's leaving aside the question that these funds are from people who may well strongly disagree with the church on this issue, I'd like to add! They're members of ther church because of their faith in God not because of the politics of some of its noisy bishops!

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 7:26am GMT

"I wonder just how much these discussions of religious versus secular morality mean in a world where people howl with astonished outrage over the adulteries of a sports celebrity, and barely make a peep of protest when their own government tortures and murders prisoners of war."

I think the key word is "sports celebrity." I don't know how it is across the pond, but American popular sports culture invests far too much value in figures like Tiger Woods. The public expects a sports hero - in some sports at least - to be a model human being, as well as an athlete. Tiger fed the machine with his charity work, his image as a married family man who 'deserved' privacy, etc etc etc. And I think, in some circles [not mine!] that part of the uproar is that he is a man of color betraying a whiter than white wife, and fulfilling some racist notions about Black men and sexuality. And, as in alcohalism, the higher your position, the more enablers you have. And, having been in the gallery at a couple of pro tournaments, let's just say the golfers are not the only pros around.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 1:30pm GMT

Counterlight, I think you are right to be concerned about straining gnats and swallowing camels. At the same time, I don't think its a matter of choosing between being concerned about both matters of violence and matters of sexual morality. Since both are addressed by Jesus and Paul and the Torah, both must be the concern of the Church. I would like to think that the sexual matters get more attention because they happen to be more directly contested. I would like to think that.

Erika, on the issue of "war chests," I think, in the most recent highly publicised state battles here in America, the money on both sides was roughly equal. Which is just to say, I don't think either election was simply "bought." But its a real concern.

And I have to say that I have a problem with the churches being so heavily involved in these contests--not from a political point of view, where, as I've probably made myself boringly clear, I think they have a perfect right to particate, but from the point of view of internal allocation of resources, and the danger that the churches will become identified with a single political program or faction.

Posted by rick allen at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 1:59pm GMT

The following from Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes sums it up pretty well for me:

"This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation....

"Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to laymen....Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city; from priests they may look for spiritual light and nourishment. Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission....

"Often enough the Christian view of things will itself suggest some specific solution in certain circumstances. Yet it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church's authority for his opinion. They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good."

(I have cut a lot to keep within the 400 word limit. But the whole is available at the Vatican webside, in a host of languages.)

Posted by rick allen at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 4:16pm GMT

I don't like these churches' spending against same-sex civil marriages either, but the answer is not to tell them they can't advocate.
The answer, as people have pointed out in the WO debate, is to use better arguments, to show why these people are wrong.
Do we prevent churches from using their non-profit status to publicly speak out? That creates its own set of problems. I like it when the RCC, for example, speaks out against policies that hinder or punish or demean those who are poor or homeless among us. Or when it advocates for health care for all. I like it when it speaks out against the death penalty. That voice also gets silenced if we categorically tell all organizations that have a non-profit status that they can't use those funds to advocate.
I don't know all the answers. But I feel silencing the churches isn't the answer. From their perspective, they have a divine injunction to speak out. From a civil perspective, they have a First Amendment right to speak out. We have to do a better job of 1) educating the public, and 2) persuading the courts this is wrong. But 2) has ways of being over-ridden if 1) isn't accomplished.

Posted by peterpi at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 5:38pm GMT

The whole business is confusing and confused, when loudly repeating lies against women and queer neighbors is abstractly framed as a matter of church/believer conscience, along with a nice bit of public preening about how one is just following one's legacy/conscience, topped off with reading yet another round of junk science about queer folks or about women, right from one's presuppositionally settled scriptures. Whole church life industries are busy, counting on this confused business as usual, at least in USA on the religious rights.

Public and church conversations may find it quite difficult to get to the rock bottom issues of falsehood, false witness, idolatry, bad science read from scripture, and the like; all by having limited recourse to the more abstract meta-narrative which deliberately spins and obscures the rock bottom realities?

Thus we end up all too mildy, too politely debating nasty flat earth beliefs formed out of drummed up allegations - about queer folks and/or women and/or cosmos and evolution? - as if those legacy ideas were still quite reasonable intellectual alternatives, dillemas which accidentally happen to also be quite far removed from empirical hypothesis testing and tested data and gasp, common sense reasoning?

The egregious model for all that talk is nothing but the standard, common, ordinary Confidence Game run on the folks duped.

Alas, Lord have mercy.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 11:27pm GMT

Can't resist C. Ravens. His basic assertion is quite common here in USA on the religious right: If same sex couples are allowed to marry, then that redefines (decode: spoils, tarnishes, dirties) traditional marriage. Suddenly, no sane or decent-minded straight couple would want to be mistaken for having gotten involved in any way in such a vague innovation (decode: dirty, icky, homosexual business). Suddenly, no sane or decent-minded cleric/church institution would want to be anywhere near all that yuck, either.

Fascinatingly - this pretty much simply transposes the customary-traditional historical-theological narratives against mixed culture/race straight couples - who were also defined/viewed as essentially dirty in ways that a congruent culture/race couples could not possibly be - to same sex couples. And people are pausing thoughtfully in droves all around, wondering ....

It all counts, still, on queer folks being dirtier categorically in any number of realms and connotations than straight folks, period?

