Same-sex marriage, clergy and the canons

The recent wedding of Jeremy Pemberton to his partner Laurence Cunnington and the plans of Andrew Cain to marry Stephen Foreshew clearly raise challenging questions for their bishops, the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.  The driving force for those Anglican priests who marry their often long-standing same-sex partners is clearly their love for and commitment to each other and a conviction that God is calling them to solemnise that through marriage vows now that the law permits same-sex marriage.  However, given the tensions among Anglicans and particularly in the light of the February House of Bishops pastoral statement, any clergy marrying a partner of the same sex must realise and weigh the fact that in this situation the personal is also inescapably political in the sense of impacting the church’s common life.

What follows is an attempt, drawing on the key authorities the bishops cite, particularly the canons, to try to think myself into their situation and discern what they are and are not saying by marrying.  I do it in the hope that I can understand where our differences lie and see whether we can find agreement about the questions and challenges they are, by their decisions, raising for the wider church given its canons.

Four key areas

First, I take it that they are not claiming the personal freedom to disregard the declaration we all make as clergy to endeavour to fashion our own lives and that of our household “according to the way of Christ” so that we may be “a pattern and example to Christ's people”. Similarly, I assume that they do not have any problem in principle with Canon C26 and its requirement of a clergyperson that “at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ”.  My assumption is that they understand the vows they make in their wedding and the life they seek to live together in marriage with their partner to be an outworking not a violation of such commitments.

Second, I similarly assume that they continue to respect authority duly exercised within the church and have no problem with remaining bound to the oath of canonical obedience, recognising the importance of canon C1 for the church’s order, unity and witness: “according to the ancient law and usage of this Church and Realm of England, the priests and deacons who have received authority to minister in any diocese owe canonical obedience in all things lawful and honest to the bishop of the same”.  My guess is that they would argue that, “in all things lawful and honest” they remain canonically obedient despite their marriage and they may perhaps be concerned that some are seeking to exceed rather than duly exercise their episcopal authority.

Third, I assume – because I cannot see how it can be otherwise – that it is accepted that marrying someone of the same sex is incompatible with and a contradiction of canon B30 that

The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord's teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

If a woman chooses to marry and then describe herself as married to another woman, or a man does likewise in relation to another man, then those actions are not compatible with marriage being a union “of one man with one woman”.  Here, in contrast with the canons quoted above, is where there is disagreement.  Jeremy Pemberton, Andrew Cain and others believe this canon is wrong and they have acted in ways they know are incompatible with this canon.

Fourth, I assume – because again I cannot see how it can be otherwise – that they recognise that this causes a problem for the church that urgently needs to be addressed.  This is not simply another example of the wider problem that practically all clergy disregard – either in ignorance or in full knowledge – some specific canons during their ministry.  They would, I hope, agree that there is something seriously wrong when the church – which lives by the confession that Jesus is Lord – has ministers deciding to act in a manner clearly and self-confessedly incompatible with one of the relatively few canons which explicitly claims the direct authority of Christ for what it lays down (“according to our Lord’s teaching...”).

Their decision has, therefore, created this serious problem but, on their estimation, it is not their action but canon B30 which is the root cause of the problem.  They do not accept they are violating or seek to alter the other canons which have been cited but they have concluded that not only is canon B30 wrong but that they are justified in acting in a way which contradicts it.  They have, with regret but out of conviction and in good conscience, entered a path of ecclesial disobedience because they believe the law is wrong and unjust and they are bound to a higher law – the law of love.

Three key questions

If the analysis above is accepted then the situation seems to be as follows.  Those clergy who marry someone of the same sex believe they should live in accordance with canon C26 and that they are doing so and that their problem is simply with canon B30.  However, the general category of “according to the doctrine of Christ” in C26 has within the canons one very clear specification – the definition of marriage in B30.  This is the canon that, in a form of conscientious ecclesial disobedience, they are not only questioning and asking the church to reconsider but actively contradicting by their actions. I think this raises three key questions.

First, can the clergy concerned (and those supportive of them) recognise that given this situation they have a responsibility to seek an urgent change to canon B30?

A clergyperson’s decision to enter a same-sex marriage is, in effect, a demand that canon B30 be amended.  The logic of their actions, whether consciously or not, is that they are attempting to bring about a change in that canon’s definition of marriage.  At its weakest this would involve removing the claim of dominical authority for the definition of marriage (arguably allowing those who disregard it to put themselves on the same footing as those who disregard other canons).  More likely it would entail a new definition or a removal of any definition of marriage.

What is interesting, and of concern, is that despite this being the logical implication of the actions there has, as far as I am aware, been no serious attempt to change the canon by due process and very little sustained theological critique or development of an alternative wording.  The attempt to change the law by offering an alternative and seeking its acceptance by due process would normally be required for civil disobedience to be considered justified.  This approach seeks to acknowledge the importance of law and authority even when challenging a specific instance of law as unjust and in need of change.  In this case it appears that ecclesial disobedience ignores any such moral requirements and instead makes disregard for the law a first rather than a last resort.

Second, can the clergy concerned (and those supportive of them) therefore recognise that any bishop would be totally justified, perhaps even have a moral responsibility, to take action against them when they enter a same-sex marriage?

The decision of a clergyperson to marry someone of the same sex is not only incompatible with canon B30 but, given the wording of that canon, with the teaching of Christ according to the church and so incompatible with the canon about the pattern of clergy life.  They are, by their actions, violating one of the few canons which claims to be not only church law but an articulation of divine law.

Those gay, lesbian and bisexual clergy who marry a same-sex partner clearly do not wish to be subject to church discipline which will be painful for them and for the wider church whose good they seek.  Can they, however, recognise and even accept that their problem is not really with discipline being enacted – the second point above - but with the canons and in particular canon B30?  Can they, as those who engage in civil disobedience should do and often do, acknowledge that those with authority to uphold the law are, given that law, right to act, and it is therefore proper they face investigation and some penalty for their actions? Is this a price they will accept as part of the cost of the struggle for what they believe is right? Can they recognise that otherwise it looks like they are saying “we are disregarding the canon on marriage and expect the church to ignore this and thus establish de facto acceptance of our view, thereby undermining the church’s claim about Christ’s teaching in favour of our understanding”?

Third, what does it really mean simply to “agree to differ” over sexuality?

This is a stance which is often and it appears increasingly being advocated and it merits much deeper analysis and consideration.  It sounds easy and reasonable but, as this example shows, it is in reality highly complex and potentially illogical and incoherent.  The four points above show that whatever “agreement to differ” might entail, within the current canon law this cannot easily be extended to allowing clergy to enter same-sex marriages.

If the argument above is valid then a clergyperson’s decision to enter a same-sex marriage (and, I have suggested, a claim that no action should then be taken against those who do) is, in effect, a demand that canon B30 be amended and the church, in its canons, embrace either a new definition of marriage or remove any definition of marriage. That is more than simply “agreeing to differ”.

The only other option for “agreeing to differ” is that those marrying their same-sex partners seek to establish, and the church should accept, the following:

  • despite the canons saying that Christ teaches something and that clergy should order their lives by his teaching, in practice clergy should be free to decide for themselves to live in a manner contradicting this teaching;
  • bishops should then accept the clergy’s own private judgment that, in this area, they are ordering their lives by our Lord’s teaching, over and above the church’s canonical statement of this teaching as regards marriage which clearly entails that the clergy are not doing so.

The hard choice

In summary, those clergy who marry someone of the same sex, and those who support them in doing so, appear to be presenting the bishops and wider church with a very hard choice:

  1. Change canon B30 so that marriage is not defined, is re-defined to include same-sex marriage, or is defined without reference to “our Lord’s teaching”
  2. Take some form of disciplinary action against those who act contrary to canon B30 and thus canon C26 by marrying someone of the same sex
  3. Abandon the responsibility to uphold a canon which claims the authority of Christ himself and take no action against ministers who are licensed by bishops to minister in the name of Christ and his church but are openly living in a manner which contradicts what church law says is the teaching of Christ.

My genuine question is whether anyone – whatever their views on same-sex marriage – can see any way out of this difficult set of choices flowing from the arguments presented here about the canons and the decisions of some clergy to marry someone of the same sex.

