Why I can’t agree with the Church of England on Gay Marriage

This somewhat witty infographic puts, I feel, the whole debate on gay marriage into perspective.

I am a Christian. Specifically, an Anglican. I was raised in a Church of England family, attending a Church of England church, and was baptised and confirmed into the Church of England.

I’m also in favour of legalising gay marriage. I never really saw any great problem or contradiction with this, but apparently I was wrong. Last week the CofE released a response to the government’s consultation on legalising gay marriage, and my view seems to have been decided for me:

The Church of England cannot support the proposal to enable ‘all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony’.

Which is odd, because I don’t agree with that, and I was under the impression I was part of the Church of England. But whatever, it’s far from the only contradiction in the thirteen page document, so perhaps I should let that one slide in favour of moving onto some of the other problems.

For starters, this particular assertion:

We have supported various legal changes in recent years to remove unjustified discrimination and create greater legal rights for same sex couples and we welcome that fact that previous legal and material inequities between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships have now been satisfactorily addressed.

Which sound lovely. Except it’s not true. For one, the Guardian have already pointed out that the church didn’t support the Civil Partnerships Act — in fact, six bishops in the House of Lords voted against the act, whilst one voted in favour.

I also cry falsehood on the idea that inequalities have been “satisfactorily addressed”. The church may be satisfied, but there are a whole lot of gay couples who aren’t. You see, despite claims to the contrary, civil partnerships aren’t marriages in all but name. There are a number of key differences, which include:

  • No requirement of consummation of a civil partnership (which, actually, was a compromise to placate the Church…).
  • Consequently, a civil partnership can’t be dissolved on the basis of adultery, whereas a divorce could be granted to a married couple.
  • Civil partnerships cannot be conducted as a religious ceremony. Regardless of whether the church/mosque/synagogue/whatever in question wants to provide such a ceremony or not.

And besides that, the terminology matters. The way it is phrased gives an impression that they are different, and unequal. How, precisely, can that be said to have solved inequalities?

The document goes on to say that:

Marriage benefits society…by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.

Which, in itself, is true. But the alternative side of the coin is that for others it does not include the possibility of procreation. For example, those who do not want children, or are unable to have them. For them, presumably, marriage is a celebration and public declaration of love. Will the Church also be pursuing banning of such childless couples from marrying? Or will their marriages be retrospectively annulled?

Moving on, the CofE document makes clear that it thinks the motivations behind the proposed changes are ideological, saying:

We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.

Equal marriage is ideological. But then, so is keeping gay couples excluded from marriage. And, to be honest, as ideologies go I think equality has to be the safest one to go with.

The whole thing builds to a rhetorical climax built around the assertion that:

We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone…

The church has already established that marriage as it currently stands is a force for good in society. The impression gathered from their argument is that this is primarily because of the ability to produce children. This is the only material difference between homosexual and heterosexual relationships, and honestly I find the idea that the church thinks this is more important to marriage than love utterly laughable.

I’ve already said that I support gay marriage, based upon an underlying principle of inequality. It’s clear that the person (people?) who wrote document already had a view to the contrary to mine. This, presumably, is based around Leviticus 18:22, which forbids homosexual relations. But if I was to go through everything that Leviticus forbids (including shellfish and tattoos) we’d be here all day. Far more important to the country’s premier Christian institution, I would have thought, would be Matthew 7:12:

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

Which seems, to me, like a pretty strong endorsement of equality.

One thing that I do agree with the Church on is their assertion that a situation where marriage is available to all, but civil partnerships restricted to gay couples, would be legally unsustainable. My preferred solution would be to open both institutions up to anyone. Let people choose which they want. But don’t block their choices based on predjudice on such arbitrary grounds as sexuality.

I would have more sympathy with the church’s opposition, I expect, if there was any chance of churches being forced to marry gay couples. But that isn’t on the cards. That has never been on the cards.

Lastly, I couldn’t leave this alone. One of the reasons the Church of England present in opposition to the proposed legalisation of gay marriage is:

We also note that by no means all LGBT people are in favour of redefining marriage in this way.

The words “pot” “kettle” and “black” spring to mind, given that as I’ve already said, this consultation has been presented as the united view of the Anglican congregation, when it is anything but.

UPDATE: Subsequently to posting this blog this morning, I ran across this poll from YouGov, dated last week. Conducted for Stonewall, it seems to show that actually more religious people in Britain support gay marriage than oppose it. By a ratio of three to two. Yet more evidence suggesting that the Church of England’s response to the consultation does not represent the majority, let alone the settled, view of its members.


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