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A gay marriage rite?

22 February 2013

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Your answers

How would the marriage service have to be amended if it were to be used for gay couples?

This question of liturgical revision in order for same-sex marriages to be conducted in church would require far more explication than can be managed in a short letter.

The first issue is the difference in theologies of marriage between the Prayer Book and Common Worship. In the former, no alteration is legally possible, and a complete rewrite of the introduction would be necessary. Arguably, the consents and vows, pretty much common to both orders, would require little altera-tion - although which of the couple is the "husband" and which the "wife" raises difficulties. Gender-neutral language would be needed.

The key issue is children. Some contend that same-sex marriages are analogous to marriages of people who are past child-bearing, sometimes second marriages - hence the reference to "family life in which children are [born and] nurtured", in which the bracketed words are optional (in Common Worship. This also covers couples who have completed their child-bearing before marriage.) The wording allows both those circumstances, and, by implication, cases of adoption or IVF by donor.

"Family life", of which marriage is said to be the foundation, would have to have a somewhat stretched sense, though one with which some people will be happy. It makes one realise how far the modern marriage service differs in its theology from that of 1662, in which the first purpose of marriage is given as the procreation of children, and the second as a remedy against sin, remembering "men's carnal lusts". Some people will argue that things have not changed much.

Possibly the divide between the BCP and CW will have become an unbridgeable chasm. It does seem plain that, if both liturgies remain legal, two distinct institutions, both called marriage, would have come into being, one requiring consummation, and the possibility of children of whom both parents are natural ones, and the other not.

It is a reminder that the part played by children has changed dramatically over the past century. Whether that change is so durable as to require the social engineering proposed, I hope that the Church is wise enough to discern.

(Canon) R. H. W. Arguile
Wells-next-the Sea, Norfolk

Your questions

At my local cathedral, at choral evensong, an anthem is sung, while, at the sung mass, it is a motet. From recent services, I realise that I have been wrong to assume that the length of the piece determined its description. What is the difference - or is it on the Precentor's whim?  R. W. C.

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