If not, then unless we agree to end up (perhaps by default and through an attempt at conflict avoidance) in what we all acknowledge is the messy theological and ecclesiological incoherence of option 3, perhaps trying to dress it up as some “via media” or “living with difference”, we now have to grasp the nettle and work out whether we can remain a healthy body united under the same canons and episcopal authority structures by attempting either option 1 or option 2.

40 thoughts on “Same-sex marriage, clergy and the canons”

  1. As comments slip past each other in posting, points are sometimes separated from their dialectical counterpoints in the queue. From my own point of view, these four from Jane and Dave mark turning points in a sort of conversation.

    (a) ” It really isn’t the case that God has instigated an instinct that leads each and every man to ‘abandon his descent group and unite himself with what was parted by the divine design of sexual differentiation.’” ~Jane

    (b) “Interpreting this is the context of Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:21-33… I do not see how a same sex partnership can represent the relationship between Christ and the church.” ~Dave

    (c) “Personally, I read the story of Adam and Eve as poetry rather than history and in 2014, I am allowed freedom of conscience on this. I can write such a thing on a public webpage and not fear…” ~Jane

    (d) “If we say that both Holy Matrimony and Civil Marriage are sub sets of Legal Marriage can we talk about these issues without getting hopelessly confused?” ~Dave

    Situating human subjectivity in the natural world as we find it is a religious task. The pairing of females and males is a phenomenon of nature that the world’s religions have seen as having significance within their several frameworks. Understandably, their ritual processes usually induct couples into those meanings as they enter into the state of life, which can make it seem that they have created this state with their traditions. But the state of life itself is prior, not only to the couples, but to societies and their states, to the religions themselves, and certainly to any rites they celebrate. Broadly speaking, the world’s religious traditions recognise,* and sometimes emphasise,** this priority.

    C21 readers know that women and men have been forming pairs to procreate longer than they have belonged to any human institution but the families formed in the cycle of generations. We are indeed well on the way to an entirely satisfactory scientific account of human origins. Nevertheless, as if in a pre-scientific world, we do find ourselves trying to somehow assert that, even now, this natural process belongs to either states or churches, according to our sympathies, and that our rights with respect to either states or churches have some traction on a reality prior in some respects even to the species itself. Whether from the ‘including’ or the ‘conserving’ side of the discussion, this is superstition. We have no power over what is prior to us, and the debate over how to use it arises largely from confusion.

    Jesus was not confused. As a Jew, he cited scriptures that told of a created world, not godless, but still without either law or religion. Asked a question that some take as legal and others religious, he referred to the origin of all things which is prior to both and constrains both as the stratum of reality on which meaning is constructed. Whether the account of origins that we happen to prefer comes from poetry [Jane’s (c)], narrative, or genomic scans, it still points to reality that is prior to anything that we can do or mean today.

    In its blind bumbling way, the law can do little with the knowledge that the problems it faces are unimaginably old, and it takes the categories at hand and applies them to new problems as a matter of course. Operating in a self-referential horizon of conventions, it is in itself cut off from nature. Thus it cannot be the master category about which Dave asks in (d).

    Because the ancient Roman right of usufruct was first defined with respect to cows, imperial jurists were capable of referring to chickens as two-legged cows to explain that the law of usufruct applied to them. They did not however expect cows to lay eggs, or keep chickens in dairies. Similarly, because the most flexible form of a Roman contract was the law of sale, they used the legal fiction of a purchase whenever a situation called for negotiation of terms (eg adoption of adults). Thus when cosmopolitan Roman brides balked at the traditional law of matrimony (ad manus) and wanted to negotiate the terms of their marriages, the jurists accommodated them with the legal fiction that they were selling themselves and could, as the sellers, bargain. The fiction fooled nobody about the relationship itself, but it was useful to women in its day. Today, the simplest way to solve a host of legal problems posed by permanent same-sex relationships is to classify them as ‘marriage.’ Ten years ago, judges in Boston ordered this state to register same-sex couples as married, and 16 more American states have since employed the same device. Thus far, it seems to solve the problems it was meant to solve, although, as David says, further jurisprudence will be required.

    Unlike the law, the Church is not free to disregard nature, to which it is bound in three ways. Like some other major religions,*** it finds matrimony among the realities prior to much else that we consider to be human. As one of a few vast human communities finding significance in the createdness of all things, it sees meaning in the creatureliness of all matrimony everywhere. Moreover, as the Body of Christ it sees matrimony as a sign of Christ’s reintegration of things in the New Creation.** To adopt the legal view of ‘marriage’ as a manipulable construct is to abandon all three– the religious perspective as such, the abrahamic vision of it as created, and the Christian insight that what was created is being renewed in Christ. This is what it is.

    So then, Jane’s (a) seems to me to be true, but not clearly on point. Yes, there are individuals with same-sex attraction. **** But why would same-sex couples want to be seen, or to see themselves, as exemplars of Christ reintegrating the masculine and feminine in the New Creation? Rather often, they would firmly reject any such suggestion, and few would find such exemplars believable. Dave’s (b) seems representative of an insurmountable difficulty in making Christian sense of this. Those who dismiss this difficulty are saying, in effect, that they want the new legal construct to displace the ancient religious one, even in the Church, whatever the cost to those who believe the latter. For whom is that just?

    Jane’s (a) does open a question– What in the biological substrate of human nature, if anything, ideally orders the instincts of homosexuals toward the creation as a whole as procreation ideally orders it in heterosexuals? Insofar as this is a question of something mutable or causal, it is an empirical question that requires the same patient data-gathering and hypothesis testing that any other such question requires. If we see some order, then we may see some meaning, and that might or might not have a wider significance that makes sense in Christ. Speculating in advance that such a significance exists and would be analogous to matrimony seems several leaps ahead of what anyone actually knows.

    * Moreover, they mostly agree among themselves that this is the case– if a married couple change religions their relationship will acquire new meanings, and maybe lose old ones, but they are hardly ever received as though they had been in no sense married before, although they may be introduced to the understandings and disciplines of a new faith community through a ritual process. Couples becoming Orthodox Jews in some places sign a proper rabbinical contract; those becoming Roman Catholics and Orthodox have sometimes had their marriages blessed. But these pro forma rites draw them into the community’s practise, and do not stand over against their prior marital status. Tellingly, the failure to perform them is not an excuse from duties of monogamy that are in principle universal. Failure to sign a rabbinical contract with his wife does not free a husband to commit adultery.

    ** Western rites for matrimony, contracts for matrimony that make little explicit reference to the ontology of it, do not emphasise this. However, Eastern Christians do understand matrimony, both ritually and theologically, as a universal human state that acquires its special significance for Christians as a sign of the New Creation in which Christ is reconciling the masculine and feminine principles in the Creation. The usual text for understanding the Eastern view of relation between Christ and the sexes is in St Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 41, now available in a Greek-English critical edition.

    *** On the face of it, Buddhist ontology, at least as explained in the West, would not seem to give marriage this place. But the notion of Buddhism as a genderless religion has been subjected to feminist critique, sits uncomfortably amid some rather gendered Buddhist practise in Asia, and is being tested somewhat by congregational forms of practise here. We shall see what develops.

    **** This brackets, for the sake of argument, the question whether same-sex attraction is better seen as intrinsically ordered to some good or is rather as disorder of attraction to procreation. Answers to this question will probably be constrained over time by advance in the human sciences, even though they are unlikely to settle it.

      • Thank you, David, for kind words about an improvisation.

        I neglected to say that the ‘we’ in my last two sentences are surely Christians with same-sex affection themselves, and the rest of us only as their pastors, brothers, and sisters in the Lord.* Theoretically, what is called ‘same-sex affection’ may be, in different cases, a cultivated vice, a disorder of ordinary sexuality, or maybe, a kind of created order** hidden before now. *** To Christians, these mean different things and call for different obediences to God. Good empirical inquiry may support better discernment in Christ.

        * As individuals, Christians who experience same-sex affection probably support various goods as much any other Christians. Same-sex partnerships are better self-controlled and more socially just than unregistered relationships, and on those bases Christians should support them as good for civil society. Several here in the ‘village’ of Fulcrum have noted gay couples who make praiseworthy contributions to their societies.

        ** Because the heavens and the earth were created among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the love of the Son, ‘order’ that ‘intrinsically’ supports ‘good in the wider Creation’ is necessarily precious and significant to us in Christ. The sexual differentiation that leads to monogamy, procreation, and family life is one example of this, hence St Paul’s zeal to defend a Judaic conception of marriage in the Gentile world.

