The CofE’s Official Response to Gay Marriage

It’s out and it’s brilliant.

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Lots of media reports this morning.

As always, Peter’s Axiom of Liberal Behaviour applies when observing the response – If the liberals are spitting about it, you know it’s probably a good thing

60 Comments on “The CofE’s Official Response to Gay Marriage

  1. Peter’s Axiom of Liberal Behaviour applies when observing the response – If the liberals are spitting about it, you know it’s probably a good thing

    Come now Peter, that’s Fox-news style immaturity (and I type this after checking, as I tend to do, for the latest news and interesting bloggers), and one is reminded of Gore Vidal’s point on liberal coming from the Latin from ‘pertaining to a free man’ and the implications for any society that seeks to demonise the word/concept. I could write ‘If the Tories oppose it, it must be good’ and it has some superficial attraction to ‘liberals’. But of course tories/conservatives/whatever also tend to oppose things such as human trafficking that ‘liberals’ are not exactly cool with! And I can think of a few occasions where, to your credit, you joined in with ‘liberal’ condemnation of homophobic comments posted on this blog, which suggests that more…extreme… conservatives (hello, Jill! ;-)) could accuse you yourself of falling short of your own Axiom!

  2. I wish the government would just get on with it: abolish marriage altogether and make civil partnership the only legal union between two people. It would be a lot less painful than all this pussyfooting around with words.

  3. Excellent things:
    – not trying to claim marriage as the church’s to define for anyone other than the church, making the point that neither church nor state defines marriage for society: society does, as it always has
    – pointing out not also changing Civil Partnerships to be gender-neutral is simply silly
    – pointing out that the Government’s attempts at safeguards aren’t going to hold water legally in the courts
    – that this is going to lead to the state (or more accurately, the European Court of Human Rights) changing the church’s doctrine unilaterally
    – sympathetic to the Government’s point of view, while strongly disagreeing with their conclusions

    I find a bit annoying that the document gives no theological reasons why CofE holds to man+women view and why it couldn’t hold a man+man/women+women view, other than a vague appeal to tradition and society. Then again, any attempt would lead to outrage from some camp or other of the CofE saying “that’s not our view” and the press misinterpreting it as CofE trying to impose religion on the state, so actually – thinking about it – it’s pretty astute.

    • If ‘society’ can define marriage, then surely the ‘state’ can too? The amount of people signing up to the Save Marriage! type campaigns is surely primarily a capitulation to the logic that most people do not want marriage to change, not that marriage is a millenia old tradition that can never change (indeed as rape was only criminalised in marriage circa , IIRC, 1994, the latter contention is clearly ahistorical nonsense). I wonder how many people who claim that of course two members of the same sex can never be married also believe, as the laws on marriage require them too, that a heterosexual couple aren’t properly married until the male ejaculates in the woman’s vagina?

      • The state is only society in totalitarian regime. The state can recognise and give benefits to certain relationships they deem worthy of recognition and benefits, but they don’t define marriage.

        You then spout a load of stuff that I don’t see how they are relevant to the points I brought up, but I’ll address them anyway.

        The Save Marriage! type campaigns, and their counterparts on the other side is society having the debate as to what marriage is – the state has bought the issue up, so why can’t society discuss it and make their definition more concrete? Appeals to ‘unchanging’ nature of marriage is indeed nonsense, and irrelevant to what I said, nor the CofE’s main point that the state has no right to change their doctrine unilaterally – it can only recognise and ratify it, and the proposed change to marriage law would indeed force a change in doctrine, even if unintended.

        Marital rape was state redefining rape – which isn’t societies to define, but the state’s as a matter for the law, though society did put pressure on the state (as is their right in a democracy, just like the petitions about this marriage law change).

        Your point on consummation raises some interesting stuff – the law, you believe, requires society to not recognise marriages that aren’t consummated and you aren’t happy with that. This isn’t the situation – it is simply that the state doesn’t recognise some marriages that society does. There’s no legal problem with society recognising civil partnerships, or non-consummated heterosexual relationship that have involved a wedding, or any relationship they want, as marriages. That you aren’t happy with the state imposing it’s view of marriage on society in this case (though it doesn’t) is interesting, as that the state shouldn’t be imposing it’s view of marriage on society, or themselves, is the main argument of the CofE.

