Leader: Gay marriage: whose views are these?
Posted: 13 Jun 2012 @ 00:00
MANY churchgoers woke on Tuesday morning to learn about their adamant opposition to same-sex marriage. Whether they agree with its position or not, they will find the paper submitted to the Government’s consultation on their behalf to be tendentious and poorly argued. In brief, it says that the government consultation on same-sex marriage is flawed (it is); that marriage has always been defined as between a man and a woman (it has); that matters such as consummation will be hard to work into a new definition (they will); and that there is a false distinction being made between civil and religious marriage (there is, although this is the Government’s clumsy attempt to preserve the Church’s right to discriminate).
Besides these points, however, the paper makes a number of unsupported claims. In just one example, it states that the view of marriage as “a lifelong union of one man with one woman” is “derived from the teaching of Christ himself”, first without citing which teaching, and second without any apparent embarrassment over the use of the word “lifelong”. The impression that Church and state have walked hitherto arm in arm up and down the aisle can be sustained only by ignoring the huge chasm over divorce that opened in the 19th century. Much is made of the Church’s supposed susceptibility to legal challenge; but again, this has not been its experience when clerics have refused second marriages in church. Hardest to follow are the paper’s arguments that the benefits society derives from heterosexual marriage will somehow be absent if marriage is extended to same-sex couples.
Whether its legal arguments hold water, the paper is right to suppose that pressure will increase on the Church to comply. Had the Church been as welcoming of civil partnerships as this paper implies, this crisis might have been averted. By declining to bless them, the Church contributed to the impression that civil partnerships were mere legal arrangements, and not declarations of love and commitment. It is patronising to dismiss the desire to emphasise this as merely answering an “emotional need”.
There are many in the C of E, and in the country at large, who hold traditional views of marriage. These ought to be respected. But so, too, should the views of those who, in conscience, see gay partnerships as comparable with marriage to the extent that the use of the same word now seems right. It is astonishing that the unnamed authors of the submission refer to themselves as “the Church of England” on a subject so contentious that two reviews are in progress to discover what people in the Church of England actually think.