        *** The idea of an unchosen and constitutive homosexuality (as distinct from the cultivated sexual habitus celebrated in pagan antiquity) has only very recently become intelligible as a biological hypothesis that might possibly reflect God’s creative design. If it exists, then research in the several complementary human sciences may find it, thus posing in a tractable form the question whether it is ‘order’ that ‘intrinsically’ supports ‘good in the wider Creation’ that is necessarily precious and significant to us in Christ.

  2. “I believe that it is inconsistent to limit Christian deductions from Genesis about marriage to permanence alone. If the Church so readily deduces a Christian rejection of polygamy from the binary Genesis archetype, why not same -sex marriage? Should limiting Christ’s deduction from Genesis to divorce excuse from discipline a previously unmarried member of the UK clergy who marries polygamously while working as a missionary overseas on the grounds that it’s lawful over there?”

    “For the couple so united, divorce thwarts the divinely instigated purpose of sexual differentiation. The approach is deductive, reasoning from the general principle’s of the Genesis archetype of sexual union to the particular case of divorce. I can’t see why Christ’s deductive method should be solely inapplicable to same-sex marriage.”

    “For same-sex married clergy to obey this canon [C26], the HoB come to a consensus that either:
    1. Permanent, faithful, stable (PSF) same-sex relationships are representative of the doctrine of Christ,
    2. Or that such a relationship reflects the capacity of homosexual orientation: ‘as much as in him lies’
    3. Or that Canon B30 should no longer bear dominical authority.”

    David, your point has been eminently reasonable since at least the C13 when St Thomas Aquinas took up the diverse forms of marriage in scripture– concubinage, polygamy, levirate marriage, monogamy– in the second part of his Summa Theologiae. Relying on the words of Jesus, he defines the fullness of marriage roughly as in B30, and treats other forms of marriage as accommodating dilutions of the ideal more or less appropriate to their circumstances. St Thomas’s methodical stepwise treatment of his question is a model of due diligence.

    Recently, some Roman Catholics in the US have urged that the civil marriages of gay and lesbian laity be treated pastorally in some way analogous to polygamy. If one applied similar reasoning to the definition in B30, your option (2) could seem appropriate in some cases. The question is– how would one recognise the fitting cases?

  3. “It seems that those with the strongest views of what is possible within the framework of marriage are those least well placed to be able to say that anything untoward has occurred.”

    Actually, Richard, I suspect that those with “the strongest views…” are so placed that they really must say that, although irregular, something worthwhile and just has happened. It is precisely the procreative understanding of marriage in Christ that is least disturbed by the state’s registration of same sex relationships, and is the least possessive of the modern social rights that governments are now granting to all couples that agree to accept them. In Christ, biology is meaningful, and justice is good.

    It is only those who prefer a non-procreative, more ‘romantic’ notion of ‘marriage’ in Christ who are stuck in a debate on how to artificially reify such a thing by voting on things, and whether the state or the Church should be in charge of it. And that boils down to a choice between two inadequate positions– the equality meme expands justice in society but shrinks marriage in Church to ‘keep your word, please,’ whilst, without procreation, the man-woman meme hints at homophobia for society and at much, but still not all, of the ‘great mystery’ in Church. A preference between those two seems to depend on whether one is more tolerant of dilute faith or social injustice.

    Better to refuse a bad choice. To have both a just society and an integral faith, the state must be allowed to do its work, and the Church must embrace the full meaning in Christ of what we find in nature. A century hence, Christians may look back on the confused debates of this period as primarily about better-grounded relations between Christians and the state, and the Church’s wiser care for souls through the lifespan.

  4. The most striking fact is that, unlike his contemporaries so far as we know, Jesus cited a creation account in a legal context. Given that he did so, it seems unlikely that he is opposing Genesis 2.24 to Genesis 1.28. Legal concern for women as a class is most plausibly related to gestation, maternal care, etc, although an occasional provision from that age does explicitly “give happiness to the woman” (Deuteronomy 24.5). That we have stories to which the uncertain fertility of the matriarchs is central underlines the general expectation that a marriage will have offspring. As for men, Judaic traditions threaten sexually misbehaving husbands with loss of their progeny (cf Malachi 2.12 on divorce, Proverbs 5.10 [contrast v16] on adultery). In short, the biblical traditions did not separate marriage from procreation before Jesus, and his citation of a creation account emphasises that the divine intention is a matter not only of law of covenant ontology. The Church respects childbearing women (1 Timothy 2.15), and baptises (in some places communicates) infants.

  5. Canon B30 is based on Matthew 19:1-6, so let’s have another look at Matthew 19:
    “Some Pharisees came to test Jesus. They asked, “What do you think about same-sex marriage?”
    “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
    Well, the question actually was “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
    To which Jesus replied “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female….”
    Jesus reminds the Pharisees that men – and indeed women too, surprisingly – are created by Yahweh, even while his contemporary culture exalted men as ‘sons of God’ and diminished women as ‘daughters of men’. Men could summarily divorce their wives for any reason leaving them (and their children) destitute and with no recourse to justice. However, men and women as joint creations of God might, on this basis alone, be accorded similar rights in marriage but of course humanity was to take centuries (millennia) yet to enshrine this in law. With his response, Jesus makes an attempt to override the institutionalised sexism of his day, and to include and protect women in the face of a patriarchal culture that effectively marginalised them (and counted them disposable).
    There is no evidence to suggest that during this interchange either the Pharisees or Jesus were even remotely thinking about same-sex marriage any more than they were even remotely thinking about possible marriages between ‘organics’ and ‘synthetics’ (another debate, another century). They were thinking about divorce and women’s status in society.
    So Canon B30 is a product of its time (at its inception, same-sex marriage was not even a twinkle in its grand-daughter’s eye) but draws on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, identifying marriage to be between one man and one woman as opposed to one man and several women or one woman and several men. Here is another opportunity to seek to protect women from circumstances whereby Mr X marries Miss Y in one town and irregularly, Miss Z in another (and of course women commit bigamy too but possibly less frequently), and especially during those centuries when divorce was prohibitively expensive and socially stigmatised.
    So we have canon B30 which has nothing to say about same-sex marriage but plenty to say about prohibiting bigamous marriages, itself based on Matthew 19, which has nothing to say about same-sex marriage but plenty to say about divorce and women’s status in society. Meanwhile Andrew’s suggestion that clergy entering (civilly contracted) same sex marriages are doing so in order to wilfully ‘abandon the responsibility to uphold a canon which claims the authority of Christ himself’ is an emotionally-laden, guilt-inducing charge but fundamentally unfounded. This is particularly saddening as it seemed that earlier we had a joint understanding that they do so ‘to express their love for and commitment to their partners and through a conviction that God is calling them to solemnise that through marriage vows’.
    While I’m here, I formally request an embargo on the (mis)use of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, quoted to uphold opposition to same-sex marriage.. Do I have a case?

    • “Do I have a case?”

      Welcome back, Jane.

      Yes, you have a case, and it supports both of the usual sides in the usual arguments. To frame marriage in the context of the Creation, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24, which follows both 1:28 and 2:18. This intense monogamy does tell against polygamy, as you say, but in scripture monogamy is integrated with procreation which is why you hear it cited against SSM. And the procreative dimension of marriage is the reason for the vulnerability of women that concerns Jesus in Matthew 19. So your view of the text is consistent with that of your usual adversaries, and their reading is consistent with yours, which is why the naked text is not settling any arguments.

      Rather than an embargo, we need some attention to the inner processes by which we latch onto some implications of a scriptural text, but not to others. When discussions about scripture get polarised, we consciously see the implications we want, whilst unconsciously fighting the implications we hate or fear.

      As I may have said last March, I suspect that the social justice aims of SSM are fairly easily seen in an historical context that makes them explicable to authentic traditionalists. A glimpse of such an explanation is in my reply to Richard earlier today. However, I am not yet confident that there can be an easy peace between those heterosexuals who are struggling to free sex from procreation for the sake of purer self-discovery, romance, or feminism and those heterosexuals who integrate all this with procreation as it is in scripture. If not for the latter disagreement– the more consequential of the two– the former would have been settled rather more calmly, perhaps years ago.

      • Dear Bowman
        Thank you for your comment here.
        It is true that Jesus quotes Genesis and thankfully there is scripture in the Torah to which he can appeal in his plea for equality for the sexes, the European Court of Human Rights having little jurisdiction in first century Palestine.
        Personally, I read the story of Adam and Eve as poetry rather than history and in 2014, I am allowed freedom of conscience on this. I can write such a thing on a public webpage and not fear that someone will be rushing to introduce me to a stake on a bonfire (1614), ostracism from my church fellowship (1814) or even a charge of ‘abandoning the responsibility to uphold a canon which claims the authority of Christ himself’ (2014, or at least not for divergent belief in the Creation story even if so for supporting same-sex married clergy).
        Might it be the case that the LGBT inclusion process will include, in its unfolding, the opportunity for clergy to exercise freedom of conscience on the issue of same-sex marriage (for others and even for themselves) and does it serve God’s purposes to hasten this process or to delay it? In the interim, does it serve anyone’s purposes (seriously, anyone’s) to attempt to induce guilt, shame, fear of church discipline, loss of job, livelihood, vocation, and reputation in those clergy who might be considering entering into a same-sex marriage? How far does it enable mission when those outside the church are saying ‘Look at how these churches treat their own’?
        I agree entirely that we need some attention to the inner processes by which we latch onto some implications of a scriptural text, but not to others. When and where do we start?

        • “I agree entirely that we need some attention to the inner processes by which we latch onto some implications of a scriptural text, but not to others. When and where do we start?”

          Thinking, Jane, of your ’14s, I wonder from time to time how discussions like these will look in 2114. When I read that you were “more attuned” to my analysis of the problem that you posed– I do recognise your continuing disagreements with me– I was little surprised that anyone could actually follow it, because my own serendipitous path to it was not a very straightforward one, my mind is still working through some problems in it, and maybe only Dave has seen enough posts in enough threads here to see how it hangs together, at least in my mind.

          On your question just above, my usual plea to this ‘village’ is for us all to step back a moment, recognise the most commonplace effects of polarised conflict on thinking, undo the polarisation in our minds, synthesise positions that do not depend on it simply to make sense, and post what we find with an open mind. (Life in Christ is not without conflict, but we do not need the rebels to know the king’s banner.) This usually leads to a narrowing of differences, and when it actually leads to a just reconciliation, I see Christ at work in it.

          SSM actually poses several problems entangled with one another, and it is difficult for most of us to hold the reins to so many horses at once. However, it does seem clear that two ‘disconnects’ in the village enable a continuing polarisation–

          (i) Those ‘for’ SSM in society at large are not engaging what ‘marriage’ does positively mean in the Church.

          (ii) Those ‘against’ SSM in the Church are not showing how their positive religious convictions can inform opposition to social injustice against those with same-sex attraction.

          The silence in each position is shouting louder than anything actually said for it, stirring resistance in those who prefer its alternate. For example, although I am glad that Justin Welby has been forthright in his opposition to ‘homophobia,’ I suspect that this sounds to many who favour SSM like a position that is welcome in itself, but inconsistent with his other views. Some single position is needed that both affirms a richly Christian account of marriage and also opposes an unjust distribution of social rights.

          It has seemed to me that a more procreation-centred account of holy matrimony than is usually heard today enables a clearer distinction between the heart of what traditional religions have seen in it and the socially-created rights that have been wrongly denied to homosexuals because they were not permitted to register for them. Thus the same account is both ‘conserving’ with respect to religious teaching and practise, and also ‘including’ with respect to the state’s duty from God to advance social justice. In that way, it is possible to defend in their realms of competence both the received understanding of the Church of England and the new Marriage Act of the British government. Though this approach is not without problems, it is less polarising than any alternate view that I have heard, and it has the concomitant advantages of enabling faithful engagement with two sorts of issues important to ‘marriage’ everywhere in the C21– achieving an interfaith consensus on marriage in a world where intermarriage is commonplace, and making marital sense of the biotechnology of reproduction.

          Neither ‘conservatism’ nor ‘liberalism’ will ever achieve total victory. Those who wait for the day when they need not coexist wait in vain. However, an approach that enables conservatives to conserve even as it enables liberals to liberate, has a reasonable prospect of peaceful progress.

          Perhaps it is my turn to ask, “do I have a case?” Of course, whether I have one or not, there are surely other formulations that we should wish to consider. All that I can say for sure about them all is that the best one will not ask us to choose between an integral faith and a just society. Christians will be faithful to both.

    • “Do I have a case?”


      Bowman says, ‘the procreative dimension of marriage is the reason for the vulnerability of women that concerns Jesus in Matthew 19’.

      Well, no. Christ’s focus for taking such a dim view of divorce is not procreative. His prohibition applies as much to barren couples as it does to prolifically fertile ones.

      The issue here is the relational theology of the body. God has instigated the instinct that leads a man to abandon his descent group and unite himself with what was parted by the divine design of sexual differentiation.

      For the couple so united, divorce thwarts the divinely instigated purpose of sexual differentiation. The approach is deductive, reasoning from the general principle’s of the Genesis archetype of sexual union to the particular case of divorce.

      I can’t see why Christ’s deductive method should be solely inapplicable to same-sex marriage.

      • Dear David
        Thank you for your comment here.
        I’m sorry but I feel more attuned to Bowman’s analysis. I’m afraid that I struggle with a view of marriage in which sexual differentiation is its alpha to omega, when even sexually differentiated marriages have been known to be abusive, unfaithful, and dishonouring to God. In these situations, even in Biblical times, an amicable divorce and fresh start with another spouse might have given hope and faith to many.
        These days, many of us recognise that in any given population of people, most of them will be heterosexual in orientation, but there will be some who are exclusively homosexual in orientation. It really isn’t the case that God has instigated an instinct that leads each and every man to ‘abandon his descent group and unite himself with what was parted by the divine design of sexual differentiation’. But despite that, many gay people will now have the opportunity to marry the partner of their choice in a way that sexual differentiation supporters have been doing for millennia – and this is a good thing.

        • Thanks for your reply. It’s heartening to know that beyond the polarized bluster elsewhere, there are people on both sides of this debate who can engage with the issues intelligently.

          ‘I’m afraid that I struggle with a view of marriage in which sexual differentiation is its alpha to omega, when even sexually differentiated marriages have been known to be abusive, unfaithful, and dishonouring to God’

          The ability to demonstrate relational qualities essential to a good marriage does not prove a marriage exists, neither does it remove the need for a couple to meet the validity requirements of marriage.

          Your response would suggest that I have framed sexual differentiation as both necessary *and* sufficient to make the marriage. I agree that sexual differentiation is not marriage’s alpha and omega. Instead, it may be a necessary to a make marriage valid in Christian terms, without being sufficient to perpetuate it; other requirements must be met.

          Contrary to your second paragraph assertion, I’m not implying that because the impetus for marriage originated from God’s intentional sexual differentiation, that it is an irresistible impetus experienced by each and every man. Nothing that I have written even remotely implies this.

          Neither have I implied that God’s original intention cannot be thwarted by the divergence and intransigence of our real and present human nature. Christ mentioned it as the real reason behind the Moses’ provisional accommodation of divorce.

          I am as aware as you are that Christ Himself distinguished those who, for natural or spiritual reasons, either cannot not or will not marry.

          I am saying that Christ’s injunction was based on the premise that the Genesis archetype is applicable all to those who experience the desire to unite sexually. To make an inconsistent exception to that premise on behalf of homosexuality is an unwarranted special pleading.

          In contrast with your assertion, you might note that Parliament explicitly denied same-sex partners the legal fiction of shared de facto parenthood. Thereby, the basic intent of marriage to simplify the assignment of shared family esponsibility was undermined.

          For heterosexuals, absent rebutting genetic evidence, the presumption of paternity legally supposes that spouses share a primary biological relationship to any child born to the mother during the marriage. Whatever same-sex marriage may do, it does not confer family responsibility beyond the couple themselves.

          It means that, unlike traditional marriage, same-sex marriage is about the couple alone, rather than the impact of their relationship on society. Same-sex marriage cannot by itself legally confer the primary responsibility of both spouses towards any children that they intend. They need HFEA 2008 provisions to gain parental recognition over children through a licensed clinic.

          Unlike traditional marriage, SSM is comparatively toothless. It cannot by itself guarantee that a same-sex couple’s shared parental intentions will prevail as a universally recognized and resilient family unit. In order to do so, SSM would have to routinely subvert the primary biological parenthood of others with phrases like ‘for two years held the child out as their own’. That’s something that our legislators have not seen fit to do.

      • Does Jane have a case? I think so.

        David, the problem with invoking Jesus’ deductive method is a follows. I think we all agree that Jesus deduced that divorce was a bad thing on the basis of the Genesis account. But it does not follow that every deduction YOU make from Genesis is therefore correct. you assume that your deduction is the only possible one. It is not. You, and I, are flawed individuals: not every deduction we make from the text will be correct.

        For example, I might note Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” I might therefore deduce that it is not good for those with SSA to be alone, and that their “suitable helper” is (in fact) someone of the same sex.

        I might then weigh in with an additional observation – can you imagine how the text in Genesis would need to have been written in order for it to promote SSM? It would need to include not just Adam and Eve, but Bob and Steve, and Kate and Evelyne too. But a moments’ thought about what sort of text this is, and when it was written, indicates that it is wholly unreasonable to expect such a long and complicated story with so many characters. It is, frankly, impossible that the text would have been written like that. So, we cannot deduce anything from the absence of Bob and Steve, and Kate and Evelyne from the story. This text describes the “usual” situation, and celebrates it. I think it is descriptive, not prescriptive, in this regard. I deduce that it has nothing much to say about SSM.

        Now, I suspect you don’t agree with my deductions. That is fine: I might be wrong (one of us must be). But they are deductions made from the text in front of me.

        • Daniel,

          Thanks for your reply. It highlights the need for a resilience in our deductions.

          I would note that, in tempting Christ, several of Satan’s own deductions sought to establish a premise based on a limited recognition of the facts. He appealed to Christ’s deity alone (‘If thou be the Son of God’), which was fully true, but not the entirety of Christ’s dual nature. Thankfully, as the Son of Man and ‘being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross! (Phil, 2:8)

          Again, when the Sadducees sought to undermine the doctrine of the Resurrection with the story of a woman who had the misfortune of marrying each of seven brothers who died successively, their premise was that if, were they all to rise, such marriages would be morally untenable, the resurrection was itself untenable.

          That premise was not resilient to challenge, since there was no marriage in the after-life.

          So, in the case of Gen: 2:18, I note that there is nothing to imply that a sexual relationship was, by itself, the remedy for what God observed in declaring: ‘it is not good that man should be alone’.

          In the Genesis narrative, unlike today, Adam was the sole human, void of any form of human community. His only company was communion with God and nature. It was the immediate provision of a human mate and, further, the bestowal of procreation, i.e. procreative marriage, that ensured that man (whether celibate, heterosexual, gay, or lesbian) would be for perpetuity no longer, in human terms, alone. Procreative union gave humans the remedy of community.

          It imposes a slant on the narrative to suggest Adam’s predicament (as the sole human) is mirrored in every person experiencing sexual attraction, given that we all have the resulting remedy of some form of community. Loneliness for a sexual mate differs from being alone.

          The provision of a ‘suitable helper’ originated from a divine act that occurred before the Fall of man re-directed our natural inclinations away from God. Your premise pre-supposes that a pre-disposition towards SSA is not part of that Fall and that, therefore, ‘someone of the same sex’ is aligned with God’s provision of a ‘suitable helper’.

          That pre-supposition does not recognise the prohibitions of scripture against homosexual acts. However, you may argue (as other do) that those prohibitions did not have in mind our modern PSF same-sex relationships.

          This is the nub of the issue: the scope of scripture’s applicability. No doubt, even in the early church, there were those in PSF re-marriages, who believed that Christ and St.Paul’s pronouncements about divorce for causes other than sexual licence, or neglect somehow could never apply to them.

          The real issue here is that its false to assume that the ‘lived experience’ of certain categories of relationships somehow limit the applicability of scripture that rejects such behavior. So, people search for a moral basis other than the incongruence with the divine order for sexual relations established in Genesis.

          So, to SSM proponents, God’s prohibitions accommodate the primitive mindset of ancient prophets and civilisations, including those of early Christianity, or the concomitant of male prostitution, or inhospitality towards strangers, or the excesses of Gentile idolatry. And, of course, without these aggravating features, they assume homosexual relations to be morally neutral.

          Unfortunately, scripture provides an a priori moral framework that cannot forever be explained away by suggesting that its scope of pronouncements could not possibly encompass what we can see of many PSF same-sex relationships, or for that matter, heterosexual re-marriages.

          More likely, these scriptures are just hard sayings guaranteed to alienate those whose mindset will never respond positively to root-and-branch change.

          • David

            Many thanks for your reply. I probably can’t respond to it all on a point-by-point basis (it’s too long!), for which I apologise. You make several good points. So just a few quick comments.

            My main point was really this. I made some deductions from Genesis, so at one level I was following Jesus’ method. But, if, on the basis of those deductions I was to claim that Jesus taught that same sex marriage was OK, because Jesus quotes from Genesis in a discussion of marriage, and in that passage says “it is not good for man to be alone”…. well, if I did that, you would surely (and rightly) object. Jesus taught no such thing. But, equally, Jane is quite right to object to people using Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 to imply that Jesus was explicitly, or implicitly, against same sex marriage. Jesus taught no such thing, in the records that we possess.

            You say I’m imposing a slant on the text. Well, yes, we all do that, it is impossible not to. To be honest, as soon as we go to the Genesis narrative asking the question, “what does this text tell us on the subject of same-sex marriage” then we are already imposing a slant on the text. We are asking a 21st Century question of an ancient text, which forces it into a particular shape in our eyes. A better question is “what was this text primarily written to tell us about?” I do not think the text was written to speak about the subject of same sex marriage, and we do it a disservice when we try to read it in that way.

            There are, for sure, other Biblical texts to consider, which are more explicit, and I’ve read, many times, arguments on both sides. I would say my position is mostly one of doubt….doubt about exactly what sort of activities the writers were prohibiting in each case.

            I don’t think I could ever bring myself to imply, to someone experiencing SSA, that the companionship of community should suffice for them.

          • “I don’t think I could ever bring myself to imply, to someone experiencing SSA, that the companionship of community should suffice for them.”

            Yes, Daniel, I hope we all avoid making invidious comparisons to our own advantage, let alone anything like ‘romance for me, loneliness for thee.’ But we should oppose oppose oppose the idea that there is no human solidarity but in sex. And chastity is a virtue in any case.

            ‘In Christ,’ we should work to end the isolation of Christians of all kinds who cannot find a place in the postmodern family, the crowded cathedral, or the child-centred parish. We should support at least the concept that single and celibate lives have been well-lived in Christ, and see that the ‘companionship of community’ gets more intensive cultivation. And if, as is not rarely the case, some obstacle bars the way to attachment, at least for a season, it is not the worst thing to show someone that her (or his) participation in the Body of Christ is real.

          • Hi Bowman

            I fully agree with all that you say about the Body of Christ, and the value of the relationships therein. Three quick comments:

            – I was thinking more of the situation where there are two people within that Body who have both the desire, and the opportunity, for making a stronger commitment to one another. Should I seek to deny them that, and say that, no, the more general relationships within the body should suffice? Might denying them this opportunity actually serve to drive one, or other, of them from the Body through frustration?

            – There are, for sure, parallels between relationships within the Body of Christ, and within marriage. Both involve a level of commitment, entered into through ceremony and celebration (I am thinking of baptism, in the case of the Body). But my experience of relationship within marriage is that it is a very different, and deeper, sort of relationship.

            – “No human solidarity but in sex”: Why do people continually think it is all about the sex? I always thought the Christian view is that sex should be an expression of a relationship, and a commitment, and a solidarity, that was already there. Sex is the fulfilment, but not the goal.

          • Daniel, shelves of things read come to mind for each of your stimulating points, but I cannot elaborate now– a speech for a Commencement event in the morning is not quite ready– and so I will have to reply next week, if I can.

            Perhaps it will suffice to agree that your theme of ‘friendship in Christ’ needs to be considered as you say. However, I think that it has been neglected lately apart from the different if overlapping ideals of spiritual guidance. In the past, both monastics and missionaries have given close attention to it because they have simply had to do so, and whilst this is not the sort of thing one learns about only in libraries, we might find the reflections of those who have been in a tradition of friendship in Christ to be suggestive.

