Comment: Opposing gay state marriages while accepting straight ones is repugnant, and it does faiths no good

Jane Fae June 18, 2012
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I have to confess, I don’t really get it. That is, all this froth on the part of those who would like the title of “marriage” in place of “civil partnership”. But maybe that’s because I am mostly a practical girl when it comes to legal stuff, as well as a woman who still, in spite of everything, manages to get herself along to Mass on a fairly regular basis.

Sure, marriage gives you one or two privileges, mostly technical around pensions; and it does mean that you can divorce on grounds of adultery – which is not, presently, an option for civilly partnered couples.

But it doesn’t change the core theological issue, which is that the underlying sacrament, the religious bit of marriage, will remain mostly barred to same-sex couples unless and until the various churches shift their position on the matter.

Which is as it should be.

No, not that Churches should reject same-sex marriage. But that in respect of the spiritual, soul dimension of same, that must be an internal matter for each faith to decide upon. As now.

Still, if the LGB side of the case is generating much heat for little tangible gain, the Church side of the argument is slipping all too readily into open hypocrisy.

I hesitate to accuse William Oddie – that’s Catholic theologian and former editor of the Catholic Herald Oddie, not the comedian and ex-Goodie – of this particular failing. But I am seriously disconcerted by an argument he puts forward in today’s Catholic Herald, to the effect that the proposed law change fundamentally shifts the relationship between Church and state because “a civil marriage is accepted by the Church as being as valid as a religious one”, adding portentously “now that will change”.

Really? There follows some scare stuff around clergy eventually being forced to officiate at marriages and, if that were genuinely on the cards, the man would have a point.

But it’s this idea that church and state are at one already over marriage. Tell that to my own Church: I was married once, in a ceremony that combined civil and religious aspects. I am now well divorced as far as the state is concerned, but not in the eyes of my Church, leading to all manner of shennanigans with the official hierarchy for whom my non-married relationship of the last few years was spiritually – if not legally – adulterous.

Absent an annulment – a process likely to re-engage serious conflict – I may never marry again in church. I may not like that, but that is the essence of (my) Church’s dogma on the matter.

Perhaps the real issue here is that the Churches do not understand how far their own past hypocrisy in this matter has led them to the brink of what they clearly now see as the final spiritual precipice.

For most Churches are more than happy to condone the little white lie of opposite-sex couples spending a month or two pretending that they have “found the faith”, attending marriage classes and marrying them in church, only to watch them return to their agnostic ways a week later.

Beyond that, the state already encourages couples to live together in what is clearly, taking the strict Church view, a sinful union – and it is this hypocrisy that I find most irritating.

It is very clear from most church services just what church marriage is viewed as being: “a gift of God in creation” and “a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh”.

Without the religious input, as far as Churches are concerned, marriage does not happen.

In the end, I am not convinced that same sex couples really gain much by being permitted access to state marriage, but since the change makes next to no difference to those involved, neither individuals nor state, I see no reason why the Coalition should not say “We do”.

On t’other hand though, there is something very unsavoury about the Church view.

Notwithstanding William Oddie’s carefully phrasing around how the Church already accepts the “validity” of a civil marriage, state marriage is not recognised spiritually by the various Churches: it is a sanctioning of a sinful relationship; and therefore, for consistency, Churches (plural) should be as opposed to civil marriage as they are to same-sex civil marriage.

The fact that they aren’t, the fact that somehow or other the same-sex variant is regarded as putting the kibosh on morality, period, and ushering in the end of days, makes a mockery of their claim to be equal opps in their sharp-intake-of-breathery.

State marriage is not sanctioned by canon law. Period. So getting het up about same-sex state marriage while cheerfully accepting the heterosex version is repugnant and does the Churches’ reputation no good whatsoever.

“Aut omnia aut nihil” – all or none – seems pretty apposite here, and maybe it is time for a little bit of consistent thinking, not just in the various Bishop’s Palaces up and down the UK, but also over at the Catholic Herald.

More: Catholic, equal marriage, gay marriage, Opinion, Religion

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