Is Pastoral Accommodation the way forward?

sign-outside-the-winston-hotel-advertising-affordable-accommodation-crpgj8Andrew Goddard writes: As we move from shared conversation to shared deliberation, initially among the bishops, there are a number of important elements which must be at the heart of the discussion. We do not start from a blank sheet. The Church of England has set out its official teaching and discipline in relation to sexuality in a number of places over the last three decades (see summary here).  But we also need to recognise that the practical realities are much more complex (see summary here) and to consider how we got into this situation and where we might go next (a sketch is provided here).There is a strong sense that the basic structure of the Pilling Report is a likely path: no change in teaching but authorisation, or at least formal permission, for actions affirming same-sex unions as a form of pastoral accommodation.  The Church of England would continue officially to hold that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and the one divinely sanctioned form of sexual relationship.  However, in practice, things would change quite significantly.

The argument set out below is that, whatever one thinks the church should teach or should do, simply reaffirming traditional teaching while permitting greater freedom for clergy to enter into sexual same-sex unions or offering some form of liturgical celebration of such unions is an unprecedented and seriously flawed way forward.  It is also not genuine pastoral accommodation as the church has practised it in other areas.

Pilling’s Approach: Problems in practice and principle [1]

The approach faces at least three significant practical problems.

First, combining theological conservatism and practical revisionism is a “splitting the difference” which has very few if any current adherents within the church. The overwhelming majority of those who believe that the current teaching is biblical believe that the church is already at or beyond the limits of acceptable pastoral accommodation in practice.  In contrast, those wishing a more affirming stance in practice believe the teaching is wrong, even damaging, and needs changing.  They will see “pastoral accommodation” as patronizing or insulting.

Second, it stretches even further the tensions between theory and practice, theology and pastoral care which have made it difficult to speak and act with integrity and been detrimental to our unity and mission.  Continuing with this approach is likely to exacerbate rather than resolve the problems and to lead to continuing conflict and instability rather than a new peaceful settlement.

Third, in 2007 the General Synod recognized that working to prevent “further division and impaired fellowship within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion” meant not “doing anything that could be perceived as the Church of England qualifying its commitment to the entirety of the relevant Lambeth Conference Resolutions”.   Greater acceptance of either clergy in sexual same-sex unions or liturgies relating to such unions will be perceived by the overwhelming majority of the Communion and much of the CofE as at best qualifying and at worst reneging on our commitment to Lambeth resolutions as evidenced by the recent Global South Communique and Statement from the Global South and GAFCON Primates.  To go down this path is therefore a clear reversal of the 2007 Synod decision and an acceptance of further division and impaired fellowship.

More fundamentally, there is a problem of principle: it appears to worsen the habit of institutional hypocrisy.  The church continues to teach that certain behaviour is wrong, falls short of God’s purposes and is contrary to Scripture, but then moves from tolerating it as a form of respected conscientious dissent among baptized believers to commending it through public services and seeing it as no longer a bar to ordination.  Whatever one’s views it is hard to see how this has integrity.  Pastoral care and church practice need to be related to theology and to biblical teaching even when that is difficult and contested.

Pastoral Accommodation as the Principled Basis for Pilling’s Approach?

The problem of principle is regularly answered by an appeal to pastoral accommodation as a principled approach justifying divergence between teaching and practice.  This has potential in that pastoral accommodation, as defined by Oliver O’Donovan in his evidence to the Pilling Group, refers to an approach which, while “without ultimate dogmatic implications”, can be “paradoxical in relation to basic moral belief” in the response it offers to “some urgent presenting needs”.  The question is at what point one moves from paradox into incoherence and/or an undermining of basic moral beliefs.

A crucial aspect in walking this tightrope is that, in the words of the Faith and Order Commission’s report, Men and Women in Marriage  (para 49), proper pastoral accommodation should have the goal of “bearing witness in special ways to the abiding importance of the norm”.  It achieves this by being an action which can “proclaim the form of life given by God’s creative goodness and bring those in difficult positions into closer approximation to it”.

In considering whether, and if so how, any of the proposed extensions of pastoral accommodation in relation to same-sex unions can meet these criteria, it is worth examining other areas cited as parallels or precedents.  Although the New Testament’s response to slavery or the tradition’s development of just war could be explored, the most common examples in recent Anglican practice are a proposed prayer after abortion and two practices which, like same-sex unions or marriage, appear to deny church teaching that marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one one woman: polygamy and remarriage after divorce.  The rest of this article summarises these three and their implications for our debates (with links to more detailed analyses in the footnotes).

Example 1: Prayer after abortion [2]

In 1979 Synod debated – but rejected – a proposed prayer after abortion.  It was clearly a form of pastoral accommodation.  First, the act in response to which prayer is offered is clearly described in ways which witness to Christian teaching in this difficult context – life is God’s gift and we are called to share in the care of life which is given.  Second, it speaks honestly of the act about which it prays – we have cut short a developing life and have to plead for God’s mercy in judgment.  It is not an easy prayer to pray!

This as pastoral accommodation does not offer a model for public prayer for a same-sex union.  Any prayer after abortion is not dealing with a situation of celebration which is how those wishing prayer after a same-sex union view their situation.  But that is precisely to say that they are asking for something other than pastoral accommodation.  We are making a serious error if we think we can meet their concerns by offering pastoral accommodation.  To take and adapt wording used by O’Donovan, pastoral accommodation does not enable us to “invoke the blessing of God” on something the church teaches is wrong.  Pastoral accommodation would need to bear witness to the abiding importance of the church’s teaching about marriage and sexual holiness and “bring those in difficult positions into closer approximation to it”. Those seeking and those wanting to offer prayers after a civil partnership or a civil same-sex marriage do not wish to “acknowledge sorrowfully” that their union places them in a “difficult position” which needs to be brought “into closer approximation” to “the form of life given by God’s creative goodness”.

In summary, this example suggests that if what is offered liturgically is true pastoral accommodation then it is almost the opposite of what is being sought.  If, however, it offers celebration, thanksgiving or blessing it is not genuine pastoral accommodation but something else and so needs to be acknowledged and defended as such.