            Both vocations open the individual self and orient it to Jesus Christ yet both draw it into close collaboration with others in him. Plainly a vow of stability involves one in other lives at close quarters, and a call into the mission field demands and enables a depth of trust and fellowship. Reflection on both could show us more of what we are failing to cultivate. Comparison of the two may be more illuminating than we suspect, and there are anyway such examples of ‘hybrid vigour’ as the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (‘Cowley Fathers’) in Japan.

            From the former, William of St Thierry’s ‘On Spiritual Friendship’ might be a helpful point from which to explore his whole network of corresponding friends in Christ. From the latter, the Church Missionary Society figures mentioned in Graham Kings’s last article were a network of similarly perceptive and articulate Anglicans, though I am not sure where best to start with them.

            Marriages differ. Yet I am struck by how much John Gottman was able to uncover about the decidedly gendered nature of man-woman interaction from his study of thousands of couples. For example, once you understand some differences between the neurobiologies of men and women, it makes sense that they will ‘ceteris paribus’ experience and manage relationship conflict differently, as he found. Counterfactually, I am disheartened a bit by early findings about the rates of domestic violence among lesbian couples (eg in a sample studied by a friend here), and wonder whether they suggest that without differentiation there is less to slow an escalation. That’s just my worry on the way to an hypothesis– not settled science– but it reminds me that we still have a lot to learn.

            Thanks, Daniel, for your thoughtful comment.

    • Matthew 19 points to Gen 2:24. We should also look at Eph 4:21-33. These passages describe marriage as a heterosexual relationship. The church is being asked to jump two steps forward and falling at the first hurdle

    • Interpreting this is the context of Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:21-33 marriage is understood has a complementary relationship between two of different sexes. I do not see how a sme sex partnership can represent the relationship between Christ and the church

  6. Right now having remembered the abbreviations and the points on canonical law (at this point in time at least). The real issue here is not just one of is it or is it not an issue of civil disobediance, or even does it break the code of practice for emplyment, or even is it good or bad But is it an abuse of power. Now if you decide it is an abuse of the powers invested in him then it should vbe dealt with like that. The point being is has it been done for pure personal gratification and gain, or has it been done to diisempower the church. If a member of the congregation breaks the tradition of the church they are in they are asked to leave or find somewhere more suitable to their needs. This does have devastating affects on a persons life. I have quoted before the sentence in the bible which clarifies this ” I wll prepare a place for you” now if this was the intention of this couple they may have been right to break the current church law! But was it ? For if this breaking of church law is not clarified then there is no Church Law only the secular law which applies to all public bodies and places.

  7. This analysis overlooks the fact that this is an established church. The canons of the Church of England are part of the law of England and subordinate to Acts of Parliament. “We acknowledge that the Queen’s excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil.”

    The Queen, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons have seen fit to authorize all same-sex couples to marry. The legislation did not carve out an exception for clergy. In the context of an established church, it is meaningless to say that the exercise of a right specifically granted by law is somehow unlawful.

    Rather, I would argue that it is the bishops’ letter that is the act of civil disobedience. It tries to maintain a remnant of legal discrimination that Parliament has swept away, by suggesting that clergy who accept Parliament’s invitation will be punished.

    Rather than rely on the coercive power of the criminal law enforced by ecclesiastical courts, bishops who oppose same-sex marriage should oppose it as pastors.

  8. Canon B30 is already bust because the Church of England accepts divorce including among clergy. So it already is ‘out of date’.

    So the further option is that same sex marriage should be treated with exactly the same leeway or inclusion as divorce.

    I would happily have been at the civil ceremony of Jeremy Pemberton marrying Laurence Cunnington and agree with others who would so marry. The civil law is available to everyone; we only choose to be subject to additional ‘sharia’ laws of communities. However, I also agree (and I think they would) that the Church has the right to define and police its own boundaries, subject to some sort of consistency.

    After all, they don’t have to be in the Church of England and there are other Churches to join. But it is up to the Church of England if and how it chooses to police its boundaries and it may be a conscious if unstated choice not to police them on such matters of conscience, although this may be via the relative anarchy of in some dioceses and not others. Plurality may well be by diocese, so in some the bishop will get nasty and in others the bishop will approve on the basis that clergy and others get divorced.

    • The church is or at least should be against divorce. This means that at the time of marriage the church should expect the couple to intend to stay together for life. The church also should do what it can to support marriage and help those in difficulties. The church now does not punish its members after the event by for example refusing communion. I understand that some would replace “one man, with one woman” with “two people” but does the rest of B30 stand or is there a move for other changes.

  9. “The logic of their actions, whether consciously or not, is that they are attempting to bring about a change in that canon’s definition of marriage.”

    There’s a flaw in logic here and so I think there is a an alternative reading of the situation which would apply until such time as the church decides to recognise same sex marriage. Let’s look again at the relevant text from canon B30:

    “…marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman…”

    Let’s also remember that prior to the change in law, the church has said that no matter what an act of parliament passes no country can fundamentally change the definition of marriage.

    So it’s clear that same sex marriage is not recognised by the Church as marriage. As far as the Church is concerned, whatever legal definitions may apply, the state of being that Jeremy and Laurence find themselves in isn’t a marriage in the Church’s eyes. The change of definition of legal marriage in the UK hasn’t changed these individual’s support or otherwise for canon B30, it’s just made it obvious that the state no longer supports that canon. However if the church does not recognise a same sex couple as being married then how can the same-sex “marriage” of a priest directly cause it a problem? What *would* cause a problem would be if a priest says that they are in fact married in the eyes of God, but I imagine that CofE priests have already said similar things about same sex marriage long before any priests entered into such an arrangement.

    So, to follow through the logic, if the Canon is upheld by the church and same-sex marriage is not acknowledged by the Church, then the priests are not married in the eyes of God. If they are not married in the eyes of God then there is no contradiction with the canon unless a priest says that a same-sex couple are married in the eyes of God.

    • RichardW,

      The problem you then have is Canon C26: ”and at all times he shall be diligent to frame and fashion his life and that of his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make himself and them, as much as in him lies, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.’

      For same-sex married clergy to obey this canon, the HoB come to a consensus that either:
      1. Permanent, faithful, stable (PSF) same-sex relationships are representative of the doctrine of Christ,
      2. Or that such a relationship reflects the capacity of homosexual orientation: ‘as much as in him lies’
      3. Or that Canon B30 should no longer bear dominican authority.

      Until this is agreed, a same-sex ‘marriage’ will continue to be viewed as reflecting a lack of diligence in framing and fashioning life and family according to the doctrine of Christ.

      • The state has provided a ceremony and contract for a couple (historically of opposite sexes, but now of like sexes) to celebrate their relationship and provide protection and rights for each other. I don’t see why Jeremy and Laurence making use of this is any more unrepresentative of the doctrine of Christ than if they took out an ISA or life insurance together.

        Now, if you’re really talking about sex rather than marriage you would have to tell me (a) what the nature of their relationship was and (b) what Christ had to say about it.

        To my knowledge Christ didn’t have much to say about which forms of sex are permitted and between which types of people. The arguments about homosexuality and the Bible are well rehearsed here, I don’t buy that the Bible has a consistent theme against homosexuality, and I tend to agree with recent statements by Steve Chalke on how we should be dealing with this situation.

        • There is an attractiveness to SSM proponents of concurring with the presumed impossibilist argument (if, indeed, that represented the Church’s position). It advocates that the Church should simply choose not to recognise those ‘marriages’ that it considers impossible.

          If such things cannot exist, surely they cannot incur disciplinary action. If impossible, as Richard W has said, same-sex marriage is no more than a morally neutral State authorised ceremony and contract.

          The issue that’s missed is that marriage is more than a ceremony and contract (really, that’s the wedding), it’s also an institution. Common to all institutions is their inter-generation semantic power maintaining what is fundamental to its shared social meaning across centuries. If institutions cease to do this, the fundamental goods upon which they rely become optional and dispensed with as if a mere trend. The chief social good of institutions is this inter-generational power.

          The State might propose to alter British citizenship legally in order to give the Home Secretary discretion to bestow it on major *non-resident* investors in British businesses. Call it ‘equal citizenship’.

          Ontologically, one might argue from history that citizenship is, in essence, always relational and that its bestowal cannot be transactional; that to speak of a British citizen who has no relational or residency connection to the UK is impossible. This is not absolute impossibilism.

          Other opponents might also argue that extending citizenship in this way would distort the shared social meaning for all existing citizens who understand it to be a right of either birth, descent, marriage, or a privilege of naturalisation.