      • “that a heterosexual couple aren’t properly married until the male ejaculates in the woman’s vagina”

        Surely it is that one of the valid reasons for annulling a marriage is non-consummation. Death-bed marriages, for example, are legal and binding, even though consummation may be physically impossible.

    • What exactly was he expecting? It’s a bit like the Conservative Party publishing a document re-stating its commitment to free enterprise.

    • Yup.

      Ignore the Bishops. They are two suffragans who will (without wanting to sound condescending because I know one of them and really like him) rise no further then their current positions. They’re letting off steam because they don’t like the way the HoB practices collective responsibility.
      The academics’ response is more interesting…

      • Yes, I think the reply by the academics is more interesting. I’m not sure about the comparisons with inter-racial marriage. Considering the higher court ruled that marriage was ‘necessary for our survival’ it was clearly thinking about marriage as the right to start an inter-racial family (and that was clearly what the state court was trying to prevent).

        Also think some of their own arguments are pretty circular – like, the government has made procreation separate from heterosexual sex through adoption and various technological interventions so the Church just has to accept this as a fait accompli? That then makes it twice as offensive that they try to compare apposition to same-sex marriage to the social engineering of the anti-miscegenation laws. I’m really not sure that those in favour of the traditional family are the ones doing the social engineering! I think it’s a perfectly respectable position to be cautious about the recent innovations and the claims that this type of family planning is better than the ‘accidental’ kids that heterosexuals have.

        • Also think some of their own arguments are pretty circular – like, the government has made procreation separate from heterosexual sex through adoption and various technological interventions so the Church just has to accept this as a fait accompli?

          No, it’s reflective of the fact that the Church (C of E) itself has accepted the legitimacy of recreational over procreational sex. When was the last time you (or anyone) heard a sermon against birth control in a MOR evangelical, Anglican Church? (I suppose certain Anglo-Catholics might take that line, but then I’d agree with Damian Thompson that many of them are simply pretending to be Roman Catholics – up to and including having pictures of the Pope in their churches – but lack the balls to swim the Tiber) If there was clear blue water between ‘heterosexual marriages involving the faithful’ and ‘average heterosexual marriages’ then the Church might have a point, but of course that’s not even a line of argument that interests reasserts, given that it’s necessary to conflate the two in order to stack the deck against those who would open marriage to gay people.

        • To add: the claim that gender complimentarity is sexist when not in relation to procreation because it is not acceptable in the 21st century to suggest that men and women are different. This sounds fine. But, just a minute, if there are no essential differences between men and women, why do we have such a thing as homosexuality?

          • Perhaps because preference for boobs over abs (or vice versa) tells us precisely nothing about the legitimacy of sexual generalisations per se? ;) Aside from which, isn’t a stereotypical queen with a thing (as with Quentin Crisp) for stereotypically butch straight guys not engaged in a form of being sexually attracted to a difference? Men, to generalise (o the irony!), are attracted to attractive female bodies; they would, in many cases, continue to do so even if the woman viewed herself as interchangeable with men (has there been a decrease in heterosexual male desire since the rise of feminism?)

            And Gore Vidal once made the excellent point that, although Judaism would still be an important aspect of identity in a world without antisemitism, people would think very little of same-sex attraction in a world that was not homophobic (and the historical record arguably supports his contention here). Isn’t the plurality of sexual desires, demonstrably present in nature, an argument *against* *recreational* heterosexual sex being the only variety that isn’t in a sense pathological?

            • I’m not sure that most people really want to return to the values of those societies. Men who took the ‘passive’ role were generally looked down upon, as were women for the same reason. As sex was about power, recreation, and a kind of right of passage, commitment and family were downgraded, and pederasty was OK. It was in this context that the Judeo-Christian objections to homosexuality and commitment to fidelity within marriage developed.

