Thinking Anglicans

Anglican Mainstream response to government consultation

From Anglican Mainstream

The article linked above contains (scroll down) the full text of the Anglican Mainstream response, which is also copied below the fold.

A Submission to the Government’s Consultation on Same-sex (‘Equal Civil’) Marriage, on Behalf of Anglican Mainstream

1. Initial Statement

a. Anglican Mainstream, which represents a significant body of evangelical opinion within the Church of England, urges Her Majesty’s Government not to introduce ‘same-sex marriage’ and, further, not to create a distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘civil’ marriages.

b. Our reasons for this do not rest solely on religious faith. We do believe, however, that our Christian heritage has informed and enhanced the understanding of marriage, to the benefit of individuals and society.

c. We would readily agree that marriage is about much more than sex. Nevertheless, since ‘same-sex marriage’ is the matter under consideration, our remarks focus on issues of sexuality and sexual practice, and their relevance to our understanding of marriage.

d. Above all, we need to stress that at the heart of the issue is same-sex acts, not relationships between people of the same sex. Some may find this objectionable as a principle or unsustainable as a distinction, but we believe it is necessary for the sake of clarity in the wider public debate.

2. Marriage, Society and Family Life

a. Hitherto, marriage has been upheld in virtually all societies as providing a fundamental framework for family life, and thus contributing to social stability. At no time was this simply and solely a matter of economics or property. Marriage has always envisaged the sexual expression of desire and love, providing a context for both its authorization and limitation.

b. This has been of particular importance regarding the bearing and nurture of children. Marriage has defined a relationship between biological parents and their children within which parents are committed to one another and explicitly ‘own’ a mutual responsibility for their children, guaranteeing them security and boundaries as they grow up.

c. By contrast, where marriage has declined we see that it is has negative implications for children, particularly where there are multiple manifestations of disadvantage.

3. Marriage, Sex and Procreation

a. Crucial to the notion of marriage in all societies has been a biologically procreative understanding of sexuality. Whilst this is not the sole purpose of marriage, or the only factor in human sexuality, nevertheless it has never, hitherto, been entirely separated from the institution of marriage itself.

b. The existence of childless marriages is not an objection in itself to the principle that our understanding of marriage properly includes this procreative aspect of human sexuality. Indeed, childlessness is often a painful issue, which if it continues (other than where a couple would have had no expectation of having children) often leads to a sense that the marriage lacks an important element.

c. Simlarly, the possibility of adoption ought not to change our understanding of sexuality and its relationship to marriage. Adoption, by its very nature, entails the existence of a number of negative factors, not least that a child is not raised by one or both of its natural parents. Hence although adoption is (usually) driven by altruism, the fact that it is a means of introducing children into otherwise-childless marriages cannot itself determine our definition of marriage.

d. The same is true for surrogacy. Furthermore, we would observe that whilst this makes it possible for some same-sex couples to have children they count as their own, it requires that the child not know, or at least not have a normal relationship with, one biological parent. As in adoption, this has implications for long-term anxiety about identity on the part of the individual concerned. Surrogacy cannot be regarded as the equivalent of marital parenting either biologically or socially.

4. Same-sex ‘marriage’

a. Same-sex relationships clearly cannot, by their nature, be reproductive. Thus, whatever else one thinks of such relationships, they are not the equivalent of the relationships for which marriage has hitherto been instituted and reserved.

b. To create the concept of same-sex marriage will not be, as many are arguing, simply to make a currently ‘restrictive’ view of marriage more ‘inclusive’. Rather, it requires, and will formally establish, a fundamental change in our understanding of sexuality and family life.

c. Specifically, it requires us, against the facts, to accept that ‘same-sex’ sex is intrinsically no different from ‘opposite-sex’ sex, with the implication that relationships and households constituted around the latter are in essence the same as those constituted around the former.

d. We believe that would be to maintain a falsehood and that a social system based on falsehoods is inherently flawed and fragile.

