The Moment that Sums it All Up

Bang Head HereThere was a glorious moment in this afternoon’s Committee evidence gathering session in Portcullis House for the Same Sex Marriage Bill which completely summed up the whole problem with the conversation the nation is blatantly failing to have on this issue.

Professor Julian Rivers, a law academic from Bristol was explaining carefully and with deliberate exactitude the two different competing understandings of marriage that were in competition in the current debate. One understanding was that marriage was a social institution geared around providing stable societal structures in which children were normatively procreated and raised. The other was that marriage was simply the romantic connection of two individuals.

Having explained this point reasonably and clearly with the precision that is necessary, the response of the chair was to tell him to not take so long answering next time!

This is the problem dear reader with the current debate. The understanding of marriage that we have had for over a thousand years and that is in the process of being swept away requires careful thought and considered attention. However, plenty in the pro same-sex marriage camp aren’t interested in being careful and considered – the matter is simply about equal claim rights and therefore to contemplate what it is their opponents are arguing for in their conservatism on the matter isn’t required. For example, Professor Rivers argued very clearly that the normative understanding of marriage to involve procreation didn’t necessarily  require every married couple to procreate, but by introducing explicitly non-procreative couples into the institution (as opposed to accidently non-procreative couples like the infertile or those who chose not to have children but who could have them if they wanted) you by necessity change the normative understanding of what couples in marriage do. The response from Chris Bryant? He asked a question about why infertile couples didn’t break down Professor Rivers’ argument. It was as though he wasn’t listening (which given the evidence of his constant tweeting through the session it is clear he wasn’t).

He wasn’t listening and so so many in the pro camp aren’t listening either. It’s not that they’re failing to engage adequately with the arguments put forward by Professor Rivers and others, it that they simply aren’t even bothering to engage with them in the first place. This isn’t a discussion, it’s a steam-rollering.

The text of Professor River’s excellent submission can be read here.

The proposal to change the current definition of marriage depends on a sense that the man-woman criterion confers no distinctive social goods and represents an arbitrary limitation. But this is not the case. Marriage affirms the equal value of men and women, and promotes the welfare of children. Moreover, the logic of equal recognition and radical choice means that the boundaries of any new definition will be far more vulnerable. Challenges to its exclusivity, its permanence and even its sexual nature will be unavoidable. Marriage risks becoming any formalised domestic arrangement between any number of people for any length of time. On such a trajectory, marriage will eventually unravel altogether.

God help us.

Update – here’s the full exchange between Professor Rivers and Chris Bryant.

Q 248 Mr Burrowes:  I invite headlines. What are the defining characteristics that have permeated law to the point where we are at? You say there are two views, but what are the characteristics that have defined the institution of marriage?

Professor Rivers: The law has tried hitherto to track the more biological conception of marriage. In that sense, that is why it has, for more than 1,000 years, insisted that a marriage can only take place between a man and a woman. It has been a settled part of the common law, and the romantic view of marriage has been allowed to flourish extra-legally through cohabitation primarily by people who rejected marriage and then more recently in civil partnership as a regulated form of a more romantic notion of marriage.

Q 249 Chris Bryant:  I am sorry, but I do find that analysis hopelessly flawed and historically completely inaccurate. The 1662 prayer book provides three reasons for marriage, one of which might by your romantic thing of people being able to share a mutual society in adversity or in prosperity. Before that is your procreation, and the second one is to prevent fornication and to provide for a more secure society. Have you ever read the judgment of the Massachusetts supreme court in 2003 in relation to same-sex marriages? It makes it clear that there is a long history of people getting married for a lot of different complex reasons, many of which were to do with money and property rights. I just do not see that binary division. It seems that you have created this, to be able to argue against same-sex marriage.

Professor Rivers: No, I do not agree with that. I did not mean to imply that the longer-standing, more biological view excluded the romantic dimension, but it insisted that several things were tied together to form a marriage. Obviously, the prayer book is a classic statement that tied together the three purposes that you identified, which includes the notion of romantic love.

