Redefining Marriage

There is a considerable amount of debate at present about the proposed legislation to redefine marriage, with the prospect – it seems – of a schism between Church and State if the proposed legislation becomes law.

I’m no expert on the issues being debated, and in order to aid my understanding I’ve borrowed heavily from a sermon on this topic given by Rev’d Toby Marchand back in May. From what I’ve understood so far, the re-defining of marriage is being raised in order that gay and lesbian couples might be able to marry, rather than enter in to Civil Partnerships, which is what they are allowed to do now.

The Church, in the shape of the Church of England, is against the idea, as can be seen from this official responseto the consultation. The submission, sent to the Home Secretary under a short covering letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (after consideration in draft by the House of Bishops and Archbishops Council) also points out:

·       Several major elements of the Government’s proposals have not been thought through properly and are not legally sound. Ministerial assurances that the freedom of the Churches and other religious organisations would be safeguarded are, though genuine, of limited value given that once the law was changed the key decisions would be for the domestic and European courts. 

·       Such a change would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history. Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which includes, for many, the possibility of procreation. The law should not seek to define away the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women. 

·       The Church has supported the removal of previous legal and material inequities between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships. To change the nature of marriage for everyone will deliver no obvious additional legal gains to those already now conferred by civil partnerships. 

Under the current legislation there are three options:

You may marry if you are a heterosexual who has never had, or are now free from, former official relationships. You may, if you wish, marry in church. We might label that “religious marriage”.

You may marry if you are a heterosexual who has never had, or are now free from, former official relationships, in a Registry Office. We might label that “Civil Marriage”. Whilst that is not overtly religious it is possible to follow it with a Blessing in church, though many choose not to do so.

 You may, if you are a homosexual, either male of female, enter in to a Civil Partnership which has to be registered. This has been possible since 2005.

Rev’d Toby Marchand’s sermon, which I referred to earlier, crystallises the issues as follows:

Reasons for accepting the change:

  1.  Same-sex marriage is indistinguishable from the marriage of two people unable to have children.
  2. We bless 2nd marriages of non-churchgoers, but reject faithful couples who long to bring their love and commitment before God.
  3. It is an extension of the sacrament of marriage comparable to the extension of the sacrament of Ordination to women.
  4. It is not physical gender that matters but quality of commitment, and response to the call of God.
  5. If marriage is a cornerstone of stable society the extension of it to gay couples will be a welcome extension and will have a stabilising effect on all around. It is the reinforcement of an ancient tradition.

Reasons for not accepting change:

  1. The institution of marriage is very ancient and has been the bedrock of societies world-wide in every conceivable culture
  2. The public don’t want change. 70% want to keep things as they are. 230,000 people have already signed a petition against it in only a few days.
  3. Marriage has never meant simply the right of all couples to have their relationship legally recognised. If you start unpicking a social convention so fundamental to our lives where do you stop? Why shouldn’t Muslims be allowed polygamous marriages?
I guess that everyone will have their own opinion on all of this, and no doubt there will be strident views from both sides of the equation. But personally, I support the official response from the Church of England, and wonder whether in fact the Government are confusing a “wedding” with a “marriage”.  
Civil Partnership is surely the best way of affirming same-sex relationships. It gives legal protection, can receive the blessing of the Church in the form of a “wedding” between the couple and it preserves traditional understanding of “marriage”.

I personally believe that “marriage” still has to be between a man and a woman if it is to be marriage, with the possibility (or not) of procreation. Such a huge change in definition and thinking that is being proposed will take a long time to be accepted and certainly shouldn’t be done at such a speed and with such little consultation or listening.

I’d be interested in anyone else’s views on this – not insignificant – debate.

6 thoughts on “Redefining Marriage

  1. There is a good pictorial representation of ancient marriage that has been the bedrock of society that is found in the bible… It been used here: has never been uniform, and frequently is not good. Like all sacraments we hope that it is an outward sign of something inward, and that inward is the love of the Trinity shared between two people. Marriages are made in heaven… a phrase that implies that sometimes people are married without realising or recognising it, and sometimes people think they are married but, not sharing the love of God between them, are not. My difficulty is that we cannot be judges of this because we do not have heaven’s perspective. I suspect that marriage may be more common than many would like.


  2. Thanks Steve for this post and Anthony for your comment.I must say that I don’t know what to think on this and can see the arguments on both sides.My gut feeling is that marriage, or being in a marriage (to focus on the ongoing state, rather than the ceremony) is something about recognising that God has created humankind in two different versions – for want of a better word – that have different attributes. We call these male and female and the different versions man and woman, and this difference runs throughout most of the animal world. And marriage is about the fact that these two versions complement each other and work best when they are put together. So it is the coming together of differences that makes a marriage, and all the stuff about commitment and love is sort of an extra on top of that.I suppose I feel that in the case of same sex partners, whilst there can obviously be commitment and love, and there will no doubt be differences of temperament and all sorts of other differences, there will not be that fundamental difference of male and female. And so it feels wrong to me to talk about same sex partners being ‘married’.The other point that concerns me is that this proposal seems to have come a bit out of the blue, and seems to be being forced through as though it is just another bit of ‘modernisation’ and bringing things into line with other anti-discrimination legislation. And I think it goes a lot deeper than that. I do not think we should be rushing in making a change to a legal and civil and religious concept that has existed for (probably) several thousand years without a lot more thought and debate. The issue of women’s ordination were debated for years before any change was made.So I guess that in writing this I have sort of come to the conclusion that I am not in favour of this proposed change.What do others think?


