The Church of England have published their response to the Government Equalities Office consultation.  Its worth considering the contents, as many of the assumptions, thoughts and attitudes are not based in fact – but in presumptions, untruths or wrong thinking.

The concept of gay marriage is not new. 11 countries already allow it including Canada and parts of the USA. In 342 AD the Theodocian penal code banned the practice on pain of death – clearly there must have been a sufficient number of gay weddings to merit a ban with such a draconian penalty. Certainly, we know of at least two Roman emperors who married other men.

On an entirely practical approach  marriage gives rise to greater social stability and all the statistics show that children of married parents fare best. Given that we allow gay couples to adopt, and such is science and ingenuity that they can also procreate, why on earth should we deny them the benefit of marriage?

A growing number of Bible believing Christians who think that traditional church teaching has got it completely wrong. The stark fact is that there is nothing in the Bible about being gay (almost certainly because it is not a category that differentiates humans at all), and Jesus does not have a single word to say on the subject. Instead there are a very few scattered references condemning what might be considered as homosexual practice, but I think these are taken out of their proper contexts and poorly translated from the original biblical languages. This is true of the prohibition in Leviticus 18:6 and 20:13 where going to bed with another man is listed with other prohibitions about haircuts, tattoos, intercourse during menstruation, eating pork and shellfish, playing football (playing with pigskin), fortune telling, and mixing threads in clothing (a capital offence!). As for describing sleeping with another man as “an abomination” a more accurate rendering of the Hebrew would be that it is in “poor taste” -and something that really Holy people don’t do.

With respect to the destruction of Sodom in the book of Genesis, of the five Old Testament prophets who draw lessons on the fate of the city, not one puts it down to homosexuality. The graphic account of a crowd besieging Lot’s house demanding that he bring out his guests “that they might know them” (as the King James Bible quaintly puts it) –and which leads to God’s judgement on the city, is terrifying not because the crowd is homosexual, but because they are intent on gang rape.

In the New Testament it is the teaching of St Paul which is used to condemn homosexuality, just as his teaching was once perversely used to justify slavery and then the subjugation of women. If you look carefully at the context and sensitively translate the original Greek, then condemnation of gays just isn’t there. What St Paul was rightly against was the inordinate pursuit of pleasure and self indulgence, including the temple cults of fertility which included orgies, prostitutes of both sexes, straight and gay.

For millennia Christians have taken too great an interest in what other people get up to in bed, it is an unhealthy fascination. A good starting point is that marriage is a blessing, and therefore we have no business denying that blessing to someone because they happen to be gay.

The Church of England state that as a matter of doctrine and derived from the teachings of Christ himself, that marriage in general – and not just the marriage of Christians – is, in its nature, a lifelong union of one man with one woman.

The Church of England (and other churches or religious organisations) are free to consider this as their definition of marriage.  However, it is grossly unfair and arrogant to presume that they can require that civil law is governed by the doctrine of any religious organisation.  Most people in the UK are either not religious or not actively religious.  It is wrong that any (or all) churches dictate how civil law interplays with every person in the nation.

Other churches and religious organisations do not hold the doctrinal views that the Church of England state here (indeed some of their own leaders do not hold these views).  Sticking rigidly to the doctrinal view espoused in civil law denies religious freedom (or freedom from religion) to those who do not hold those views.

The Church of England regularly remarries divorced individuals into new marriages.  This would appear to be contradictory to their doctrinal response to this issue.  Therefore, its sheer hypocrisy (and arguably homophobic) to delineate on grounds of same sex couples, when similar actions are not taken on divorced couples.

Church of England state that they follow an authorised liturgy with regards marriage derived from the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and they are entitled to that view for themselves and for those who wish to engage with them.  They state that this view includes that  “marriage is given as the foundation of family life in which children may be born and nurtured in accordance with Gods will, to his praise and glory.  In marriage husband and wife belong to one another and they begin a new life together in the community.  It is a way of life that all should honour and it must not be undertaken carelessly, lightly or selfishly but reverently, responsibly and after serious thought” It is sad that they seek to exclude same sex couples in the full life of their church.  Many same sex couples are Christians or would value a church marriage (having seriously, reverently and responsibly considered the issue).

Other churches and religious groups and individuals do not share this view.  They should not have their religious freedom curtailed because the Church of England (or some of it) feel uncomfortable with the issue of same sex couples marrying.

Other individuals have no religious belief and they certainly should not have restrictions placed on them because of the beliefs of others.

Many gay couples are families with adopted, surrogate or natural children (possibly from prior relationships).  They provide love, nurture, support and integrity to those children.  They should not be denied the right to bring up children in a committed and loving marriage because some others are uncomfortable with their relationship.

