Comments: RC bishops issue Report stage briefing on Marriage bill

"Many people within and beyond the faith communities deeply believe that the state should not seek to change the fundamental meaning of marriage."

No-one with any historical memory could make such a statement.

For example, until very recently, a fundamental of marriage was that the woman BELONGED to her husband. Hence, she was "given away" in marriage. Hence, there could be no rape in marriage since, as Sir Matthew Hale put it in his "History of the Pleas of the Crown", a wife "hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract." Hence, adultery was a crime against the adulterous woman's husband, and was not adultery at all if she had no husband - Chief Justice Holt said that "adultery is the highest invasion of property".

This is just one example of a very recent and entirely fundamental change by the state to the meaning of marriage. We no longer see wives as belonging to husbands. In my own lifetime, we have recognised marital rape as a crime.

All the objections to gay marriage come down to two (1) marriage must never change and (2) gay sex is always wrong. But (1) is historically false, because the church has accepted many changes to marriage, including recent and fundamental changes. And (2) is unworthy, although I do suspect that it is the real basis of the church's objection.

Posted by badman at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 11:18am BST

One day all churches are going to be so profoundly ashamed and embarrassed by these pronouncements. I'm staggered that they still cannot see it.

Posted by Erika Baker at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 11:30am BST

QUOTE Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage. END OF QUOTE

This is their error. There is no such thing as 'society's understanding' of pretty much anything. What is there in my view is a set of living-together practices more or less socially tolerated, and contrary to what these folks say, marriage is not socially limited to the procreation of children anymore.

Besides, this is the freakin' roman catholic church we are talking about here. These folks should not be allowed to speak on any marital issues as much as regular lay people are not allowed to speak of priestly things. To each his own. Particularly if they are going to then say really, really silly things.

Posted by Pier at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 2:02pm BST

"openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage"

This should say, "has never been," and would then be true. "Openness to children" (whatever that means to an infertile couple I can not grasp!) and upbringing by their biological parents has been, in many cultures, one aspect of a possible outcome of marriage. Fortunately the Church of England has long recognized that this "use" or "purpose" of marriage is only one among a number, and has explicitly recognized that fact since 1549 by directing that the prayer for procreation "shall be omitted" when the woman is beyond the age of childbearing. It is a basic principle of logic that things that must be omitted in some circumstances cannot be central, and that things which are not present in all instances of an entity cannot be essential to that entity.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 2:41pm BST

I await the RC bishops' report on the abuse of children at all levels within that denomination.

They really should lay off consensual adult relationships in the light of this on-going scandal; combined with the abuse of subordinates / 'employees' - call them what you will, at the highest level in the RC Scottish Church.

They have lost all credibility with the public and with many RCs.

Posted by Laurence at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 3:15pm BST

'All the objections to gay marriage come down to two (1) marriage must never change and (2) gay sex is always wrong.'
Actually no on both counts.
There are many who would affirm and celebrate civil partnerships. And who also believe that the word 'marriage' should be a preserved for the union of a man and a woman.
My concern is that the language of rights and equality is driving the debate. We seem to have no positive understanding of 'difference'. It can only be heard as discriminatory and excluding. I accept that pronouncements from the church centre at present are not helping anyone.

Posted by David at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 8:16pm BST

AS IF all this sectarian gobbledy-gook should have any say in CIVIL law, compared to a loving couple who says "We want to get married!"

Posted by JCF at Thursday, 16 May 2013 at 11:26pm BST

When considering this Roman Catholic opposition to Same-Sex Marriage, one must also take into account the fact that no minister of the Roman Catholic Church is permitted to enter into the married state. Is this because of the dangers of sex?

Therefore, no R.C. clergy-person can possibly be expected to fully understand what marriage is really all about - much less to dictate to other people what may, or may not, be considered as a worthy marriage partnership.

