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Marriage: a language issue

12 January 2018

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


Your answers

Can anyone find a word or several words which describe same-sex unions which will be acceptable to those involved? I think most clergy would happily bless a same-sex union, but obviously cannot call it “marriage”, as marriage, by def­inition, is the union of a man and a woman. I think all the quarrelling would end if another word or title could be found.


The acceptable word to those actually involved is marriage. St Matthew reports Jesus asking “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” Our Lord is wonderful about challenging those things that may appear “obviously” so, and perhaps especially so when what is needed is not a change of language but a change of heart. Only then will the quarrelling end.

(Canon) Adrian Copping

Woolpit, Bury St Edmunds



The traditional term “sworn friendship” has been used of same-sex duos, celibate (e.g. Newman and Ambrose St John) or otherwise (e.g. Edward II and Piers Gaveston) down the ages, as surveyed in Alan Bray’s book The Friend, a title used generally and not related to Quakerism.

Such commitments could be marked by holy communion and/or gifts, and posthumously by shared tombs. Is it not churlish of Stonewall campaigners to deny the miracle of procreation and exclusive title, “marriage”, for its best setting in lifelong male-female matrimony as set out in the Prayer Book rite?

Frank McManus (Reader Emeritus)



A little while ago, we had suitable terminology, as marriages contained husbands and wives and partnerships contained partners. While the support of churchpeople for same-sex partnerships (conveying similar protections to those of marriage) might not have been total, most would find means of accommodating it. Given the drive of the liberal wing of the Church, they would not have been satisfied until the Church mirrored the secular situation.

Then, we might have spoken of civil partnerships and church partnerships as we used to speak of register-office weddings and church weddings. The suitable use of the terms “marriage”, “husband”, and “wife” would not have been impaired.

Unfortunately, the Cameron administration introduced same-sex marriage, and all the suitable use of words and continuity of practice was lost. The only way back would seem to be a reversion to the use of the terms “marriage” and “partnership” (in both secular and church usages), but that will be almost impossbile to achieve now the barriers have been flung back.

Neil Inkley

Walton-le-Dale, Preston


Your questions

Over the Christmas period, I have heard a number of sermons and talks confidently saying that in Jesus’s day in Israel shepherds were a despised and rejected underclass in the land. This may be a useful illustration for affirming God’s concern for the rejected people in our society today, but I have not found, nor has anyone been able to quote me, the sources where they have found this information. I look forward to any responses to this.

J. F.


I notice a growing tendency that people with experience in secular employment are preferred for senior C of E appointments over those who have clocked up their experience in a church context. Is this compatible with the drive for young ordinands? Should they be cautioned that early commitment to specifically Christian work will harm their chances later?

A. M.


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