Not that long ago, there were many churches that taught that slavery was an institution supported by God. They shut their eyes to the bad fruit being borne by the slave system, and they ignored all the things the Bible says about loving your neighbour as yourself, and the equality of human beings. They would find that handful of passages that mentioned slavery (after all, it was part of the culture in which the Bible was written) and they would try to apply those verses to us today, without acknowledging that they were based in the culture and no longer relevant to us.  The abolitionist movement had an uphill battle in some respects because there weren’t specific verses that said, “slavery is bad.” Instead, they had to rely on the overall message of Scripture, and that’s not easy to do.  Today there is cherry picking of many issues of Scripture (or liturgy – even that which dates back to 1662 (why 1662? – why not before!).  There is clear evidence in Scripture that equality was something Jesus valued – and it’s the hypocrisy of religious leaders that he regularly condemned.

The Church of England state that their views are not merely drawn from liturgy and doctrine but which are also drawn from their commitment, as the established church in England, to the common good of all in society.

Effectively the Church of England appear to be arguing that common good of all in society is established by preventing equality of all in society.  Surely, even church leaders can not be ignorant as to see the impossibility and implausibility of this argument?

The Church of England stated during their response “It is well known that there is a continuing debate within the Church of England about its declared view of sexually active homosexual relationships.  It is important to understand that our response to the questions of same sex marriage does not prejudice the outcome of that continuing theological and ethical debate.  Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted.  Because we believe that the inherited understanding of marriage contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society.”

Firstly, the good of all in society can not be achieved when you deny equality to some in society.

Secondly, when you decide that some people should be valued differently (which is what denying civil rights amounts to) to others due to their orientation – then this is forming a judgement that is unethical and inhumane.  It therefore, must inform any response to other debates concerning the issue of orientation.  Its difficult to reach a conclusion that an organisation which seeks to deny equality, fairness and integrity to couples due, solely, to their orientation is anything other than institutionally homophobic.  That is a set of attitudes  and values which are unscriptural, and fail in their ability to love their neighbour.

As eminent members of the Anglican Communion have said:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:

Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical — the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?
The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing — their race — and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about — their gender; hence my support for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Equally, I cannot keep quiet while people are being penalized for something about which they can do nothing — their sexuality. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as apartheid ever was.”

Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury says:

“I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage. I am no longer convinced that marriage should be limited to opposite sex couples.  And of course now you can’t really say that a marriage is defined by the possibility of having children. Contraception created a barrier in that line of argument. Would you say that an infertile couple who were knowingly infertile when they got married, weren’t in a proper marriage? No you wouldn’t.”

Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham says:

“A significant proportion of every human population is gay. If some of these people want to build stable faithful relationships based on love, that has to be a good thing. Love is love wherever it is found. We know it by its fruits, not its origins. But the fruits reveal the origin. God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. This is the good news. Thus the prime question Christians have to ask is not “is the idea of ay marriage right or wrong?” but, whatever we make of the theory of the matter, “how can we be good news to the real human beings involved? …  the highest duty of the Church is not to preserve institutions, but to be, simply and completely, good news. The gospel isn’t “good news/bad news” or “good news as long as you buy it properly.” It isn’t even “what would Jesus do?” It’s “What is Jesus actually doing through the whole creation, and trying to do through us if only we got real?”

The Church of England states that marriage affords many benefits to society which include mutuality and fidelity.  There is nothing in that which could and does not happen in gay marriages elsewhere – nor which could not happen in the United Kingdom.

Marriage is a central and unique social institution which gay couples have successfully engaged with and supported in those nations where it now legally occurs.  The uniqueness and social contribution which the Church mentions is no reason to demand that a segment of the population be prevented from being involved with it.

The Church of England states that there is no such thing as a ban on same sex couples marrying.  That’s disingenuous – as effectively by preventing it happening in law is a quasi-ban.  They try to reinforce this argument by stating that there has never been a same sex marriage.  Either the authors of the Church of Englands response are entirely ignorant or they are lying.  There have been numerous same sex marriage (including in ancient Rome – predating the Church of England, ancient China, the Irish church, etc etc).  Stating that there has never been same sex couples marrying is an act of denial.  11 countries currently engage in equal marriage.  Ancient civilisations engaged in marriage of same sex  couples – there is no reason England can not do the same in the 21st century.

The church of England state that ‘redefining’ marriage to include same sex relationships entails dilution of the meaning of marriage for everyone.  However,  this is patently untrue.  What dilutes marriage is divorce and adultery.  Same sex relationships that are loving and committed to each other actually enhance the institution of marriage – as the experience of the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries where equal marriage occurs has shown.  Same sex couples marrying impacts on the ability of same sex couples to marry – it does not alter, change or dilute the ability of opposite sex couples to marry or any existing marriage.

