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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marriage in the UK

I haven't posted for a few days because I hurt my back. Hope to feel better soon. In the meantime, there's a post at America magazine's blog about marriage in the UK .... The Church will have to fight this attempt to redefine marriage by Austen Ivereigh. Here's part of it .....

[A]n announcement yesterday by the UK government that it intends to lift the ban on civil partnerships being celebrated in places of worship .....

The Catholic bishops of England and Wales said at the time (April 2004): "We believe these problems which are essentially associated with financial and property matters could be remedied by legal changes other than the introduction of formal civil partnerships which, in the case of same sex couples, is likely to be seen as a form of same-sex marriage with almost all the same rights as marriage itself." .......

Remarkably, the Government has tried to frame their proposal as an advance for religious freedom. The mainstream Churches -- Anglicans, Catholics and Evangelicals -- have made clear that they will not allow gay marriage ceremonies. But there are small, autonomous religious bodies which will: part of the push for lifting the ban comes from liberal Jewish synagogues, Quakers and Unitarians. The Government says it is acceding to these wishes, and that no religious body will be forced to allow gay weddings. "But for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward", said the Home Secretary, Theresa May, adding: "This government is committed to both advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths."

Freedom of religion? Let's examine this.

Even though marriage has a civil dimension -- tax, property, and so on -- which it is proper for the state to regulate, marriage is not, and has never been, an institution created by the state, or pertaining to the state, even when it is recognized and supported by the state. In all cultures, in all times, marriage exists as a means of providing a means of protecting and providing for children; it is a "sacred" institution, in the sense that it involves rituals, invocations and blessings. It antecedes the state. It belongs properly to the civil sphere. In Christian cultures, it is also underpinned by a theology, one that sees the union of a man and a woman for the good of children as embodying something of God's own covenant with His people .....

As you can guess, I think Austen's argument is full of error. I don't have the energy to write exactly why, but one of the commentors to the post has written pretty much what I would have in response, so ....

Mr. Ivereigh-
I agree with John. How is this an assault on religious liberty? You seem to imply that that's obviously absurd, but how is simply allowing religious bodies to provide these partnerships, without requring it, a problem? Isn't it an affront to religious liberty if Quakers wish to provide them and the state forbids it?

Secondly, the history you give of marriage is quite erroneous. It was not an institution which, from the beginning was all about the safety, stability and well-being of children. It was about property and its easy transfer. This of course included children (and wives) but was certainly not around for their benefit. Your statement reflects well the current church's attitude toward (modern) marriage, but like the church, utterly ignores the actual-rather than romanticized and sanitized-history.

And, finally, at least in the US (I'm not familiar with English marriage law) your argument that the state doesn't get to define what marriage is for civil purposes also ignores history. Here, it always has, with children never showing up in the law. If the state did not have this ability, it would still be illegal in many parts of the country for an African American and white person to marry.

Posted By Andy Buechel | Saturday, February 19, 2011 08:44:07 AM

You can read more about this subject at Thinking Anglicans here - Civil Partnerships & Marriage: more comment - which has links to stories in The Tablet and Fulcrum, as well as others.


Anonymous Muslim Matrimony said...

UK marriage laws are totally different from other countries laws because according to government laws gay marriages are allowed in UK.But the mainstream Churches doesn't allow gay marriage in their churches.Actually peoples don't have any authroity to interface in any religion.

2:26 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I don't think tthe state can tell religions what they may have as beliefs, but I do think the state has a duty to its citizens to decide what religions can 'do'. Suppose a religion still persisted that practiced human sacrifice. Should the state allow murder of its citizens because the murderer is a religious institution?

1:48 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi Crystal --

I don't believe that if the state allows gay marriages, it infringes on religious that prohibit it. Nor do I think that the churches have demonstrated convincingly that there is harm to the state to do so, which the Catholic Church does try to argue. I DO believe that there is a definition of marriage that we have grown up with, wich assumed that the marriage was between a man and a woman, and that this definition was assumed not only various churches but by the citizenry at large.

Obviously this is changing. The change is possible largely because the "social contract" of marriage has changed in the public mind. It has changed basically to mean something like this: "a committed relationship between two people who love one another." Why would this definition NOT include same-sex marriage? Personally, however, I have always felt that this undeclared definition, however appealing, is insufficient. It includes, for instance, the ready dissolution of the marriage if the two people no longer love one another. In our modern world, whether or not the ceremony is a religious one, when two people marry, "for better or worse (etc.), until death do we part," there is usually an unspoken assumption: "unless it doesn't work out."

This gets something away from the thrust of the article, but I think that the fact that the public definition of marriage has changed is at the root of our public controversy. The Church's position on this is actually a contentious footnote on this issue, in my opinion, and I say that as an ordained deacon. Unfortunately, I think that the Catholic Church lost the public argument about what marriage is some time ago -- and doesn't even do a good job instilling its definition in its own couples.

7:31 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

I like your definition more than you do :) ... "a committed relationship between two people who love one another." ... especially when I think of what marriage used to often mean - a committed relationship between a man and a woman (and sometimes some more women) who are not necessarily in love, based on worries/hopes for the consolidation of property and the raising of hiers with unquestionable lineage."

Also I can't imagine why anyone would want to stay in a loveless marriage, aside from money concerns, or for the "sake of the children", both of which I think are poor reasons. Why do Catholics who don't love each other stay married? I'm probably jaded on this issue - my mother was married four times!

I do think marriage will keep changing - so many science fiction novels have marriage being a time-limited contract that can be renewed or not - but I think love will still be the main reason people will want to marry. I think that's the best reason.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Hi again, Crystal --

This topic usually makes me sad, because I've seen too many marriages break apart. Our world spins pretty fast, and we do get caught up in it. It's hard to build lasting things, and just as hard to build lasting relationships.

Yes, love is the best reason to marry. But we've all been sold a "romantic love" definition that is much like a fanciful storybook, all too shallow. It confuses the deeper, better love that ideally is the foundation of marriage. In THAT LOVE, two people are drawn together by something bigger than either of them, that serves to bind them together too. THAT LOVE includes what you believe, live for, and work for. It's very hard to break, and couples don't give up on it very easily, because it's a part of both people.

10:54 AM  

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