Comments: House of Lords: Monday in committee on the Marriage bill

Isn't the Bishop of Hereford the guy who sacked a youth worker for being gay?

Hardly a fit an proper person to be given a seat in the lords!

Posted by CRW at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 9:43am BST

A lot of withdrawal going on - their moral and spiritual balance will soon be totally empty - bankrupt.

Quoting the Bible as one did, and alluding to some imagined consensus fidei as others did, is no substitute for moral reflection on the facts of human sexuality and loving, as discovered by genetics, psychoanalysis and the written and visual culture of civilised societies.

Having devoted my life to religion and given my own personal witness to gay life and love, it grieves me to see how little religious spokesmen ordained or otherwise, seem to have nothing to say lgbt people in our time - let alone to civil society, which is so in need of creativity regarding ethics, spirituality and clues to human flourishing.

Posted by Laurence at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 12:59pm BST

The youth worker was not sacked, rather he was refused the appointment. See http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/002939.html for the full story.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 1:18pm BST

The Bishop of Hereford's formal farewell into retirement will be celebrated on September 8.

Posted by Bob McCloskey at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 1:21pm BST

Everything so far has been withdrawn or not put. Is this what Anglican mainstream means by "the fight goes on"?

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 1:22pm BST

From what I can tell the House of Lords is somewhat different to the Commons. Amendments seem only to be made when everyone agrees. Controversial amendments seem to be there to test the waters on order to bring the issue back at report and third reading. A lot of the amendments appear to be there to allow the Minister to explain things and read certain things into the record.

On the other hand, the debate over the conscience clause for registrars is closely argued. It seems there is a lot of sympathy for the idea of allowing a limited conscience clause for existing registrars as opposed to new ones, provided there is no limitation to couples' right to marry.

I have previously been set against a conscience clause but maybe there is some sort of compromise to be worked out here. Am I going soft and sentimental in my advanced years? I Very possibly. But there is something precious about a State protecting individuals when it doesn't have to.

I don't think in a secular society (in the best meaning of the term) that the right to marry should thereby be put in doubt and it shouldn't be there for anyone becoming a registrar after the bill was introduced into Parliament after which the adoption of the law became a very distinct possibility. Well that's just how I see it, I could be wrong. The new bill will fare better if launched in a spirit of accommodation rather than litigious confrontation and Ladele and the Housing Association cases have somewhat poisoned the well.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 2:06pm BST

This is quite an extraordinary article from Andrew Brown who only a few months ago was still defending civil partnerships with a spiritual component over marriage equality.

I believe many in the church are still walking a similar development. They have heard all the arguments for marriage equality but they haven't truly understood them. When the Archbishops apologised for the way the church has treated lgbt people I believe they were being completely sincere. And they are still stuck in the "equal but different" groove where they genuinely do not see the damage they're doing and that different is never actually equal, especially not when it's being imposed.
It's a bit like those men who embraced female equality in the early days of feminism not minding their wives going out to work provided they could still cope with the household.

But social change has its own inherent pace and logic and the Archbishops cannot stop at a halfway house. At the very least they and the rest of the church who believes they want to treat gay people equal but different and that that is perfectly ok should listen to what Andrew Brown's neighbour whispered in response to Rowan Williams’s comment that he does not know what question gay marriage is the answer to: "He's an idiot if he doesn't know the problem is not listening to gay people."
Not listening to other adults and making decisions about their lives on their behalf is no longer acceptable. Whether you agree with the choices they make or not.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 4:38pm BST

Craig, I would support an amendment that "protected" existing registrars but not new ones. You and I may believe that widening marriage to include gay people is really no big deal, but it is clear that it seems to be a major redefinition of marriage to others. Although I do not understand them I respect them and as long as I CAN get married in a register office and as long as there was a registrar available to marry me in any register office in the country, I would not mind if someone who works there at the moment did not have to to do it.

Future registrars do know when they take the job that they might have to marry gay couples and there should be no exemptions for them.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 4:42pm BST

What Craig Nelson suggests and some of their Lordships along with the Human Rights Joint Committee are asking for can only have limited effect. All marriages are signed off by the Superintendent Registrar and presumably she/he would have to step down to claim the ability to pass on registering such a marriage.

Posted by Fr Alan-Bury at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 7:29pm BST

The argument of the conservative voices in the House of Lords, including all of the CofE bishops, focuses on the very dated pseudo-scientific and pseudo-natural divisions of gender into two opposite but "complementary" camps: male and female.

