There continues to be very active debate about whether the historic term ‘marriage’ should be redefined to include covenanted relationships between two people of the same sex, and not just ‘a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman’. The latest comment on this has come from the newly appointed Dean of St Paul’s, David Ison.
When I commented on Facebook that I had signed up to the Coalition for Marriage petition (supported by former Archbishop George Carey, who conducted our college Quiet Day this week), I received a range of comments, including the following:
I also don’t see how gay marriage would or could lead to legal polygamy. (I just think a redefinition of marriage – as between one man and one woman – would be incorrect and unnecessary)
I think that if a gay person got married my own marriage would be in jeopardy. Obviously. Because marriage will be shaken to its core. FANCY giving homosexuals the change for a covenant relationship. Whatever next? Sliced bread? [this was written as a sarcastic comment, in case you are wondering]
The slippery slope argument is always the last resort when you’ve not get a better case to make. I’m yet to be persuaded that having gay marriage in any way undermines the notion of heterosexual marriage as being the typical context for the raising of children. Can anyone explain that? Keith O’Brien certainly hasn’t!
Judicial decisions based on the 2010 Equal Opportunities Act suggest that my being obliged in law to conduct gay marriages on demand is less than a decade away
Why do people think that marriage is in any way superior in God’s eyes?
I replied with the following points. These are not beyond debate, and no doubt any one of them could be expanded considerably. But I think this shows that the petition of Coalition for Marriage need not be seen as either a knee-jerk reaction, or a weak ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument, but that it has some substantial reasons behind it.
- Thin end of the wedge arguments are not a ‘last resort’ but a warning that we have now moved into different territory, and there will be unintended consequences. This is really clear from both the implementation of the abortion act of 1967, and the fate of palliative care in Holland following the acceptance of euthanasia.
- Richard [one of the commentators above] is quite right: once marriage is redefined, it will be a very short matter of time till all registrars, including C of E clergy, will be obliged to marry all who come forward under this new definition. This is part of the prioritisation of rights of sexual orientation over rights of religious groups reported in Clearing the Ground and comes at a time when Government is seeking to reduce structured Church involvement in Parliament.
- It moves marriage away from its foundation in biblical theology as the partnership of those who are both equal and different in Gen 2. I have written about this in another context (focussing on the ‘equal’ bit) on my blog and Grove booklet, though the key thing in this debate is the significant of the ‘difference’.
- Similarly it detaches marriage from procreation. There is a long debate about this, and theology has struggled with this a bit: I don’t think that biblical theology says that procreation is a necessary part of marriage, but it does say the two are intimately related.
- It would also separate questions of value from question of form: ‘the pattern does not matter; what matters only are the qualities of faithfulness and love.’ Similar arguments could easily support polygamy (which is a live question in African contexts) and given recent research would in turn argue for cross-species relationships.
- The converse of 4 is that it would eliminate the normative understanding of parenting as being undertaken by a man and a woman. I think this does have serious implications for the development of healthy psychological development for children.
- The issue underlying all these is: what is the source for Christians of the normative understandings of healthy human relationships? The answer for the C of E needs to continue to be: the pattern of faith set forth in the Scriptures, as our authority in all matters of faith and worship. This is what C of E clergy sign up to at ordination.
I think it is also interesting to note that, in the wider LGBT community outside the church, although there is a wide variety of views (from my conversations and reading) in general there is not the desire for gay ‘marriage.’ Marriage is widely seen as a flawed institution.
A first survey of public opinion also suggests that a change in the definition of marriage does not command wide public support, with 70% saying that it should not be changed, and only 22% wanting change.