Example 2: Polygamy  [3]

In the recent Communion debates about sexuality reference has been made to polygamy and the inconsistency represented by its alleged acceptance in provinces most hostile to same-sex unions.  This is a serious misrepresentation of both the history and the current reality in relation to polygamy.  From the third Lambeth Conference in 1888 Anglicans took a strongly non-accommodationist stance.  Polygamists were to be refused even baptism as long as they had more than one wife until 1988.  Then resolution 26 upheld “monogamy as God’s plan, and as the ideal relationship of love between husband and wife” but permitted the baptism and confirmation of converted polygamists on three conditions and, recognising that some became polygamists after conversion, called on provinces to share “their pastoral approach to Christians who become polygamists so that the most appropriate way of disciplining and pastoring them can be found”.

Here again there is a genuine pastoral accommodation.  First, there is a witness to the norm in explicit teaching and in the conditions set down when moving to no longer exclude those whose situation did not conform to that norm.  Second, the accommodation extends only to permitting baptism and confirmation.  No Anglican province will accept a current polygamist into orders or liturgically celebrate a polygamous marriage.  Christians entering a polygamous marriage are usually disciplined in some way such as being refused participation in communion and/or removal from ministry.

If polygamy were to be taken as a model for pastoral accommodation to those in same-sex unions then the most obvious application would be to allow their baptism and confirmation subject to a promise not to enter another same-sex union once this one ended.  There would however be no permission for those in such unions to be ordained or to have their unions celebrated in church.  The church would also be expected to find the most appropriate way to discipline and pastor any Christian who enters such a union. Clearly this is an even more limited form of pastoral accommodation than that currently permitted within the Church of England.

In summary, an appeal to the church’s response to polygamy, accommodation to which can claim biblical precedent, is not able to justify any further pastoral accommodation in relation to same-sex unions.  In fact, if the two situations are similar in representing a departure from the church’s teaching, what is being sought for those in same-sex unions in cultures where such unions are accepted would entail a radical liberalisation of current pastoral accommodation in relation to polygamous unions in cultures where those unions are accepted.

Example 3: Divorce and remarriage [4]

From 1971 to 2002 a number of areas relating to remarriage after divorce were the subject of several reports and much Synodical debate. Just as debates about sexuality today are set in the context of past official teaching so these debates had an existing framework –  particularly the 1957 Act of Convocation by Canterbury Province – for considering proposed changes.  It summarised wider Anglican teaching on marriage as permanent and concluded that the Church should not allow the marriage service to be used “in the case of anyone who has a partner still living” and indeed “no public Service shall be held for those who have contracted a civil marriage after divorce”.  However, it also stated that “it is not held within the competence of the Convocations to lay down what private prayers the curate in the exercise of his pastoral Ministry may say with the persons concerned, or to issue regulations as to where or when these prayers shall be said”.  The bishop’s explicit written permission also had to be sought before baptizing, confirming, or admitting to communion anyone in a marriage where a former partner was still living.  During the decades of debate, some clergy rejected and in practice ignored the church’s official stance, exercising their right as registrars to marry anyone who could legally marry.  This offers a potentially illuminating example of developing greater pastoral accommodation given the practical areas of dispute have so much overlap.  Each can be taken in turn.

Admission to Baptism, Confirmation and Communion

It was only in 1982, following the 1978 Lichfield Report,  that Synod removed the 1957 rule requiring the bishop’s permission for remarried divorcees to be admitted to communion.  This established the level of pastoral accommodation now also permitted to lay people in same-sex unions including marriage.

Remarriage in Church

Before changing policy, the church wrestled with theological principles.  Two theological reports (The 1971 Root Report and 1978 Lichfield Report) concluded that it was compatible with reason, the Word of God in Scripture, and theological tradition to, in certain circumstances, allow marriage in church of divorced persons.  That this was nevertheless pastoral accommodation was seen in Root’s proposal that penitential material should be introduced for such marriages.  Synod did not accept either of these studies.  Only in July 1981 did Synod agree that while “marriage should always be undertaken as a lifelong commitment…there are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former partner”.  However, Synod also agreed that “before any action is taken to repeal or modify the relevant existing regulations and resolutions of the Convocations” there needed to be agreement on how to proceed and that proved intractable.  Having failed to agree on how to permit re-marriage in church in 1985 a liturgy for prayer after a civil marriage was authorized (see below).

In 1994 Synod invited the bishops to “consider the present practice of marriage in church after divorce, and to report” and Marriage in Church After Divorce finally appeared in 2000, preceded by a 1999 teaching document on marriage, signaling the need to explain teaching before proposing any changes in practice. This led to the House of Bishops’ report in 2002 (GS 1449) which included guidance for clergy on when to allow remarriage in church. Finally, in July 2002, General Synod passed a motion by 269 votes to 83 which allowed remarriage in church and in November 2002, over three decades after a theological report unanimously recommended support for some remarriage, all 3 Houses of Synod decided by large majorities to rescind the marriage resolutions of the Canterbury and York Convocations.

The current situation again is clearly a form of pastoral accommodation.  First, it makes clear that the Church of England has a doctrine of marriage and that this includes it being life-long so any marriage must be undertaken with that intention.  Second, the circumstances in which remarriage in church should happen are “exceptional”.  Third, the bishops’ advice to clergy opens by clearly stating that such decisions are to be based on church teaching: “It is not…a light matter to solemnise a marriage in which one partner has a previous partner still living. It is important that the decision you take as to whether to solemnise such a marriage should be on the basis of clear principles that are consistent with the church’s teaching”.  Fourth, there is no requirement for clergy to marry anyone who has a surviving spouse.

Services of Prayer and Dedication after Civil Marriage

In the two decades between Synod agreeing that “there are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former partner” and establishing a process another form of pastoral accommodation appeared.  In 1985, Synod removed the 1957 prohibition on any service at all where someone had a surviving spouse and the bishops commended a Service of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage.  This rejected the unanimous decision of the 1978 Lichfield Report which was “of one mind in rejecting the suggestion of a public service of prayer and dedication.  We recommend that the present use of such services be brought to an end” (para 232, italics original).  The report’s discussion of this proposal is very illuminating as a consideration of pastoral accommodation, especially given the current calls for some similar form of service, distinct from the marriage service, for same-sex couples (see longer discussion for details). [5]  Although criticisms of such a service have continued, it remains an authorized liturgy which some have seen as a potential model to adapt for use after a civil same-sex marriage.