The real objection to Same-Sex Marriage seems to be predicated on the exercise of God's gift of physical sexual expression - which R.C.'s allow to be used for procreational purposes only (otherwise the banning of contraception makes no sense). One might ask, in this case, whether Roman Catholics who practice contraception (to avoid conception) are considered to be equally guilty of misusing their God-given sexuality along with Same-Sex couples.

This is not a silly question - simply because the oh-so-great sin of sexual expression outside of intentionally purposeful procreation, would seem to be committed by both heterosexuals and homosexuals. But is this really what marriage is all about? Sexuality? Or are there other ties of love and affection involved in a good marriage?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 4:29am BST

Laurence you'll have to be careful about child abuse and the Catholic Church. I believe there are more anglican ministers languishing in jail compared with catholics. Celebs, teachers, musicians and indeed "family" members also outweigh the catholic priests. This is not a defence but you cannot have throw away lines. To link child abuse with opposition to same sex marriage is not even worthy of debate

Posted by Joseph Golightly at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 8:09am BST

"We" may well have a positive understanding of difference. No-one suggests that male and female are not different, for example.

But there is no credible reason why difference should mean inequality. And to that extent, the debate is indeed about rights and equality and there is no reason why it should be about anything else.

If individual gay people have the kind of understanding about their own difference that makes them decide that marriage is not for them, then that is to be respected.
But when straights reserve the right to pronounce a difference and to translate that into unequal treatment of gay people, regardless of what gay people want for their own lives, we are no longer about a positive affirmation of difference but about one group putting another firmly in its place.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 8:32am BST

Thank you. But of course the discussion about whether 'difference' is a matter of unequal treatment depends on what we understand is actually being discussed. If this is marriage perhaps we disagree but this is still something I am trying to seriously think through.
But it helps no one when serous debate is dismissed in ways I was responding to above.

Posted by David at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 9:26am BST

isn't the problem that those who oppose marriage equality do it in hyperbolic terms? If you look at the statements made by the RC church and the CoE one in the next post, they don't engage with any differences between marriage and same sex partnerships. They don't affirm the values of same sex relationships while making considered contributions as to why these equal relationships are not marriages.
Instead, they talk of the dangers to society, threats against religious freedom and free speech, diluting the meaning of marriage etc. It's all one huge amount of scaremongering without anyone ever explaining just what this threat consists of.

The only remotely genuine argument is always that gay people cannot have children who are the biological offspring of both parents, and that argument can only hold if you completely disregard any straight couple in the same position. And we never hear why that particular difference should constitute a major threat to the moral world as we know it.

If those who struggle with marriage equality cannot present more intelligent arguments you cannot really blame us for believing that it is all about prejudice and about wanting to retain the sense of superiority over the immoral others. The Archbishop gives the game away when he cannot possibly talk about it after lunch! I have heard nothing that will convince me that this isn't in the final analysis about one great big yuck factor.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 9:41am BST

Joseph Golightly you seem to have misunderstood my comment.

I was, in fact speaking of the RC denomination; and said not a word of the Catholic Church.

Please attend.

Posted by Laurence at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 10:32am BST

Joseph Golightly I find your ad hominem unconvincing. Go lightly !

The RC denomination has lost its authority on relationship and sexual matters because of abuse practiced by its ministers down the decades, its cover up by bishops, cardinals and popes, and the abuse of young men in the care of Cardinal O'Brien by O'Brien himself over decades.

Posted by Laurence at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 10:39am BST

'Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage. It is not too late for Parliament to think again and we urge MPs to do so.'

What a ridiculous comment given divorce statistics. When will the Churches realise that they exist to serve and support all people whatever their circumstances. To use this as an excuse for being concerned about gay marriage is not only scaremongering it is the usual taking of the high moral ground that empties pews in any case. They'll be stocking up on actual stones next when their verbal ones have no impact. They already collude with violence against LGTB persons in other nations.

I know of two gay couples who are excellent parents and provide good family role models and know of no Godly reason why this should not be celebrated and their being given the gift of a marriage ceremony.

