Blog Menu

“Equal marriage”: Is There A New Christian Ethic for Sex and Marriage?

In a guest post, Andrew Goddard reflects on the issues for a possible Christian ethic of same-sex marriage.


gay-marriage-rightsLast week’s Supreme Court judgment in the US, following swiftly after the Irish referendum, has made the legalisation of same-sex marriage major news again. As in England, the Christian voices have been divided. There are those, including me, who regret this and are aware of the major challenges they now face in bearing witness to marriage as they understand it. There are also Christians who welcome the extension of the good of marriage to same-sex couples and see it as simply sharing it with gay and lesbian people. Surprisingly little attention has been given as to how the latter group should now develop their sexual ethic given same-sex couples can legally marry. Are they simply extending the traditional teaching about sex and marriage to same-sex couples and what would that look like? Or are they – as seems to be the case with most secular supporters – simply welcoming the rectifying of an injustice which now gives gay and lesbian couples the same options in relation to structuring their relationships as straight couples have had for some time?

One of the criticisms often made of “revisionist” groups is their lack of a clear, consistent and widely-accepted ethic for same-sex couples. Various elements have contributed to this including perhaps a reticence to appear critical of aspects of gay culture and so perpetuate a sense that Christians were against gay and lesbian people. But most significantly there was the lack until very recently of the institution of marriage, which lies at the heart of a Christian sexual ethic, as a social and legal reality for structuring such an ethic. This is no longer the case so what might a Christian ethic of “equal marriage” look like? How will Christians, particularly those identifying as evangelical, who support the new form of marriage articulate such an ethic? How will they encourage people to live it? How will they commend it to the wider gay and lesbian world, parts of which have supported the changes to marriage law in theory as a matter of justice but are less than fully enthusiastic about embracing marriage in practice or viewing it as making a moral demand on their own lives?

This is clearly a massive area but five key areas merit some sort of attention – four traditionally understood as matters where the Christian vision provides moral teaching applicable for all people, the final being focussed on Christians.


First, the Christian tradition has said that sex (it has then argued about just what behaviour this includes) should be for marriage and so pre-marital sex is a sin, sexual immorality – a form of porneia (“fornication” in traditional language) to use the language of the New Testament vice lists. As a result, pre-marital cohabitation has also been viewed as wrong by Christians and was relatively uncommon in British society until the 1980s. When marriage was not an option for same-sex couples “pre-marital sex” was clearly meaningless for them. If they did not believe same-sex sexual behaviour was wrong they had to discern for themselves when it was right and could not do so by reference to marriage for no such institution existed. Now that it does exist, will we see Christians who support same-sex marriage also supporting the teaching that “living together” outside marriage and sex before marriage should not happen among same-sex couples? Will those who support same-sex marriage among the clergy be quite clear that the church must move to a position not only where clergy are permitted to marry a same-sex partner but they are required, whatever their sexuality, to legally marry before starting a sexual relationship or living together as a couple?


Second, Christians have also been very clear that extra-marital sex is wrong – the sin of adultery. One of the peculiarities of the legislation introducing same-sex marriage in England (I am not clear how this is working out in other jurisdictions) is that a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex other than one’s spouse is not classed as adultery (which only describes heterosexual unfaithfulness) and a ground for divorce. Are Christians who support the legislation clear that in the eyes of God, even if not in the eyes of the law, any sexual relationship with someone other than one’s spouse is adultery and this needs to be treated as seriously within a same-sex marriage as in traditional marriage? It is far from obvious that this is the universal or even the majority view given that many, particularly male, same-sex Christian couples have in the past seen this as a matter for the couple to determine themselves and, either openly or tacitly, allowed sexual freedom outside the relationship as advocated by the Reverend Malcolm Johnson for example. It is likely that such “open marriages” will be even more common among gay married couples generally than among gay Christian married couples and among straight married couples (were such a pattern is still relatively rare). There is a major questions as to how to challenge this and how to support exclusivity in marriage is an important pastoral and missional issue for Christians who welcome same-sex marriage.


Third, a similar set of questions arise in relation to permanence. The church has for centuries accepted some marriages fail and permitted divorce in certain situations and in recent decades we have seen a sharp and damaging rise in marriage breakup both in society and the church. Nevertheless, there is a very strong tradition that marriages should be – and can be – lifelong, that they must be entered with that intention and commitment, and that divorce is an extreme last resort which should be avoided if at all possible, even in the face of marital difficulties. For centuries marriage between a man and a woman was very difficult to end legally and, despite the rise in divorce, there is still a widespread cultural expectation that marriage should be for life. In contrast, same-sex marriage has arisen only in our context of marriage (and wider relationship) breakdown. Do those Christians who support it have as strong a belief in its permanence? What – given that the church has often failed badly here in relation to opposite-sex marriage – can they do to help marriages be lifelong?


Fourth, marriage has traditionally been closely tied to procreation. This clearly is not the case with same-sex couples whose marriage is incapable of producing new life, but many same-sex couples want to have children. Elton John and David Furnish have two sons and recently married Stephen Fry, asked if he would like to bring up children, replied “We sort of talk about it and I suddenly think, ‘Oh my goodness I’m such an age now’, but actually that’s rather good, but we better get on with it if we do.” Should we continue to expect marriage to be tied to children and family for same-sex spouses or should Christians, even if supporting same-sex marriage, continue to hold to male-female parenting as the moral norm and so discourage this? Is it purely a matter of personal choice for each couple? If they wish to have children should they be encouraged to adopt or to use some form of reproductive technology in order to conceive? Many Christians have raised significant questions about both using donor gametes or surrogacy for opposite-sex couples – do the same questions apply in relation to same-sex marriages and are there further issues (beyond those raised by adoption) when creating a child to be brought up by two people of the same sex rather than the opposite sex?


Finally, and applicable only to Christians, there is the question of marrying a non-Christian. Although the church has been clear (not least because of Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 7) that a marriage between a believer and unbeliever remains a marriage and should be upheld by the Christian, it has also (not least because of Paul’s teaching in 2 Cor 6.14) strongly discouraged Christians from choosing to marry someone who is not in Christ. Is this also to be part of a Christian ethic for same-sex marriage?


Given the new and rapidly changing situation we are in, it would be unreasonable to expect immediate agreed-upon answers to all these questions from Christian supporters of “equal marriage”. It would, however, be good to see them being seriously and openly discussed and reasons being given if the traditional ethic must adapt for same-sex marriages.

While some questions are complex, there are steps that one would hope could be taken without too much controversy. For example, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s Statement of Conviction is famously non-prescriptive. In relation to sexual behaviour it simply says, “it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship”. LGCM’s history makes clear that this reflects the power of the gay liberation element in its origins and that, as one participant wrote, “the main problem in the Statement of Conviction debate revolved round the point at which it was proper to leap into bed with one’s friend” (Gill (ed), The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (Cassell 1998), pp. 12-13). Why not now amend that statement by replacing “in a personal sexual relationship” with “in marriage”? Why don’t other Christian groups supporting same-sex marriage adopt a similar statement? If that cannot be easily done it suggests that not only has marriage been redefined but the Christian understanding of the relationship between sex and marriage has also been rejected.