Clergy and marriage after divorce

It was not until 1990 that another recommendation of the Lichfield report led to a revision of the canons to allow the ordination of those with a surviving spouse or who marry someone with a surviving spouse.  In another example of how to accomplish pastoral accommodation this was done by maintaining (slightly amended) canon C4 which gives a seemingly absolute prohibition but setting out a process (new para 3A) by which exceptions to this could be permitted by the Archbishops.  This remains the situation today:  nobody can be ordained deacon or priest if they have a surviving spouse or are married to someone with a surviving spouse without formal scrutiny and the issuing of a faculty.  In 2010 the bishops issued a statement which clarified the situation in relation to the episcopate based on legal and theological advice and there is now a process used by those appointing bishops.

Application to same-sex unions?

Some will believe that the church has been too accommodating on remarriage and if so then clearly it is not an example to follow.  Others, however, will see this as a model for pastoral accommodation to those in same-sex unions.  There are, however, a number of important differences or questions which are summarized below (see longer article for more details).

  1. There are important biblical and theological distinctions between the two issues.
  2. Accommodation relied on an agreed prior understanding of the church’s teaching about marriage’s permanence which was compatible with allowing further marriage during the lifetime of a former spouse.
  3. Before authorizing liturgies or revising canons the church had clearly agreed to this understanding and affirmed the principle that there are circumstances in which a divorced person may be married in church during the lifetime of a former partner. This was not understood as revising the teaching or changing doctrine but clarifying it in relation to a particular situation.
  4. A liturgy for prayer and dedication was only approved once it had been agreed in principle that remarriage in church after divorce could be permitted and because agreeing a way to do this was proving difficult.
  5. Those who remarried after divorce were clearly accepting the church’s historic teaching on marriage and the service of prayer affirmed this.
  6. The debate related to how to distinguish between different examples of marriage after divorce based largely on the complex personal histories of each couple: some remarriages could be pastorally accommodated, others could not.
  7. In deciding whether or not to accommodate, the principles for reaching a decision were found within the church’s teaching on marriage and accommodation was not to be offered without reference to this teaching.
  8. It was acknowledged that further marriage and the circumstances leading to it were a sign of sin and failure and the world’s brokenness.

In summary, how the Church of England has responded to remarriage during the lifetime of a former spouse is the best example to consider in relation to forms of pastoral accommodation that might be extended to same-sex couples.  However, there are many serious problems in so doing.  In particular, the practical changes only occurred with official sanction once it had been shown how they were compatible with the church’s teaching on marriage and agreement reached on such compatibility.  The Church of England has not done this in relation to same-sex unions and it is difficult to see how it could do so given its current teaching.


The appeal to pastoral accommodation as a way forward has now been analysed both in principle and in relation to three examples.  This has shown there are major problems with appealing to pastoral accommodation to justify commonly proposed developments affirming of sexual same-sex unions without either changing the church’s teaching or demonstrating and getting agreement that the developments are in principle consistent with that teaching.  This does not rule out such developments as clergy in same-sex sexual unions (including marriages) or the liturgical recognition of such unions.  It does though mean that if they are to be proposed (by the bishops or anyone else) then some other justifications than simply an appeal to pastoral accommodation are needed and these other rationales will need to be developed and weighed by the church.  An appeal to pastoral accommodation properly understood and as we have used it in the past simply will not work.


[1] For a slightly more detailed discussions of points in this and the following section see this short article

[2] A brief expansion of this section, including the text of the prayer is here

[3] A slightly fuller discussion is here

[4] A much fuller discussion of the evidence is here.

Andrew Goddard

[5] The key paragraph 230 reads “We believe that there would be a continuing risk of confusion between the service proposed and the marriage service.  It has already been noted that some clergy offer a form of service which closely resembles the marriage service (para 225).  Even if the minister had carefully explained the difference between a service of dedication and a marriage service to the couple, it is likely that some of those taking part in the service would be unaware of the distinction.  This risk would be increased if, as seems likely, elements of the traditional ceremonial associated with a wedding appeared in the service.  The appearance of the bride in white, the ringing of bells, the wedding march – all these would convey a powerful though misleading message which the words of the service would be unable to correct”.

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66 thoughts on “Is Pastoral Accommodation the way forward?”

  1. Back in 2010 Professor Ruth Deech gave a lunchtime lecture at Gresham College where she quoted a legal definition of marriage as the “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.”
    She went on to say: “Such is the transformation of family law and family life that not one word of this remains true.”
    I have often argued that it was the series of Acts in the 19 th century that gave women autonomy and stoprped the perception in law that they were property that transformed marriage completely. In a way, what we see today and what Lady Deech described, is as a consequence of those enabling Acts.
    But I can hardly describe the extraordinary pace of change that has swept away thousands of years of teaching,and I would say prejudice, in the few short years since that lecture. As I introduce my husband to a new congregation there is not the slightest hesitation in greeting him and embracing him lovingly. In this the practice of the Church, the voice of the faithful, seems to have drowned out the concerns of those who cling to an order that looks increasingly unable to teach in a way that meets the needs of the world and the families that surround us, an order that appears to most as bad or even evil.
    As with all Andrew’s work it is beyond thorough, but what has been motivating much of the Global South has been homophobia of her worst type, we must all be grateful that Anglican leaders have now started to name this and the consequences are to further deepen the divisions.
    The appointment of a gay bishop in a partnership has already closed the door firmly for most of those provinces who were already set on building a parallel Communion. How many within the CofE will join them is yet to be seen.

    • I have seen NO evidence of homophobia motivating the Global South at all, indeed they explicitly say that there understanding of marriage is neither polyphobic (i.e. against polymagy) nor homophobic.

      • Sorry you missed it, Clive.

        I am happy to say that judging by the reaction from some Primates who were identified as encouraging homophobia at the last Prinates gatherings, Justin and others have been convinced by the evidence of legislation and testimony that homophobia is alive and well in many provinces ……

        Perhaps you might refer to them for the evidence that convinced them ?

