Comments: Religious views about proposed changes to marriage law

Whenever I read something like Cardinal O'Brien's argument (I almost wrote "screed" there) about same-sex marriage, I am reminded of the number called "The Rumor" from Fiddler on the Roof, as the word of Perchik's arrest morphs into all sorts of strange events as it passes from mouth to mouth, ending finally with Yenta's comment: "And that's what comes from men and women dancing!"

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 12:14am GMT

John Milbank's piece, so far as I have read it, is the most brilliant utterance on the subject that I have met. But it seems to be blemished at several points by unsupported anthropological generalities. It would be nice if someone would undertake an equally learned rebuttal that could clarify the issues for all of us.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 3:16am GMT

Yikes, a *bunch* of bishops, Anglican and Roman, jumping the shark. [Thanks for that, Nelson Jones]

Lord, Reform Your Church!

Posted by JCF at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 5:59am GMT

One wonders whether, if the Anglican Church had been more open to the possibility of Blessing Same-Sex Civil Partnerships, there would have been the same pressure - in the Church of England, for what has become known as 'Gay Marriage'.

Whatever the British Government decides on this issue, the Church has a responsibility for the exacerbation of the situation, for having not thought through the only alternative - which would have been to accept monogamous Same-Sex Blessings.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 7:45am GMT

I have been interested to hear many comments/views about this on the grape vine - that those not in favour are not just the "traditionalists" and "evangelicals" as one might expect but also many "liberals".

Posted by AGPH at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 8:29am GMT

In the interview Archbishop Sentamu has with Andrew Marr the Archbishop refers to Article XXX of the XXXIX Articles as prohibiting what has come to be known as - "Gay Marriage" and stating that marriage is between a man and a woman and will therefore require a change in the Law if same sex "marriages" are to be sanctioned - but surely that particular Article is about denying the chalice to the laity and Communion "Of both kind"?

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 8:58am GMT

Can anybody work out what Archbishop Sentamu intended to refer to in the XXXIX Articles?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 11:06am GMT

Gosh, this gush of support for civil partnerships from Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops makes my head spin. Surely the way for them to show they mean it is to make provision for civil partnerships to be honoured and celebrated in churches. It all feels a rather late in the day – but better late than never, I guess.

Posted by Judith Maltby at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 11:29am GMT

John Milbank's piece is fascinating - brilliantly argued and, characteristically, both humane and learned. But I am not only unsure about his conclusions (having mixed feelings on the issue), I am a bit distrustful of the kind of Thomist assumptions he makes throughout. Also, Milbank seems in places to steer dangerously close to the sort of 'Natural Law' arguments he has elsewhere disclaimed. Overall I'm not quite sure what to make of the piece. I would encourage others to read it in full. I can't help but feel it's a bit like a theological equivalent of an MC Escher drawing: beautiful and elaborate, but ultimately premised on an absurdity.

Posted by rjb at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 11:41am GMT

Canon 30B.

Posted by Scot Peterson at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 11:52am GMT

Simon, I continue to be perplexed by Archbishop John's citation of the XXXIX Articles of Religion in opposing "gay marriage". The only references appertaining to marriage that I can find contained therein concern Article XXXII stating that it is lawful for Bishops Priests and Deacons to marry and Article XXV which states that Matrinony is not to be counted as a sacrament.
It's not that long ago that before beginning a public ministry the incumbent had to read out in church the XXXIX Articles of Religion - so it would be expected that an Archbishop of the Established Church would know his Articles!

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 12:30pm GMT

Seems to be a strong Chester influence in that list of episcopal nae-sayers:
Peter Forster - Bishop of C
Michael Langrish - ex Bp of Birkenhead
James Newcome - ex canon Chester Cathedral
Donald Allister - ex Archdeacon of Chester

Posted by robert at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 12:31pm GMT

Well spotted, Scott Peterson.

The problem for the Archbishop of York is that Canon B 30 proves too much, because it is also inconsistent with divorce.

It was never intended to be a legel definition of marriage and it has never operated as such.

Posted by badman at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 1:24pm GMT

The real problem with John Millbank's logic is that he concludes: "In order to seek to prevent such an outcome, it may well be best if the Anglican Church were to move swiftly to permit the blessing of gay civil partnerships in church."

Yet, exactly the same arguments he now uses against same sex marriage were used only a very short time ago against civil partnerships.

If they were wrong then, they're not one jot more tue now.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 2:36pm GMT

This isn't a very long list of bishops. Nine out of the many (too many for me to count including suffragans as well) that we have. It's less than 20% as far as I can work out.

Posted by Concerned Anglican at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 2:38pm GMT

The end of the road is visible from here. Once civil marriage is allowed, the C of E will not be able to hold its position against religious marriage. How can it? Why should it?

Posted by Douglas Lewis at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 2:53pm GMT

V2 asks for a rebuttal of John Milbank's essay. At the bottom of the posting on the Australian website, there are 102 comments, many picking apart his argument in detail.

