Changing Attitude’s submission to the House of Commons Committee Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Submission to House of Commons Public Bill Committee – 26 February 2013

Summary

Changing Attitude England represents lesbian and gay Anglicans who wish to be married in church according to the rites of the Church of England, including families, friends and colleagues and congregations wishing to contract same-sex marriages. Changing Attitude believes the attitude of the Church of England to same-sex relationships and equal marriage is undermining the mission of the Church in England and its witness to the infinite love of God for all people.

1.0 Changing Attitude England

1.1 Changing Attitude England is an organisation which has campaigned since 1995 for full equality for LGB&T people in the Church of England. We fully support equal marriage for lesbian and gay Christian couples and welcome the government’s bill.

1.2 Changing Attitude has local groups in eight dioceses and gay and straight supporters, lay and ordained, in every English diocese. From our extensive parish and pastoral experience we believe the majority of members of the Church of England support equal marriage.

1.3 Changing Attitude represents those lesbian and gay Anglicans, their families, friends and colleagues and the congregations where they worship, who wish to be married in church according to the rites of the Church of England.

1.4 Many lesbian and gay couples in the Church of England have already contracted civil partnerships and wish to convert to marriage or are waiting to marry when the bill is passed.

1.5 Social approval of same-sex marriage and civil partnerships has transformed the status of lesbian and gay couples in the UK, including those who are Christians and members of the Church of England. This is a matter of justice and equality, both fundamental biblical values. In 2013 it is unacceptable that people should be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation. Lesbian and gay couples have just as much right as straight couples to have their relationships recognized socially and legally as marriages.

2.0 The Church of England

2.1 The Church of England claims to welcome lesbian, gay and transgender people as church members, to support civil partnerships and to affirm lay people in lesbian and gay relationships. It does not accept lesbian and gay clergy and accredited lay ministers in same-sex relationships unless, in theory, they confirm that the relationship is non-sexual. The meaning of non-sexual is not defined.

2.2 The Church wants to affirm partnered lesbian and gay people while requiring legally secure protection against holding same-sex marriages in Church of England buildings conducted by Church of England clergy.

2.3 When asked bishops are unable to explain why they are preparing to allow lesbian and gay relationships to be blessed in church following a civil partnership but cannot describe how this legal relationship differs in substance from marriage.

2.4 The Church of England does not have unambiguously clear teaching and practice in relation to marriage as claimed by the Bishop of Norwich. Bishops are not able to explain what differentiates the substance of same-sex and opposite sex marriage. Neither are they able to say what the Church will offer same-sex couples liturgically that will be the equal of marriage in substance but is not marriage in reality.

2.5 Dr Jeffrey John, as he said in his testimony to the committee, is certainly not a lone voice. We also suspect that a majority of people in the Church agree that there should be some kind of recognition for civil partnerships, such as a blessing ceremony.

2.6 We believe a significant number of bishops, and quite possibly the majority, agree but feel that they cannot say so publicly. There is a real divergence in the Church of England between the teaching that is put forward publicly on same-sex relationships and what is said and done privately. There is a huge gulf between the public morality of the Church and the private morality adopted by bishops and Church leaders. It is one of the most corrosive things at the heart of the Church which the Church needs to address.

3.0 The Bill does not redefine marriage

3.1 The Church of England’s theology of marriage is rooted in God’s covenant relationship with his people in creation. Changing Attitude believes the relationships of both gay and straight people are enhanced by the kind of covenant framework in which to live and love someone else in order to achieve their maximum fulfilment and happiness in life. The name given to this covenant relationship is marriage.

3.2 Other churches within the Anglican Communion also agree that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of recognition and celebration: the Church of England’s official position on same sex relationships is one possible Christian/Anglican viewpoint, but not the only one:

“So we have begun to consider that Christians of same-sex and other-sex affections are equally called…to the holiness of God…The Episcopal Church has called all in relationships of sexual intimacy to the standard of life-long commitment ‘characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication’ and the ‘holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God’ (Resolution D039, 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church). The experience of holiness in some same-sex unions has called for and deepened our sense of how these life-long unions of fidelity can be seen to manifest God’s love.”  To Set Our Hope on Christ: A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report Para 135, (2005) Part II, 2.25, p 26 http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/ToSetOurHopeOnChrist.pdf (accessed 16.11.10)