        • Martin, you have still managed to avoid giving any evidence and have merely labelled people as homophobic in your opinion. Wouldn’t it be better to try and deal with the arguments instead?

          • Have you looked at the church leaders who have supported the criminalisation of LGBT people (and their supporters) in some African countries, as well as Jamaica. Or is criminalisation not homophobia?

  2. In my view the anglican church should never have got itself into this mess in the first place. My understanding of the NT is that God has instituted marriage as *only* between heterosexual women and men. Once the church moves away from that definition, then the door is open to anything that individuals care to think / invent in their views about human sexuality.

    I see the day coming when the evangelical wing of the C of E in the UK will have to formally move away from / leave the rest of the anglican communion, which it will probably regard as ‘apostate’.

  3. Thanks for posting this Ian & Andrew – I thought this was a very helpful article. Many people bring up the issue of divorce and remarriage, and I think Andrew’s explanation of it here was particularly good at highlighting that we can’t simply do the same thing with same-sex marriage.

  4. Considering the history of doctrine, marriage and divorce in the Church of England, it has to be remembered that the marriage of divorcees in the C of E was actually mandatory, not forbidden, from 1700 to 1937 (but with the relief that clergy could refuse to officiate as long as they provided the couple with a substitute.)

  5. Yes, thanks for such a thorough article, Andrew.

    I agree that “pastoral accommodation,” and whatever unconvincing verbiage is used to sell it, is a dead-end. Traditionalists will be outraged, and view it as a wedge for equality; progressives, as an insulting second class status. Maybe it would’ve worked back in the ’80s, or even ’90s, but that time’s long past.

    This has gotta be settled openly, whichever way it comes down.

  6. Your comment about marriage of divorcees in the 18th century, without evidence, dates from a times when fathers decided whom a woman would wed anyway. I cannot any evidence of your comment.

    Regardless of such a view the 1662 Book of Common Prayer marriage service was in force throughout that time and is still a legal service even now. As it says on the Church of England website even now:
    “A service from the Book of Common Prayer (1662) is also a legally approved service.”

    Reference here:

    The legally approved service from 1662 still says in the marriage service:
    “DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
    First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.”

    Since the LEGALLY APPROVED service joins together “this man and this woman” (not “this woman and this woman” or any variant thereof) it shows that Parliament had little competence or intelligence to change the definition of marriage.

    • The BCP rite captures the transfer of property from one man to another in the question
      Who giveth this woman ….
      Wholly inappropriate, one might say, indeed one might argue.. obscene… but still enshrined as “law” in the CofE and as the standard for doctrine.

      That’s why the law you quote is so unwelcome in today’s world.

      • Martin,

        Your comment about “…captures the transfer of property from one man to another in the question…” is certainly not in any way confined to the CofE at all. It was part of the culture so if you want to complain about the culture of the time please don’t wrongly complain that it was just the Church. let’s at least be a little more sensible than that.

        • Clive,, Where do I say it was ‘just the church”?

          How can one have a debate when you wrongly say what I am presenting and call for sense to prevail!

          But perhaps this mistake you offer helps us a little.

          For here we see that such law and doctrine as found in the 1662 BCP and the culture that inspired them have been overthrown and the doctrine abandoned as monstrous and reprehensible.
          So too the culture and doctrine that would deny equal marriage is already viewed as monstrous and reprehensible by the majority of folk in the UK.

          Somehow the Church can parse the fact that it’s core doctrine still supports the dehumanising of women, one suspects that in the near future it will also have to parse the fact that equal marriage is happening in its churches.

      • The BCP rite captures the transfer of CARE for the woman from father to husband, not property. British women have never been anyone’s property in law. Women are indeed worthy of the love and care of their menfolk before God, which is clear from Ephesians 5.
        As a married woman I am heartily sick of the LGBT lobby denigrating traditional marriage as female servitude, that is complete self-serving rubbish. There was some difference before about 1920 in married womens’ property rights, but that had nothing to do with church teaching.

        • I am married and never denigrate marriage.
          I think you confuse the gay community with some Feminists, but one suspects they might refute your insinuations.
          As to your claim that women have never been anyone’s property and that anyway it has nothing to do with church teaching ……. Well ….
          In one respect you are correct, unlike slavery women were not property. But married women suffered from the legal fiction of Coverture and the idea of the woman being “one” with her husband has more than a little to do with the church. How that impacted on a married women is worth your diligent research.
          In some respects slaves had more rights than married women in that they could hold property and enter jobs forbidden to married women.
          As Coverture was rolled back it did change the whole status of women and of marriage.
          Interesting to note that some of the final prohibitions placed on married women weren’t removed intil the 1960s.

          • You are confusing the Bible-based view of marriage with its worldly outworking. Pauline teaching about women was revolutionary, comprising an abrupt break with his Rabinnical past and a stark contrast from the norms of Roman citizenship. It continues to run counter to legal realities in most cultures and places, supposedly Christian or not in character.

            Where the legal framework in Britain has allowed men to shirk their scriptural injunction to ‘love their wives as Christ has loved the church’, and I am fully aware that it most certainly has, it is clearly based on man’s, not God’s values.

          • So …… Sandra … It’s just been one hideous mistake?

            I thought it was LGBTs who had been queering the pitch and badmouthing women?
            But it is men failing to ….

            You and those feminists have a lot of bitterness in common.

          • Martin,

            You’ve replied to Sandra’s correct explanation that ‘you are confusing the Bible-based view of marriage with its worldly outworking’ by saying: ‘I thought it was LGBTs who had been queering the pitch and badmouthing women? But it is men failing to …’

            Alternatively, you might consider that subsuming a women’s legal rights into those of her husband owes more to the Normans importing Charlemagne’s feudal practice of giving land to men whose pledge of loyalty could raise an army than to church doctrine per se.

            The fact that men were responsible for that particular travesty of marriage does not exonerate those who complain today of being scapegoated for another!


          • No, the exchange began with Sandra attacking the Gay lobby for denigrating traditional marriage as female servitude.
            I proposed that for some two thirds of its history traditional Christian marriage here has seen women treated as an appurtenance.
            Sandra then defined marriage as described by St Paul but went on to say that traditional marriage has allowed men to shirk the biblical injunction to love as He loves us.
            I was just pointing out that it was she who was now rounding on how marriage had played out for ten centuries and not some notional gay lobby.