The Church of England claims that rights between civil partnerships and marriages are identical.  This is a salacious lie.  Not only is there the stigma of different names, but there lacks equality in pension rights, immigration rights and international recognition.

The church of England claims there is no distinction between civil and religious marriage currently.  That is patently untrue.  In

medieval Europe, marriage was governed by canon law, which recognised as valid only those marriages where the parties stated they took one another as husband and wife, regardless of the presence or absence of witnesses. It was not necessary, however, to be married by any official or cleric. This institution was cancelled in England with the enactment of “Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act” of 1753, which required that, in order to be valid and registered, all marriages were to be performed in an official ceremony in a religious setting recognised by the state, i.e. Church of England, the Quakers, or in a Jewish ceremony. Any other form of marriage was abolished. Children born into unions which were not valid under the Act would not automatically inherit the property or titles of their parents. For historical reasons, the Act did not apply in Scotland. Consequently, until 1940, it continued to be enough in Scotland for a man and a woman to pledge their commitment to each other in front of witnesses to legalise their marriage. This led to an industry of “fast marriages” in Scottish towns on the border with England; the town of Gretna Green was particularly well known for this. In 1836 the requirement that the ceremony take place in a religious forum was removed, and registrars were given the authority to register marriages not conducted by a religious official.   Many religious organisations are unable to register marriages and thus have to seek a registrar to attend or there must be a separate civil ceremony in a registry office – otherwise the marriage is not legally recognised in England & Wales.  The Church of England have special treatment in that they can register their religious marriages as civil marriage too.  Its arguable they should not have this right as it gives them preferential treatment.  Civil marriages do exist – and many of those UK couples who marry in registry offices out of choice would testify to this.  The law would also accept that the 1836 marriage act introduced civil marriage.

The Church of England refers to an Austrian case at the European Court of Human rights as an attempt to justify its false claim that religious bodies would be forced by the courts to engage in same sex marriage.  The Austrian case was in no way related to marriage in a church and is a red herring in this regard.  European court judges are extremely sensitive to religious freedoms and any case that were to be referred to them would be highly unlikely to result in any onerous conditions requiring a church to act outside its belief structure.  What a court case may result in is permitting those churches or other religious organisations who do wish to marry same sex couples to be able to do so – opening up their religious freedoms.  Religious freedoms the Church of England seems keen to suppress.

Marriage has been redefined numerous times throughout history.  Married women were given the right to hold property in 1882 – at the time many argued this undermined marriage – it did not.  Similar claims were also made (supported by some in the church) that when laws were passed to protect women from domestic violence and rape that marriage was being undermined, history shows these claims were false.  History will again show that these claims being made by the Church of England regarding same sex couples marrying are false and illegitimate.

The Church of England has missed an opportunity to move on from its defensiveness which charcterises its approach to same sex relationships and marriage.  Its disappointing as many members of the Church of England disagree with the outrageously offensive and vitriolic stance that the Church has taken which demonises, harms and segregates same sex couples from the rest of society without any justifiable cause.

The Church of England suggests that this will lead to the disestablishment of the Church.  Many would not be disappointed by this.  But for those concerned, perhaps looking to nearby neighbours such as Wales and Scotland where the church is already de-established can evidence that the sky does not fall in if this happens.

There has yet to be proposed a single reason why same-sex marriage is bad for the country that is not based on religious rhetoric (and many religious people oppose those views) or that has not been sufficiently countered. Most of the reasons proposed against same-sex marriage are in fact arguments against homosexuality in general, which is a useless argument to be had in the first place (as if one chooses between homo- or heterosexuality based on logic).  It is difficult to understand how some Christians who oppose equal marriage  cannot appreciate that other religious people might legitimately disagree with them.

Reasons Christians (if not the officialdom of the Church of England) should endorse and support equal marriage:

Because Christians support equal rights for all.

The “special rights” argument is patently false – this is obviously a clear case of all citizens being treated exactly equally with respect to all of the societal approbations that are associated with marriage: inheritance, taxation, hospital visitation rights etc. What is special about gays and lesbians being granted the same rights as heterosexual couples already have?

Because Christians have long benefited from the freedom of religion in this country, and would want to continue to respect that in the future.

Even if you personally don’t approve of same-sex marriage, you might at least recognize that there are several other denominations who are in favour of same-sex marriage: the Society of Friends, Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Church, and others. To deny any religious groups’ belief to practice same-sex marriage violates a belief in the freedom of religion for all.

Because modern Christians realize that marriage has nothing to do with procreation.

