So, today the Church of England, in its response to the UK government’s consultation on equal civil marriage, has issued a veiled threat to the government and people of the United Kingdom: do not allow same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies or else the Church may well be forced to stop marrying people in churches. Yes, the Church of England has today become the proverbial baby in the proverbial pram chucking its toys out when it can’t get its own way.
If you read the Church’s response carefully you will see that it is very well-written and has obviously consumed the time and effort of a large number of clergy and a crack team of church lawyers. If only the Church of England could spend as much time focussing on the important needs of this country as it does on attempting to deny equal civil rights to gay people, it could really do some good in the world. But, alas, it believes that allowing gay people to marry in civil ceremonies really is one of the greatest ever threats to its existence (since witches that is, and Methodists), and, therefore, it deems it appropriate to concentrate an inordinate amount of time on attempting to go against overwhelming public opinion (more than 80% of British people support gay civil marriage) to deny gay people the right to marry.
But why exactly does the Church of England see gay civil marriage as such a threat?
Put plain and simply, it’s because certain influential members of the Church hierarchy (and by no means all of the Anglican clergy) do not want gays to be allowed to marry. Full stop. Under any circumstances. And they will bring out any argument they can find to support their views, conveniently forgetting along the way any points or views that may be contrary to their thinking. Today’s document is full of these specious arguments. Here are just a few:
- Marriage has been defined throughout history as being between a man and a woman (page 1).
WHICH CONVENIENTLY FORGETS TO POINT OUT THAT in this country marriage used to be defined for some groups as being between several men and several women (the Celts practised polygyny – one man, several wives – and possibly even polyandry – one woman, several husbands) and that this definition changed over time to what we have today, according, presumably, to public opinion and taste, which begs the question why the definition cannot change again to include same-sex couples when the overwhelming majority of British people support equal marriage?
- Marriage acknowledges the complementarity of men and women, where procreation is a possibility for many (page 1).
WHICH CONVENIENTLY FORGETS TO POINT OUT THAT men and women do not complement each other only in the bedroom and that 46% of procreation in this country takes place outside of marriage anyway, and there are a lot of marriages that lead to no procreation whatsoever, through choice or biological factors.
- Civil partnerships already offer gay couples the same legal rights as married straight couples, and the CofE, and, in particular, its bishops in the House of Lords, were supportive of them when they were introduced (page 4).
WHICH CONVENIENTLY FORGETS TO POINT OUT THAT only being allowed legally to call one’s other half a “civil partner” is in no way equal to being allowed legally to call them one’s “husband” or “wife” and WHICH CONVENIENTLY FORGETS TO POINT OUT THAT in June 2004, when the Civil Partnership Bill went before the House of Lords, the Church of England’s bishops, rather than being supportive of it, voted 6/1 against it. (The Bishops of Coventry, Liverpool, Peterborough, Rochester, Southwell & Nottingham and Winchester supported a wrecking amendment proposed by Baroness O’Cathain, which was only overturned by the House of Commons). Is this suggestion that the Church supported the Civil Partnership Bill, when it clearly did not, a bare-faced lie to make it appear that the Church has been hugely supportive of gay people in the past? I’ll leave you to make your mind up about that.
- There is no distinction in law in this country between religious and civil marriage – they are the same institution. Therefore, allowing civil marriages for same-sex couples, but not religious ones, would leave the Church open to anti-discrimination lawsuits in the European Court of Human Rights (pages 10-12).
WHICH CONVENIENTLY FORGETS TO POINT OUT THAT it is quite blatantly discriminatory of the Church to deny religious gay couples the right to be married in a church where the vicar is supportive of same-sex marriage, thus meaning that the Church should most certainly lose any anti-discrimination case brought against it.
There are other arguments put forward in today’s document that I either do not have the time to counter-argue against here or that are so ludicrous I cannot bring myself to waste time typing a response (such as the argument put forward on page 4 that allowing gay couples to marry in civil ceremonies would undermine “many of the arguments” that women should play a greater role in society’s institutions by eliminating the concept of sexual difference!).
As I stated earlier, the reason the Church is so threatened by the possibility of allowing same-sex couples to marry is because some of the Church hierarchy simply do not want it to happen. I can understand, in part, why they think like this. I was once a Bible-believing Christian (or, at least, I tried to be) and I was very much of the opinion that a Christian shouldn’t pick and choose from the Bible – you either believed everything or you believed nothing. As you can imagine, this is almost impossible to do, unless you are so bloody-minded (or brainwashed) you can ignore science, archaeology, non-Biblical historical sources and your own common sense on the myriad of issues in the Bible that are ambiguous or incongruous with our modern world and ways of thinking. I gave up trying to reconcile all of the issues and came out of the closet as a gay man instead. The Christians who cannot accept gay marriage, however, are still stuck in their own closets, not gay ones (well….), but religious ones. They do not see how they can accept something that they believe the Bible tells them is wrong, without somehow cheapening their faith. This kind of dogged determined belief is almost admirable, until you remember that a) the Bible also tells Christians that wearing cotton/polyester blends, associating with women on their period and eating lobster are wrong, but you don’t see the Church of England hierarchy issuing 13-page documents telling the United Kingdom government how it must not allow these three activities to carry on; and b) these doggedly determined men (the CofE bishops in the House of Lords) actually have a say in what becomes law in this country.
So, some members of the hierarchy of the Church of England see gay civil marriage as a threat because it undermines their entrenched beliefs. Fair enough. Those are the personal opinions of the people involved and they are entitled to hold those opinions. What they are not entitled to do is to suggest that those opinions are the opinions of other people within the Church of England. I know a great many clergymen and women, and Anglican laypeople, who are entirely supportive of equal marriage, and who are today ashamed that the Church has issued this threatening document in their names. The hierarchy should look closely at the members of the institution it runs, for what is the Church if not its members? If intelligent clergymen and women and laypeople can reconcile their Christian beliefs and understanding of the Bible with equal marriage, why can’t the Church do so?
There are two further reasons, stemming from the hierarchy’s entrenched personal beliefs, why the Church has today said it is officially against gay civil marriage. Firstly, the African Anglican churches would be furious if the Mother Church had said anything but, and the African sector of the Anglican Communion is the fastest growing sector in terms of new believers. It would be such bad PR for the Church of England to initiate an almost certain rift between itself and its most successful overseas branch. Secondly, if the hierarchy of the Church are so unable to bend on the issue of allowing gay people to marry in a church, then, in face of the perhaps inevitable law suits, it would have to stop marrying anyone in church, so as not to be deemed discriminatory by the European Court of Human Rights. And if the Church of England stopped marrying anyone in church it would stand to lose roughly £17,613,400 a year in wedding fees(1). And that’s a hell of a lot funerals it would have to take on to make up the shortfall, and, let’s face it, they’re a lot less fun than weddings.
In 2010, there were 54,700
marriages in churches in the UK, which, at £322 a piece, must have netted the Church of England a cool £17,613,400 in fees.