This argument is advanced as if there had been no progress in our understanding of gender in the last sixty years or so. A body of scientific research in genetics, epigenetics, brain structures, hormones, and physiology provides so much complexity to our current understanding of gender that the division of the human species into two genders can no longer be considered accurate. As an example, physiological studies of gender currently group over twenty forms of human gender expression into a general category described as intersex. Among these are included infertile males, undervirilization (especially micropenis), hypospadias, 5 alpha reductase deficiency, Turner's Syndrome, Klinefelter's Syndrome, Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and more than a dozen other forms of gender expression. Some researchers believe that it is only a matter of time before the transgender forms of gender expression are included in the broad scientific grouping of intersex. Already it is evident that gender exists along a spectrum and that much larger numbers of people than we had previously thought have gender expressions that vary from the opposite poles of the spectrum.

A good example of the effects of this sort of dualistic thinking and the power of some religions to enforce this worldview can be found in the history of persons with diverse gender expression and their communities when some indigenous cultures came into contact with European colonial powers and their normative religions. My knowledge of this is first-hand. I have volunteered as an educational consultant and community trainer among the sex workers and Third Gender women (Aravanis) in Tamil Nadu state in India. My work has been to assist these persons and their communities to organize to advocate for their human rights and to take roles as community health educators in programs to assist persons with HIV/AIDS. These communities are composed of persons who distinguish from three to five normal expressions of gender. They must work daily to overcome British laws and the influence of British Protestants which stripped them of their humanity and their identities.

From my perspective, the bishops of the CofE and traditional cultural and religious conservatives are exercising their power to continue to enforce the only worldview they seem to know: the division of gender expression into two opposite groups.

Posted by Karen MacQueen+ at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 7:48pm BST

David Pocklington's summary is worth reading for light relief. Not a single one of the amendments that the bishops and their friends so carefully proposed got to the stage of being moved, never mind being voted on. They were just a waste of paper and time. The opposition to ssm has presumably realised that it's got no votes and no chance, so is just reading stuff into the record so that it can later tell its supporters that it tried, at least. What a farce.

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 9:23pm BST

Re Karen McQ - I agree that the intersex minority must be treated fairly and justly. To do so no doubt means that their situation needs to be highlighted in the way she does. However, surely the percentage of people who do not fit into the obviously and clearly male or female is surely minuscule? I'd be interested if she could say what kind of numbers we are talking about.

Posted by Neil at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 9:26pm BST

Careful, Interested Observer. This is how it works in a HoL committee. Amendments are not usually voted on at this stage, but may be brought back at a later stage.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 18 June 2013 at 9:27pm BST

@Neil: reliable statistics are hard to agree upon. Some recent estimates count 2% of Iive births as sexually "dysmorphic". This does not include major categories such as Kleinfelter's Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, 5 Alpha Reductase Deficiency, Hypospadias, Intertile Males, and Complete Androgen Insensitivity. The point is that the theory of grouping is ahead of the surveys of incidence. Some studies that come in at 1% of live births are fifteen years old and do not include current taxonomy. My competence is in Nursing and human rights work not in directly wperforming studies. I am familiar enough with current research to feel comfortable saying that the incidence of intersex gender expression is upwards of 2% of live births.

The second part of your observation encourages humane treatment of intersex and, I presume, transgender persons. I hope that we would all agree with your view.

Based on my experience in India, I am suggesting that the view that gender dimorphism is normative is in question. Soon British Immigration officers will be examining passports of persons coming from Pakistan, Nepal, Thailand, and India which have designations other than "male" and "female" to denote gender. There may three or more possible gender designations on official documents. Let me give you some examples from conversations I have with gender diverse persons in India on a regular basis. In one conversation with a group of Aravanis, gender diverse persons in Tamil Nadu, we were talking about efforts to change gender designations on state and national identification documents. I asked, "Would you be comfortable doing what we do in California? As soon as you can pass for the opposite gender, the state will change your documents from male to female or from female to male." There was a stunned silence followed by a cacophony of voices telling me that I did not understand them at all. The Aravanis from Tamil Nadu explained to me that "Transgender" is a Western term that does not fit many of them. In their state, they commonly designate three genders. Many of these persons self-identify as Third Gender, which includes both male and female components with a deeply held sense of their own spiritual significance and role. This view is something like the "Two Spirit" persons in some indigenous american cultures. The Aravanis from Andra Pradesh pointed out that in their cultures, they designate five genders.