You go, CR, go, go, go, go.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 26 February 2010 at 11:39pm GMT

Rick
“This Council exhorts Christians”… “should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion”

As I said, I have no problems with Christians talking – it’s what we do on this forum, after all.
But “enlightening through honest discussion” is not the same as “using our money to take away the civil rights of others because we believe they ought not to have them”.

You can try to enlighten me, by all means, but you cannot, or should not be able to make the Government enforce your enlightenment upon me and restricting my civil liberties because it happens to conform to your opinion of the morals of my life.

As for “preserving mutual charity”… that would have been nice!


Peterpi
When big money is being thrown around it’s no longer a case of having the better arguments but of being able to fund the showier PR, have the better public platform etc.
If churches really want to do this, they should at the very least become ordinary tax paying organizations. There is something shockingly immoral about using un-taxed funds to lobby against tax payers and it has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It’s just unethical to claim that you’re a charitable organization and should be tax exempt, when you then act as any other political player on the national scene.

Posted by Erika Baker at Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 8:45am GMT

Brava Erika. The trouble also arises in a "dumbed-down" society that tends to be led down the primrose path, such as surely is the example in the U.S.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 2:11pm GMT

The domestic partnership bind is the result of bias towards gay people. Instead of seeing gay folks as people with a particular natural orientation, they are seen as a "moral problem". Organized religions are a huge contributor to this mind set. Yet, some people in the gay community seem to be willing to understand that domestic partnerships are an effective way of getting legal recognition. Check out the views of Sir Elton John. http://www.theinsider.com/news/1343675_Elton_John_Prop_8_Didn_t_Pass_Because_They_Went_For_Marriage

Posted by Chuck Inglis at Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 3:02pm GMT

Erika @ 8:45, I agree with your last paragraph, but ...
We should still try to show the fallacies of the other side's arguments. Especially the (hilarious!) argument that if Adam and Steve get married, it somehow harms Eve and Adrian's marriage. We have to show how ridiculous an argument that is. My congressional representative used to say if you think same-sex marriage threatens your marriage, what you need is counseling, not a constitutional amendment!
I agree with you about taxation. The arguments about non-profit status is that these organizations are doing a public good, and need protection or shelter. But, if they want to play with the big boys, and advertise their views as if they were selling detergent or cars or horror movies, they should be treated the same.

Posted by peterpi at Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 5:09pm GMT

" I don't think its a matter of choosing between being concerned about both matters of violence and matters of sexual morality. Since both are addressed by Jesus and Paul and the Torah, both must be the concern of the Church." - Rick Ellis -

Rick could you give us chapter and verse, please?

I don't seem to be able to find too much about sexuality in the words of Jesus as recorded in the scriptures - except perhaps when he gives advice to his disciples about the subject of eunuchs (perhaps referring to one category of eunuch as being possibly homosexual - him, from his mother's womb) in Matthew 19:12)

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 12:13am GMT

The General Synod of The Anglican Church of Canada meets in June. The General Synod planners have set up a web and blog site. The Link is below. Human Sexuality and the related issue of The Covenant are scheduled to be big topics. I see that that young men of the fundamentalist persuasion have already begun posting views on the site.
http://www.ministrymatters.ca/settingsail/join-us-in-preparing-for-general-synod-2010/?utm_source=Anglican+Church+of+Canada&utm_campaign=d0d2ff522b-lent2010&utm_medium=email

Posted by Chuck Wilson at Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 1:44pm GMT

Chuck : I agree with you. in the UK we went for civil partnerships which have exactly the same legal rights and responsibilities as civil marriage. In the US holding out for marriage largely gave them nothing.

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 7:59pm GMT

"Rick could you give us chapter and verse, please? - Fr. Ron Smith on Sunday -

Are you there, Rick? I'm still waiting for quotes.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 1 March 2010 at 9:52am GMT

Merseymike: ". . . in the UK we went for civil partnerships which have exactly the same legal rights and responsibilities as civil marriage. In the US holding out for marriage largely gave them nothing."

But in Canada, that same position managed to accomplish equal marriage.

Posted by Malcolm+ at Monday, 1 March 2010 at 1:46pm GMT

Merseymike:

The problem re: marriage/civil partnership is one of the difference between our two systems of government. Under the US federal system, if a state institutes "civil partnership" (or "civil union" as we generally term it over here), then no other state that does not have the same or equivalent status is required to recognize it. Every state recognizes marriages (at least between man and woman) from every other state.

Further, there are certain federal privileges and rights--most importantly under the tax code--that are only available to those who are "married," not to those who are "civil partners".

That's why "civil union" is so clearly a second-class status in the US, even in those jurisdictions where it is the legal equivalent of marriage for all other purposes.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Tuesday, 2 March 2010 at 6:37pm GMT

“’[M]atters of sexual morality…are addressed by Jesus and Paul and the Torah.’ Rick could you give us chapter and verse, please?”

For Jesus obvious examples include Matt 5:8, 5:28, 5:32, 15:19-20, 19:9, Mark 7:21-23, 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, and John 8:3-11.

I will let you find your own for Paul and the Torah, as I have been out of town for a while. Any simple search engine turns these up.

When did “eunuch” start to mean anything other than one incapable of sex, I wonder? Like the spreading understanding that Jesus’ healing of the centurian’s “pais” implies an indifference to pederasty, it blithely turns the word’s meaning into its opposite and proceeds down its merry way. We will just find what we want.

Posted by rick allen at Thursday, 4 March 2010 at 12:34pm GMT
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