Milbank seems to have sat at his keyboard (the new site for armchair reasoning)searching his prejudices and stereotypes. He evinces no feeling for actual gay lives. It's like males pontificating on the nature of women.

The argument that male and female bodies are complementary is odd. I've read that the clitoris is so placed that women often don't climax from heterosexual intercourse. Whereas males have a sensitive prostrate gland just inside the anus, readily stimulated by intercourse. Intelligent design? (And people who think the anus is "dirty," seem to have no problem in using the penis for both sex and urination.)

Milbank also thinks that gender difference is necessary for a marriage relationship. In his book "The Homosexual Matrix," C. A. Tripp also thinks difference is important, but he posits that same-sex couples find differences other than gender to provide the resistance that makes relationships work. When my husband and I see two men obviously together, they often are different in ethnicity, age, or race. When we see a couple, one Asian, the other Latino, or one African-American, the other Anglo, our gaydar goes off.

People live the lives that their cultures permit them. We're exploring new ground in gender freedom. Old precedents may or may not apply.

Posted by Murdoch at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 4:59pm GMT

"John Milbank's piece is fascinating - brilliantly argued and, characteristically, both humane and learned."


I got only as far as "the greater propensity of men towards danger, risk, physicality, objectivity, transcendence and the need to be in charge" (while "women tend to be actively receptive") before my stomach started churning at this gender-essentialist *tripe*.

Posted by JCF at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 7:31pm GMT

I spoke to the Archbishop's Press chap. The Archbishop meant Canon B30.

Posted by Peter Ould at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 8:58pm GMT

A correction - the Archbishops' Letter was not read in ALL RC churches - see The Tablet, 17 March, for some examples.

Posted by martin at Thursday, 15 March 2012 at 10:47pm GMT

Milbank writes:
"the greater propensity of men towards danger, risk, physicality, objectivity, transcendence and the need to be in charge"

Men? Transcendence? Oh, that's why churches are so full of men, then?

Being in charge, that I grant you. And having to be so busy to tell everyone what their relationships can and can't be, and can and can't mean. This really is the most obnoxiously patronising article I have read in a long time, sheltering a rather crude binary essentialism behind a lot of long words and complex phrases. Suggesting that the answer to the "problem" is now to rush to religiously legitimise civil partnerships is just insulting. The theoretical apartheid he wishes on gay people, a clever construction to box us in and tell us what we are capable of relationally, to control and limit the range of movement to this minority, is every bit as insulting and demeaning as the real thing.

The thing is that for years LGBT people have been told what our lives can and can't be, and the kind of space that the str8 world will graciously give us. But the genie is now out of the bottle. Equality is what it says - and in fact, it is good for us all. For until we are all free and equal, none of us are.

Posted by JeremyP at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 5:35am GMT

Contra Milbank, I would argue the only thing society would lose if Parliament finally allowed same-sex couples to marry would be heterosexist privilege. Gender is much more fluid than Milbank's theme-park theology can admit. Forcing people into rigid identities leads to stupid practices such as dissolving a civil marriage when one of the partners changes their legal sex and offering the couple marriage.

Once again the church is one of the last bastions of prejudice. It may be too late for patriarchal religions.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by Gary Paul Gilbert at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 7:59am GMT

On a different subject. The petition states: 'I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.'

I trust, therefore, that none of the signatories are divorced and remarried, married to someone who is divorced, has conducted a service of marriage for anyone who is divorced, or (finally) has conducted a service of thanksgiving after a civil marriage for anyone who is divorced.

Posted by Judith Maltby at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 8:58am GMT

The only way to clear egg of the face of Church of England Bishops is to create, like T.E.C. and the Anglican Church of Canada, a Rite for the Blessing of a Same-Sex Civil Partnership - before its too late.

After all, the first women clergy in the Anglican Communion were ordained in Other Church of the Communion. Someone had to break the deadlock!

And now, the first Province-wide open conversation of Faith and Same-Sex Issues has been inaugurated by the Church of Ireland - without embarrassment!

"Hear what The Spirit is saying to the Church" !

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 10:34am GMT

I read many of the critical comments on the Milbank piece, often agreeing. But I would like to see a systematic rebuttal that could be cited as counter-argument if this piece is taken up as theological validation for the opposition to gay marriage. John Milbank represents the liberal position, of yes to civil unions, no to marriage, for anthropological reasons; this is not a priori an untenable position -- the issue needs to be argued calmly and in depth.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 10:54am GMT

while I agree that it would be nice if someone engaged with Millbank constructively and I don't doubt that they will, this is really only of academic interest.

As has been said here before, gay people will not allow straights to define them and to allocate them particular places in society. If anyone really believes that still to be possible they have missed the social development in the last 15-20 years completely.