              I think that for most gay people, gay marriage really is about having the commitment part of marriage. In that way we’re still attempting to hold on to Judeo-Christian values, with some couples lamenting the fact that they can’t get married in Church, and teaching on ‘holy, faith, monogamous’ etc. In other ways, society has rejected Christian teaching – eg. chastity before marriage unhealthy and unnatural, abstinence teaching is silly, sex is a right of passage into adulthood.

              From the more extreme wings, however, the pre-Christian values are coming in with a vengence – sex between adults and teenagers, and even adults and children is not always abusive (Peter Tatchell), but can be a valuable initiation into sexual pleasure by a more experienced person. Monogamy and age of consent and oppressive (again, Peter Tatchell). Men in heterosexual relationships are missing out on the joys of anal sex (Prof E. G. Anderson) – short step from that to ‘women are selfish for not letting men have anal sex or expecting them to be monogamous).

              You say some sections of the Church have bought into some aspects of this ideology by promoting recreational sex. I’m sure you’re right as the Church is part of society and tends to be influenced by society’s values. I think the answer to that is to examine the message we’re giving people about sex and relationships critically against biblical standards, not to accept uncritically the messages coming from society.

              • Men in heterosexual relationships are missing out on the joys of anal sex (Prof E. G. Anderson)

                You do realise that straight people do have anal sex? Stereotypically homophobic straight guys would not exactly be in favour of the act being recriminalised. If you’re referring to males being penetrated, then it’s worth noting that the prostate is the male g-spot. If you want to discuss ‘arguments from plumbing’ then we can do so, but you might find that the actual biological realities of human bodies don’t actually support heterosexist dogma.

                And Peter Tatchell is not the Pope of homosexuality. If you wished to show a reoccurance of paedophilia then you’d have to show that NAMBLA, say, is gaining widespread societal acceptance. Conservatives never do this because they know such arguments are untenable.

                Accepting so called ‘biblical’ values uncritically is dangerous too. How many contemporary heterosexuals have any interest in going back to the women-as-property values of patriarchy? Do you defend the latter as moral?

                • I do realise that heterosexual couples have anal sex. Tell that to Prof Anderson, not me. Maybe he was referring to the joys of being penetrated, or perhaps he was bemoaning the general annoying tendency of some females to expect faithfulness and restrict fantasy fulfillment. Like I say, you’ll have to ask him.

                  I did qualify what I said by saying that these views were an extreme not endorsed by most gay couples. However, while the expression of traditional sexual morals is in danger of being outlawed as ‘hate speech’, Tatchell and others can say what they like on the basis of ‘free speech’ – and personally know some homosexuals who share his views.

      • Yes, the bishops’ claims are much more emotive and less rational. Though they might suspect that the real motivation behind the Church’s statement was that gay people are ‘thrice cursed for what you are’, that’s not actually what the document says. It doesn’t object to people being gay, it objects to people entering into same-sex relationships and then claiming the right to call those relationships marriage.

        • it objects to people entering into same-sex relationships and then claiming the right to call those relationships marriage.

          Meaning that members of a minority group are demonstrably being discriminated against, no?

          • No. There’s absolutely nothing stopping gay people from marrying. They just can’t marry somebody of the same sex. Are we discriminating against two unmarried sisters living together with their niece, whom they adopted after their brother and sister-in-law died in a car crash? Should they be able to call their relationship a marriage? But they don’t have sex! So, is sex now necessary to be a family?

            • Yes, you are discriminating. So have the honesty to say and give arguments why particular forms of discrimination are moral and acceptable. To you really think anyone is convinced by ‘we’re not discriminating against gay people but we want to deprive them of this right’ style arguments?

              Would you deny that there are other factors, other than sex, that make some sex-relationships potentially marriage-like in a manner not true of your amusingly out-there car crash sisters example?