Goddard andrew(3)If same-sex marriage is accepted by Christians then any account of chastity and sexual holiness for gay and lesbian people needs to relate to marriage. If the tradition’s account of how to do this in relation to opposite-sex couples is not simply followed then we are faced with a major problem: either we do not have “equal marriage” but rather one marital and sexual ethic for gay people and one for straight people or we do have “equal marriage” and the inclusion of same-sex couples within marriage will therefore entail a reconfiguring of the tradition’s marital and sexual ethic much more widely.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

, , , ,

57 Responses to “Equal marriage”: Is There A New Christian Ethic for Sex and Marriage?

  1. Andrew Graystone July 1, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    I’m broadly sympathetic to Andrew Goddard’s call for high standards in same-sex relationships. He needs to be careful of two things though. First, it would be wrong to caricature gay lifestyles as more licentious than straight ones. Second, he needs to beware of asking for qualities in same-sex marriages that he doesn’t in practice ask from straight marriages. There’s an imperative to preach the highest standards in all human relationships, gay and straight.

    Having said that, there’s a core confusion in his argument, between civil marriage and Christian teaching on intimate relationships. Same sex couples have been granted access to the former. The latter is open to any couple, and of course pre-dates our contemporary forms of civil marriage.

    This is a particular problem for an established church. But if our input into core human relationships is limited to fighting over who has copyright on the word “marriage” we will have missed the point.

  2. Barrie July 1, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    I would add that the traditional, evangelical, teaching is that the husband is the head of the household. How does this get borne out within a household with 2 husbands or none?

  3. Chris Bishop July 1, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    I think there is no doubt that Dr Goddard asks for the same qualities in straight marriages. I think one problem here is that the church has not been forthright in doing so.

    Most people (including sadly many christians), think fornication a rather quaint term.

  4. A July 1, 2015 at 10:21 am #

    “Will those who support same-sex marriage among the clergy be quite clear that the church must move to a position not only where clergy are permitted to marry a same-sex partner but they are required, whatever their sexuality, to legally marry before starting a sexual relationship or living together as a couple?”

    For those of us that are sceptical of the idea that legal equals right and illegal equals wrong, the answer to that question would (at least) temporarily be “no”. Legal marriage has no sacramental underpinnings and is constituted by a piece of paper. I have straight friends in the US who refuse to get legally married (but who are married in the eyes of God) as a means of resisting empire. They refuse to have their marriage be defined by the US state instead of their God.

    I’m still considering the question of whether marriage between two people of the same sex constitutes sacramental marriage, but I know that what makes marriage marriage is not a piece of paper. Marriage is certainly nothing less than a covenant between two people who have been baptised.

    I read the call from conservative Christians for LGB people to enter into legal marriages that are not sacramental as somewhat hypocritical. It’s a little like the way in which Civil Partnerships came suddenly to be valued by the Bishops as soon as marriage appeared on the table. If the church will not offer some form of commitment ceremony (marriage or otherwise) to monogamous, faithful and stable LGB relationships, why should LGB couples suddenly rush to the unsacred, unholy altar of the registry office?

    At present, legal marriage is a bar to ordination within the Church of England, so that would also need to change were one to want to attempt to build a Christian sexual ethic upon an institution that has just been invented by the state.

  5. Savi Hensman July 1, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece, Andrew (and Ian for hosting it). One immediate reason why organisations such as LGCM might not immediately add ‘in marriage’ is that some members and supporters live in places where just being open about being partnered could lead to imprisonment, brutal assault or death, others might risk losing their ability to minister as clergy or elders, a few might feel that civil partnership is more appropriate for them and so forth.

    Diverse theological views exist among heterosexual as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians about the proper place for sex. Indeed a few of us may believe (as was common in mediaeval times and in Scotland until comparatively recently) that marriage does not necessarily involve a ceremony – intimacy may involve implicit promises of exclusivity and lifelong commitment. Moreover there are different views about whether one’s spouse need be Christian (Asian Christian perspectives might be relevant here since these have required revisiting the Bible and tradition in contexts where Christians are a minority). People these days are also often reluctant to be judgmental and sometimes this is no bad thing when none of us can fully know others’ circumstances. But certainly some LGBT people hold to the ethic set out by Jeffrey John in ‘Permanent, faithful, stable’. What is needed perhaps is broader discussion among Christians in general and, in my view, more reflection on and sharing experiences of the positive value of monogamy, stability and having a partner who shares one’s fundamental values, rather than simply a list of prohibitions.

    • David Shepherd July 2, 2015 at 12:07 am #

      Savi,

      You really couldn’t make this stuff up!

      I mean, here’s a staunch evangelical theologian, like Andrew Goddard, pondering how Christian marriage (so longed for as an equality by the CofE’s gay marriage advocates) might now become a centrepiece of sexual ethics for both gay and straight couples alike.

      Your response as such a leading light of same-sex marriage advocacy is:

      1. A revised LGCM statement of compatibility with the Christian faith of, not only loving a person of the same sex, but also expressing that love fully in marriage would not be valid for those who might be facing intense homophobia, the potential loss of church ministry or those who simply prefer civil partnership.

      It escapes me how a simple statement of the compatibility of same-sex marriage with Christiam faith could provoke you to such alarm and makes wonder if the value of same-sex marriage is largely as a political trophy and not part and parcel of a new gender-neutral Christian ideal for sexual relationships of any orientation.

      2. You also suggests that the statement of compatibility of same-sex marriage with Christian faith would not encompass the diversity of views on the place of sex. A part of me wants to exclaim, ‘So what?’

      An ideal does not have to be the lowest common denominator and rarely does its aspirations encompass the full diversity of opinion.

      The example given is that, in contrast with the very ceremony that solemnises holy matrimony and for which same-sex marriage advocates have been clamouring, intimacy alone (as in medieval times) might suffice, since it can imply sexual exclusivity.

      You forget that the reason for prescribing the order of matrimony (in comparison with Fleet marriages) has been its shared social meaning, which, as an undertaking, should not be as open to misinterpretation as any act of personal intimacy might be.

      So, now marriage is inclusive of same-sex couples, your response would suggest that LGCM can still only recognise its importance as one of a range of options for those engaging in a sexual relationship. The evidence of a slippery slope abounds!

      3. Instead of holding to a common Christian ideal of marriage, the last paragraph even jettisons the apostolic insistence (during a time when the church was greatly outnumbered and persecuted) that Christians ‘be not unequally yoked with unbelievers’ and to marry ‘only in the Lord’.

      4. Finally, we are reminded by you that, in the absence of fully knowing anyone’s circumstances, it would be judgemental to articulate ‘in marriage’, when many are not.

      Given that Andrew Goddard didn’t even focus on the ceremony , there is but one question worth directing at such utter equivocation on marriage: ‘Do you really expect us to take anything you say seriously again?’

      • Savi Hensman July 3, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

        David, you are welcome to decide not to take anything I say seriously again if you so choose. I do not speak for LGCM on this matter – any organisation has its own procedures for deciding on its aims and vision. Obviously LGCM regards marriage as important or it would not have vigorously campaigned for the right to marry. But personally I would think it extraordinary to claim, right now, that loving someone even in the context of a faithful lifelong relationship is necessarily immoral if there has not been a marriage ceremony. I cannot imagine demanding that of someone in Nigeria, say, or even someone who might be debarred from the ministry to which he or she feels called.

        I believe too that it is important to take account of discussions within the wider church on marriage and family life in general today, for instance the 1997 Church of England report ‘Something to celebrate’. It may also be worth remembering the Christian couples who have been together faithfully for decades, holding to each other despite the threats and disapproval they might face: many will now take advantage of the opportunity to marry but some might feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are already ‘married’.

        • David Shepherd July 3, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

          Savi,

          In response, I would re-iterate that Andrew Goddard’s piece didn’t focus on the ceremony, that you mention again, but on marriage itself.

          Perhaps, you can explain how asserting that ‘the Christian faith is compatible with, not only loving a person of the same sex, but also fully expressing that love in marriage’ obviates (as thoroughly immoral) any of the other forms of commitment that you’ve described.

