Recently the Government has announced its intention to enter a process of consultation with a view to allowing same-sex marriage. It has also indicated that it would be prepared to lift the ban on such an event taking place in a religious building.
Many religious groups have been quick to condemn the proposal. Traditionally, marriage has been understood as: ‘a gift of God in creation through which husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.’ (Marriage Service – Common Worship - Preface) The argument against allowing same-sex couples to marry (or, for that matter, to allow Civil Partnerships to be celebrated in church) hinges on this phrase ‘a gift of God in creation’.
In the Book of Genesis we read that: ‘a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh’ (2:24). This verse is taken from the Second Creation Narrative and may come from older Middle-Eastern sources. It follows the account of woman being made from Adam’s rib as his helper and partner because God realised ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ (2:18). This passage, of course, needs to be understood in the context of the way woman, historically, have been subservient to man – after all, God created woman from man, not the other way round! Our views on this have, of course, changed dramatically over the past century. The issue of whether God intended same-sex couples to ‘cling to each other’ have been debated, and the late Gareth Moore OP in his masterly work concludes that ‘There is no divine blueprint; there is only what makes glad the heart of each of us. Or, rather, it shows that the divine blueprint is that each of us should have the companion that delights our heart.’ (A Question of Truth, p.147)
Another argument cited for the distinctiveness of Christian marriage is based on St. Paul’s bridal paralleling of human marriage with Christ’s relationship with the church (Eph. 5: 21-end) as noted in the Preface to the Marriage Service . The male-female, divine-human encounter and commitment has been a rich source for the theology of marriage between men and women as has the inevitable comparison of the inability of same-sex couples to act in a sexually re-productive manner. But neither this argument nor that based on marriage being ‘a gift of God in Creation’ precludes other approaches to the issues.
For example, there is a long tradition of religious Vows being seen as a form of marriage, and consecrated women were long called the ‘brides of Christ’. Catholic Christianity has accepted that some are called by God to celibacy yet this has never been understood as diminishing the ability of those so called to find union in God (indeed, for centuries it was promoted as the superior way), although some evangelicals maintained that God could not invite people to celibacy because it did not allow them to be pro-creative.
There is also the question of those married couples who cannot, or choose not, to have children. As the Preface to the Marriage Service states: ‘(Marriage) is given as the foundation of family life in which children are [born and] nurtured’. There is a theological argument which sees the pro-creation of children as the sign of our god-likeness – the fruit of becoming ‘one flesh’ and there are some who take the argument to its logical conclusion - that not having children diminishes us as human beings. The House of Bishops statement Marriage - A Teaching Document (1999) states us that: ‘The three blessings that belong to marriage are traditionally described as the procreation and nurture of children, the hallowing and right direction of natural instincts and affections, and the mutual society, help and comfort which each affords the other in prosperity and adversity.’
So how does this inform thinking on same-sex marriage?
To be continued…