            I see what she is saying but her attack on us was unhelpful. The question many women ask is how Christianity allowed marriage to become so distorted and cruel to women for most of its history and why the Church here resisted so powerfully their emancipation?

        • Martin,

          Since most exchanges here focus on our differences in interpreting scripture in relation to marriage, scripture is the basis upon which traditional marriage is contrasted with the revisionist position.

          So, when Sandra refers to the denigration of traditional marriage, what she describes as its ‘worldly outworking’ is not in view. Instead, it’s revisionist criticism of the traditional interpretation of scripture.

          You assert that ‘Sandra then defined marriage as described by St Paul but went on to say that traditional marriage has allowed men to shirk the biblical injunction to love as He loves us.’

          Well, no she didn’t. She actually attributed the shirking of that biblical injunction, not to traditional marriage, but to the legal framework in Britain.

          As I explained, this shirking has more to do with the system of feudalism (In which land was granted for male loyalty in war) and perpetuated through the Norman Conquest than with traditional marriage (as contrasted with the revisionist position).

          You may well disagree with me on that, but it doesn’t further your argument to misquote Sandra by replacing ‘the legal framework of Britain’ with ‘traditional marriage’ as if they are synonymous.

          A question like ‘How can one have a debate when you wrongly say what I am presenting?’ comes to mind.

  7. The reality is, of course, that Parliament, competent or not, has expanded the definition of marriage as equal and inclusive in order to reflect society’s increasingly changed view about sexuality. Speaking personally I’m totally unthreatened by that and welcome it as an enrichment of the institution of marriage. That enrichment of marriage is the only way in which anyone’s traditional heterosexual marriage has changed. What it meant it still means – though I doubt many contemporary couples (Donald Trump excepted, perhaps) would find that the BCP marriage service trully described their experience of the ‘honourable estate’. Defining two different but equal forms of marriage according to sexuality might have been an option but it wouldn’t have lasted long as people came to know the equivalence of marriage enjoyed by LGBT people. It is time for the Church of England to get over it and make up it’s mind. Change is gonna come.

    • If you sincerely believe that heterosexual marriage has been “enriched” or strengthened in any way (compared to what it was, say, 50 years ago?), you’re a naive fool.

      It may indeed be the case that allowing SSM in the CofE would, in societies eyes at least, ‘enrich’ the institution of marriage, but it would not undo or have any significant impact on the far bigger dangers to said institution. These are A: that fewer people are getting married, B: these marriages are generally less permanent/stable and C: (related to B) that sex/sexuality/intimacy are being increasingly cheapened and abused, to the point of becoming a commodity.

      In the same century we celebrate SSM as meaningful and valuable, we will probably also see the death of ‘marriage’ as anything meaningful at all. We will have lost the battle that will cost us the war. SSM marriage is the Church of England’s Stalingrad.

      • I may indeed be a naïve fool, and all sorts of other things but you have just admitted that SSM is irrelevant to stopping the ‘death of marriage’. So I suggest leaving SSM alone and worrying about how to save the institution. It’s certainly not by stopping people getting married.

    • This is not an argument against SSM per se (and I am not trying to blame SSM for the decline of marriage), but a reminder to see the bigger picture. I think in many ways you are right, change is going to come, I just think it’s change that neither side wants.

    • Except drew_mac, that Parliament’s legislation itself directly and clearly shows that marriages are NOT equal. The law itself that Parliament debated makes entirely DIFERENT requirements for a marriage between a woman and a man from a same sex marriage so the two forms of marriage are not equal since the law shows they are not.

      • I have checked back thinking I must have missed something.

        While there are differences, particularly around those who have been in a civil partnership, the requirements for those entering marriage seem otherwise identical.

        • So how is it, for example, that a man and a woman have to consumate a marriage but a same sex couple do not? Failure to consumate is grounds for divorce for a man and a woman but since same couples are not required to consumate that cannot be grounds for divorce.

          • I pointed you to the fact that GS Primates came away from the last Primates gathering saying they had been accused of homophobia by Communion leaders.
            I suggested that your blindness might be enlightened by contacting Justin and others who identified their homophobia …
            I think that’s engaging with your statement.

          • The requirement to consummate a marriage is a vestige of the proprietorial nature of marriage and was recommended for abolition in many reports most recently by the Law Society Reform Committee who said
            ” It remains a rather curious anomaly in the law, a relic perhaps of medieval times, when the first act of intercourse was thought to ‘mark’ a new bride as the ‘property’ of her husband. Whatever its origins, it is not entirely clear what modern purpose this ground serves and it is suggested that it should be dispensed with.”
            Apart from that anomaly how is it “entirely DIFFERENT” (your emphasis). ……?

          • Martin,

            The purpose of marriage as said in all of the Church services and consumation is necessary for procreation if it is to happen. There is No “curious anomaly”, as you put it, at all. Sex is a mere procreation in modern times alone and you have to go back to the fall of the Roman empire to find a civilisation that made the mistake of treating sex and procreation is two bizarrely separate items. The Roman suffered from dramatically falling birth-rates and Western civilisation is now suffering from falling birth-rates when much of the rest of the world is not.

          • I have completely clear to you Martin how and why it is different giving you Martin a clear example but it is now obvious that you have no intention of reading the law.

          • Not that simple, actually. A man may not sue for divorce on the grounds of non-consummation if he is the one responsible for the lack of consummation though his wife *may* chose to do so but doesn’t have to. So consummation ISN’T necessary for marriage. Couples who cannot consummate their marriage for physical reasons can’t use that either as grounds for divorce. In reality non-consummation is rarely used as a ground for divorce with heterosexual couples, it’s more likely to be unreasonable behaviour. This difference is purely down to physical mechanics. What does consummation actually mean for heterosexual couples? What could is mean for same-sex couples? It’s like saying that men and women are not equal because they have different ‘bits’.

          • Even in the BCP marriage has purposes (plural) so it isn’t only about procreation. In the BCP it’s for 1. Procreation, 2.Sexual intimacy, 3. Companionship. In Common Worship these are the same, though the order is reversed. The reality is that many heterosexual marriages don’t involve procreation, and the importance of sexual intimacy varies between couples and over time. THE most important and abiding aspect of marriage remains, as the BCP so wonderfully puts it, ‘the mutual help, society and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.’ Now that’s why any of us, gay or straight, get married. It’s common to us all.