          When you consider the following excerpts from the response to the Consultation, it’s fairly clear that the Church of England has made the latter argument. The church has not relied on impossibilism:

          ‘Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman’;

          ‘Marriage benefits society in many ways…by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation’;

          ‘Imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage’.

          The notion that the Church could simply treat same-sex marriage as a legally sanctioned oxymoron is an ingenious idea. The reality is that the Church has argued that, whether entered by religious or secular means, same-sex marriage is not impossible, but an unwarranted and fundamental distortion to the existing institution and its shared social meaning. What’s impossible is for those redefining marriage to do so without undermining the existing institution.

          It’s important to realise that the absolute impossibilist argument was never the Church’s argument argument against same sex marriage. John the Baptist didn’t view Herod Phillip’s marriage as impossible. It was sanctioned by the State, but contrary to the received heritage that Herod invoked selectively to maintain his position of authority among God’s people.

          In respect of the doctrine of Christ, we do know that his approach to marriage was deductive, inferring divorce as a provisional concession, and the Genesis narrative as the archetype that revealed God’s enduring purpose for marriage arising from sexual differentiation. We can also apply the archetype to gender-neutral marriage deductively.

          In respect of discerning of the doctrine of Christ, the inductive approach that you propose is a world apart from Christ himself, since it’s really a selectively deductive approach more akin to the tactics of his opponents.

          • David,

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I must admit that although my own position on same sex marriage hasn’t changed, I’m now uncertain about the way forward for the church of england (short of wholesale acceptance of the change, which seems unlikely).

            Just to be clear, I’m not saying that same sex marriage is not a marriage, only that the Church of England has more or less said this. I may have been wrong that this was the official church view, although I have heard it said so many times by various clergy that I might be excused this confusion.

            In the case of citizenship it is indisputably within the gift of the state to offer that to whoever it so wishes. Clearly this is not necessarily believed of marriage.

            Just to be clear, in your opinion is the “marriage” of two men (such as Laurence and Jeremy) a valid marriage? Have they been enveloped in the institution, in membership equivalent to heterosexual couples? Would their divorce (heaven forfend!) be as much of a problem as the divorce of a heterosexual couple?

            Is Civil Partnership an institution? Could its definition be changed later?

            You describe institutions as being inter-generational; should they also be stable across the borders of countries? Are people who are married in the UK in the same institution as someone married in middle east as part of a polygamous marriage, whether in present day or back in the days of the patriarchs?

            I agree that Christ’s mention of divorce as concessional is relevant here, as it gives leeway for the alteration the definition of marriage to take account of human weakness. Paul also says that marriage is for the weak (“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry”) . I’m glad that marriage was available to weak persons such as myself. The state seems to be ahead of the Church in following Christ’s example in this case.

          • The personal focus of marriage has been the affirmation of the stable life-long sexual union of the couple themselves (the desire for which, according to Genesis, was instigated by God’s deliberate act of gender bifurcation from a single being).

            Due to privacy, the State has shown little interest in regulating most private agreements between spouses, except marriage. Marriage policy has primarily mitigated the natural consequences of sexual union on society by establishing a permanent conjugal identity and primary parental privileges and duties of those categories of relationships that are capable of incurring natural parental consequences. Note that marriage prohibitions target categories of sexual relationships deemed incongruous with automatic natural primary parental responsibility, rather than individual capacities, like age and infertility.

            Needless to say, offspring are a natural consequence of the heterosexual category of relationships and a focus of marriage policy.

            As an example, consider England, immediately post-Reformation. It’s a time of great poverty with the population rising rapidly from 2 million to 2.8 million. The dissolution of the monasteries has ended a prime source of poor relief. Vagrancy laws punish full-time freeloaders, while the sick, disabled and orphaned are catered for by the dutiful donations of wealthy parishioners (dispensed through the church).

            Thomas Cromwell, as Vicar-General, realised that poverty could provoke crime and civil unrest and decided to charge priests with the legal duty to maintain secure records of all marriages, births and deaths in their parishes.

            A simplifying presumption made the recorded husband (and not the State) responsible for the welfare of any children born to his wife during their marriage. That presumption of paternity is still not conclusive. It can be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

            In contrast, for that marital presumption to apply to same-sex couples, it will eventually have to become conclusive in all cases, since a key part of marriage’s purpose is to simplify assigning a permanent family identity to children and end controversy over the primary parental responsibility.

            By 1753, clandestine marriages without consent threatened to impose a legal duty on aristocratic parents for automatic recognition of under-age marriages. It caused Lord Hardwicke to introduce his Marriage Bill which sought to ensure parental consent was gained where needed and only recognised church marriages were valid.

            By 1857, civil marriages could be dissolved less stringent non-ecclesiastical grounds through the secular courts.

            So, in response to your question of validity, I would point you to history.

            According to the Roman State, Herodias’ marriage to Herod Antipas, her ex-husband’s brother was as valid as any Fleet marriage before 1753. That was in spite of the fact that she was his half-brother’s daughter and he was her ex-husband’s brother, Roman law permitted them to affirm their love as marriage.

            However, the phrase, ouk exestin, is translated in the NT as ‘not lawful’ and is most applicable to where divine law impinges on civil life. It is most often used to describe actions that are not consonant with revelation through scripture. John the Baptist called Herod’s valid marriage ‘ouk exestin’.

            To the extent that the legal landscape has changed, Jeremy and Laurence’s marriage is legally valid. Through their legal marriage, they can be afforded the rights and responsibilities that apply to heterosexual marriages. Yet, it can be described as ‘ouk exestin’, or contrary to scriptural revelation.

            The Equality Act 2010 was amended last year to permit the church to hold that view even though its Canons are part of the law of the land. The clergy remain subject to internal discipline in respect of Canon law as it stands.

            I believe that it is inconsistent to limit Christian deductions from Genesis about marriage to permanence alone. If the Church so readily deduces a Christian rejection of polygamy from the binary Genesis archetype, why not same -sex marriage? Should limiting Christ’s deduction from Genesis to divorce excuse from discipline a previously unmarried member of the UK clergy who marries polygamously while working as a missionary overseas on the grounds that it’s lawful over there?

            Regarding civil partnerships and recognition across borders, the decision as to what becomes a part of an institution is decided by both culture and law. That, in turn, hinges upon what we prioritise for our well-being and survival. While we may all personally view marriage as the ultimate rite of enduring love and monogamous sexual commitment, marriage policy could soon become a vehicle for undermining unwed biological parenthood by a conclusive presumption of superior parental intention for married couples. I prefer the current system that allows the willing biological parent to rebut that presumption with evidence of paternity.

            As U.S. case law shows, a conclusive marital presumption of parenthood doesn’t affect other marriages, but it does dismiss the right of unwed partners in biological parenthood to know their natural offspring.

            Whatever our laws now permit, we are all now engaged in what linguists call a semantic battle over the term marriage; whether marriage should always connote a parental intention superior to all counter-claims of genetic parenthood, unhinged as it now is from categories of sexual relationships capable of delivering parenthood naturally. That’s the new cultural hinterland.

    • Exactly, Richard. Andrew’s analysis can be read as confusing Jeremy’s compliance with the civil law with an actual challenge to the Church’s canon. But Jeremy has been advocating for such a law for years (like some bishops), and was previously in a civil partnership with Lawrence accepted by his diocesan (my recollection of their comments here). [Editor’s addition to comment – Laurence has asked me to clarify that he and Jeremy were NOT in a civil partnership prior to their marriage]. Unless one believes that SSM is ‘marriage,’ nothing changed at their ceremony except what the state calls them. This is what I meant when I mentioned above the contradiction of saying that “‘same sex marriage’ is absolutely impossible and those committing it must be punished.'”

      The ceremonies pose a dilemma by pressing the bishops to take a position on what they actually do– (1) If the Church recognises civil ‘marriages’ impossible under its canons, then it appears to abandon the teaching behind the canons; (2) if the Church does not recognise those ‘marriages,’ then England has two different yet authoritative definitions of ‘marriage.’ If (1) occurs, then the Church appears to support a reification of categories that leads to moral error in some cases. If (2) occurs, then the Church appears to deny the moral basis of an act of Parliament, which may be of constitutional concern in England, and would be a ‘two kingdoms’ concern for Protestants who generally support the state’s efforts to order territory in a fallen world.