5. The Church of England’s Understanding of Marriage in Society

a. The Church of England has a particular understanding of sex and marriage which is not universally shared in our wider society. As in the Scriptures themselves, we find in various cultures differing views and social arrangements. It is an important part of the Christian tradition that marriage in this respect is a matter of ‘common grace’, found in every society.

b. Nevertheless, we believe that our understanding has been refined over the centuries and perfected by Christ’s own teaching. That teaching, which finds expression in the Church’s life and liturgies, has played a vital part in our society and we believe it continues to have an important contribution to make.

c. Thus, for example, the Christian view of marriage involves an intention of permanence (Matthew 19:7-9, cf Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:17) over against a widespread acceptance of divorce in the first century ad. Again, the Christian view obliged men, on theological principle, to regard their wives as spiritual (and therefore true) equals (cf 1 Peter 3:7). Indeed, at its highest, marriage is seen as a reflection of the relationship (what the Book of Common Prayer calls the “mystic union”) between Christ and the people he has redeemed.

d. Because of the idea of common grace (see 5a), the Church of England does not hold that it has a monopoly on marriage. By the same token, however, we would reject a distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriages. We would (naturally) advocate the Christian understanding of marriage, but we believe that marriage is a shared social institution. This means, however, that all marriages are of the same nature — there is not ‘religious’ marriage and ‘civil’ marriage — and that ideally all marriages ought to partake of the same commitments and responsibilities.

6. The Church of England’s Understanding of Sex in Marriage

a. Unlike the Church of Rome, the Church of England does not insist that every act of sexual intercourse between healthy married couples ought to have the potential for conception. However, it recognizes that the reproductive function of sex is intrinsic to the nature of sexual intercourse and therefore to marriage. The first reason marriage was instituted, according to the Book of Common Prayer, is for “the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord”.

b. Nevertheless, procreation is not the only reason for which marriage was instituted. The second, according to the Book of Common Prayer is as “a remedy against sin … to avoid fornication”, or as the authorized ‘Series One Form of Solemnization of Matrimony’ puts it, “that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright”.

c. Thus the Book of Common Prayer (which has a formal role in defining the Church’s doctrine), and later liturgies (which do not), both recognize that there is an aspect of sexuality which goes beyond the procreation of children. But they also presume and state that the proper place for its expression is solely within marriage and that there is (at least implicitly) such a thing as a ‘natural’ instinct.

d. Thus it is valid to observe (contra criticism levelled at the former Bishop of Carlisle for pointing this out) that the sexual organs have a ‘natural’ function which relates to their corresponding form in male and female. This function finds its fullest expression in a context where sexual intercourse results, at least on occasion, in conception and childbirth.

e. Intercourse does not always produce children and does have other justifications, including pleasure and bonding — we rightly refer to ‘making love’. But to the extent that, in a particular context, children are either not wanted or not possible, to that extent a sexual relationship is falling short of the fullness of the ‘natural’ function of the physical elements involved.

f. Even in cases where conception does not occur by reason of health or age, the sexual act nevertheless retains a correspondence to this natural function. In the case of same-sex acts, however, that function is necessarily entirely missing from the outset. The latter situation is thus not at all the equivalent of the former and there is no ‘correspondence’ in the use of the organs involved with their natural function.

g. Whilst some may feel this use is nevertheless morally unexceptionable, the Church has always taken the view that the expression of same-sex desires should be a matter of self-control as being, in the final analysis, ‘unnatural’.

7. Sex, Morality and Marriage

a. The social institution of marriage has also carried with it a presumption that our sexual instincts and desires must be subject to a degree of control.

b. Until relatively recently, there was a widespread conviction (even though it was a principle often observed in the breach) that sex was wrong before marriage and that virginity at the time of marriage, at least on the part of women, was to be prized.

c. Even today, adultery — sex in breach of the marriage relationship — generally elicits disapproval. Few people regard physical desire, or even love, for another as sufficient justification in themselves for a breach of the marriage vows.

d. Moreover, the requirement for sexual self-control extends beyond the boundaries imposed by marriage. Thus for example, whilst there are those who undoubtedly experience compelling sexual desires regarding children or animals, our society regards these as inadmissible and penalizes any instances of their occurrence. In the first case, the reasoning is that the relationships are abusive, in the second that they are in some sense, ‘unnatural’.

e. In between those activities which are generally accepted and those which are generally rejected, however, is a whole range of behaviours which constitute something of a ‘grey area’ of disagreement. In this we might include such things as sado-masochism or fetishism, which some find unexceptionable whilst others regard them as morally dubious.

