Thinking Anglicans

Religious views about proposed changes to marriage law

First, Cardinal Keith O’Brien wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that We cannot afford to indulge this madness.

There were many articles in response, but Cardinal O’Brien jumps the shark by Nelson Jones covers most of the ground. And for more detail there is Gay Marriage, the Universal Declaration and a Cardinal by (h/t Adam Wagner).

Last Friday the Church Times had this report: Clergy speak out in support of proposal for gay marriage.

Meanwhile the Tablet had Can marriage ever change? Homosexuality and the Church Timothy Radcliffe, Martin Pendergast & Tina Beattie.

On Sunday morning, the Archbishop of York appeared on the Andrew Marr TV programme, see BBC Archbishop Sentamu: Don’t change gay marriage law.

And the following letter was read in all RC parish churches in England and Wales: Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith Pastoral Letter on marriage.

Fulcrum has published Should we Redefine Marriage? by Andrew Goddard.

John Milbank has written Gay Marriage and the Future of Human Sexuality.

Here’s the list of serving Church of England diocesan bishops, who have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, as of Wednesday evening, 14 March:

Rt Revd Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester
Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford
Rt Revd Michael Langrish, Bishop of Exeter
Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle
Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry
Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough
Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham
Rt Revd Timothy Dakin, Bishop of Winchester
Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield


  • Pat O'Neill says:

    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!”

  • Spirit of Vatican II says:

    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.

  • JCF says:

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

    Lord, Reform Your Church!

  • 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.

  • AGPH says:

    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”.

  • Father David says:

    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”?

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

  • Judith Maltby says:

    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.

  • rjb says:

    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.

  • Scot Peterson says:

    Canon 30B.

  • Father David says:

    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!

  • robert says:

    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

  • badman says:

    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.

  • Erika Baker says:

    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.

  • Concerned Anglican says:

    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.

  • Douglas Lewis says:

    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?

  • Murdoch says:

    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.

  • JCF says:

    “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*.

  • Peter Ould says:

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

  • martin says:

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

  • JeremyP says:

    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.

  • Gary Paul Gilbert says:

    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

  • Judith Maltby says:

    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.

  • 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” !

  • Spirit of Vatican II says:

    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.

  • Erika Baker says:

    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.

  • Laurence C. says:

    “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 🙂

  • JCF says:

    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.

  • Geoff says:

    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?

  • Spirit of Vatican II says:

    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.

  • crystal says:

    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 🙂 …..

  • Erika Baker says:

    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.

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