Q 250 Chris Bryant:  But until 1753 and Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, there was no provision, other than that a clergyman of the Church of England had to take the service. There was no other reason that a marriage could be voided.

Professor Rivers: That is not strictly correct, because it was only in the 16th century that the requirement of ecclesiastical solemnisation became normal within what was then the Catholic—the universal—Church. If you go back even earlier, it was simply by mutual consent that you could get married, but it was mutual consent between people of the opposite sex.

Column number: 99

Q 251 Chris Bryant:  I do not see how that creates your binary definition—that one thing is romantic love and relationships, and if you think that that is all that marriage is about, it is bound to lead to this; and that another version of marriage is about procreation, and therefore you could not possibly entertain the idea of same-sex marriage, and that is when you end up with: why on earth would we allow Prince Charles to marry Camilla?

Professor Rivers: When I talk about the older conception of marriage as being, to use this label, “biological”, that was a shorthand for saying that it attempted to be responsive to what it took to be natural facts about human kind—namely, the division into two sexes and the involvement of both sexes in the procreation of further human beings. That concept of union is ultimately responsive to biological union, in that it takes two people of opposite sex to produce another human being. It is biological in that broader sense, not in the sense that every single marriage obviously has issue in children.

Q 252 Chris Bryant:  A large number of the civil partnerships that I have seen have family responsibilities. They either have actual children—whether surrogated or however they managed it—or adopted children, so I would have thought that the care of children as a social good and as a strengthening of society was a third part of the value of marriage for everyone.

Professor Rivers: With respect, that misses my point. My point is that the meaning of marriage is socially constructed. We can define marriage in a number of different ways, and the question is how we go about doing that. We can go about doing it in a way that attempts to track biological reality—I am simply recording, as a matter of fact, that that has been the typical approach for centuries, if not millennia—or we can focus particularly on one dimension of a relationship, which is the romantic attachment, and we can make that the essence of marriage. We could make other things the essence of marriage. We could make it, and many cultures do, securing the inheritance of property. We could make marriage into fundamentally a property-based institution.

Chris Bryant:  But we might want to do all these things, and that might point to why same-sex marriage adds to the greater goodness of the whole of society and cannot detract from the marriage of heterosexuals.

The Chair:  May I intervene in this conversation or debate between the witness and Mr Bryant? Several other Members wish to ask questions. I again appeal for brevity in questions and particularly in answers.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=729051919 Mark Salmon

    Just emailed the MP in question to ask if he would please listen a little more carefully in future.

  • Fiddlesticks

    Yes, I’ve been trying to get my head around this too. Although I have some sympathy with the whole ‘will you civilly partnership me’ problem with the rather unromantic Civil Partnerships, I’ve been taken aback by the lack of engagement from the pro side. Did you read the transcript of the questions in parliament before the vote on the bill? Every single question about the nature of marriage was answered by the equalities minister with ‘Well, maybe we’re hopeless romantics, but we enjoy a good wedding celebrating a couple’s love’. Including the question ‘does the minister recognise the difference between weddings and the institution of marriage, they are not one and the same thing’. Something just doesn’t seem to me to be quite right about this whole debate. It seems that the pro side see the defense of marriage between a man and a woman to be something on the level of racial apartheid and so not worthy of even the respect of a rational debate.

    This has been a very polarising debate. I believe that many gay people have gone from being ambivalent about gay marriage to seeing this as absolutely necessary to achieve equal esteem in society (a serious failing from the anti side). Personally, I’ve gone from being very much in favour of Civil Partnerships and gay adoption to being very anxious about the future. If they steamroller over marriage, what else can radical gender theorists steamroller?

  • Ancient Briton

    I agree entirely. From what I saw of the questioning I thought it mainly hostile apart from when the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon gave evidence for the liberal-minded Bench of the Church in Wales where the Gospel is being ‘reinterpreted’ for the benefit of liberals. Even Chris Bryant for whom the whole exercise appears to be about seemed impressed as was the member who asked for details of ‘Rev Davies’s’ church and times of service! As you say, sums it all up.

    • Fiddlesticks

      The questioning of the Catholic Church was VERY hostile. I guess I’m unfamiliar with these parliamentary sessions, but wasn’t the point supposed to be to give the Catholic Church the opportunity to explain how the bill was going to affect them, not for members of parliament give their opinion on the Catholic Church and show off their knowledge of random facts about Roman marriage 3 000 years ago like a bunch of smarty-pants school children? Then when the Chair pointed out that the line of questioning had nothing to do with the bill, Chris Bryant had the cheek to complain about the way the proceedings were being chaired! Is this how these sessions are normally conducted? It all seemed very childish to me.

      • Ancient Briton

        Not just the Catholic Church but the Coalition for Marriage too. I thought Archbishop Peter Smith was equal to the challenge but the C4M reps were given a particularly hard time. The committee seemed unable to comprehend that the coalition is non-religious with no party alignment. C4M represents my views not from a religious standpoint but simply from the view that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Same-sex couples have, rightly in my view, been given equal rights but the majority of the committee appeared to be in favour of the absurdity of so-called equal marriage with no interest in views that did not reinforce their position. What a farce.

        • Fiddlesticks

          I think it reflects a problem more generally that has grown up around these gender issues, which is that there’s a lot of wishful thinking on both sides. The wishful thinking on the conservative side is that where someone doesn’t fit the expected development of sexuality that this is simply a phase or an adolescent developmental issue that can be dealt with easily. The wishful thinking on the postmodern gender theory is that gender and heterosexual marriage are a social construct and so we can simply reconstruct marriage around strong feelings of attachment rather than biology.

          Each side feels so threatened by the other, that it simply refuses to acknowledge it’s existence. What I find so disappointing about the current gvt. approach is that our governors are appointed by us to act as arbitrators in these kinds of disputes and these kinds of parliamentary committees are supposed to listening to all evidence and attempting to find some common ground that will make the best law for all citizens. They can’t please everybody, but what they are not supposed to be doing is indulging their own personal prejudices at the expense of listening to the evidence which they themselves have asked special interest groups to put forward.

          To sum up: I agree with you – what a farce! and, also, what a wasted opportunity at coming to a better understanding.

        • Fiddlesticks

          The committee were no match for Archbishop Peter’s RC bloody mindedness. ‘We’re not interested in representing current opinion, we’re here to represent 2000 years of Church teaching. If people don’t agree, they can always leave the Church. What were you expecting us to say?’
          Another comedy moment: ‘You are representing the Church as unkind and legalistic’. Church legal adviser: ‘We’re here to comment on the legal implications of the Bill. That’s why we’re being legalistic.’
          The RC Church. If you’re looking for cultural relevance, go somewhere else!

          • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

            I love it! Just demonstrates doesn’t it that some on the Committee aren’t interested in hearing opposing opinions. They ask them to comment on the law and then complain when they comment on the law.

  • Sarah1845

    I’ve only seen part not all of the debate, but based on what I have seen: first, the purpose of the meeting was to lick into shape a bill whose central point is that most MPs agree that marriage between people of the same sex is going to happen. From that point of view, almost all the C4M reasoning above is an irrelevance to sorting out that Bill. Nevertheless some of the MPs did take the committee as an opportunity to ask potshot type questions, and you can’t really blame the chap for answering. The Chair seemed more interested in getting to stuff relevant to the bill, hence his impatience. But what this was never intended to be was a listening process about whether gay people should be able to marry each other or not, and the witnesses who only wanted to obstruct got shorter shrift. The bishops from Norwich and Wales both got complimentary tweets from some of the MPs afterwards, because they’d clearly accepted the fair accompli and were working with it.

    By the way, unless I’ve misunderstood, they seemed to be saying at the end that under current law the definition of adultery is a penis entering a vagina – so all sorts of heavy petting doesn’t count – nor does anything you do with your own sex. So it seems to me that the confusion around faithfulness/consummation/ adultery is pretty much there already with or without equal marriage, because there’s a world of blatantly unfaithful choices that already technically come under unreasonable behaviour, not adultery.

