Further to last night’s post, further detail has been released regarding the prospect of gay marriage. The Guardian sets the tone for the proposal, by claiming that marriage is a “right”, that is currently “denied”.
Marriage, certainly as Christians understand it, is not a “right” that may be granted to some and withheld to others, but a gift, a blessing or vocation. I alluded yesterday to the complementarity of marriage, which confers a set of benefits both physical and spiritual upon a couple. Sexual complementarity between men and women makes the giving of life a feature of marriage, and children are featured in both the C of E and Catholic wedding ceremonies.
Here is the preface from the Book of Common Worship of the Church of England:
The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children are [born and] nurtured
That is not to say that married couples must have children in order for their marriage to be considered valid, but they must at least be open to the possibility. Technically a Church of England vicar could refuse to marry a couple who refused to entertain the concept of children because otherwise they would be unable to spiritually respond to this section of the preface. It is no different to a priest refusing to conduct the baptism of a child whose parents openly state that they have no intention of bringing up the child in the Christian faith. A Christian marriage must be open to the possibility of children and is defined as the union of a man and a woman.
What this exercise seems to be all about is an exercise in semantics; the government redefining marriage as a private arrangement between two individuals which should be open to all. This has come about due to the secular nature of a civil partnership ceremony which must include no hymns of Bible reading, in order to make the distinction between the civil and religious aspect of marriage. Campaigners therefore argue that civil partnerships are viewed as inferior to marriage, due to this difference in language, despite the fact that they confer identical benefits upon a couple.
What seems more sensible is for this ban on spiritual readings to be lifted from all civil weddings and civil partnerships which has always seemed nonsensical and utterly restrictive. It is not for the state to decide the manner in which a couple wish to celebrate their marriage or civil partnership and if a couple wish to have particular reading from the Bible, or even the song “Angels” by Robbie Williams, which I understand is currently banned, then that is entirely a matter for them. No-one has copyright on the Bible or any other religious texts and it is certainly not for the state to prescribe what is acceptable.
In terms of making gay marriage only applicable in civil ceremonies, this seems an impossible ideal. As I noted last night, Church of England ministers are technically “clerks in holy orders” and thus must obey the civil laws of the land. There is nothing to stop a couple from claiming a religious ceremony as their right and attempting to take an individual vicar or the Church to court on the grounds of discrimination. The Church of England would need to re-write its entire marriage liturgy.
Of course the Guardian takes the inevitable line that the lovely liberal religious denominations are all clamouring for gay marriage and it is only the
hardline fundamentalists “Conservative Evangelical Groups” who are “demanding” protection against legal action for refusing to host civil partnership ceremonies. This is not an unreasonable request. Why should Parliament or a government on a popularity drive be able to dictate and re-define sacred religious rites? There has been a flurry of litigation from people who feel that their religious freedoms have been impacted by equality laws and the courts have not proven sympathetic. This seems like another obvious case of conflicting rights and freedoms, the so-called right of a gay couple to marry in a venue or at a service of their choosing, versus the rights of a religious institution to refuse a sacred ceremony. Objection to gay marriage is not a fundamental or extremist Christian point of view, no matter how many attempts are made portraying it as such.
I anticipate this post will attract the inevitable meaningless accusations of homophobia, which is probably why you won’t see many Christian blogs discussing this issue. We’re all too scared of being called the h-word or being thought of as nasty mean Christians who hate gay people and it is this fear which will entail the true meaning of marriage being swept away as it is emptied of its meaning. Marriage is more than a celebration of feeling, it is a specific set of promises, spouses don’t simply celebrate being in love with each other now, but promise to love each other, from this day forward, a marriage, regardless of success or failure has a huge impact upon the couple, their children and those around them, as well as entire society.
There is nothing to stop gay partnerships from achieving equal civil rights and thus this is all about attempting to put the oxymoron of gay marriage on the same moral footing as the tautologous hetrosexual marriage. Gay couples will always face religious opposition to their union and thus by getting the semantics formalised, this is one step further to the definition of religious views as bigotry as opposed to the result of a an authentic and rationally held faith. Though not intended there is no doubt that this will further marginalise Christians, who will be afraid to express any opposition and who will have the secular definition imposed upon them.
I am not concerned with the vows that two individuals may want to pledge to each other, nor their living or financial arrangements, or indeed whether or not they wish to have a religious reading at their partnership ceremony. That is entirely a matter for them as consenting adults. Gay couples may be concerned that their unions may not be thought of equally. Civilly they already treated as equal, religiously they are not, and no amount of legislation will be able to change this, no matter how much it tries, hence to some extent this is all rather pointless.The governments may call gay partnerships marriage all they like, just as they can call me a male, a hippopotamus or a homophobe all they like. It doesn’t automatically follow that I am one.