Often a primary objection to same-sex marriages is that they cannot bear children. Not only is this narrow-minded and untrue (many creative solutions are available to the same-sex couple that desires to raise children), it’s a double-standard. No one tests heterosexuals for their fertility or desire to raise children before determining their suitability for marriage – on the contrary, churches today regularly marry couples known to be infertile (post-menopausal women being only one example) Inasmuch as any heterosexual couple that has remained childless has been recognized as married by the church, it is hypocritical to resort to this fallacious logic in the same-sex marriage debate.

Because Christians should support marriage in all of its forms.

Some claim that same-sex marriage is an attack on family values, but this is incorrect. On the contrary, it is an attempt by LGBT people to be legally recognized as having families in the first place. It is a non sequitur to claim that only the “traditional” nuclear family model is legitimate when less than half of Canadian families conform to this model currently anyways. Same-sex marriage can be seen as enhancing and strengthening marriage instead of the opposite.

Because Christians realize that the Church has been discriminatory in the past and would seek amends for that.

Formerly the Church denigrated “homosexual promiscuity” without making available any other option (a recognized covenanted relationship). The Christian support of same-sex marriage thus can end a hypocritical position of the Church and give the Church more relevance to contemporary society. Many agree that Christians should be opposed to discrimination in any form. The “have-your-relationships-but-don’t-call-it-marriage” argument is specious as it promotes a South African-type apartheid: the “same water coming from different fountains” is not equal. As the American Supreme Court has decided “separate but equal” is not.

Because Christians realize that marriage has never been a static institution, and therefore there is no reason that it should be now.

From its early origin as a property exchange, to a method of ensuring peace between nations, to being recognized as a church function only in the thirteenth century, to the recent questioning of the “God-given” roles for men and women, the institution of marriage has always been in a state of flux. Things once illegal, such as miscegenation and the marriage of the mentally handicapped, are now permitted. To arbitrarily decide that now marriage has evolved as far as it should according to an 1960’s definition is to deny any possible subsequent influence of the Holy Spirit in our world.

Because responsible Christians support the separation of Church and State.

Hardly anyone believes these days that the Church should define the law in this country – this position is ignorant of the centuries of problems that that historical situation created. In accordance with the freedom of religion, modern Christians realize that the insertion of the Christian God into government only spells trouble for those who (everyone agrees) have the right NOT to believe in that God. Christians do not want their denomination to dictate law for the rest of the country.

Because Christians have long known that the Church should not determine legal policy.

Further to the above, Christians universally believe in following one’s own conscience, even when that entails opposing the official policy of one’s church. Catholics believe that each person has a solemn moral obligation to adhere to the dictates of his or her conscience (even if that conscience is erroneous), over and above the dictates of the Church. As Cardinal Ratzinger has written: “Only the absoluteness of conscience is the antithesis to tyranny.” Thus for Catholics convicted that all people should be treated equally and that freedom of religion should be respected as above, not to promote the legalisation of same-sex marriages is sinful. Within Protestantism the case is even easier, as the entire tradition is ultimately based upon an individual acting according to the dictates of his conscience. To stand up and challenge the dominant authority is a practice firmly rooted and celebrated in Protestant tradition. Even those opposed to homosexuality in general can logically support same-sex marriage as a decidedly “lesser evil” than the alternative.

Because Christians realize that to hold up marriage as for heterosexuals only is not only discriminatory, it also borders on idolatry.

Just as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were maligned for counting their dill seeds while neglecting justice and mercy (Mathew 23:23), Christians today realize that marriage was created for humankind, not the opposite. Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27 are an interesting parallel to the contemporary situation. Marriage is a tool for developing honest, voluntary, long-lasting and mutually accountable relationships between two people, and Christians realize that that is a laudable goal for two people of any gender and seek to promote that.

Because Christians believe in the supremacy of God, not the supremacy of government.

Even those who consider homosexual behaviour to be sinful can believe in the equality of all people under the government. Christians realize that many sins are not covered by the Criminal Code, nor should they be, as they are more matters of individual conscience. Ultimately, Christians can take solace in the fact that all will be judged fairly before God, and leave it to God to do the judging. In the meantime, one can work toward the most equitable society possible on this earth: this is what Jesus would have us do.

The church has to ask itself whether it will protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support for these relationships.

As the Archbishop of Wales said “If the moral aim of the gospel is to encourage love of neighbours, how can that happen when people are made to feel unwanted, unloved, and sinful? How is the gospel good news for homosexuals?”

The Church of England too often acts too late on issues of equality.  It is doing so again, and is demonstrating that it is an institution that regards historical convention as more important that equality – and who has intransigent and damaging institutional homophobia up to levels of Archbishop.

The Church of England has nothing useful to say on the issue of civil marriage and its empty and meaningless threats should be ignored by government.