We already have Civil Partnership and gay people are asking for marriage - that is why the Government is acting in the first place. There is just no way that this train will suddenly stop and gay people will say: Oh look, the church is now willing to bless our civil partnerships, shall we be thankful and ask Lynne Featherstone to abandon all plans for same sex civil marriage?

There are no words that carry the same depth of meaning as marriage, husband and wife.
Which is why gay people already use them. I have often been asked how my wife is, never how my civil partner is. Civil Partnership is the name the things has been given, it is not one we have chosen for ourselves, but it's not how many people see it. In our own hearts we always knew we were getting married.

Add to that that more and more religious bodies “get” it and that the Unitarians, the Quakers and the Liberal Jews have already said they would like to be allowed to conduct same sex marriages, any theological back-pedalling, however deep and meaningful it might be in its own terms, is simply missing the point.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 1:09pm GMT

"Equality is what it says - and in fact, it is good for us all. For until we are all free and equal, none of us are." JeremyP

Well said, JeremyP! - though shouldn't it be 'none of us is'?

Here I must declare an interest - JeremyP and I are engaged to be married :-)

Posted by Laurence C. at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 3:12pm GMT

You're overthinking it, SpiritVat2.{*}

The two best arguments for same-sex (civil) marriage are personal autonomy (liberty), and experience. Same-sex couples ***WANT TO GET MARRIED***. The burden-of-proof will ALWAYS be on those who wish to DENY this autonomous choice.

Experience: when same-sex couples are given the right to MARRY, there's been shown NO harm when they do!

[Au contraire, I believe, but that will take time to prove: that it is actually BETTER for couples, and society, for them to have civil "marriage" rather than "civil union"]

{*} "theological validation for the opposition to gay marriage": theological? I didn't get that from Milbank.

Posted by JCF at Friday, 16 March 2012 at 7:43pm GMT

I have to admit that Milbank's piece comes _closest_ to providing a theological response on the terms of Haller et. al. but with Spirit and JCF am also bound to observe its indebtedness to anthropological assumptions about gender that are not warranted (as JCF says, essentialist tripe).

In a sense, I can respect Milbank for making heterosexuals' need for marriage about *them* along the lines of the old biblical saw about heterosexuals needing more supervision. At the same time, this clearly has not been the rationale of most opponents. After all, they typically consider all SS relationships to be in violation of the rule "fidelity in marriage, abstinence without" rather than an exempted category as JM's paper would seem to lead.

The fact is that the more and more we learn about gender, the less and less actual existence we find it to have. Not to say that it is not, per Genesis, a feature of creation, but any attempt to make it into an objective ontological trait is ill-fated. He is breathtakingly casual about asserting "we are our biology" which is decidedly a materialist and not a Christian anthropology. Yet Christians seem all to ready to import it when it bolsters our gender taboos agreeably. How many folk-theologians do we hear telling trans*folk that "You can mutilate yourself and fill out all the paperwork you want, but you'll always be your genetic material" and how many of them by contrast would say that to an adoptive child?

Posted by Geoff at Saturday, 17 March 2012 at 5:27pm GMT

I think Erika and JCF are a little optimistic. When we consider that the RCC still remains massively opposed to gay marriage, and that John Milbank is the most famous Anglican theologian, even if a solvitur ambulando, fait accompli, solution works in practice in the civil sphere, it may make religious and theological opposition even more entrenched in the religious sphere. The RCC has put opposition to gay marriage and civil unions in the same realm of non-negotiables as opposition to abortion. The onus probandi is very much on those of us who argue against that.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Sunday, 18 March 2012 at 3:16am GMT

I had a few thoughts on Professor Milbanks' article posted myself a few days ago, but - disclaimer - I'm no theologian, so don't expect much :) .....

Posted by crystal at Sunday, 18 March 2012 at 5:17am GMT

I agree, there's little hope for the Catholic church. But I do think that the thinking in the CoE isn't as monolytic as it has often been painted. Only in the last few weeks more and more people have openly called for finding a way of blessing civil partnerships. Yes, they have done it in order to prevent the church from having to conduct same sex marriages. But on the other hand, this developmen was unthinkable only a few short years ago when Civil Partnerships were accepted only extremely reluctantly and only because it was possible to pretend they weren't sexual relationships.
And there has been no major backlash against those who now speak out in favour of blessing CPs. The sky hasn't fallen in, there is no public witchhunt within the CoE.

Unlike when CPs were first introduced the Unitarians now want to celebrate gay marriage, as to the Quakers as do the Liberal Jews. There is no denying that the religious world is slowly adapting to reality.

I don't for a minunte think that gay marriages in religious places will be as normal as straight one any day soon. But people like Millbank are having a rarified theoretical debate with likeminded people and they haven't spotted that the actual reality on the ground is changing around them.

It's a bit like former Socialist and Communist countries trying to introduce a little political freedom when the grassroots were already charging into the West via Hungary's open borders.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 18 March 2012 at 12:40pm GMT
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