          Of course, we know why these misgivings arise, since only such vague wording as is open to the widest possible affirmation and interpretation can survive the liberal ‘inclusiveness’ litmus test.

          Despite those qualms, whether occasioned by a public wedding ceremony or not, if couples adhere to the ‘context of a faithful permanent relationship’, they should have no problem with the statement that specifically upholds the compatibility of marriage with the Christian faith, including those who, due to lifelong commitment and despite the lack of solemnisation, consider themselves to be married already.

  6. Katherine July 1, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Adultery is no longer legal grounds for heterosexual divorce except as one possible indicator of ‘irreconcilable differences’. Secondly, most of the questions you raise have been discussed, at length, and you just haven’t been reading widely enough to know what has been said. Lastly, you have no grounds for thinking that SSM has lesser standards for marriage than heterosexual marriage (in all its diversity) and – as a heterosexual, Christian, married woman – I find your questions staggering. Have you never met a gay person with any ethics?

  7. Joe July 1, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    The reality is that affirming gay Christians (including those who self-identify as evangelical) follow the same sexual ethic as the wider non-Christian gay community. Gay Christians do place more emphasis on monogamy and marriage but this is more of an aspirational/therapeutic outlook than a moral one. Good luck finding ANY affirming gay Christian who will say “sex outside of marriage is sinful”.

    • Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente July 4, 2015 at 7:28 am #

      Here’s one, Joe. If you take vows, you keep them, no matter the sex of the partner.

      • Joe July 6, 2015 at 9:52 am #

        OK but what if you self-identify as a gay Christian and what to sleep with the guys you date (the normal gay pattern)? Will anyone in your affirming church challenge you on that? What about porn use, open relationships and all the other things non-Christian gay men have no sexual “hang ups” about – do gay Christians have the same options?

  8. Erika Baker July 1, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    There are a lot of them in Diverse Church, all young lgbt people from conservative churches, aged 18-30.
    It’s wonderful to see how seriously these people take their faith according to the DC Motto “Fully LGBT, Fully Christian”.

  9. etseq July 1, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    Does anyone else find it a bit creepy when conservative christian men (face it – its always men) seem to obsess over gay sex more than gay people? You know that Goddard has been waiting to spring this post for a while because he has a direct reference (page # and all) to a book on the LGCM where he has cherry picked a quote – you know this has to have been burning a hole in his pocket for years. Goddard must have combed through every primary and secondary source he could find looking for titillating dirt. Very curious…

    Of course, this post isn’t serious – its concern trolling but it does reveal a desperation by the conservatives. Ian Paul in particular seems to be very disturbed that Bishop Alan isn’t towing the line like the rest of the Mitred Mafia…

  10. Alan Wilson July 1, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    A really interesting bundle of questions, for which many thanks, Andrew & Ian. Duncan Dormor and others were doing very interesting work on some, before ever same-sex marriage came onto the scene. A society with free contraception, marriage at the will of the partners not their families, and which accepts the fundamental definition of what is consented to in marriage involved in (rightly IMHO) allowing for rape in marriage, has these questions in its in-basket anyway. My immediate thoughts are very much along the same lines as Andrew Graystone’s above. I would also argue strongly for the 1938 Doctrine Commission approach to marriage as “an institution of the natural order” taken into and sacramentalised by the Church according to the extent to which any given marriage reflects the self-giving and permanent relationship between Christ and Church. In these terms I would see no difference between a same sex marriage and any other kind. Therefore I see Marriage as being more about relationship than sexual behaviour.

  11. Jonathan Tallon July 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    Thank you for this, Andrew, and thanks to Ian for hosting.

    Quote: ‘Now that it does exist, will we see Christians who support same-sex marriage also supporting the teaching that “living together” outside marriage and sex before marriage should not happen among same-sex couples? Will those who support same-sex marriage among the clergy be quite clear that the church must move to a position not only where clergy are permitted to marry a same-sex partner but they are required, whatever their sexuality, to legally marry before starting a sexual relationship or living together as a couple?’

    I would expect consistency. I note that living together is now exceedingly common, with marriage often waiting until children or ensuring inheritance or until a big celebration can be afforded. It raises the question as to what counts as ‘marriage’ to God, which might not quite line up with whether someone is legally married. But the same expectations should be set for all people, whether partners are same-sex or not. The issue of the clergy is still difficult in England, given that the Church of England currently refuses to marry same-sex couples. Were the Church to agree to change its current position, then the question could be asked more fairly.

    Quote: ‘One of the peculiarities of the legislation introducing same-sex marriage in England (I am not clear how this is working out in other jurisdictions) is that a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex other than one’s spouse is not classed as adultery’.

    Any sexual relationship with someone else would be ‘unreasonable behaviour’ and so grounds for divorce. Legal definitions of adultery often don’t match simply having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse. In the time of Jesus, sex with a prostitute or slave wasn’t legally adultery. Too much seems being read into this quirk of the law.

    Permanence: the Church needs to help all couples maintain lifelong commitments.

    Procreation: Quote: ‘marriage has traditionally been closely tied to procreation’.

    The institution of marriage has; individual marriages have varied. Some couples have always not been able to have children ‘naturally’. There will always be issues to sort out in addressing this, whether the couples are same-sex or not. But it would seem strange to critique same-sex marriages for not being procreative, and then to attack those couples who seek to address this.

    In general, I found it slightly strange that anyone would suggest different standards for same-sex couples compared with different sex. I wasn’t sure who Andrew was arguing against.

    • David Shepherd July 2, 2015 at 9:01 am #

      Johnathan,

      Your comment prevaricates on the issue of sex before marriage.

      So, again, I ask you and others who are campaigning for the church to recognise and endorse same-sex marriage, whether gender-neutralising the institution is little more than a political trophy and an antidote for homophobia.

      Your view contrasts sharply with the kind of arguments in favour of same-sex marriage that cited the lack of access to it as a major hindrance to gay sexual commitment. Indeed, during the 2013 debates, the think-tank, Theos, encouraged us to view same-sex marriage as a ‘commitment device’.

      Yet, here you are probing the ‘question as to what counts as ‘marriage’ to God, which might not quite line up with whether someone is legally married.’

      In respect of adultery, Andrew Goddard has merely suggested that there should be a common understanding among gay and straight Christians that, despite adultery not being a legal fact of divorce for same-sex matrimonial causes, extra-marital sex constitutes the moral sin of adultery. A ‘yes’ or no’ would suffice.

      The ancient legality of sex with prostitutes is irrelevant and whether or not same-sex couples can cite ‘unreasonable behaviour’ in seeking a divorce for extra-marital sex is kind of missing the point.

      Finally, the tie between marriage and procreation is not so much about whether a couple can have children naturally, but whether marriage should routinely confer a same-sex spouse with the presumption of co-parenthood through marriage. The rebuttable presumption that a husband is the father of his wife’s children is a normal part of marriage.

      So, in the case of same-sex couples, should that routine presumption through marriage be rebuttable by DNA evidence of a third person’s paternity (as it is for straight marriage), or should it be conclusive in order to preserve same-sex family autonomy at all costs?

      Those are the moral dilemmas that we need to solve before the church can endorse same-sex marriage, not after.

      • Jonathan Tallon July 2, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

        Let me be clear: I am advocating the same standards for all couples, same-sex or otherwise.

        With regard to pre-marital sex, I think we need to distinguish between two people who have made lifelong, faithful commitments to each other (but not necessarily legally married), and those who sleeping around. Society has made the former very common; the church is still formulating its response to this development. However it does so, I would like all couples treated with parity.