What are we to make of this? We might consider this under the category of the "exotic" or we might begin to question gender dimorphism itself. Just as with sexual orientation, we may have to rethink our categories. In our Western cultures, we have gone from thinking that only heterosexuality was normative to the recognition of normal homosexuality and bisexuality. More recently, a spectrum model of sexual orientation seems to better fit real experience. I am suggesting that a similar shift may be underway in our thinking about gender.

Posted by Karen MacQueen+ at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 1:45am BST

"Rowan Williams said the other week, ... 'I am not wholly clear to what problem same-sex marriage is the answer'"

Beggars belief. Kyrie eleison! [Rowan, don't go away angry---just go away.]

Posted by JCF at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 4:47am BST

The intersexed are physical evidence that humankind is not divided into male and female, but consists of individuals who have developed to places along a continuum. How many may be gathered at any point isn't the issue; allowing each to develop their potentials should be the goal.

A majority felt free to disregard the rights of gays and lesbians when they supposed they comprised only 1% of the population. Now that they're a visible and functioning 6% and growing, their needs cannot be so plausibly denied. The scarcity of intersexed persons and the plethora of Anglicans in Africa shouldn't weigh discussions of equality and justice.

Posted by Murdoch at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 5:04am BST

One might of course equally say 'I am not sure to what problem opposite sex marriage is the answer'. Or alternatively 'I am not clear as to what problem marriage is the answer'.

If you can come up with any answers that help Rowan as to what problems marriage solves the next step is to ask if they apply to same sex couples as well. If they do...

Posted by Craig Nelson at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 8:06am BST

Ah yes, Chris Sugden's new website with its 10 points asking us to employ reason and to see that marriage equality would harm children!

If children need their own biological parents, it would be more helpful to stop that part of the huge and largely straight fertility industry that relies on egg and sperm donation. That way, you would also catch the few hundred among the currently parenting 8000 gay couples who might have used their services.

But even if we follow the implied logic that children living with only one or no biological parent is only dangerous when the parenting is being done by gay people, their point 10 negates every single one of their previous arguments.
If civil partnerships already provide all the legal and financial benefits of marriage for gay people - how does preventing marriage equality protect a single child?

And that's leaving aside the fact that gay people have had equal parenting rights since the Adoption Act which pre-dates even the Civil Partnership Act by 3 years.

Open to reason? - they ask.
Open to logic? - would be my reply.

The only protection our children need is for the Lords to make absolutely sure that they have 100% the same rights as children of straight parents.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 12:13pm BST

Erika -
The new Sugden "Gay Marriage:No Thanks" website is sheer nastiness. It corrals what it thinks are arguments about children into ten points so that it can try and tug the heartstrings of the HoL - just look at what he says in his FCA update about the ineffectiveness of the opposition so far! All very Simpsonsy "But who will care about the children?". Somehow I don't think the Noble Lords and Peeresses and Prelates are as dumb as he clearly thinks they are.

All his ten points one wants to argue with strongly. But 6 is irrelevant - some adolescents don't experience same-sex attraction as temporary - this one for sure didn't! The fact that some do is neither here nor there. And 7 is ripely daft: If people were only allowed to get married if it could be demonstrated that their marriages were going to "strengthen" marriage then one would have to be very doubtful about the wisdom of allowing any heteroseual people at all to get married, as they seem collectively to make such a mess of the whole business. How can we know which hetero marriages will be "good" and, even more importantly in the sugdensphere, "good for children"? Answer: we don't and can't. Most abused children are most in danger from their parents or other close family relatives.

It is all just nasty homophobic special pleading that should be ashamed of its use of children to attack LGBT people.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 1:46pm BST

Erika - Registrars are employed public servants. We don't allow police officers to choose not to enforce new laws or teachers to ignore changes to the national curriculum. If their contract says they officiate at marriages according to the law of the land, they should do so, even when that law changes.

Posted by Will Douglas Barton at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 2:26pm BST

Actually, same-sex marriage is the answer to exactly the same situation to which mixed-sex marriage is the answer: "it is not good for the human one to be alone." God left it to Adam to choose which helper was suitable to him; the church should do the same for each person, "for force is not of God."

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 2:37pm BST

@Craig Nelson, actually I've written a book on the subject that approaches "the question" from that standpoint, and I personally gave a copy of it to +Rowan at his sole visit to the synod of The Episcopal Church.

My approach was to examine the "causes" for marriage laid out in the Book of Common Prayer -- with due notice of the fact that the liturgy, since 1549, has directed the omission of the prayer for procreation when the woman is past child-bearing; which neither negates nor nullifies the marriage.