      Although Dave is probably right that Dworkin’s typology for civil disobedience clarifies the way those for SSM see Jeremy’s action, those who uphold the church’s teaching may be thinking of the irregular ordinations of women in the US that, in forcing The Episcopal Church to take a position on whether the ordinands were priests or not, forced it to take a position on the validity of women’s ordination. Although Jeremy’s ceremony may have implications for justice, the fundamental issue is ontology.

      Bishops are not inconsistent if they deny that anything happened and ignore it. However, holding that position for very long will be choosing (2) over (1), and as that becomes clear, they will have to explain why they are so choosing. So long as one holds a ‘non-realist’ ontology of ‘marriage,’ this choice will seem to be a pure clash of wills between the Church and Parliament over which of them should reify the social categories that govern mundane life.

      This is where much opinion, both in and out of the Church, is stuck between two realities. The Church must teach God’s whole will for human sexuality without equivocation, yet just because the world is not whole, the state uses its limited powers to govern citizens both voluntarily and involuntarily outside of that wholeness. The Church’s most robust advocacy of God’s wise intentions in creation, seems to conflict with the state’s God-given task of establishing order with minimal injustice in the creation as it actually is.

      For believers in the Creator, one alternative to just staying stuck is to take a position on ‘marriage’ framed outside of law in scripture and nature, whilst acknowledging that the state in a fallen world cannot always do so, necessarily deals in more contingent categories, and may choose some imperfect means to worthwhile ends. This alternative joins a ‘critical realist’ view of marriage to a somewhat Lutheran view of the ‘two kingdoms,’ and replaces the clash of wills with a search for reasonable accommodation.

      • Bowman wrote:

        ‘This is what I meant when I mentioned above the contradiction of saying that “‘same sex marriage’ is absolutely impossible and those committing it must be punished.’

        Yes, I think our posts crossed as mine were languishing in a state of limbo for a while.

        It seems that those with the strongest views of what is possible within the framework of marriage are those least well placed to be able to say that anything untoward has occurred.

        I’m not sure myself whether civil and religious marriage are two different things, or two aspects of the same thing. It seems to me that there are a lot of people who have never had a particular ceremony who are as fundamentally married as a couple who have. Our problem in defining marriage seems to be fundamentally related to the problem of control and who is to be the gatekeeper. If marriage is really for everyone then anyone should be able to have it, even if the legal benefits have to be conferred by someone appointed by the state at an actual ceremony.

        • Richard, the medieval divines who struggled to define the form and matter of a sacrament of marriage empathise with your perplexity, as do the reformers who agreed that it was, not a dominical sacrament, but a civil ordinance important to the life of Christians. They all saw that, although the public registration of matrimony is important to the health of it, the holiness of the state of life cannot be reduced to the rite. My post on the other thread recalls a chapter in that story.

        • “It seems to me that there are a lot of people who have never had a particular ceremony who are as fundamentally married as a couple who have.”

          Yes, Richard, that is what perplexed the medievals. St Paul described marriage as a “mystery,” which to them implied a sacrament, yet they could not find any “outward sign” for marriage prescribed in the scriptures, and the essence of the thing seemed to be done by the couple, if not the coupling, and not by bride’s father, learned clerk, or magistrate. And while we are on it, they tended to acknowledge that the polygamous relationships described in the Bible were also marriages within the definition of Genesis 2:34, as were the marriages of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc who were not plausibly representing Christ and the Church. So already in, say, St Thomas Aquinas there is a search for a reasoned integration of varied experiences of marriage with the New Testament ideal. Our contemporary discussion has not been as intelligently cosmopolitan as that of the C13.

          “Our problem in defining marriage seems to be fundamentally related to the problem of control and who is to be the gatekeeper. If marriage is really for everyone then anyone should be able to have it, even if the legal benefits have to be conferred by someone appointed by the state at an actual ceremony.”

          Your phrase “legal benefits” should be flashing on our screens, because it points into the heart of the purely social question that is confusing our understanding of the religious one.

          ‘Traditional marriage’ frames Genesis 1:28 with Genesis 2:34, and so reifies duties both joyous and heartbreaking, but it confers no benefits whatsoever to anyone but children. What we see as “legal benefits” were added to marriage by societies as institutions defined their wholly new benefits in terms of the marital status of the recipients.

          Obviously, for example, visitation rights in hospitals for spouses are chiefly a benefit of having hospitals, not a benefit of marriage. Most believers in TM give that little thought; it is simply the order of things. Those constitutively locked out of TM see it very differently– grief-stricken gay lovers at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the US gave their lack of visitation rights quite a lot of very practical thought.

          Proponents of SSM usually bring a prior belief in ‘romantic marriage,’ and see SSM as a subset of it. Romantic love, pursuant to the sexual revolution of 1750 is about sex and the self, but not about procreation. To believers in RM, those accumulated “legal benefits” quite simply are the very social substance of marriage, and the justice with which they are distributed is as open to debate and choice as the justice with which tax burdens are distributed. Societies create both for their benefit, and can reorder them as needed. It’s awkward to them that religion is involved.

          There may be formidable temperamental differences between the two polarised camps that explain why those in them choose as they do. Certainly there is a tendency for some in each to speak past the other on this topic with a certain grating self-righteousness. Psychological research is not yet clear on it, but it may be that this hostility in each reflects the burden of repressing a challenging truth that the other side declares– like others around the world, our tradition ordered sexuality around, not romance in itself, but consensual procreation; there is no reason why socially-created benefits needed by all should be limited to parents or to heterosexuals. We would begin to be as open-minded as our medieval forebears if we would bring ourselves to accept both of these facts, as they learned to accept the complexity of scripture and the reality of non-Christian marriages.

  10. (4) Notwithstanding the civil status of same sex relationships, the Church could regard them as civil partnerships within its own discipline, and respond to them as such.

    Andrew Goddard’s ‘option paper’ is as clear as it could be without taking some position on the underlying problem. However, grasping the nettle as he suggests, one could take the ‘realist’ position that the Church only recognises relationships as ‘marriages’ in order to better guide souls who are naturally ordered to procreation and family. From that perspective, a new civil status also called ‘marriage’ has used the old word in an new way, but has not changed the reality for which God instituted marriage.

    Please note that this does not necessarily imply disapproval of the state’s aims in establishing same sex marriage– to combat homophobia and to help citizens in same sex relationships to order their lives with dignity. It is compatible with a view that priests with same sex attraction strive to be exemplars of Christian life under the new law. It may avoid the contradiction of saying that ‘same sex marriage’ is absolutely impossible and those committing it must be punished.

    Neither, however, does it mask an innovation with a familiar word. Nor does it suggest that the inner dynamics of the relationships of the 94% are the same as those of the 6%, nor, for that matter, that gay and lesbian relationships are similar. Without unnecessarily reifying differences, or promoting invidious comparisons, the Church should minister to “all sorts and conditions,” mindful of the real dynamics in their lives, and urging them to accept the grace to be holy.

    For a defense of a similar approach, see the linked article by Paul J Griffiths. Griffiths advocates for laws permitting same sex marriage, but as a Roman Catholic discusses the result that church and state will have different understandings of marriage.

  11. Andrew refers to these same sex marriages as acts of civil disobediance. We need to ask of what sort? Wikipedia states that:

    Ronald Dworkin held that there are three types of civil disobedience:

    “Integrity-based” civil disobedience occurs when a citizen disobeys a law she or he feels is immoral, as in the case of northerners disobeying the fugitive slave laws by refusing to turn over escaped slaves to authorities.
    “Justice-based” civil disobedience occurs when a citizen disobeys laws in order to lay claim to some right denied to her or him, as when blacks illegally protested during the Civil Rights Movement.
    “Policy-based” civil disobedience occurs when a person breaks the law in order to change a policy (s)he believes is dangerously wrong.

    Andrew seems to assume it is policy based but I think justice based fits better.

    • “Justice-based” civil disobedience occurs when a citizen disobeys laws in order to lay claim to some right denied to her or him, as when blacks illegally protested during the Civil Rights Movement.

      If the comparison is with black protest during the civil rights movement, we should apply this quote from MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail:
      In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.

      Andrew Goddard’s point is that negotiation through due process of Synod has not been exhausted. Look at the due process of moving in Synodical approval of Women Bishop’s legislation.

      There is little integrity in abandoning these processes prematurely, only to claim martyrdom when censured for doing so.

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