    • Fiddlesticks

      The Catholic group had accepted that and were simply trying to explain the legal difficulties they could potentially get into by carrying on teaching the orthodox Catholic version of marriage, which is now in conflict with the legal definition. It was the MPs that kept trying to steer them off the point into attacking Catholic teaching – I mean did they really think that 2000 years of Church teaching was going to come crashing down in that one session?

      On the adultery point, the reason why only penis entering vagina sex is adultery is that adultery is an act which risks conceiving children outside the marriage bond. Unfaithfulness in the law has nothing to do with feelings. It is an objective act, not a subjective (unlike ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which depends partly on what is perceived to be unreasonable by the spouse). Yet again you are demonstrating your inability to grasp that we do not have a marriage law based on the romantic model of marriage. We have a marriage law based on the conception/kinship ties model of marriage.

      • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

        In fact Sarah demonstrates my fundamental point for me very well. Proponents of the Bill aren’t even bothering to discuss what the current legal framework for marriage is and *why* it is that.

        • Fiddlesticks

          It’s the arrogance of that that bothers me so much. If they were saying, ‘well, yes, we understand why the law has been this way for so many years, but we think it’s important for the gay community to have marriage, so here’s how we’re going to do it …’ I would be much happier. But how can you trust government ministers who take such a cavalier approach to law and history, and sneer at anybody who dares to disagree? My confidence in the parliamentary process is at an all time low.

          • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

            I agree – it’s disturbing for so many reasons, not least that the people who make our laws don’t seem at all interested in *why* the laws are what they are at the moment.

        • Sarah1845

          Well it just seems obvious that an adultery law framed in that way is all about the production of legitimate heirs and inheritance rights, and from that point of view speaks neither to Christian ideas of a faithful bond (you can be buggered nightly by your butler, and yet not be committing adultery) or ideas which you consider secular, of marriage framed by love and companionship. Most people are not now reduced to being a professional womb, (unless you’re the unfortunate Duchess of Cambridge).

          My point is that marriage mainly framed by bloodlines and inheritance rights is now a fossil, even for heterosexuals – who find it reasonable to get a divorce for sexual behaviour that could not produce a child, and do so all the time. The people banging the consummation/adultery drum are clinging to a straw that’s been moribund in the heterosexually partnered community for some time — unless Peter is secretly heir to a dukedom and is obsessed with making sure that the 127th Duke of MatchingTye is the fruit of his loins.

          If MPs don’t appear to care what they are throwing away, it’s because they are engaged in the practical, and we all know that none of this will make any practical difference to someone’s decision to get a divorce: if the definition of adultery won’t cover it, then unreasonable behaviour is there to take up the slack.

          • Fiddlesticks

            If the legitimate kinship ties model is such a dead duck, then why did over half Conservative MPs vote against the Bill? If blood no longer matters, then why do social workers go to such trouble to keep natural families together (not separating mother/children, keeping siblings together etc.)? If adultery has stopped having any more serious consequences than hurting people’s feelings, then why has a woman just gone to prison for aborting her baby from an adulterous relationship?

            Yes, there are some heterosexuals who also think that we’re beyond that and it’s now all old hat, but they’re the ones that no longer believe in marriage. These people are rather arrogantly assuming that the rest of us should stop believing in marriage just because they have. However, as C4M and the Catholic bishops keep trying to point out, a large number of people in the Western World (not to mention the rest of the World) still do believe in marriage. A man and a woman have sex and a baby comes out. What could be more practical than that? Why don’t you want to face that fact?

            • Sarah1845

              You misunderstand my point, which is that most marriages are founded on a faithfulness which extends well beyond whether an unfaithful partner is engaging in activity that could lead to a baby. No-one is *just* concerned that their children are their own, and disinterested beyond that.

              You’d need to be very hard line committed to the idea that marriage is not about emotional attachment, to say that someone who had not committed potentially-baby-producing unfaithful acts should be undivorceable for other kinds of sexual betrayal. Certainly that is not how the vast majority of modern marriages work (except perhaps a few aristos whose marriages may still revolve most essentially around the bloodline stuff, no matter what extramarital unfaithfulness is going on).

              • sheppied007

                Sir Francis Buller, a Judge wrote in 1785: ‘I am now come to the last thing for which (as a personal injury) an action will lie, and that is
                adultery. And the action lies in this case for the injury done to the husband,
                in alienating his wife’s affections; destroying the comfort he had from her
                company; and raising children for him to support and provide for.’

                By 1957, another judge took a broader view was that ‘the essence of the offence of adultery consists, not in the moral turpitude of the act of sexual intercourse, but in the voluntary surrender to another person of the reproductive powers or faculties to the guilty person; and any submission of those powers to the service or enjoyment of any person other than the husband or wife comes within the definition of ‘adultery’.

                Unfaithfulness involves too broad a range of behaviour to be pursued as a legal action. Principally, because it would be difficult to distinguish this from unwarranted jealousy: ‘my wife danced with another man twice at our anniversary party!’ No, a specific kind of behaviour can be held to repudiate the vows of marriage.

                Even in this modern era of ‘no-fault’ divorce, the key issue at stake here is a trust in the future outcome for the injured spouse, their offspring and extended kinship arrangements. Unfaithfulness engenders distrust. Distrust about whether the wayward spouse was or would ever be settled in exclusive mutual sexual affection; distrust in the sufficiency of lifelong exclusive sexual intimacy of between husband and wife, but also distrust as to which current or future children of the marriage are genuinely one’s own offspring and responsibility. Who wants to anxiously await DNA test results for each child?

                Some here take the view that marriage does, in some cases, only
                encompass the first two of these breaches. However, if the third is an optional consideration, why should marriage be a public legislative matter?

                Of course, distrust between spouses can lead to very ugly public consequences, but does it require a framework of privileges and legal remedies in order to facilitate mutual trust. If so, why not simply support any co-habitation in the same way? If the division of common property is a concern, there is ample law elsewhere to deal with this.

                So, as a public institution, marriage must have a purpose beyond only facilitating and arbitrating mutual trust. The reason for this is the potential impact of that union on children and the kinship that society relies upon. This has far-reaching consequences for the whole of society beyond the impact of the mutual trust of the couple themselves. In fact, outside of marriage, domestic promises of good-will are not legally enforceable, so why should this particular private domestic promise, more than any other, attract tax-payers’ support and public funding through the State?

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Sarah,

      Your final paragraph, I’m afraid to say, demonstrates my whole point beautifully. Ask yourself *why*, given the current legal understanding marriage, why it is only penis in vangina sex that constitutes adultery? Can you answer that question for us?

  • jillfromharrow

    Having eventually got round to watching most of this, my feeling that this country is being run by minority pressure groups was reinforced! Why were most of the panel either gay or pro-gay? It seems that the only ones who weren’t were the David Burrowes, who wasn’t there most of the time, another whose Irish (or was it Scottish?) accent was so thick that I couldn’t hear what he was saying half of the time, and one who voted against gay marriage but it was difficult to decide which side he was on.

    The sneering tone towards people of faith (or indeed anybody questioning gay marriage) really put my back up (even descending to a ribald guffaw at one point). They really didn’t want to hear it. The RC Archbishop was – well, a RC Archbishop – and held his ground pretty well, thought the RC lady who told him that she and most of her RC friends didn’t believe the teaching of the church really, really did need challenging on this. And why only smartypants lawyers who didn’t think that legal challenges would succeed? They can’t possibly know that, as the law changes all the time.