The Church of England is not exactly rushing to the aid of straight women in happy marriages who have children as far as vocational freedom goes.

These issues will never be solved by locking loving sons and daughters up in ungodly boxes. I wonder how many gay parents those who have such fearful thoughts actually know or whether pastoral visits to such families are part of their fearful territory?

Many couples both gay and straight choose not to have children or, may be unable to further their desire for them. These are not fearful situations unless the church authorities choose to unleash their fears on those who have already decided to commit their lives to each other in faith hope and love.

Christians are entrusted to pray for Parliament and if Churches don't understand that God is empowering Parliaments on LGTB issues it is further evidence that they don't understand and are not working out their faith 'in fear and trembling' of a holy nature with a God who works in the here and now. God works with and through scientifically and socially informed individuals and societies. Any other thinking leads to fossilised faith and the suppression of Kingdom values.

Posted by Rosie Bates at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 12:20pm BST

Erica thanks again.
Hyperbole is a feature of all sides of this debate of course.
In my first post I acknowledged how poor the 'church' pronouncements are on this subject.
'The only remotely genuine argument' - really? You may well have explored this subject exhaustively (and I always value your postings). You may well be right on this. With all respect, here on this thread it remains your own opinion and you claim it before engaging with how others are trying to make sense of it out of the same concerns to honour the rich diversity of human relating.

Posted by David at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 12:48pm BST

thank you.
Having followed this debate for many years, the arguments seem to me to go in circles.
- Marriage is between a man and a woman, therefore gay people cannot marry.
- Why does it have to be between a man and a woman?
- Because same sex couples cannot have children.
- Why does it matter if they cannot have children when there are many straight couples who cannot have them?
- Because they could have them if they could have them
- Why is having children so important and why do adoption, fostering and step parenting not count?
- Because of some biological kinship presumption that means we can ignore actual biology in favour of the idea of conferring biological kinship rights on straight couples and that just cannot be done for gay couples.
- Why can it not be done for gay couples?
- Because marriage is between a man and a woman.

And those who feel differently are accused of being selfish, not considering the needs of society, "just" wanting equality (as if that were a "just"!), devaluing the institution of marriage (how?), that the church has always supported Civil Partnerships (which it hasn't, and which is still doesn't bless)....
But again, all these things are stated, never explained.

David, seriously, please, if you have any argument you are considering that is not part of this cycle, or if there is anything in my cycle of arguments that is too strongly caricatured and that has more merit than I allow here, please tell us what it is.

Because I really have not heard any other argument. I keep being told that the concerns are sincere and severe, but I have never actually heard what they are.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 1:52pm BST

For all those who want to talk about the "positive understanding" of difference, what is it? What qualities do *all* men have that *all* women do not possess and vice versa? Because I don't see anyone making this argument who also says that some male-female marriages are wrongful because one of the couple lacks some key characteristic.

Posted by magistra at Friday, 17 May 2013 at 2:53pm BST

Joseph Golightly, child abuse is always a dreadful crime, whoever did it. However, the fact that the RC Church covered up the crimes and enabled abusers to continue abusing is yet another layer of crime. The CoE seems to be working through institutional ways of stopping abuse, as have many schools and other public institutions. The enabling, denial, and cover up at every level of the church hierarchy is way out-of-step with most institutions efforts to stop it.

Given this moral failing, I'm not sure why anyone outside of the RC church would pay the slightest attention to their pronouncements on moral issues.

Posted by Cynthia at Sunday, 19 May 2013 at 9:43pm BST

"My concern is that the language of rights and equality is driving the debate. We seem to have no positive understanding of 'difference'. It can only be heard as discriminatory and excluding."

David, that's because it can only be discriminatory and excluding. There's no clever argument around this fact. Separate is unequal. And who exactly is defining this "difference?" Those who hold the power in order to exclude those who don't hold the power.