                • Thanks for that – I can recall the same arguments being made by Bush-fans before the 2004 election. They’re especially ironic given the significance of ‘consummation’ in marriage. I do not think that a gay man whose honest response to the question of whether he could consummate a necessarily heterosexual marriage is “technically, yes, but I’ll probably be thinking of anal sex with a guy when I do so” is living up to the spirit of marriage vows. You’d think this would concern those heroic Defending Lovely Marriage from the Homo Hordes types.

                    • I thought it was irony. It’s not as if many gay men down the years haven’t been told some version of “Find yourself a nice Irish girl” by their confessor – all too often with disastrous consequences for both people. But you’re the boss……..

                    • Yes, but this is just bad advice – like the similar bad advice given to single guys with a porn addiction – ‘just find a real girl, that’ll sort the problem out’ (hence number of Christian wives married to men with porn addictions). I hope we’re beyond these kind of glib solutions on this blog.

                      The argument Lord Tebitt is making is a legal one about whether a section of the population is being excluded from the right to marry. His point only seems ridiculous because we’ve bought into the idea that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are essentially the same.

                    • No, his point seems ridiculous because it is. As mentioned above, it was one of the “best” (!) anti-gay arguments circa the 2004 US American Election, so claiming that Tebbit is making a new argument of great insight is, also, ridiculous.

                      People believe that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are “the same” because in many respects they are. That doesn’t mean that they’re all identical. Indeed, there are a variety of heterosexual relationships, up to and including marriage, that may be about different things (do all straight married people *care* about having children?). Can you not think of ways in which gay relationships are like marriage in a way not true of your car crash sisters absurdities?

                      Can gay men have an authentic, sexual, emotional,enduring romantic partnership with a member of the opposite sex? If the answer is ‘no’ then does that not rather negate all the ‘gay people can marry like anyone else’ example? Wouldn’t even the no-divorce Roman Catholic Church be sympathetic to a woman who claimed that a man she married, who couldn’t consummate the marriage because he’s gay, is no kind of heterosexual husband?

                    • you said
                      His point only seems ridiculous because we’ve bought into the idea that homosexual and heterosexual relationships are essentially the same.

                      I’d maintain that Tebbit’s point seems ridiculous because it’s the latest expression of a very old, hoary and spurious ‘argument’.

                    • Well which is it? Two comments ago you accepted that hetero and homo relationships might be different but here you seem to deny the possibility.

                      I’m not arguing either way, just curious.

                    • Aren’t all generalisations somewhat innacurate? Saying all gay relationships are y and straight relationships are x is surely part of the problem. Forced to play this game, stating that the AVERAGE gay relationship *might* be different from the AVERAGE straight relationship could be conceded without implying that gay relationship are intrinsically incapable of being (secular) marriage-like.

                    • Yes, BUT generalisations are where we start when dealing with analytics. By all means we can move on into sub-sections when we have the data, but we have to start somewhere (so for example the onus is on those who reject Regenerus’ study to come up with larger randomised sample sizes for the sub-groups they hypothesise are different from the larger groupings he uses.

                      As to your specific point, we would have to define what “marriage-like” means. This is the subject of the debate…

                    • Yes, Peter. I think this is where the debate has got into trouble. The pro-gay marriage people have attempted to back the conservatives into a corner by insisting that marriage has to be homogeneous before any of their pro-family arguments can be accepted – hence continually bringing up infertile couples, couples who choose not to have children, divorce etc.

                      This is a very false position to be in as there is no law or institution that could stand that test. Laws and institutions are made for the general good of society, not for the exceptions. There have always been people who have taken advantage of the benefits of marriage – marrying for money etc. – that the law wasn’t set up for. The point is, why does the government have anything to do with these relationships at all? I’d argue that the government has never been in the least bit interested in promoting private romantic attachments. Isn’t that the business of Hollywood movies, not marriage legislation? What are the essential aspects of a relationship that mean that it should have special government recognition and benefits?

                    • Infertile couples are invoked in response that the argument that marriage is primarily about raising children. If that argument wasn’t made then no response would be needed.