        Yes, extra-marital sex is wrong. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on this – I meant to be. I was responding to Andrew’s point about adultery legally not applying to same-sex couples. Citing extra-marital sex as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ IS the point – the law recognises it as wrong, and grounds for divorce. In other words, the expectation for everyone is that you are faithful within marriage.

        The issues over procreation and legal paternity have already addressed since HFEA came into being. The issues are sometimes complex (particularly involving surrogacy), but that is true independently of whether same-sex couples are involved. I don’t see that as a reason not to have same-sex marriage.

        The law after sperm donation can be checked in the flowchart:
        http://www.alternativefamilylaw.co.uk/assets/paternity_flow_chart.pdf

        Surrogacy is more complex, but legally the woman giving birth is always the mother. Parental orders can effectively fast-track adoption. I don’t think that same-sex marriages will affect existing laws here (disclaimer – not a legal expert)

        • David Shepherd July 2, 2015 at 7:52 pm #

          Jonathan,

          Thanks for your reply.

          You said: ‘I think we need to distinguish between two people who have made lifelong, faithful commitments to each other (but not necessarily legally married), and those who sleeping around.’

          While each of those sexual arrangements may require different kinds of pastoral engagement, legal marriage is not just about the couple, it establishes them as co-founders of a new family unit with legally protected autonomy from external interference. A couple’s lifelong faithful commitment per se does not secure the societal mandate for recognition of their family arrangement, whereas that is the purpose of marriage as public policy.

          While, as you say, ‘the expectation for everyone is that you are faithful within marriage’, public policy is not particularly concerned about enforcing that morality through sanctions. Given the Latin corollary, mater semper certa est, adultery undermines the most basic societal and personal expectation of marriage: that the fruit of married couple’s unpolluted union will always be considered solely their own and not another’s.

          Without this expectation, there is no certainty regarding responsibility for one’s own offspring and the State’s role becomes intrusive in trying to determine paternal responsibility (without which it has to provide child welfare) Both Thomas Cromwell (who tasked parish priests with marriage registration) and Sir William Blackstone, father of English common law, attest to this public purpose of marriage: ”Because of the very great uncertainty there will generally be, in the proof that the offspring were actually conceived through the same man; whereas, by confining the proof to the birth, and not to the conception, our law has made it completely certain, which child is legally recognised, and who is to take care of the child.’

          You are mistaken when you assert that ‘the issues over procreation and legal paternity have already been addressed since HFEA came into being.’

          The focus of HFEA 2008 regulations are on assisted reproductive techniques (ART). As your handy chart shows, outside of those methods, UK law rebuttably presumes the husband to be the legal father of of his wife’s children.

          It means that had a case like In re: M.C. (California Court of Appeal) been heard in the UK, it would have rejected the parental claims of Melissa’s same-sex spouse, Irene, requiring her to adopt or go to court in order to become M.C.’s legal parent.

          In the U.S., through marriage, Irene was conclusively presumed to be M.C.’s parent because M.C. was born during the marriage.

          The key purpose of marriage registration as a public policy has always been to facilitate, rather than complicate, the routine assignment of parental responsibility to spouses by recognising a child’s birth into a marriage.

          In marked distinction to the U.S., Netherlands, Canada and Australia, unless the couple resort to ART, same-sex spouses here are not accorded the presumption of parenthood.

          Let me be clear that this disparity shows that, in the UK, same-sex marriage lacks this most basic effect intended for marriage.

  12. Jonathan Tallon July 1, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    On gay clergy getting married, I note that the bishop of Long Island required all gay clergy in committed relationships to marry once same-sex marriage became legal:

    ‘For the gay and lesbian clergy of this Diocese who are living in domestic partnerships or civil unions, I hereby grant a grace period of nine months from the effective date of the New York State Law permitting same-gender marriages for those relationships to be regularized either by the exchange of vows in marriage or the living apart of said couples. I deem it to be honest and fair, and I do so direct and require, now that it is legal, that only married couples may live together, either in rectories or elsewhere as a clergy couple living in the midst of our faith community.’
    The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
    Bishop of Long Island
    July 8, 2011

  13. Erika Baker July 1, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    The adultery argument applies to straight couples too. The term adultery refers specifically to straight intercourse and straight people engaging in other forms of sexual activity outside their marriages can also only be divorced for unreasonable behaviour.

    I presume that doesn’t mean that straight people here believe that if they have any other kind of sex on the side they’re being faithful? We know pretty well what we mean by faithfulness and it applies to both gay and straight. That the law calls one adultery and the other unreasonable behaviour is neither here nor there.

  14. James Byron July 1, 2015 at 8:10 pm #

    John Sentamu, no liberal, was mighty casual about Kate & William getting their pre-nuptial game on (he compared it, bizarrely, to tasting the milk before buying a cow — Kate was, doubtless, charmed). What’s sauce for the goose …

  15. Blair July 2, 2015 at 3:41 am #

    Hello all,

    Lots of good points have already been made in the comments so just a quick footnote and a thought…

    The footnote – not only Jeffrey John, but also Rowan Williams and Gareth Moore OP advocated a lifelong, monogamous ethic for same-sex relationships, before the CP legislation let alone same-sex marriage.

    The thought – Andrew (& Ian, by implication) these are important and welcome questions but isn’t it odd in a way that it’s you raising them? Correct me, but I thought both of you hold that same-sex sexual relationships are sinful whatever the context, so it might be thought strange that you’re discussing the ethics of something you believe is wrong – surely it’s futile, or worse, to encourage people to build an ethics on a foundation you believe to be badly misplaced. Isn’t it inconsistent with the logic of your own position?

    In friendship, Blair

  16. Andrew Goddard July 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks for discussion – lots I could respond to but want to clarify just a few things. I do know discussions on this have been happening and that there is a range of views, and behaviour, just as among straight Christians. There is however I think a well-established pattern of church teaching both past and present, based in Scripture, in the areas I noted (however much we all fall short in practice) just as there is on marriage being male-female. There isn’t however any clear and obvious consensus as far as I can see from groups and leaders supporting same-sex marriage that this traditional ethic also applies now we have same-sex marriage and that gay and lesbian Christians therefore need to encourage one another to live it and offer it to the wider world as good news.

    It is interesting that as far as I can see the responses do not point to any examples of such a consensus but simply that some people have expressed views on the issues. The article raises over a dozen specific questions (at least one, often more, in each of the 5 areas) and most of them have not been directly responded to (even in terms of a personal view or a sense of a consensus) which is strange if there are indeed recognised and clearly articulated answers widely accepted by advocates for same-sex marriage.

    I agree with Alan Wilson that marriage is “more about relationship than sexual behaviour” but not sure how that avoids my questions unless sexual behaviour is not to be a matter for church teaching or is to be detached from its teaching about marriage. I do think that if we are facing a discussion about “equal marriage” we need to consider not just whether same-sex marriage is right but whether the tradition’s understanding of the wider relationship between sexual behaviour and marriage I sought to summarise is accurate, needing to be reconsidered, and equally applicable to gay and straight relationships.

    Blair is right that such a discussion won’t as far as I can see convince me that I am wrong about marriage being male-female but I am closer to a “conservative” supporter of gay marriage who simply extends traditional sexual ethic into the new form of marriage and more concerned about those supporters of gay marriage who detach sexual behaviour from marriage even when redefined. I hope this discussion may enable us to clarify (even if not overcome) our disagreements and either help us find a lot more common ground even if we disagree on the rightness of same-sex marriage or reveal deeper disagreements on sexual holiness both within and between the different views on same-sex marriage.

    • James Byron July 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

      Hi Andrew, thanks for the breakdown & yesterday’s post.