Since procreation (at least as far as child-bearing goes) is a provisional element, it remains to see if the other causes: as a remedy against the sin of promiscuity, and for the help, comfort and support engendered by mutual society. I believe that same-sex marriage is fully capable of accomplishing these ends.

Nor do I understand why that is so hard for some to understand.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 2:54pm BST

Jeremy,
I fully agree. But I wanted to make the point that, even if completely taken on their own limited terms, their argument makes no logical sense at all.

Will,
you're right, we don't allow public servants to choose who to serve and who not to.
The question is, though, whether an exception could made in this particular case for registrars who are already employed.
There are good reasons for and against it. In itself it would be a relatively minor compromise in this particular case.
But I take your point that it would set a dangerous precedent.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 3:15pm BST

I get frustrated when I read the sort of thing on the "no thank you" website. The Regnerus study and all the work by Whitehead and NARTH that are cited have all been discredited or at least rejected by their respective professional communities. Other items are "unfounded" assertions (to use their same brush. So I go round and round trying to understand if these people are simply hopelessly blinkered (wearing blinders to us in the US), just willing to say anything in pursuit of power, or perhaps completely amoral and intellectually dishonest. As a university professor who tries to teach young men and women to live honestly and well in addition to teaching the intellectual rigor that goes with studying their disciplines , I find all three conditions unacceptable.

Posted by David Bieler at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 5:15pm BST

"the division of the human species into two genders can no longer be considered accurate."

Nevertheless, each human being stubbornly comes into the world as a result of one (male) father and one (female) mother.

Those babies obviously aren't keeping up with the research.

Posted by rick allen at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 8:59pm BST

Dr. Sentamu, in his speech today in the House of Lords, talks aout the deep regret felt by him AND THE PRIMATES OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION at the diminishment of gay people?
Well, that is a bit of legerdemain if ever one saw one! Hyperbole, at the very least. The Dromantine accord on the matter of respect for gays was never truthfully acceded to by the GS Primates.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 9:32pm BST

Rick,
I'm not sure what point you are trying to make.
No-one is trying to stop straight couples from having babies and no-one doubts that it takes a female egg and a male sperm to create them.

What does that have to do with the fact that some people are intersex, that your biological sex says nothing about your sexuality and that sexuality should be no bar to marriage? That the British civil marriage service says nothing about children - about having them, not having them, adopting them, fostering them, step parenting them, having them by assisted conception as the biological offspring of only one of the parents?

Please do not forget that we are talking about civil legislation, not about some people's religious ideas about marriage.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 19 June 2013 at 10:51pm BST

No, rick: many intersex people are capable of reproducing. Are you trying to say that their reproductive function shoehorns them into "one or the other", apart from every other factor? Reductio ad absurdum.

Posted by JCF at Thursday, 20 June 2013 at 4:07am BST

"Rick, I'm not sure what point you are trying to make."

Erika, simply that a catelog of sexual variations, which I don't think would be surprising to, say, a Roman writer of the Silver Age, doesn't nullify the basic biology of reproduction, which has, thus far, been the natural basis for the relations of family and wider kinship. To that the two sexes, male and female, remain fundamental, and will so remain, no matter what we call "marriage."


"Are you trying to say that their reproductive function shoehorns them into "one or the other"?"

JCF, yes, basically. It's not so much a matter of shoehorning, any more than mere age "shoehorns" someone into minority or adulthood. It's what sex means.

We can, of course, change all the definitions we like. But that doesn't change the things themselves.

Posted by rick allen at Thursday, 20 June 2013 at 1:53pm BST

@Rick Allen: except, of course, Jesus.

It is all a question of significance. The fact that biological reproduction in humans takes place as the result of the merger of gametes, just as in almost all other animals and many plants, does not in and of itself commend itself to a discussion of the apparently solely human institution of marriage. There is no necessary connection between biological reproduction and marriage, and the complete absence of one has no effect on the reality of the other.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Thursday, 20 June 2013 at 2:31pm BST

"But that doesn't change the things themselves."

Not as YOU define them, rick. You live by your definitions, I'll live by mine, and to God alone be glory.

Posted by JCF at Friday, 21 June 2013 at 4:35am BST

Rick,
yes, but this is becoming a tedious argument.
Unless we disallow straight childless and childfree marriages, fostering, adoption and step parenting, and in particular the straight fertility industry that relies on egg and sperm donation, there is no single credible reason why gay couples should not be admitted to the state of marriage.

Yes, it's a novelty. Every change is initially new. That is not an argument against it.