                      I’d argue that the government has never been in the least bit interested in promoting private romantic attachments

                      As if. In a capitalist society the married man is preferred as, if he loses his job, his wife and kids will suffer too. This makes for (relatively speaking) docile, compliant workers. And romantic love has surely been a key aspect of marriage since, what, early 19th century at the very latest?

                    • That’s just my point. Just because some couples don’t have children doesn’t mean that that isn’t a primary reason why the government recognises and promotes marriage. One incentive for greater regulation of local marriage customs in medieval times was that the Church was sick of women turning up in Church courts, baby in arms, insisting that their ‘husband’ be forced to own and care for the child – only it was her word against his that he was her husband as there was no record of the vows.

                      Well, yes, culturally romantic love became important, but the law didn’t change to reflect this. When the priest says ‘if any man knows any just impediment …’, the only impediment recognised in law is that one party is already legally married to someone else. So, ‘Jane Eyre’ has it right on English law and ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ has it wrong.

                      (If you haven’t read/seen it, Jane and Rochester are in love, but their marriage is stopped at the alter because of an objection that Rochester is already married (to someone he hasn’t loved for years). In ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ Hugh Grant’s character is at the alter when his brother objects that the groom is in love with somebody else, and the marriage is halted before the vows. Nope. Being in love with someone else is no impediment to marriage in English law (even if you spend 2 hours on the phone to that person on your wedding night, as Princess Diana found out).

                    • BTW I’m not my sisters with responsibility for parentless niece is so ‘amusingly out there’. I believe that one of the government’s ideas for getting children out of the welfare system and into homes is to encourage extended family to step in. I wonder how they’re going to encourage and support this?

                      But I’m preventing you from answering Peter’s questions: what does ‘marriage-like’ mean?

                    • I don’t think there’s anything new about his argument, I just think that his comments show that some conservatives still haven’t been convinced. I’ve noticed that these conservatives tend to be from an older generation and some are homosexuals themselves. Basically, they’ve seen gay rights groups demand and be given the freedom to break free of the heterosexual or singleness mould, and the recognition of a third state, and freedom of though, only to turn round and demand the right to marry like heterosexual couples, and state enforced acceptance of one view of sexuality.

                      I think this argument has been falsely presented as heterosexuals vs. homosexuals. It seems to me that the line cuts between generations, with younger gays accusing the older generation (people like David Starkey) of internalised homophobia because they stick to their principles of the state not dictating sexual morals, even if that means that it’s now Christians who should be free from state interference.

                    • And, if we’re being logical, one can generalise that gay relationships *are* different from straight ones without necessarily conceding that such differences amount to a difference that should preclude (secular) marriage.

                    • We realise that now, I am glad to say, but in the past it was standard. Of course you are right that Tebbitt was making a legal point and as you demonstrate below, marriage was not about about romantic love first and foremost. I think CS Lewis pointed out that in the Courtly Love tradition true courtly (i.e. what has become modern romantic) love could only exist outside marriage. Chaucer examines this very ably in the Canterbury Tales and comes up with a different answer, that equal love can indeed be found within marriage where both parties consent to give the sovereignty each to the other (putting the other’s feelings and interests before one’s own). The troubadours thought this was not possible in traditional dynastic marriage. Whether society would run better if we dispensed with the love first idea and got back to marriage as a duty to be fulfilled as it is still widely held to be in the Indian subcontinent, who knows…..

                      PS I doubt Tebbitt thought he was making a legal argument, so I agree with Ryan he was just rehearsing a hoary old clapped-out one.

                    • You could bring the Bible into this to show that they are not; love of man for man is said to surpass the love of man for woman, is it not?

                    • No. In one instance one man says to another that his love for him surpassed his love for a woman. To jump from there to imply all male/male love is superior to male/female is tenuous at the least.

                    • But then your side won’t have it that he was gay, which is what the man on the Clapham omnibus would say about any footballer who said that about his mate :-)

      • I think the academics make a good point when they quote C.S. Lewis – that it’s important for the Church not to get Christian marriage mixed up with the right of governments to define civil marriage and attempt to impose Christian values on those outside the Church.