          • It was the Law Society that described it as a “curious anomaly” ….. you really must stop putting words into my mouth and read people’s comments.

            It’s important to understand that many countries that adopted our Common Law have now dispensed with this provision. Countries like Australia who do not have equal marriage, for example.

            And I believe it is not a divorce that would be sought, rather an annulment.

          • Drew_mac,

            You wrote: ‘A man may not sue for divorce on the grounds of non-consummation if he is the one responsible for the lack of consummation though his wife *may* chose to do so but doesn’t have to. So consummation ISN’T necessary for marriage.

            The implication of your argument is that because an impediment, such as non-consummation, only renders a marriage voidable, it proves that the impediment isn’t necessary for marriage.

            Well, let’s see if that works for the other impediments that render a marriage voidable.

            Matrimonial Causes Act 1973:
            1. that either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence of duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind, or otherwise;
            2. that at the time of the marriage either party, though capable of giving a valid consent, was suffering (whether continuously or intermittently) from mental disorder…
            3. that at the time of the marriage the respondent was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form;
            4. that at the time of the marriage the respondent was pregnant by some person other than the petitioner.

            So, applying your logic to a couple of these would imply that:
            1. Valid consent by those of sound mind and free from duress is not required for marriage;
            2. Deception about pregnancy by another person, or communicable venereal disease is not required for marriage;

            On the basis of voidable impediments, you can no more dispense with the requirement of consummation than the requirement of valid consent without duress or deception. The difference between void and voidable is only that for the latter the decree of nullity is not granted automatically, but requires that the plaintiff seek legal remedy.

            Consummation is the basis of the marital presumption of paternity: the default position that the husband is considered (rebuttably) to be the father of any child born to his wife during the marriage.

            Absent consummation and you make a nonsense of the marital presumption of paternity, by which the State cannot intrude upon the establishment through marriage of joint natural parenthood.

            Oh, and, if your logic is somehow not applicable to these other impediments, it demonstrates that removing the consummation requirement is just a special pleading for same-sex couples.

          • David

            I think the difference between voidable and void is perfectly logical and clear – it’s a possibility only. It does require that the plaintiff wish to seek legal remedy, and that may not be what either of the couple desire. If consummation is an absolute requirement of a valid marriage then we are in the realms of anyone’s marriage being declared void by someone else from outside the relationship. Is that really where we want to be? Never mind LGBT couples, what about marriage between heterosexual people incapable of consummation? It’s a nonsense in the modern world where procreation is not the most important reason for marriage, if at all, and where ‘paternity’ and blood line property inheritance is irrelevant to almost everyone but the monarchy and aristocracy.

          • Drew_mac,

            You wrote ‘I think the difference between voidable and void is perfectly logical and clear – it’s a possibility only.’

            ‘Possibility only’ is inadequate. Instead, voidable provides an actionable contingency for nullifying the marriage.

            Again, comparing your explanation with other examples of impediments, you might as well write: ‘If valid consent, or absence of deception is an absolute requirement of a valid marriage then we are in the realms of anyone’s marriage being declared void by someone else from outside the relationship.’

            In fact, your conclusion of my argument is a ‘straw man’, since I’ve not insisted that non-consummation should automatically render a marriage void.

            Instead, I’ve clarified why the law provides contingency for releasing spouses who don’t consummate, or are victims of coercion from marital obligation. The fact that there are some such people who do not avail themselves of this contingency is neither here, nor there.

            Despite this, your special pleading continues: ‘what about marriage between heterosexual people incapable of consummation?’

            To which I respond, ‘what about marriage to a person who was mentally incapable of giving valid consent?’ for that also only makes the marriage voidable, but not void.

            As I’ve explained on another comment, the issue of consummation is not so much related to procreation per se, but to the presumption of paternity through marriage which guarantees to spouses joint primary parenthood of children born to the mother during the marriage. Absent consummation, this presumption becomes meaningless.

            This has nothing to do with ‘blood-line property inheritance’ and everything to do with marriage facilitating (without undue intrusion) the joint care by spouses of any child born to the mother by legally uniting them before the birth of any children.

            That’s why Thomas Cromwell formalised the responsibility of priests to register all marriages, births and deaths in each parish.

            The State’s interest in marriage is to facilitate the primary care and nurture of children by their natural parents, thereby ensuring that such care does not become a State responsibility.

            Marriage is not the State reward of those who desire to affirm their romantic relationship with a time-honoured accolade of societal affirmation.

          • David,

            It really doesn’t matter what either of us think. What matters is what the law says – and I don’t just mean that the law enshrines same-sex marriage in our society.

            The law makes a clear difference between a marriage which was ‘not-a-marriage’ from the very start, one which is voidable and one which, has been declared void. It is still a marriage until that latter point. This does apply to all the possible reasons why a marriage may be declared voidable – and seems to be there to protect people who are happy with their lot even if their marriage is somehow considered to be irregular, ie no sex, for even your supposed killer argument about lack of informed or capable consent. Otherwise a third party would be able to end a marriage on those grounds.

            Perhaps the most obvious point there is where the bride “was pregnant by some person other than the petitioner” at the time of the marriage. This must have happened a great deal in the history of marriage and often where the groom knew the whole story and was still happy to proceed. [What about Jesus? someone might well ask!] Such marriages are only declared void if the husband was kept in the dark about the fact but finds out later and seeks a declaration that the marriage is void. Even then he would be considered to have been married up until the success of his plea.

            A voidable marriage may be annulled only as respects any time after the decree or order of nullity has been made absolute. Therefore, the union is regarded as valid until a decree of nullity or a nullity order is obtained.

            In contrast with void marriages, the voidable marriage or civil partnership is treated as if it had existed up to the time of the nullity.

            Also a party may not seek a decree of nullity based on his(or her) own voluntary refusal to consummate the marriage. Only the other party MAY do so IF unhappy with their lot – otherwise the marriage remains a marriage.

          • Drew_mac,

            I’m agreed that it matters what the law says. The central issue here is your contingent proposition.