    I thought Sharon James and Colin Hart were pretty good, and dealt with the open hostility very well. Though why Colin Hart couldn’t answer Ben Bradshaw’s insolent query about whether or not he supported Civil Partnerships more openly I don’t quite know. I myself vehemently opposed them at the time for the very same reasons, which have now come to fruition. Financial and legal injustices could have been dealt with in other ways without mimicking marriage. But that’s easy to say on a blog like this; not so easy with a dozen hostile pairs of eyes glaring at you.

    Somebody should really explain to the short lady who couldn’t understand why ‘extending marriage would undermine it’ that counterfeit money doesn’t benefit the economy, nor does extending disabled parking spaces to the able-bodied benefit disabled people.

    Professor Rivers was good, I thought.

    It seemed to me that this was simply an exercise in paying lip service to the idea of ‘consultation’ when they really have no intention of taking any concerns seriously.

    It now appears that Cameron is about to pack the House of Lords with 50 new placemen in case his pet project runs into difficulty there.

    • Fiddlesticks

      The woman who was so offended and hurt that the bishop thought those who thought abortion was just great might as well leave the Catholic Church. diddums.

    • Guglielmo Marinaro

      “I myself vehemently opposed [Civil Partnerships] at the time for the very same reasons, which have now come to fruition. Financial and legal injustices could have been dealt with in other ways without mimicking marriage.”

      The very reason why I am 100% in favour of Civil Partnerships (but not same sex marriage) is precisely that they DON’T mimic marriage. They give legal recognition to committed gay relationships WITHOUT trying to make them into a caricature of straight ones. Those whose motive for opposing Civil Partnerships was clearly hatred of gay relationships shouldn’t really be surprised if they aren’t being taken too seriously now when they argue against same sex marriage, particularly when they regurgitate once again the same old silly slippery slope arguments, which are calculated to deceive those who are not very bright and to insult the intelligence of the rest. They have done a service neither to themselves nor to anybody else.

      • Fiddlesticks

        I was in favour of Civil Partnerships, and tended to rather agree with you that gay marriage was somehow making gay relationships into a kind of caricature of straight one. However, I’ve come to understand that for some gay couples marriage seems to mean romantic commitment in a way that Civil Partnerhips do not. I was wondering if you had any ideas about that? Do you think there’s an alternative that might work better?

    • Sarah1845

      I counted three declared Christians on the panel and suspect there were more – all in favour of same sex marriage. So I don’t think you can simply dismiss them as ‘sneering at people of faith’. Of the Catholic MPs who voted, 57% were in favour of gay marriage – as were all but one of the Muslim MPs. You should countenance the idea that it’s not that parliament has been ‘taken over by minorities’ but simply that yours is now the minority view. For all the undoubted pot shots, the committee does keep genuinely returning to the task of defending those with unpopular views, as it quite rightly should. Ironically one of the most generous and vocal defender of views not his own was Jeffrey John.

      • Fiddlesticks

        Well, unless you’re a fanatical humanist like Richard Dawkins people don’t tend to sneer at people of faith as long as they agree with them on anything that really matters! I do take your point that being in favour of gay marriage is hardly a niche view in our society any longer, but that’s all the more reason to consider how this move is going to affect those who still hold to the orthodox view of marriage officially taught by the RC Church and the CofE. Much as people might like it to, official church teaching doesn’t shift with the times, no matter how ‘hurt and offended’ that makes people. That’s what the group was supposed to be discussing and I saw very little respect for a different point of view, and a lot of sneering. Not a very professional showing from our nation’s leaders.

        • Sarah1845

          The only person I’ve seen so far who wasn’t asked quite difficult questions was I think Alice Arnold – everyone else was invited to explore quite tricky stuff, including the fluffy old Quakers and Unitarians. Undoubtedly you could tell that the mood of the panel was more hostile to some groups. It’s not really surprising that they went for the Catholics – for months their public rhetoric has been extraordinary (‘slavery’ etc) and they haven’t been enormously good at backing up their claims with evidence or answering awkward questions – of course the gay Christian MPs grabbed their chance. The Bishop of Norwich, though, given a potentially tough time, came out of the whole thing pretty well, simply by being straightforward.