      I agree that there’s no consensus among Christians on the points you raised, likely because, setting homosexuality to one side, there’s very little consensus about sexuality in general.

      Just take divorce. Some Christians support no-fault divorce, some restrictive divorce, some “annulments” that are, to all intents and purposes, divorces, and that’s not getting started on remarriage. Or take what used to be known as “living in sin”: while the Archbishop of York didn’t explicitly condone fornication, he certainly didn’t condemn it.

      Personally, I’d like to see an end to a legalistic “sex within hetro marriage = good, outside = bad” perspective, and instead, judge all sexual relationships on their merits, via the application of principles like harm, consent, respect, and so on.

      • Ian Paul July 2, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

        James, ‘Personally, I’d like to see an end to a legalistic “sex within hetro marriage = good, outside = bad” perspective, and instead, judge all sexual relationships on their merits, via the application of principles like harm, consent, respect, and so on.’

        Yes, and I think that is a very common approach; it reminds me of Jeffrey John’s ‘permanent, faithful, stable.’

        Evangelicals have two problems with this. First is that casual, multi-partner and incestuous relationships could then be included.

        The second is that Jesus didn’t appear to take that view.

        • James Byron July 2, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

          Theoretically, yes, I guess it could, although are there any real-world examples of a polyamorous, incestuous relationship, let alone one that’d be considered healthy? More to the point, why are these extreme, vanishingly rare examples so frequently adduced? To show that we need some hard-and-fast rules? Well in requiring consent, I’ve already agreed with that. You could add-in an incest ban.

          As for Jesus, since we’ve only the traditions recorded in gospels written decades after his ministry, we’re not sure exactly what views he took, although I agree, I doubt he would’ve taken that view. He was a man of his time, and could be wrong.

        • Blair July 2, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

          Ian,
          briefly: I think you’re misrepresenting Jeffrey John here. His approach in ‘PFS’ is, borrowing Andrew Goddard’s words, that of “a “conservative” supporter of gay marriage who simply extends traditional sexual ethic into the new form of marriage”. He is very clear in the text that he does not consider casual or multi-partner relationships consonant with Christian tradition, and that he is in his eyes extending the church’s current sexual ethic to another group of people.
          in friendship, Blair

          • David Shepherd July 2, 2015 at 8:23 pm #

            Blair,

            Concerning Jeffrey Jiohn, you said : ‘He does not consider casual or multi-partner relationships consonant with the Christian tradition’.

            Yet, in marked contrast, same-sex relationships are?

            I really wonder whether anyone else here seriously thinks that, whereas polygamy is not consonant with what we know of Christian tradition, a same-sex sexual relationship is.

            Surely, the argument has been that St. Paul knew nothing of the kind of same-sex sexual relationships that we see today.

            I guess that the same could be said of other sexual relationships. How could St. Paul have transcended his ‘warmed over Pentateuchal views’ to have known about the medical condition, known as genetic sexual attraction.

      • Andrew Goddard July 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

        Thanks James though I’m not sure there is “very little consensus about sexuality in general”. Of course how to measure this – across cultures? across time? – is complex but I think the church is much more agreed than you suggest. So it has a standard witness that marriage breakdown is a sign of sin and not a good even if they may view it as a lesser evil permitted in certain cases and manage it in different ways. How we handle matters pastorally will vary and I don’t think it fair to take an instant and admittedly odd response to a question clearly seeking to elicit a public rebuke of a particular and prominent couple as a sign of AbY’s view – he I think moved the amendment in Lambeth I.10 calling for “abstinence” outside marriage and I don’t think he has changed his position.

        Would you not see what you call the “legalistic” view as being overwhelmingly that of Christian – indeed Jewish and Christian – teaching (not that this necessarily makes it right) and yours as a very contemporary and culturally conditioned one? Having said that I think you are perhaps highlighting part of what made me raise these questions – are there in fact two quite different paradigms about sexual ethics in play here which are more significant than the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage?

  17. Erika Baker July 2, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Andrew,
    thank you for this.
    I may misunderstand your comment about a consensus. Are you saying that Christian leaders (as opposed to those of us commenting here) have expressed different views about what is required from gay people in terms of sexual morality?
    Or are you saying that many have said absolutely nothing about it and that there is therefore no clarity?
    To me it’s always been obvious that the campaign has been for “admitting” gay people to the institution of marriage as it is, not to “change” the institution of marriage and making it less rigorous for gay people.

    That not all of us here necessarily agree with that is possible, but then, nor do all straights.

    I am not aware of an official lack of clarity?

    • Andrew Goddard July 2, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

      Thanks Erika. Clearly there are going to be different views present and part of the problem is that there is no “official” statement in way we could talk of such for a church. However I would say that there are things like the LGCM statement I quoted which has no reference to marriage even as a goal, the well-known views of Malcolm Johnston, and the Changing Attitude booklet back in 2004 from the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation Group (which I need to re-read properly) online at changingattitude.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Sexual-Ethics.pdf. That includes statements such as “Thus while it is clear to us as LGBTs when we survey the gay scene, and indeed much of contemporary social life, that casual sex can often be addictive and destructive, we think it is important to remain open to the possibility that brief and loving sexual engagement between mature adults in special circumstances can be occasions of grace. Risky, but then as Paul Tillich said ‘A Christian is safest taking risks!’ The exploration of our sexual selves can be something which benefits from involvement with more than one person” (p11) and chapter 5 sets out a vision some way from that I set out as the traditional Christian ethic. In terms of the reality, Andrew Yip’s study of Christian male couples supports the idea that what CA and LGCM seem to be commending reflects the lived reality then even if things may be different now (and of course reality always falls short, the question is whether there is a marital goal/ideal being sought or a different framework as the standard and guide).

      There have also been strong advocates of a quasi-marital ethic (as Blair pointed out) but there have also been those favouring more of a friendship model (Stuart, Vasey etc) which seems to have shaped the CA booklet. I have realised that I actually have no idea when “same-sex marriage” really became the primary call from Christians as I think until very recently the focus has been on either the sort of view in sources cited above or a quasi-marital covenant but distinct from marriage. Can anyone shed light on that?

      I am told by friends in CA and IC that most gay and lesbian Christians no longer hold to the sort of views in that document and have embraced a more traditional and marital ethic as a guide for how to live but I do not know if that is so, have not seen clear statements on this from any organisations or leading spokespeople and I am not sure how it would be filled out in relation to the issues I raised.

      Does that explain why I feel there is a lack of clarity and that some discussion of this might be helpful alongside whether or not marriage should remain between a man and a woman or become gender-blind?

      • Savi Hensman July 3, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

        The LGCM Statement of Conviction certainly does not rule out monogamy and permanence but focuses on the core issue of whether same-sex partnerships are necessarily wrong. Unsurprisingly it does not mention marriage, since it was only 9 years since gay sex had been punishable by imprisonment in England and Wales and it still was in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There was no legal protection from being sacked or evicted for being ‘out’ and, even if there might have been a handful of visionaries who believed that we might be married some time within the next half-century, this would have seemed pretty implausible!

        But certainly opinions varied and to some extent still do among LGBT Christians, though there has I believe been a substantial shift towards valuing fidelity and permanence, maybe because a generation has grown up being able to imagine that one day this is something that they might experience. It is also clearer that being married does not mean having to fit into stereotypical gender roles of the kind found in reading books when we were children!

  18. Erika Baker July 2, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    Thank you Andrew.
    I think you probably have a point. Until very recently we ourselves could not believe that marriage would even be an option, so any statements going back more than a few years are unlikely to mention marriage.

