I have had a number of e mails over the past weeks both from those who support gay civil marriage and those who oppose it. Many of the latter are based on template instructions issued to constituents by the Coalition for Marriage when writing to MPs and reflect a standard suite of points. However, the issue of Gay Civil Marriage is not one which can be boiled down to a few bullet points without radically undermining the complexity of the issues involved or producing a simplistic standard campaign letter.
In addition, some of those who have written to me predominantly from a religious perspective have not sufficiently recognised that what we are talking about is gay civil marriage or that the theological arguments are themselves complex and allow for different approaches even within a Christian tradition.
I have listened carefully to the arguments that have been made and I read with care the reasons given as to why some oppose this change. However, I have to say that I do not agree with them. However, in recognition of the sincerity with which many have put their views forward I have attached a paper to this page as a pdf download which I have put together myself and which sets out my own perspective on this issue. It runs to 7 pages which is, at the very least, an attempt to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves and hopefully makes a thoughtful contribution to the debate whether you agree with me or not.
His full paper can be read here (PDF).
The vast majority of opposition to the idea of equal marriage comes from the Church and the followers of the other non-Christian religions. Homosexuality is a sinful state, they believe, therefore gay relationships should not be endorsed or approved of by the state.
I should say at the outset that I consider myself a Christian. Not a very good one, I admit, but a Christian nonetheless. In a former life I was very evangelical and spent a lot of time studying the Bible and trying to “convert” my less enlightened, hellbound friends. These days I am what a parliamentary colleague rather wonderfully described as a “recovering evangelical”. I’ll settle for that.
I still have lots of friends who were better at staying the course than I was. At least three of them are full-time leaders of their respective churches, and many others remain far more regular attendees at worship than I. So when I hear members of the clergy or lay members of the Church decrying moves towards equal marriage, or when I receive letters from local church members in my constituency warning me of the dire consequences of this move, I kind of understand where they’re coming from. I don’t agree with them, dearie me, no. I’m forthright and unapologetic in my support for equal marriage, largely on the (some might say counter-intuitive) basis that I’m a strong believer in marriage and therefore want to encourage as many as possible to give it a go…
Now that the debate on the British Government’s plans to legalise Same-Sex Marriage by the State, some Members of the U.K. Parliament are submitting their own views on the need to recognise the claim of Gay Couples for the right to enter into Civil Marriage arrangements.
The response of the Church of England (via the statement of Dr. Malcolm Brown, the director of mission for Public affairs (on the Archbishops’ Council)* is to plead the case that Same-Sex Marriage would adversely affect the reputation of Marriage as the moral basis for the procreation of children – as if that were the sole purpose of Marriage. That this is not so, is reflected in the number of heterosexual marriages presently solemnised in the Church of England of older couples, for whom procreation is not the aim or intention of their marriage.
What the Church needs to get its corporate head around, is that the institution of marriage is not the property of the Church. It is the right of civil governments to extend the legal marriage status to whomever it is pleased to offer the same. The Church cannot decree to whom the legal status of marriage may be extended.
If the Church sees Christian Marriage as something much more holy and endowed with a deeper spiritual significance – based on life-long fidelity and the procreation of children; then it needs to take steps to first put its own house in order – ensuring that all Church Weddings are capable of producing children, and that the Church, on principle, will not allow the re-marriage of divorced persons.
However, one realises that the boat has already left the shore on that issue. So the Church of England has no prior right to demand that civil marriage is restricted to heterosexual couples with the real prospect of procreation and the intention of a permanent and life-time commitment to their relationship.
(* article available on ‘Thinking Anglicans)
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand