Taking the lead on marriage

by Richard on March 21, 2012

Benny’s blog offers some useful thoughts on the mutability of ‘marriage’:

A common assertion among the latter is that you simply can’t change marriage. Marriage is what marriage is, and no-one has the power to alter it – not government, nor church nor equality activists. According to the Archbishop of York, it is not “the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.”
The Archbishop is undeniably right of course, when he points to our current understanding of marriage as “a relationship between a man and a woman” but what he fails to acknowledge is that definitions, understandings and laws relating to marriage have been constantly changing through human history, biblical history,and church history.

Benny concludes that the church’s role today is not as last line of defence for marriage, but as a guide to its future change and development.

We may find it inconvenient and uncomfortable, but gay men and women in Britain want to be married, not in ‘civil partnership’. Despite all the failure, ‘marriage’ still carries its essential meaning as “a lifelong union in body, mind, and spirit” and it is a strange society that would prevent people making that measure of commitment to one another. (Equally, I see no reason why heterosexual couples should be disallowed from making civil partnerships if that makes sense to them) The church in general, and the Methodist Church in particular, should be leading the way for the introduction of gay marriage. I hope it will not be long before Methodist ministers and Methodist premises are allowed both by the law of the land and the discipline of the church to celebrate these unions.

But I fear I’m going to be disappointed.

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Taking the lead on marriage (reblogged) | connexions
11.24.12 at 2:01 am

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km 03.22.12 at 1:49 am

Agreed! Here in the US the united church of Christ has been working for marriage equality but they are the only ones..


Kim 03.22.12 at 7:35 am

On the “marriage” question I don’t think it’s quite so simple. There are plenty of straight people who oppose gay “marriage” yet support the blessing of gay unions. Plenty of gays too who do not want to opt into the institution of “marriage”, either because they regard it as intrinsically patriarchal or at least compromised by asymmetrical power structures, or because there is a different “logic” to gay relationships from straight ones. That most brilliant of Catholic apologists for the theological soundness of homosexual partnerships, James Alison, suggests that comparing straight to gay sexuality is like comparing (British) football to rugby. There is also a trans-historical and -cultural connection between “marriage” and “the birth and nurture of children”, as a URC servce book puts it in its statement of the purpose of “marriage”. Interestingly — and perhaps (unconsciously) suggestively — however, the Methodist Worship Book speaks only of children being “nurtured”, and only pre-judice can deny that gay parenthood can be as much as a blessing as straight parenthood. Personally I strongly believe that the church should be blessing gay unions and supporting gay parenthood. The “marriage” question I’m still teasing out.

Oh — one other thing. I am quite sure that the language of “rights”, even with what Rowan Williams calls the “slightly tired” rider of “responsibilities”, is not a helpful addition to the discussion, particulary when it come from a state that reductively elides it with “individual choice”. The language of rights needs careful theological elucidation which is not at all in evidence in the ruck of public discourse.


Pam 03.25.12 at 9:50 am

Kim’s comment lacks understanding, I think, about the true nature of ‘equality’ in this discussion. If a gay couple wish to be recognised as ‘married’ in the sense that heterosexual couples recognise marriage, then this option should be available for them. It’s not for others to decide this, it is for them. I think it’s the height of hubris to even be discussing this in the way that we frequently do.


Richard 03.25.12 at 11:45 am

Kim’s argument has a lot of force, but I think I’m with you on this Pam.

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