    I also think that gay people may have a different approach than straight Christians. I am frequently surprised by how often the rigid Christian ideal of no sex before marriage is mentioned – yet how the reality of Christian sexual ethics seems not to be too different from that of the general public. I know of American studies that show that sex before marriage and teenage pregnancy rates among evangelical Christians are no different to those of straight people.

    And I know so many Christians who have no problems with their own children living with their partners, having babies out of wedlock, seeing bridal couples with their children in tow etc.
    To a certain extent, the ideal of sexual purity seems to be just that – an ideal.

    And I would also agree that many Christians – gay and straight – are more concerned about the quality of relationships than about their external form, and that we are quite happy to accept that people can be serial monogamists.

    So I wonder whether the difference isn’t one of honesty in admitting the reality of people’s lives?

    Which would then necessitate a much wider sexuality debate.
    Are our standards realistic if we keep having to close our eyes to the reality?
    Are we willing to hold straight and gay to the same standards, including the same willingness to close our eyes to the reality?
    Are we willing to accept that many straight people do follow the Christian ideal, just as many gay people do, that others fail and that some don’t subscribe to the ideal in the first place?

    You see…. At the core of it, I suspect that people are only too willing to believe that gay people are intrinsically less moral than straight people and that it is therefore right to keep them out of marriage because they would diminish it.

    The Shared Conversations are supposedly about “human sexuality”. Instead, they were clearly about same sex relationships.
    But we do need a genuine and honest “human sexuality” debate.

    Otherwise we run the risk of having a high idealistic standard for straight Christian marriage, knowing and tacitly accepting that many will not follow those standards, while at the same time being so suspicious of gay Christians that we don’t even allow them to aspire to the same standard.

    • Joe July 2, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

      Do any gay Christians aspire to the “holiness” standard? Their dating pool would be very small if that was the case. Or do they start dating non-Christians and adopt the same humanistic sexual ethic as the wider gay community?

      • Blair July 3, 2015 at 9:39 am #

        Hi Joe,
        Anecdotally, yes some do, small “dating pool” and all, as Erika mentioned above. Can I ask if you’re thinking of gay men and women, or of gay men only. ..?
        in friendship, Blair

        • Joe July 4, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

          Blair,

          Yes it’s necessary to make a distinction between gay men and women (women will form longer lasting monogamous relationships) but that doesn’t alter the fact that both, on the whole, conform to a humanistic moral framework. Any honest pro-gay debater would recognise this fact.

          Gay Christians who claim to be evangelicals now have an opportunity to promote the same sexual holiness standard that is still taught in so-called anti-gay conservative churches – not dismiss the ideal and call for a much wider sexuality debate. This ideal can be upheld without shaming people – just as “Love your neighbour as yourself” is taught even though everyone accepts that it is a highly idealistic standard with a 100% failure rate.

          • Blair July 4, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

            Hi Joe,
            Your question above was somewhat rhetorical then, given that you are already sure of the answer despite the responses from Erika and Lorenzo. I’m not denying the promiscuity and / or messiness of the lives of some, especially gay men… but am not sure what point you’re wanting to make about that.

            My two thoughts in response to your latest comment are first, if you’re distinguishing between gay men and women, it follows that the problem isn’t *homo*sexuality but *male* sexuality. Secondly, do you believe there is any context in which same-sex sex is right? If you believe it’s intrinsically wrong, surely it follows that ethics don’t matter – after all, it would still be wrong, however faithfully / monogamously done….

            in friendship, Blair

          • Joe July 4, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

            You are right – my question above was somewhat rhetorical – and born out of frustration with certain aspects of the affirming/progressive position. I know a fair number of affirming gay Christians and the way they talk about sex and relationships among themselves is very different (and implicitly similar to the sexual ethic followed by the wider non-Christian gay community) from the sexual ethic that they feel a need to endorse publicly. I don’t doubt that something similar happens with straight Christians (I agree with a lot of what Erika said about this) but ‘traditionalist’ churches do teach a clear holiness standard. If gay evangelicals really do aspire to the same standard, why aren’t they and their churches doing more to promote it?

            No I do not believe there is any context in which same-sex sex is right (otherwise I would be sexually active myself) but that doesn’t mean I cannot follow someone else’s argument.

          • Blair July 4, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

            Hello Joe,
            thank you for your response, and your honesty. Thank you also for the context re straight Christians, which was the third thought I forgot to put into my previous comment. The thing for me though is that if it’s true that “something similar happens with straight Christians” then the problem isn’t (only) “affirming gay Christians” not living up to our values, but all of us falling short (do I hear an echo…?). And if that’s the case then your challenge isn’t only to “gay evangelicals” or “affirming gay Christians”, but to pretty much all… even if it’s those of us who are gay who might prompt more of an emotional reaction.

            I didn’t mean to suggest or imply that you couldn’t follow anyone else’s argument, btw.

            I know it’s off-topic but are you willing to say why you believe same-sex sex is intrinsically wrong? No prob if not. Also, did you once have a blog called Now the green blade rises, or similar? Again no prob if you’d rather not answer…

            in friendship, Blair

          • Joe July 5, 2015 at 11:45 am #

            Hello Blair

            Yes – I’m the green blade guy and after ten years I’m still banging on about the same thing LOL.

            Most evangelicals are very nice people and I would never suggest that affirming gay Christians are less moral than any other type of Christian. For me the issue is about trying to determine what sexual ethic a person does follow – as there is considerable overlap between very different moral frameworks.

      • Tricia July 5, 2015 at 12:31 am #

        Well done Joe I had just posted that there seemed to be no understanding of the holiness code in this discussion.
        When I became a Christian I was divorced and did not feel I wanted to marry again. But the Holy Spirit made it clear to me that the man I had met was whom God had chosen for me and that living together was not an option. We have been married 26 years this year. I have heard other testimony of people moving out from living with partners and reassessing whether God was calling them to marry.
        I know that because we live in such a sexualised culture the calling to celibacy is a hard one, but it is the highest calling and one in which God can use your gifts to the maximum. He has never left me alone to face difficulties – he tells us He is with us always even to the end of time.
        There can be no compromise on this issue as it is a denial of God as author of our creation and salvation and our plan for life. As CS Lewis put it Jesus was either a madman or He was God, but he doesn’t leave us any other choices and if He is who he says he is we need to follow.

  19. James Byron July 2, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks for getting back Andrew. 🙂

    All views, including those in the Bible, are culturally conditioned. That’s unavoidable: what matters is the justification for a position. Sometimes the prevailing culture’s wrong, sometimes it isn’t.

    Christianity’s as influenced by the prevailing mores as any other tradition. The Christian view of marriage has, over the past 2,000 years, changed radically, from indifference bordering on disapproval in the church’s first millennium, to making marriage a sacrament in its second. Until the end of the 19th century, coverture denied wives any separate legal personhood: they were, in effect, the property of their husbands. Marriage shifting from male headship to a partnership of equals is at least as radical as abolishing gender distinctions, I’d say more so.

    While divorce may be taken as a sign of sin, that understanding used to be expressed in a ban. Now the ban’s gone, either openly in protestantism, or covertly with Catholicism’s farcically broad grounds for annulment. Jesus was clear that remarriage after divorce is adultery, but many churches now permit it, and no amount of hand-wringing and regret can alter the fact that a clear command from Christ has been set aside.

    Now, I have no problem with that. The problem comes for those who say that biblical authority ties our hands. If we can contradict the Bible on divorce, and not just the Bible, but probably the most certain of the Jesus sayings (recorded in two gospels and Paul’s authentic letters), we can set aside what it says about homosexuality.

    • Will Jones July 2, 2015 at 7:28 pm #

      “The Christian view of marriage has, over the past 2,000 years, changed radically, from indifference bordering on disapproval in the church’s first millennium…”
      This is misleading to the point of being disingenuous. It was only disapproved of compared to holy chastity “for the sake of the kingdom”, not compared to any other experiments in living. It was also regarded, as per Ephesians, as being a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, while the culmination of creation was frequently described as a wedding feast. Hardly a note of disapproval.

      This attempt to relativise the Christian teaching on marriage is a standard tactic employed by those who want to subject it to radical change. But an objective view of the thing shows it to be untrue. Christian marriage as set forth by Jesus and in the New Testament and upheld by the church across the centuries is as a permanent exclusive bond of sexual faithfulness between a man and a woman with a view to producing children. I defy you to produce a single instance of authoritative Christian teaching contrary to that.

      • James Byron July 2, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

        Will, you’re right, in the early church, marriage was second best compared to chastity: metaphors aside, Paul of Tarsus (the actual one, not the various forgers who made in into the N.T.) grudgingly allowed that it was better to marry than burn with lust.

        TBF, he also exalted marriage on a spiritual level. His hang ups seemed to relate to its baser aspects. Start as you mean to go on, I guess.

        As for authoritative statements, presumably the various canons allowing for divorce and remarriage would count?

        • Will Jones July 3, 2015 at 9:47 am #

          Yes you’re right – the permission for divorce (albeit highly qualified and disapproved of) in Protestantism (based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew) is an example of the permanence ideal being relaxed to take account of serious breach of the marriage covenant. I don’t think this alters the unanimity of the witness to the ideal, but it does suggest room for pastoral accommodation in light of sub-ideal reality.

          An analogous argument for same-sex marriage would need to argue for it in terms of pastoral accommodation of a sub-ideal situation. No-one is making that argument, and I think that’s because it would be too much of a stretch, but an appeal to historical evolution of the institution does I guess leave it as a potential opening.

  20. Will Jones July 2, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    Thanks Andrew, a really helpful discussion of some crucial issues.

    A further question I think Christians need to ask is whether there is anything preferable about heterosexual marriage for bisexual people whose orientation is not simply in a homosexual direction. This links with your question about whether there is anything normative about heterosexual marriage for child-rearing. I presume the consensus (among those supportive of the overall change that is) will be no, the two are equally valid, and thus for those whose individual nature is for both/either they have a choice. But given how much of the debate has focused on the idea of homosexual orientation as innate and fixed, and gay marriage as a response to that anthropological fact, bisexuality does present its own specific question of norms. Is homosexual marriage only appropriate for homosexuals, or is it more of a choice than that?

  21. Blair July 4, 2015 at 12:55 am #

    Hello David,

    I’m not entirely sure who / what your comment following mine re Jeffrey John was aimed at, but a thought or two…

    As you imply the crux of the matter is whether same-sex sexual relationships are “consonant with what we know of Christian tradition”, and I’m not in doubt that many (here and elsewhere) disagree that they could be. ‘Consonant with the tradition’ could have two senses though – in the sense that there is no historical precedent (as far as I know) for SSS relationships approved within the tradition, they aren’t consonant with it. But in the sense of whether SSS relationships could be a legitimate development within the tradition – that of course is the key question (and I’m well aware of your vehemently held view that they couldn’t be). I still think the lending of money at interest is in some degree a valid analogy here…

    You went on to say, “Surely, the argument has been that St. Paul knew nothing of the kind of same-sex sexual relationships that we see today”. As I said above I’m not sure who your target is here as you don’t name any person or group who argues this. For my part, I would place little weight on such an argument, not least because i don’t see how we can know beyond reasonable doubt what kinds of SSS relationships St Paul knew of. A good close reading of Pauline texts held to address same-sex sex, surely needs to be much richer than this…. but perhaps you’d agree on that point.

    I’m aware (I think….) of the kind of point your last paragraph is trying to make but in a number of ways, I don’t think it works. The fact that a trait has whatever degree of genetic basis, doesn’t make that trait laudable or justify actions flowing from it – and again I suspect we agree there, but if so I’d like to question why you think the incest analogy is a good one. Can you name any Christian groups campaigning to legitimate incest? Also, ‘genetic sexual attraction’ isn’t to my knowledge a bona fide medical condition – Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) draws on a Guardian article to say that “The term was coined in the US in the late 1980s by Barbara Gonyo, the founder of Truth Seekers In Adoption, a Chicago-based support group”. And do you mean to imply that you think homosexuality is a medical condition, or am i reading uncharitably?

    in friendship, Blair

    • David Shepherd July 5, 2015 at 12:07 pm #

      Blair,

      Thanks for your reply.

      While, to Ian, you clarified Jeffrey John’s position in support of gay marriage as an extension to the church’s current sexual ethic, you also highlighted that ‘the text is very clear that he does not consider casual or multi-partner relationships consonant with the Christian tradition’.

      I realise that you might only have been correcting what you viewed as a misrepresentation, but that was the reason for my interjection, since I truly wonder how gay marriage could ever be considered consonant with Christian tradition and thereby be supported as an ‘extension of the Christian sexual ethic to another group of people.’

      I think that the example of lending money at interest is not particularly appropriate. However we might understand scripture differently, as far as I’m aware, there is no liturgy or canon that conclusively encapsulates the Christian tradition regarding the doctrine of money. In contrast, for marriage, the church’s liturgy and canon law are definitively clear.

      Nevertheless, as you’ve described them, the alternative senses in which consonance might be understood is a valid proposition.

      In fact, the Rochester report (Women in the episcopacy – GS 1557) explores the notion of legitimate development and what constitutes reception in great detail.

      Critically, I would refer you to section 3.6.18ff that reviews Peter Toon’s leaflet, Reforming Forwards? – The Doctrine of Reception and the Consecration of Women as Bishops :

      ‘However, says Toon, the current Anglican concept of reception is based not on an appeal to sureties of the past, but on an appeal to what might be in the future:

      ‘In its present form, Anglican ‘reception’ is not an appeal to the sureties of the past, or even to what has been. Instead, it is an appeal to what might be someday, with the associated permission to test or experiment with the proposed possibilities of the future. This kind of ‘reception’ is, thus, a novelty in itself. It is no longer a ‘reformation’ (an effort to achieve the original, pristine form). Rather it is a ‘reformation forward,’ so that the true form of the Church may not have been seen or achieved yet.

      That is not, however, an eschatological consideration, according to which we are not completely sure of what Christ will make of us. Rather, it is an inversion, an experiment to determine what we will discover of Christ and his Body, the Church.

      In the end, one is faced with this question: Is there justification provided in the Scriptures for a principle of experimentation?

      No previous effort at reformation or renewal has looked to the future, rather than to the settled past. It may even be said that the reformation forward is contrary to every basic principle of church polity. For the experiment to proceed, it must be permitted by human authority. But until the experiment succeeds, it cannot be known if the human authorities granting permission have the divinely given authority to allow the experiment.’

      3.6.19 Toon is right to claim that in Christian theology appeal has traditionally been made to the authority of antiquity. In what we have said about Scripture and tradition we have affirmed the importance of this appeal to the past. However, it is not clear that Toon is right to claim that the modern Anglican concept of reception involves an appeal to the future rather than to the past.

      3.6.20 Those in the Church of England who have supported the ordination of women have generally argued that their ordination is consistent with the witness of Scripture and tradition.

      Therefore, it is a significant departure from the Anglican concept of reception and development for gay marriage advocates not only to abandon any appeal to the past (as proponents of women’s ordination did), but also to argue for its validity through a principle that treats the witness of scripture and tradition on the matter as outmoded, ignorant and unjust.