f. Until quite recently, homosexual acts were subject to legal penalty. Even when those penalties were removed, the initial condition was that they should only be engaged in privately. It is not unreasonable at least to ask whether they ought still to be regarded as a ‘grey area’, rather than receive at a stroke the endorsement that same-sex marriage would bestow on them.

g. The Christian tradition, still held by the majority in the Church of England, is that same-sex acts ought to be subject to self-control, and that where they are not this entails a moral wrong. In the 1960s many voices in the Church were raised in support of easing the law sanctioning same-sex acts. But a removal of legal penalties need not imply an endorsement of the actions that were formerly penalized.

h. Nevertheless, opposition within the Church to same-sex acts does not mean hostility towards people who experience same-sex attraction (what is sometimes meant by ‘homophobia’). In one of the places where it most clearly rejects same-sex acts, the Bible includes this reassurance for those in the Church who had engaged in them: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9).

i. Moreover, as we have attempted to show above, such an attitude towards sex and marriage need not depend solely on religious assumptions. There is a ‘secular’ case for keeping the definition of marriage as it is, which we hope will be understood by all those engaged in this debate.

j. We are conscious that the Church is now out of step on this subject with a substantial section of public opinion. The same would be true, however, on a variety of other issues. We believe that the Christian understanding of sex and marriage gives us a particular insight into and motivation for maintaining the traditional view on same-sex acts on the one hand and the nature of marriage on the other, and thus in making an important contribution to the welfare of our society.

k. We respectfully urge the government to think again about its proposed course of action.


Dr Philip Giddings, Convenor,
Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary
Rev John Richardson

21 High Street
OX29 4HE

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Alastair Newman
Alastair Newman
11 years ago

“The Christian tradition, still held by the majority in the Church of England, is that same-sex acts ought to be subject to self-control, and that where they are not this entails a moral wrong.”


Gareth Hughes
11 years ago

Just really poor theology dressed up to look clever. Its idiotic to start the ‘if a marriage cannot produce children’ argument if you can’t see where it clearly goes.

Susannah Clark
11 years ago

“The Christian tradition, still held by the majority in the Church of England, is that same-sex acts ought to be subject to self-control, and that where they are not this entails a moral wrong.” If this is claiming that the majority of churchgoers are opposed to homosexual relationships any longer, then I really think that is so out of date and it’s abundantly clear from repeated polls that acceptance of gay and lesbian love is at an all-time high in this country. And as for self-control. If *heterosexual* sex acts are not subject to self-control, then they too may involve… Read more »

Susannah Clark
11 years ago

(…continued) We are told that marriage is precious, and I agree, but I know several transsexual people who were happily married, who have been forced to decide between their legal rights and their marriage. The law says, to get their legal rights, they must divorce. That is outrageous. Yes, the law needs to be changed. The phobia over two women being married, or two men being married, seemed so horrific to some, that they lobbied to stop married transsexual couples being married. This epitomises the outdated limitations of marriage, and the homophobia that would rather diminish people’s lives than develop… Read more »

11 years ago

Talking of ‘complementarity’, how many weddings nowadays state the BCP’s duties for wives? “Submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Let the wife see that she reverence her husband. “Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be… Read more »

11 years ago

Christian statement criticising gay sexual relationships… so of course…:

“the requirement for sexual self-control extends beyond the boundaries imposed by marriage. Thus for example, whilst there are those who undoubtedly experience compelling sexual desires regarding children or animals…”

It seems to be some kind of Godwin’s Law among conservatively evangelical Christians, that whenever gay or lesbian sexual relations are being discussed… paedophilia and bestiality must be mentioned somewhere along the line… as *another* illustration of “lack of self-control”.

Homophobia is homophobia is homophobia.

Father Ron Smith
11 years ago

Marriage is more about celebrating the love and monogamous commitment of one person with another, than it is about the necessity of producing children of the marriage. Children are nowadays being brought into the world without the advantage of a heterosexual couple as married parents. There are possibly as many children born out of wedlock as there are within that sacred bond. So, heterosexual marriage does not necessarily mean more 9wanted) children. This is perhaps a sad state of affairs, but it does not preclude the advantages of allowing a Same-Sex couple who love one another, and who may want… Read more »

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