CoE is way behind in terms of rigorous theological and moral thinking on difference. Not to be judgmental about it, after all, TEC only came to terms with it after slavery and civil rights, the American Indian movement, women's liberation, etc., made it absolutely clear that the status quo's way of dealing with "difference" was manifestly evil.

The litmus test is if the persecuted group accepts the remedy. I'm gay and nothing short of equal marriage is justice. LGBT persons are created in the image of God, same as everyone else and nothing short of equality dignifies God's creation.

Posted by Cynthia at Monday, 20 May 2013 at 2:43am BST

Surely you have missed the prime Catholic objection that for a marriage to be valid in Catholic eyes it has to be open to the gift of God's gift of life.

The Church will grant marriage rights to elderly couples, as they will not be doing anything to thwart conception...and the same goes for couples who find they have fertility problems.

If X went along to Catholic marriage preparation , and said, " I am only getting married for the sex and do not want children. " They would not marry X.

As the Universal Catechism asserts:

Section 1664.... Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its "supreme gift," the child (GS 50 § 1).

As the Catholic Church condemns contraception , it is completely even handed towards those of heterosexual and homosexual orientation on this point. In Anglicanism the link between openess to fertility was overridden at lambeth 1930, and hence the illogicality of the present situation.

It is interesting that those who are fiercest against same sex marriage within the Church of England ( like Lord Carey) are firm advocates of contraception and within conservative evangelical circles contraception and masturbation are not regarded by the vast majority as sins.

Posted by robert Ian Williams at Monday, 20 May 2013 at 8:22am BST

"The Church will grant marriage rights to elderly couples, as they will not be doing anything to thwart conception...and the same goes for couples who find they have fertility problems."

That is part of the nonsensical argument of "they could have children if they could have them."

Infertile people and post menopausal women cannot have children, whether they "thwart" conception or not.
You'd need a divine miracle for these people to conceive.

But if we get into the realm of needing divine miracles then we might as well say that gay people can marry because they do not anything to "thwart" conception either and they are as unable to conceive as a woman without a womb.

The "straight infertiles are ok, gay couples are not, because one cannot have children but that's alright while the other cannot have children yet that's the problem" relies on a string of non sequiturs and is based on nothing but prejudice.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 20 May 2013 at 10:52am BST

"Openness to procreation" is a modern invention, designed to address the anti-contraception teaching. It is logically meaningless when applied to those who are by nature infertile. If the church of Rome were truly even-handed on this ground, it would allow same-sex marriage, as same-sex couples are naturally infertile with regard to each other, as are any number of mixed-sex couples, one or both of whom may be incapable of procreation, rendering the pair incapable.

And as I've noted, the Church of England has not held procreation to be essential to marriage at least since 1549.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 20 May 2013 at 3:34pm BST

So why did the Lambeth Conferences of 1908 and 1920 condemn contraception?

Posted by robert ian Williams at Tuesday, 21 May 2013 at 9:25pm BST

The main 1920 Lambeth Conference resolution that condemns contraception is Resolution 68, which provides:

"The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.

"We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear."

A couple of others mention contraception as well.

Resolution 69, which concerns venereal disease, provides in part: "The Conference must condemn the distribution or use, before exposure to infection, of so-called prophylactics, since these cannot but be regarded as an invitation to vice."

In addition, Resolution 70 essentially equates contraception with pornography and prostitution:

"The Conference urges the importance of enlisting the help of all high-principled men and women, whatever be their religious beliefs, in co-operation with or, if necessary, in bringing pressure to bear upon, authorities both national and local, for removing such incentives to vice as indecent literature, suggestive plays and films, the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels."

Posted by dr.primrose at Tuesday, 21 May 2013 at 11:34pm BST

Continuing the response concerning the Lambeth Conference and contraception, Resolution 41 of the 1908 conference stated, "The Conference regards with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family, and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare."

Posted by dr.primrose at Friday, 24 May 2013 at 6:09pm BST
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