            The statement summarizing your position that marriage remains valid despite non-consummation is a contingent proposition, since it is not necessarily always true or always false. There are marriages which don’t remain valid without consummation.

            You are committing the modal scope fallacy by according unwarranted necessity (‘ergo, marriages do not require consummation’) to your contingent proposition!

          • David,

            That may be the case. If there is a fallacy or a heresy I will no doubt be found guilty of it by someone. As with ritual uncleanliness in the OT it bothers me not at all. Perhaps you will pardon me but I think this discusssion is going down a rather sterile way. There are indeed marriages which don’t remain valid without consummation as there are also marriages which have not been consummated but which remain valid and no doubt happy and fulfilling to the couples concerned. Lack of consummation does not make a marriage void, only voidable and it remains a legal and valid marriage until a court grants a decree to annul it.

            Now that the law has established same-sex marriage I agree that it would have been better to drop the whole anachronistic business and leave all couples to argue that a lack of sexual intimacy could contribute to grounds of unreasonable behaviour. I can see why they didn’t go down that road and why they didn’t try to define what might be considered to count as consummation for a same-sex couple.

            As it stands the law is, as you say, not literally equal but it is only so in areas which are completely understandable and indeed equitable. Just as you couldn’t frame a law to require males to gestate babies you can’t frame a law that requires same-sex couples to consummate a marriage.

          • ‘As it stands the law is, as you say, not literally equal but it is only so in areas which are completely understandable and indeed equitable.’

            Yeah, ‘as it stands’. However, consummation is the non-intrusive basis of presuming, through marriage, the husband’s paternity of his wife’s children.

            Given that your statement in support of the law only being ‘equal in areas which are completely understandable and equitable’, you might well disagree with jurisdictions (such as the USA and the Netherlands) in which the gender-neutral reading of marriage law conclusively presumes lesbian spouses to be the joint primary parents of any child born of either woman during the marriage.

            The drive towards gender-neutralising law demands a literal equality which will overturn what is now considered by you to be understandable and equitable.

          • David,

            People, couples and families are different. Equality needs to be something real to the diversity which exists in modern society. Enshrining the reality of LGBT marriages, however particular societies choose to do it, is vital – and it’s not a cause which threatens my own, very traditional heterosexual marriage and family. I say ‘bring it on’ and, like the majority in society (and perhaps even in our churches) I welcome it.

          • You wrote: ‘Enshrining the reality of LGBT marriages, however particular societies choose to do it, is vital – and it’s not a cause which threatens my own, very traditional heterosexual marriage and family.’

            Perhaps, the following article about how the US chose to gender-neutralise the presumption of parenthood through marriage, resulting in a young girl losing access to her biological father, might change you mind.


            But, then again, the injustice perpetrated by the courts against M.C. and her natural father in the cited case is not one which threatens your own, very traditional heterosexual marriage and family.

            On that basis, over and out.

        • Martin,

          While there are differences, particularly around those who have been in a civil partnership, the requirements for those entering marriage seem otherwise identical.

          The difference is not in requirements for entering marriage, but in what the marriage effects.

          Same-Sex Marriage Act 2013
          11 Effect of extension of marriage

          (1) In the law of England and Wales, marriage has the same effect in relation to same sex couples as it has in relation to opposite sex couples.

          Common law presumption
          2 (1) Section 11 does not extend the common law presumption that a child born to a woman during her marriage is also the child of her husband.

          (2) Accordingly, where a child is born to a woman during her marriage to another woman, that presumption is of no relevance to the question of who the child’s parents are.

          Unlike the USA, the Netherlands and some other jurisdictions, in the UK, a same-sex marriage does not effect joint parenthood for same-sex couples, as it does for straight couples.

          In the UK, same-sex couples can only become joint parents by adoption, parental order or donation/surrogacy through HFEA-authorized fertility clinics and procedures.

          Then again, this difference shouldn’t be a concern for those who continue to insist that marriage is not about procreation.

  8. hello all,

    as has been said, this has all of Andrew’s characteristic thoroughness. And, put in the terms in which he’s sketched it, doubtless there will be people on both sides of the debate who agree that pastoral accommodation isn’t an acceptable next step (I suspect I’m one of them, for what little that’s worth, though I disagree with Andrew on the basic question of truth at the heart of all this).
    But what intrigues me is the line from the introduction: “There is a strong sense that the basic structure of the Pilling Report is a likely path…..”. Where are Andrew’s antennae picking up this “strong sense” from, and why might it be “a likely path” especially if there are good grounds to think it would satisfy few, if any?
    in friendship, Blair

  9. Dear Andrew Godsall, another example of “pastoral accommodation” could be the option in the 1662 order for marriage to omit the prayers for fruitfulness for couples past childbearing age. In spite of this, 350 years later, the Canons retain procreation as the first purpose for the institution of marriage. In anticipation of the usual comments on here that there is no so such thing as being infertile before marriage, because of miracles and suchlike, I’ll simply point out that in affirming a need for this accommodation, the 1662 Prayer Book disagrees that there is no such thing as a woman who can’t breed.

    Those of us who recognise marriages of all genders could ditch the term “pastoral accommodation” and use the same hermeneutical technique as our seventeenth century forbears – but with a different application – and, without changing the Canon at all, recognise it’s reference to gender as descriptive rather than prescriptive, as it is already patently is as regards its reference to procreation.

    • Oh, couples past childbearing age are infertile alright, given that infertility is defined as ‘“a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”

      Even if we charitably relax the 12 month timescale, I doubt that any same-sex couple could be said to have failed to achieve a clinical pregnancy after any duration of regular unprotected sexual jntercourse.

      Instead, your faulty comparison of same-sex couples to the situation of married infertile couples is merely ‘a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid’ or destroying the exception.

      • I’m sorry, David, I don’t understand why a WHO medical definition is relevant to my point about seventeenth century hermeneutics of the Canons. This strikes me as anachronistic.

        “Instead, your faulty comparison of same-sex couples to the situation of married infertile couples is merely ‘a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid’ or destroying the exception.”

        Please can you explain how?

        • David,

          It’s you who hoghloghted the enduring applicability of the first purpose of marriage and Cranmer’s accommodation of couples *past* childbearing age.