        • Why does everyone hold up CS Lewis to be such a tremendous apologist? I always thought his Lord-Liar-Lunatic arguments pretty unconvincing, (not to say frankly embarrassingly childish……)

          • Yes, the trillemma is simply a three-pronged fallacy (which sounds a bit Ann Summers, but I disgress…). Evangelicals would do well to ponder the damage done by conflating shoddy ‘apologetics’ with Christianity per se. I laughed recently, when reading about the wackadoo
  , when its veracity was defended on the grounds that the priest who made the claims was a good guy, who wouldn’t lie. That’s exactly the sort of “well, this fellow says he’s God, and he seems like a jolly good chap, so it must be true” ‘proofs’ (!!) that Lewis deals with. Aside from which his language of ‘lunatics’ and gross anachronisms (what kind of historical scholar doesn’t know that claiming to see visions was very far from being a sign of ‘insanity’ in the millenia before western psychiatry?) show that he’s simply engaged in a form of emotive bullying i.e. ”unless you’re going to call Our Lord a Lunatic then you must agree with my crappy line of argument”.

            A fellow on the evangelical church e-group that I was banned from posting on (in part because I tend to object to unchallenged creationist and homophobic lies) was fond of referring to Christian evangelicals who were oxford/cambridge professors, whilst simultaneously calling Richard Dawkins a ”poor scientist”. To anyone capable of objective thought this of course begs the question: if being an Oxford/Cambridge professor is such an impressive credential, then why is PROFESSOR Richard Dawkins a ”poor scientist”, and why do you discount all the Oxford/Cambridge Professors whose ideology differs from yours? I can recall even Peter on this blog defending creationism by pointing out that lots of PhDs subscribe to it (of course, in reality, the amount of evolution-deniers is a ridiculously tiny minority, but that’s a separate issue). If we’re going to play that game, then does that make AIDS-denialism worth taking seriously? After all, one of its chief proponents isn’t only a Professor, he’s done groundbreaking work in cancer research! Lewis is the poster boy for this using of Faith as grounds to ignore logic (which isn’t necessarily his fault, of course).

            • Wow, where did all this come from? I thought their point about the Church being careful not to impose it’s own values on civil marriage was one of their strongest – they happened to quote C.S. Lewis to show that this isn’t a new idea.

              In fact, if I didn’t have reservations about how this is going to work in practice, I don’t have a problem with gay marriage. After all, we already have gay marriage – it’s called a civil partnership, and I’ve never had a problem with it.

    • Does he add anything new or simply reiterate in a circular fashion the same old arguments that the dons have addressed?

  4. I know this is an old thread now but the issue is not quite done and dusted so I thought you might like to have a read of something posted in response to Ekklesia’s response by a Jewish Rabbi.

    In particular, the following grabbed my attention, especially since we are always having the model or “biblical marriage” held up to us by some Christian apologists. Here’s what Rabbi James Baaden says about it:

    “The truth is that the “Old Testament”, whether legalistic or not, says nothing about marriage or weddings. There are no words in Biblical Hebrew for “marriage”, “to marry”, “wedding”, etc. No weddings as such are described. Instead, men simply “take” (or sometimes “lift”, “pick up”) women – often more than one (consider the example of Jacob – or Abraham). Accordingly, a man was also able to “dismiss” or “send away” a woman. This is what we encounter at least in the Pentateuch. To my mind it sounds rather far away from what we call marriage. And frankly, I think it’s a pity that we forget this. On both sides of the current debate (if that’s what it is), Christians eagerly cite the Bible and Biblical teaching – but sometimes I wonder how much they actually read it. At any rate, I think that it would be quite helpful and quite liberating if people accepted that the Hebrew Bible simply doesn’t know “marriage” and doesn’t even have a word for it. This creates a blank space – a space in which people had to and have to respond to the needs of their times and create new institutions, new possibilities, new practices. ”

    I would always trust what a Jewish scholar says about his own scriptures in which he is steeped rather than someone outside the tradition however learned he might appear to be.

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