I think our real challenge in society is not to use the concept that marriage is (partly) for children as an argument for keeping out a small percentage of humanity that cannot have them together. Our real challenge is to make marriage seem an attractive option for all those people who are currently having children outside it. The instability of fragile relationships is a much greater threat to society and to individuals and if churches value marriage as an institution and believe it to be the only safe place for bringing up children, then we ought to get over our battle of trying to keep people out and instead work together to see how we can attract them to join us.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 21 June 2013 at 7:49am BST

"It's what sex means."

I think this is a very important statement.
Because what is actually happening is that a lot of people have always assumed that this is what sex means and they have never had to challenge their assumptions until now. We don't ask about people's thoughts about the deeper meaning of sex, we just assume that they have it when they are married and we overlay it with the meaning it has for us.

Since the advent of contraception is should have become abundantly clear that for most of us the meaning of sex goes far far beyond procreation.
If you read popular magazines and literature you should be able to pick up that sex is associated with a vast array of meanings and problems and that very few of them relate to procreation. If anything, couples with fertility problems report that sex becomes a real chore and a cause of deep dissatisfaction if it has to be timed and structured so that a baby can be conceived.

The fact that even the House of Lords has overwhelmingly voted for marriage equality shows that most people really do not believe that "sex means" one particular thing that cannot be shared by gay people.

People who hold that view are, of course, entitled to live it in their own marriages and to hold it very dear to themselves, however sadly limiting others may find that.
What they cannot do is impose it as a standard view on all of society - when it is very clear that society simply does not share it.
Sex "is" a lot of different things to different people and at different times in their lives.

Asserting that this is not so helps no-one.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 21 June 2013 at 9:02am BST

"this is becoming a tedious argument."

Erika, it is indeed, and I have told myself I'm going to hereafter stay out of all this. In my defense I can only point out that my first comment didn't reference marriage at all. Still and all, having made the mistake of piping up in the first place, I will at least try to extricate myself with some shred of dignity.

My post was about one of the new dogmas that has appeared in support of our new revolution, this notion of two sexes being behind-the-times and a kind of Ptolemaic science. I can only say in response that, yes, of course there are some inter-gender people--but that the genders they are between are "male" and "female." The same with transgender: one purports to be male to female or female to male; there is no third or fourth sex involved. This is also why we call the new institution "same-sex marriage": Gay men are male; lesbian women are female. The two-sex set-up, so far as I can tell, remains rather fundamental.

And that's what I meant by saying, that's what "sex" means. If we are to communicate at all we certainly need to share some notion of the meaning of words. My dictionary is pretty clear about it: "sex: 1. either of two divisions of organisms distinguished respectively as male or female. 2. the sum of the structural, functional, and behavioral characteristics of living beings that subserve reproduction by two interacting parents and that distinguish males and females"

I don't wish to argue from a definition, and I certainly don't want to offend our good friend JCF, but surely that's what the word "sex" means in ordinary communication, however much our technology has affected our behavioral characteristics, and however much the existence of a male/female human dichotomy is darkly seen as some sort of reactionary redoubt. To me its denial seems a kind of creationism of the left. However we come down on new marriage, or old, I certainly hope we don't infer from our legislative power over the secular incidents of marriage a comparable power to legislate our biology.

Posted by rick allen at Friday, 21 June 2013 at 7:32pm BST

Rick,
I suppose the question is whether we say there are two sexes and some accidental intermediates in between, or whether we say there is a sex that is expressed by being neither male or female.

It's a little like the homosexuality debate, where we used to believe that people are intrinsically straight and that those who deviate from that biological norm are abnormal.
The prevalence of homosexuality in society has not changed but our interpretation of it has and we now see a certain percentage of homosexual people as the biological norm.

So we have the choice to see intersex people as men and women gone wrong and therefore not a valid gender in their own right. Or we can say that a certain percentage of people who are neither male nor female is the biological norm and that they could be identified as a third sex.

After all, definitions don't make us, we make definitions.

And so your dictionary defines sex in purely biological and utilitarian terms.
But increasingly, people see it as a much more multifaceted activity with many more purposes than procreation.
And we have come to that because it is still intensely meaningful to people who cannot or do not want to procreate. There is a de facto experience of it that disagrees with the definition in your dictionary.

And we, as society, are in the process of re-writing the dictionary instead of being defined by it.

We are most emphatically not legislating our biology. Rather, our legislation is following the scientific and psychological awareness of how much more complex our biology is than we had first thought.

Posted by Erika Baker at Friday, 21 June 2013 at 9:25pm BST
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