      I will address the other queries that you raised in a later comment.

      Also, in friendship,
      Dave

      • Jonathan Tallon July 6, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

        On lending money at interest: pretty much up to the medieval period, the uniform tradition of the church was to condemn it. Numerous councils laid down canons on this, from the first Council of Nicea all the way through to the second Lateran Council (Ad 1139). In relation to worship, those who offended were excommunicated. (You wouldn’t expect much more from liturgy on this subject).

        So canons, practice of worship, tradition all agreed that lending money at interest was wrong. This was on the basis of what they saw as the plain meaning of scripture. I suspect if you’d asked someone throughout this period, they would have said the church’s position was ‘definitively clear’.

        Calvin is one of the first on record to suggest that the context the scriptures were referring to weren’t quite the same as charging interest in a commercial setting, where you are equating future values of money with current values. Eventually, the churches generally agreed, and this was seen as a development that was consonant with scriptures (though clearly without historical precedent).

        In other words, something universally condemned becomes OK in certain circumstances not covered directly by scripture, and this is seen as fine. It is on the same basis that some are arguing that same-sex marriage can be consonant with scripture.

        • David Shepherd July 6, 2015 at 6:56 pm #

          Jonathan,

          As far as I’m aware, successive Lateran Councils continued to prohibit usury, even though, in practice, many church authorities simply turned a blind eye. So, while usury was definitively condemned before and during medieval times, the later reluctance on the part of church authorities to pursue the offence was more a connivance than an unqualified affirmation.

          In contrast, the church’s official recognition and unqualified affirmation of PFS same-sex relationships appears to be the goal of SSM advocates.

          As you say, the widespread belief was that canon law simply didn’t apply to situations in which lending might give rise to commercial investment opportunity. Despite this, the prohibition of usury was never officially repealed by successive councils.

          FWIW, in his parable, Christ appeared to have no problem identifying with the master who told the servant who buried the money that was entrusted to him: ‘You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.’ (Matthew 25:26,27)

          No, it’s not a proof-text, but it does provides a starting point for distinguishing lending in a context of commercial investment opportunity.

          While some might see this as similar to arguing that OT and NT prohibitions on homosexual acts should not apply to permanent, faithful and stable same-sex relationships, that is neither the same as arguing that the latter are consonant with scripture, nor the same as proposing that they should be affirmed as part of the church’s teaching on marriage, for which canon law would have to be amended.

  22. Jane Newsham July 4, 2015 at 1:03 am #

    So, gay people have the opportunity to marry and will be coming into our churches in their married state. But can we stop looking at their behaviour and start looking at our own behaviour? Can we look at the plank in our own eye before we dissect and categorise the speck in our neighbour’s?
    What about a Christian ethic of marriage that respects married couples’ marriages and barely notices if they are opposite-sex or same-sex couples? How do we make married couples (who happen to be same-sex married couples) feel as welcomed and affirmed in our churches as any other married couple?
    Where does this fear come from – this fear that gay married couples particularly will fail to meet our expectations / not rise to our standards / insist on their own set of sexual ethics? Do we have the same fear about individual straight couples who join our churches and if not, why not? How far do we exert control over married couples (both straight and gay) to adhere to our own brand of sexual ethics – I’m just suggesting that if a particular policy works for one group, it might work for the other (but I am expressly saying that both groups should be treated identically). How do we encourage married couples to commit to faithfulness and stickability-through-testing-times – and I’m just suggesting that if a particular policy works for one group, it might work for the other (but I am expressly saying that both groups should be treated identically).
    But if we still feel the need to micromanage people’s lives and especially gay people’s lives (we have a history of this), does this help or hinder us when inviting people to visit and join our churches? Is our message once more that now gay people’s marriages are an ‘issue’ to be resolved, a problem to be dealt with? Can we look at our own fears, our anxieties and our uncertainties around this and commit to working on them with a mature and God-resourced spirituality? How do we support each other to develop attitudes and behaviours which honour God and don’t disable others from finding faith? Can we put away our checklists and put out the red carpet?

    • David Shepherd July 8, 2015 at 8:10 am #

      ‘Where does this fear come from – this fear that gay married couples particularly will fail to meet our expectations / not rise to our standards / insist on their own set of sexual ethics?’

      Christians, who acknowledge that the OT prophetic and NT apostolic witnesses proscribe pre-marital, extra-marital and same-sex sexual behaviour, consider those who give any of these permanence to be either ignorant of or patently disregarding God’s expectations.

      That understanding will continue unless the scripture can be proven to be inapplicable because it is only concerned with the internal resilience of sexual relationships, regardless of its explicit prohibitions.

      Of course, as St. Jude explained, the balance that must be struck between self-critical forbearance and avoiding irresponsible connivance at the expense of prophetic scriptural revelation:
      ‘And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.’ (Jude 1:22 – 23).

      Those in pursuit of complete moral dedication to God’s revealed will should have a rightful aversion towards any behaviour arising from unregenerate humanity, both in themselves and others.

      If you want to call that aversion ‘fear’ or ‘-phobic’, so be it.

      • Jane Newsham July 8, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

        Thank you David
        As the LGBTI inclusion process unfolds in our generation, the Golden Rule supersedes the ‘clobber’ verses. We move to the position where we extend the same respect to a same-sex married couple that we hope that they would extend to our own marriage (and certainly the same respect that we are used to receiving from others as our right). If you struggle to extend this respect to a same-sex married couple, this becomes your issue rather than their issue.
        We no longer use the ‘clobber’ verses to attempt to control and manipulate people – this is bad behaviour, and churches and individuals are now being called out on it, and rightly so. Our understanding of God is that everyone stands before him as equals, and to discriminate against some married couples just because they are same-sex rather than opposite-sex distorts the Gospel, hinders mission and undermines God’s wider purposes to see people come to faith.
        There is a ‘complete moral dedication to God’s revealed will’ available to everyone but where this leads some of us to diminish, disparage, undermine, ostracise, and render powerless and voiceless in our churches, others of us (in faith or not), then this is a huge problem for the Church and needs urgently to be addressed and resolved.

        • David Shepherd July 8, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

          Jane,

          ‘to discriminate against some married couples just because they are same-sex rather than opposite-sex distorts the Gospel, hinders mission and undermines God’s wider purposes to see people come to faith.’

          Behind the high-sounding rhetoric is lazy logic masquerading as liberation spirituality.

          Without the soft bsckground refrain of ‘we shall overcome’, your reasoning is simply that marriage as defined by prophetic revelation of scripture is embedded with discrimination that contradicts the Golden Rule.

          Well, why stop there? Why isn’t it a hindrance to mission among other religions in the Middle East and Africa for Western churches to insist that marriage should be a binary relationship?

          You would have far more credibility if you extended the charity to polygamous marriages, instead of subjecting the cultures that permit them to negative stereotypes of exploitation. No surprise that same-sex relationships are the only allowable divergence from the scripture.

          Why doesn’t your application of the Golden Rule extend to include polygamous marriages between consenting adults who comprise major civilisations in the global South?

          Or could it be that the real blindness is how the special pleading of your rhetoric lacks any reference point other than your own cultural history?

          And you think that the relatively underpopulated morally moribund West can turn the rest of world humanity on its axis?

          Think again.

  23. Tricia July 4, 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    There are so many comments here and so little understanding of holiness that I am shocked.

  24. Blair July 6, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

    Thanks Joe. Is your blog still up, incidentally?

    Also, a little point to clarify – when you wrote, “there is considerable overlap between very different moral frameworks”, did you mean there’s considerable overlap within specific groups?

    in friendship, Blair

Leave a Reply