          I thought it was telling that with every witness they kept coming back to the situation of teachers with a conscientious objection to equal marriage – it’s pretty clear that they don’t want a load of Ladele cases in the teaching profession and are seeking to find how to deal with this – while also making sure that children raised by same sex parents, or who are gay themselves won’t be made to feel bad by what they hear at school. I think this is a far more genuine issue than the consummation stuff, and one where there’s important work to be done to get it right. I think that conservative laws and attitudes have done real harm to gay people – it’ll be absolutely no credit to us if we now create laws which unnecessarily hound a different group of people. The fine line is made more complex by the fact that the Catholics in particular seem to believe that if they can’t discriminate against certain groups in their work in secular society, then they are themselves being discriminated against. This is all worth teasing out, and I think they are genuinely doing that.

          • Fiddlesticks

            We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one, Sarah. It’s important to work out how to deal with differences of opinion – where the boundaries are, as it were. But it didn’t seem to me that the questions were aimed at doing that at all. And, no, this wasn’t a suitable opportunity for the gay MPs to get back at the Catholic Church for the slavery comments – they’ve had plenty of opportunities to do that in the press, through the Stonewall ‘bigot of the year’ award etc. This was their opportunity to bite their tongue on their own personal opinions and do their job for the good of society.

            • jillfromharrow

              Interesting to note, though, that Ben Bradshaw admitted to the BBC man that this was a good ‘payback’ opportunity.

      • jillfromharrow

        I fear that you are right, Sarah, in that many Christians simply do not understand (or know) the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. In all my years of churchgoing I don’t think I have ever heard anything from the pulpit on sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage – or indeed of other moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia (and come to think of it, very little about sin generally!). No wonder that RC lady I mentioned earlier is confused about Catholic doctrine if this lack of proper teaching is replicated nationwide. Trust the government to pick that type of Christian for this panel instead of orthodox ones.

        • Sarah1845

          Actually, I don’t think any of these people are confused – any passing atheist could tell you the official position of the big churches on most sexual morality questions. It’s simply that they dont agree: and as Catholics and Anglicans leave space for the conscience of laity, they should not in fact expect to get thrown out for not agreeing. In the US they reckon 90%+ of Catholic women use contraception – meanwhile the Catholic church works furiously to stop contraception from being part of their basic medical care. Similarly, as we see in the House of Commons, you get an awful lot of people affiliated to a faith who no longer find some conservative positions credible or tenable. (In fact I got it a bit wrong earlier – only 34% of Catholic MPs voted against the gay marriage bill: 9% abstained, 57% for: so only one in three were deeply committed to the Catholic Church’s official position. ) Similarly, it seems inevitable that the Anglican culture wars will end with space being made at all levels of the church for those who hold a liberal position.

          • jillfromharrow

            Yes, so I see from reading some of the C of E Bishops’ blogs. How very sad. It is terrible to watch the Church of England go down the same route as other ‘progressive’ churches and denominations like the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. If there is little difference between the Church and the world, well, really, what is the point? If people want a social club, I am sure there are much more fun places elsewhere.

            • Sarah1845

              I can think of plenty of LGBT people in their sixties who have stuck with the church their whole lives at considerable personal cost. Assuming that they are all atheists who just fancy your patch as a social club is just the sort of disrespect, or perhaps willful blindness, to anyone whose world you’ve never inhabited. In any case, none of this culture wars stuff shows up in the Nicene Creed or is actually central to Christianity, even if the C of E is giving the general impression in public at the moment that it is.

  • Revd_Dave

    I loved the bit in the morning session when one MP (later backed by Chris Bryant) took it upon himself to assert – to the RC Archbishop of Southwark – that a patristic father had banned same-sex marriage, and so it must have been acceptable prior to that.

    Amazing how omniscient these people are – they know our faith, doctrines (and motivations) so much better than we do!!!…. or, just maybe, they show their respect by make things up to suit themselves!!!

