From Canon Michael Ainsworth
Sir, - The Revd Paul Burr (
Letters, 11 January), commenting on the 2005 Bishops' statement
on civil partnerships, says: "To persist in pretending civil
partnership does not ordinarily imply a sexual relationship is
perverse. Are the Bishops intent on finding the same ambiguity in
Although the Church and its leaders are unfairly accused of
prurience over what same-sex couples do in bed (or wherever), in
legal terms there is an ambiguity over the sexual
component of civil partnerships. That is why some argued, when they
were introduced, that they should logically be available to same-
or opposite-sex siblings who share a home, as well as to others
seeking to make a formal but non-sexual commitment; and uncertainty
remains over the specifically sexual grounds for dissolution of a
partnership. The question remains: is it, or is it not, an
equivalent to marriage in all but name?
The ambiguity becomes sharper if the state is to redefine the
nature of marriage and its "ends". True, most would now agree that
a deliberate intention not to have children is no bar to
heterosexual marriage; so the procreation argument cannot be used
against homosexual marriage.
But the law still regards non-consummation as grounds for
nullity: a marriage is voidable if someone chooses to make this an
issue; even though very few do, occasionally this can be an
Since there can be no homosexual equivalent of this, gay and
straight marriage could never be exact equivalents (which is the
point of the proposed legislation) unless the current law on
nullity is altered, and changes are made to divorce
It will not do to say that these are minor details that can be
left to the courts. Nor will it do to assert that marriage and how
it is understood are purely a matter of individuals' private
choice. Marriage is a public institution ("who would want to live
in an institution?" feminists used to say), and its nature is a
matter of public policy, with wide-ranging implications.
Government, and the civil servants, no longer seem to understand
this, and regard the secondary matter of where and by whom same-sex
marriages are solemnised as the only key issue.
The Church of England (with most other denominations) has long
said that "marriage is marriage," wherever it is contracted; for,
as scripture makes clear, it is a universal rather than an
ecclesiastical dispensation. But straight/gay civil marriage for
all is not the answer, since everyone, faith groups included, must
be able to affirm the marital status of all who make this public
I believe the solution that most nearly, though not perfectly,
balances human rights with the rights of faith communities is to
retain same-sex partnerships (which can sit more lightly to
doctrinal and other controversies) alongside heterosexual marriage
- with the crucial proviso that faith communities are as positive
as they can be in helping all couples to celebrate their
St George-in-the-East Rectory
16 Cannon Street Road
London E1 0BH
From Mrs April Alexander
Sir, - It was interesting to read Bishop Paterson's reference to
the "obvious inadequacies" of the Bishops' statements so far with
regard to the possibility of consecrating men in civil partnerships
in future, on certain conditions ("Civil partnerships: 'We should
have shown the workings'", News, 11 January).
Those "inadequacies" include a total lack of reference to
equalities legislation. The exemptions for the Church of England
and for other denominations and faith groups from the Equality Act
(2010) allow those groups, in certain circumstances, to
discriminate against a person on grounds of sexual ori- entation in
making an appointment. But the bishops have decided that
(homo)sexual orientation is no longer a bar for men in being
considered for a bishopric. They have forgone that exemption.
The Act, however, grants no exemption to any group in respect of
the "terms of the appointment", which must not discriminate against
anyone, inter alia, on grounds of "sexual orientation".
The terms for the proposed appointments as bishops specifically of
men in civil partnerships are that there should be no sexual
activity (however that is defined and policed).
The language in which the House of Bishops press release is
couched is clearly an attempt to get round this awkward fact by
stating that "All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching
examination of personal and family circumstances." But it remains
true that the terms of appointment for gay bishops will clearly be
different from the terms for their heterosexual brothers and
"cruel" (Canon Giles Fraser, Comment, 11 January). It may be that
it will be challenged by gay male clergy and, indeed, by lesbian
clergy, for whom a new category of discrimination has opened
Member of the General Synod and the Crown Nominations
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Redhill, Surrey RH1 4PB
From Dr Andrew Connell
Sir, - You report the Church of England Evangelical Council as
saying (News, 11 January) that the appointment of priests in civil
partnerships as bishops is "an issue of example-setting to the
nation. . . The watching world may well conclude that same-sex
relationships are simply OK for followers of Jesus Christ."
I do hope so.
87 Clodien Avenue
Cardiff CF14 3NN
From Dr David Bunch
Sir, - Canon Giles Fraser is right that asking prospective
bishops in civil partnerships about their sex life is immoral and
unsustainable. It is cruel, intrusive, and unjust, not only to
those quizzed, but also to their partners.
He is on flimsier ground when he advocates that a candidate,
when questioned, should, if in a sexually active partnership, claim
to be celibate, and add a wink or similar gesture so as to ridicule
and satirise matters with a stage lie.
Far from challenging the legitimacy of such interrogation, the
Canon's approach would collude with it, and in a way that fostered
disrespect, and possibly derision, for the participants.
An alternative is for those put in such situations to refuse
quietly to answer, a stance akin to the "active resistance to a
system of oppression" favoured by Canon Fraser.
53 Rye Croft, Conisbrough
Doncaster DN12 2BD
From the Revd Dr Catherine Shelley
Sir, - Canon Giles Fraser's suggestion that gay clergy - or, in
due course, bishops - lie about celibacy is not an answer to the
problem either. While enforced singleness or abstinence from sex in
relationships can be damaging in lots of ways, so can lying, and
the compromises with integrity which it entails.
Many gay clergy remain single either in an attempt to preserve
some sort of integrity or because most of the world does not want
to enter into relationships with that sort of compromise of truth.
The reality is that most gay clergy, single or not, are still
unable to come out, because those who condemn homosexuality do not
accept them, whether they are "celibate" or not.
Strictly speaking, all gay clergy are in fact celibate because
they are, legally speaking, unmarried, even if civilly partnered.
The real issue is not celibacy, but chastity, i.e. right
relationship, a far larger theological concept than sexual
morality. So please could we move on to making headlines about
right relationships, the love of God, and justice, in a far wider
context than just who does what in bed?
2b Minehead Avenue, Withington
Manchester M20 1FW
From the Revd Bruce Bridgewood
Sir, - Now that there is no longer any impediment (real or
imagined) to the elevation of the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John to the
Bench of Bishops, how about Dr John for Whitby? Or, better still,
go for the biggy, and appoint that gentle scholar to Durham.
81 Warwick Road
London N11 2SP