  3. An interesting debate and one that engages the mind, perhaps to the detriment of the Christian message. We obviously get into the meaning of words and seek to interpret customs and taboos in the modern day that may have originated thousands of years ago. The origin of these customs is reasonably guessed as being the need to protect children and to provide a sound basis for their development as adults. There is clearly evidence of bonding ceremonies that pre-date Christianity and it seems thoughts have been applied to the integration of pre-existing customs and rituals within a religous framework. There may just be too much of a temptation to find a reason to comment on things that are not associated with core beliefs.Perhaps as a group of believers we could be criticised for getting tied up in minutiae of the law or human social evolution (whoops there goes another red herring along with lonesome George on the Galapagos) whereas we lose sight of our core values.When I received Steve’s message I was drawn to John 3 v16 which I have read several times in the last few days. However I read these words of Christ I keep seeing one word “whosoever” which to me is totally inclusive and leaves no one out who seeks Christ’s salvation.This is for me the core message I grew to rely upon. It would seem that if this is to be at the heart of our trust and faith it must apply to anyone.So if God is so minded to accept all who put their faith in Christ it is difficult to see how I could argue, or that anyone would rightfully listen to my view.So the question might be: are the people concerned putting their faith in Christ?If so how could I reject them from my church?If they are so minded in faith would they have a mind to this kind of lifestyle?Where do we get to limits of seeking to extract splinters when blinded by logs? how do we interpret the curse of being cast into the waters with a millstone around our necks if we damage children?I would suggest we had lost our way and have forgotten the core message of honest deep faith in Christ and following his ways as our objective in seeking salvation.It seems that any activity that damages another person or especially a child would be contrary to our core beliefs and if that damage were so serious as to exclude someone from God’s love or to keep them from faith in Christ that would be the greater wrong.There is a passage in Mark’s Gospel where marriage is discussed in the terms of divorce. Christ’s answer is:”For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels which are in heaven”There is a passage in Matthew’s Gospel which says:”have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female”On balance I am trying to say the biological facts can’t be denied and the result of heterosexual marriage is the creation of kids, who we are told have to come first:”suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come to me: for such is the Kingdom of heaven”That created order is God given and need not be tampered with acceptance of the Christian Faith seems to lead to acceptance of standards of behaviour and love that precludes damaging others and using absence of marriage as a mechanism for spreading the good news of salvation.Marriage is identified as a human custom different from the spirtiual existence after death.In life the union of men and women is seen as God’s created order and once “become of one flesh” it is not possible to split the bond.I don’t see Homosexual marriage is identifiable in the context of these beliefs or that it is relevant to our core faith. It is another human construct that ignores the created order and serves to distract good people from living faithful lives.


  4. Health care is failing and we need to review our attitude to what is fair and morally correct.Should we jump the queue for health care because we can pay?What are the deeper economic consequences of running a dual private public system?Why have doctors gone on strike? Is this a moral right or is there a higher duty?Why are we using PFI systems, are they ever morally correct or are they just a mechanism for making money for financiers?What was wrong with Treasury funding methods?A recent book entitled what money can’t buy poses the question whether we have allowed market concepts to push out other more moral decision making models.I wonder if we could see examples of how making money and market thinking has forced out moral judgements? Does our Church have a view?


  5. Today we have Bob Diamond and Barclays under scrutiny for false declarations in setting Libor rates that determine the costs of mortgages and loans, the other day it was Jimmy Carr seeking to avoid paying tax. Both are examples of thinking driven by market concepts and not by moral judgement. A fine has become the fee to pay for gaining super profits by trading unfairly. Seeking to opt out of contribution to the common good through taxation is again a failure of moral judgement to rise above the market mentality.Alternatively, why should comedians, footballers or bankers be paid such hugely disproportionate salaries? How do we adjust market forces to re-distribute wealth fairly and avoid the effect of vast markets being focussed on one individual, at the exclusion of millions of equally valuable people.It is time to speak out or take action to make those who are obsessed with money and market forces re-think what they are supposed to do with their wealth or indeed if they are entitled to it just because of market forces. Has the market had its day?


    1. I have refrained from commenting on this article up to now because A) I had trouble defining precisely where I stand, and B) I confess I wanted to see where other people’s thoughts lay before revealing my own.My feeling is that marriage is a human construct just as Jonathan said, and that if any couple, gay or otherwise, are faithful to God and the church then it’s not my place to deny them that right.I can totally understand why others have their concerns, but that’s how I feel about it. 🙂


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