          So you tell me whether it has been an anachronism or an implication for the Church to extend and update the option which Cranmer introduced for a specific situation to accommodate all instances of infertility.

          Given that the ‘past childbearing’ accommodation has been extended and updated in this way, it’s perfectly acceptable to apply its up-to-date and widely accepted definition, even if that demonstrates that same-sex couples aren’t actually infertile.

          • I highlighted it to draw a hermeneutical parallel, so nothing other than the seventeenth century context is directly relevant to understanding the provision for removing the prayer for fruitfulness. I’m not saying anything about same-sex infertility. The point is that applying a part of Canon descriptively rather than prescriptively (in this case the genders of the couple) is nothing new.

          • David,

            You wrote: ‘In anticipation of the usual comments on here that there is no so such thing as being infertile before marriage, because of miracles and suchlike, I’ll simply point out that in affirming a need for this accommodation, the 1662 Prayer Book disagrees that there is no such thing as a woman who can’t breed.

            Your counter-argument is only valid if you yourself are (anachronistically) comparing the position of the cited ‘usual arguments’ on infertility to the Prayer Book’s position that there are woman who can’t breed.

          • Honestly, I don’t understand David? As I said in what you quote back at me, whatever one wants to claim about infertility, the Prayer Book recognised a category of women who would not be able to bear children in their marriages – the first purpose of marriage in the Canon – and so the marriages they entered were accommodated in the liturgy.

            If you want to talk about infertility and guys, fine, but I don’t see the relevance. If you’re disputing that there is a case for SSM, that’s a different matter. The point is that – whether or not an “accommodation” SHOULD be made, it COULD be made IF deemed justified without such “accommodation” being the fundamental departure from church practice that the blogger claims it is.

          • David,

            I’ve simply demonstrated here that your own counter to the ‘usual arguments’ introduced the very comparison with infertility, which you deem anachronistic.

            You’ve sought to demonstrate that the provision for omitting prayer for fruitfulness is precedent for abandoning what was formerly deemed indispensable to marriage.

            I needn’t fully replay our debate on Augustine’s position on procreation in the Good of Marriage here:

            Here’s an excerpt:

            Whatever Augustine’s position on the primacy of procreation, he did not consider the good of procreation to be indispensable to all marriage, In contrast, he did consider ‘the natural society itself in a difference of sex’ to be indispensable:

            ‘there is good ground to inquire for what reason it be a good. And this seems not to me to be merely on account of the begetting of children, but also on account of the natural society itself in a difference of sex.

            It’s a clumsy attempt at sleight of hand to mention that for Augustine ‘procreation is seen as the chief good and purpose of marriage’, only to hope we can’t see your distraction from the fact that you have yet to explain how a same-sex relationship can ever achieve the God-given marital good of what Augustine calls ‘the natural society itself in a difference of sex’.

            Consequently, there is no hermeneutic parallel for accommodating SSM.

          • No, I’m OK with not rehearsing a debate about August ine and procreation again. I’m prepared to follow what scholars of Augustine have said about his views of sexual its, as well as how he has been read within the church. Interestingly, your unreferenced quotation actually reinforces that marriage is for procreation.

            Anyhow, this has nothing to do with what might have previously been considered indispensable. To emphasis again, the whole point is that the Canon can be treated as descriptive, not all its constituent parts as prescriptive; or, one might say, indispensable.

          • ‘To emphasis again, the whole point is that the Canon can be treated as descriptive, not all its constituent parts as prescriptive; or, one might say, indispensable.’

            And your conclusion is the logical fallacy of ‘destroying the exception’.

            It depends on treating an exception as part of the general rule. Just like campaigners for the decriminalisation of marijuana (not all narcotics, of course) highlighting that the exception which permits glaucoma sufferers to use the drug legally proves that the narcotic laws can be treated ‘as descriptive, not all parts as prescriptive, or, one might say, indispensable’.


          • I disagree. Any general rule has to be able to take account of exceptions other or it ceases to become an accurate rule. It becomes the “what have the Romans ever done for us” argument. The “rule” is that the Canon may be read descriptively and there are exceptions

            The fallacy your suggesting is present would be so if I said that any old exception could therefore apply. I’m not saying that. As I said, above, whether SSM marriage *should* be taken as an addition to aspect of the Canon is a separate issue. But it’s simply not the case that if this were deemed right, it would be the unprecedented sort of “accommodation” Andrew Goddard is suggesting it would be. I’m not actually trying to rehearse any other arguments here, other than to challenge these particular restrictive parameters for the debate which AG is setting out. I have making this point only (and repeatedly) in this thread, and I am starting to feel as though you may wilfully be misunderstanding me or attributing views to me which I am not expressing.

          • David B,

            Sorry, but the converse accident fallacy does not facilitate the inclusion of any old exception into the rule. So, the campaigner, who correlates the decriminalisation of marijuana to the exception provided for glaucoma sufferers, is not seeking to legitimise the use of any and every narcotic.

            You might well insist that, by highlighting a non-procreative exception to the marriage canon, you are solely demonstrating that the rule is not prescriptive; that you are not simultaneously trying to demonstrate that the exception of SSM could be accommodated on the same basis.

            Well, there’s history there, but others are free to decide for themselves on the balance of probability.

          • No I’m not attempting to demonstrate anything of the sort. I am getting extremely bored with repeating the point that I’m not saying that “any old exception” is justified. To repeat for the thousandth time, I’m saying it is not unprecedented for exceptions to be omitted – that’s absolutely different from arguing a case about which exceptions can be accommodated. I’m questioning the parameters of the debate set in the post, and I am completely aware that we would disagree about which exceptions should be accommodated when we accept there are exceptions (and you actually seem to agree there are exceptions). This would involve an entirely separate debate. I’m sorry to say, that if you’re not willing to engage the point, and are going to continue to try to “win” the argument by persisting in pretending that I’m saying something different, then I will not spare any more time for this conversation.

          • This is now just a ‘backwater’ exchange.

            We’ve both clarified our differences and I’m happy to move on,…before Ian calls time.

            I’ll let others here decide on the relative merits of our respective arguments.

            They might even chime in to support your position (if they’ve had the unfathomable endurance to be following this thread still).

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