    • Fiddlesticks

      It’s a bit like those people who go on and on about shellfish. As if in the past 2000 years they were the only people smart enough to think to themselves ‘hmm, why do we keep the Old Testament laws on sexuality and not on shellfish’. I have to bite my tongue on that one every time. ‘Have you ever read Theology of the Body?’ I want to say, ‘No. Neither have I. It’s far too long and there’s too much in it for me to get my head around. But, as far as I know, there’s absolutely nothing in it about shellfish!’

      I much preferred the afternoon session. The LGBT representatives did they’re job at explaining how marriage law was going to affect them, without going off into making smar-ass comments on things they have no knowledge or authority to speak on. I have no problem with LGBT groups putting their side of things. I just wish the concerns of the other side would be listened to with equal respect.

  • http://twitter.com/youthpasta Phil Taylor

    I watched the CofE and Catholic parts of the morning session, but avoided the CofW as I was fairly certain of what was going to happen (comments here seem to support my thinking).

    Chris Bryant was an utter disgrace. He was clearly out for blood on those who disagree with him and you could see in his eyes that he held all bar the Bishop of Norwich (who was a very disappointing choice of person to represent the CofE on this matter, thank God he isn’t ABC!) with utter contempt. And to then moan at the way the chairman was chairing he committee because they were being allowed to speak against his views (at least that was the impression given all that happened in the lead up to his complaint) just went to show what an appalling public servant he is. Self-serving – no doubt. Public serving – no chance!

    And it just goes to show the lack of quality thought by those in favour. Well, this and people like Bryant declaring in the Commons debate “We’ve moved on!” When people raised the fact that when civil partnerships were introduced they were declared very clearly to not be a precursor to same-sex marriage.

    If ever there was a time to be disgusted and appalled at the quality of our politicians (in terms of doing their job, not in terms of the way they may or may not have abused the expenses system) it is now, as more and more of them seem to be in it with no idea about why they are there beyond perpetuating the system.

    • http://twitter.com/youthpasta Phil Taylor

      Very interesting read here:
      http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2013/02/15/brendan-oneills-contribution-to-the-house-of-commons-committe-on-the-same-sex-marriage-bill/

      It seems they will give a similarly rough ride to atheists they disagree with as well as people of faith! Bring on the Muslims and let’s see how they treat them!

      • jillfromharrow

        I agree, Phil. I am glad Brendan O’Neill mentioned the eye-rolling for the benefit of Hansard. At least the sneering is on record. I think people should know how our politicians regard ordinary decent people who would agree with Brendan O’Neill.

        Another Gillian Duffy moment coming on, perhaps?

        • http://twitter.com/youthpasta Phil Taylor

          Agreed. Personally I’d like every constituent of each MP on the committee to be asked the simple question “Whether you agree with the views of the people giving evidence or not, if you were asked to express your views to a committee would you like to be treated with respect, or sneered at if they disagreed with you?”
          I’d like to think that that would see all the guilty MPs get the boot at the next election. Probably wouldn’t, but I can dream it I guess!!!

    • jillfromharrow

      I did at one stage feel that this was the Chris Bryant show. He doesn’t seem very ashamed of having posed on a gay ‘dating’ website in his underpants, but holds in contempt people who think marriage should be between a man and a woman. Strange morality!

      What would be really good would be for this whole thing to be shown to all constituents of the MPs present, and see how many would still be in office after the next election. People don’t generally like being sneered at – which they are, indirectly, if they hold the same views as say Brendan O’Neill and Mark Jones.

      I too was pretty disgusted at the low level of knowledge about the real purpose of marriage from some of the ‘progressives’. One would think that those entrusted with a major decision like this would acquaint themselves with the facts.

      Pity they didn’t consult Peter!

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  • sheppied007

    http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/005909.html

    Enjoy an interesting bit of legal parry and thrust that mirrors the Committee on the weekend! What’s your verdict?

  • http://www.facebook.com/A.Martin.Reynolds1 Martin Reynolds

    I agree with the basic thesis of this post.
    I also think some of the reasons for this deafness are well articulated below.

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