3.3 Marriage is a social and legal relationship. The legal ceremony may, but need not be, religious in nature.

3.4 There is at present no statutory definition of marriage, although the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 specifies the grounds on which a marriage is void or voidable at common law. The ground relevant to the Bill is found in section 11(c) MCA 1973: a marriage shall be void on the ground that the parties are not respectively male and female. Section 11(c) MCA 1973 implicitly incorporates the common law definition in Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee [1866] L Rev 1 P & D 130 that marriage is ‘the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others’. (This was a case concerned with a potentially polygamous Mormon marriage.)

3.4 The Bill proposes to omit section 11(c) MCA 1973 in Schedule 7, Part 2, clauses 23 & 24. This is the deletion of one ground of nullity.

3.5 In making the marriage of same-sex couples lawful in principle, the Bill ends the primary legal discrimination against same-sex couples. This, of itself, has no necessary effect on the religious conception of marriage. The amendments to the law proposed in the Bill are analogous to the decision by the Church of England to ordain women taken in 1992. When the Church of England ordained women priests it did not redefine priesthood or the sacrament of ordination. The Church simply admitted the other half of the human race into ordained ministry. Introducing same-sex marriage is a much less radical and revolutionary theological development than is claimed by the Church.

4.0 Damaging the mission of the Church of England

4.1 Changing Attitude believes the attitude of the Church of England to same-sex relationships and equal marriage is undermining the mission of the Church in England and its witness to the infinite love of God for all people. The Church is perceived to be prejudiced. The Church is perceived to discriminate against women (because they are not allowed to be bishops) and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, because their identities and relationships are understood to be less acceptable than those of cisgendered and heterosexual persons.

4.2 Jesus’ message is of love for God, neighbour and oneself. The Church of England is currently committed to teachings which prejudice our ability to share God’s love with all. The Church enshrines prejudice and judgement against LGB&T people in particular.

4.3 Bishops talk about the wonderful breadth and comprehensiveness of the Church of England, but it is not at all broad or comprehensive in its attitude to equal marriage; it is extremely exclusive. The attitude of senior church leaders is having a disastrously damaging effect on people’s perception of the Church of England and of the nature of Christian faith and the message of Jesus Christ.

4.4 The Church of England’s legal ability to discriminate harms the image of the Church in the public consciousness. The country is not “pretty divided on same sex marriage” as claimed by senior Church of England staff. All of the opinion polls (except those with very leading questions commissioned by the Christian Institute) show clear majorities, including majorities of people of faith, in support of equal marriage.

4.5 God is infinitely more compassionate and positive about lesbian and gay people than the Church. The love of gay people comes from God, and we have no doubt that God wants to bless, strengthen and protect the love shared in a gay relationship. The Church is misrepresenting God in opposing equal marriage and requiring legal protection.

4.6 The Lord Bishop of Norwich referred to the extensive empirical research recently undertaken by the Church of England which revealed that nine and a half out of 10 of all the couples who were married in church said that the most important element in their marriage was the vicar. The relationship they had formed with the priest as they prepared for their marriage helped them feel that they belonged connecting them with the wider community. That is one of the things that the Church can do extremely well and is why lesbian and gay members of the Church of England want the freedom to marry in church. The bishop revealed his hope that the Church will one day be able to change its mind more completely.

5.0 Legal protection – the so-called quadruple lock

5.1 Changing Attitude thinks the provision of the so-called quadruple lock for the Church of England is unnecessary and highly regrettable. We believe parish churches wishing to offer same-sex marriage and clergy who wish to solemnise same-sex marriages should be free to do so.

5.2 Changing Attitude believes all members of the Church of England who welcome equal marriage as a covenantal relationship appropriate for both same and opposite sex couples should be respected and free to act according to conscience. The Church of England and the Church in Wales should be as free to opt in to the provisions of this legislation as other religious bodies.

5.3 We also believe no religious body or individual should be compelled to act against conscience.

5.4 We believe the Church of England should adopt a permissive stance. Every parish wishing to register to conduct same-sex marriages should be free to do so and every clergy person should be free to solemnise such marriages in their legal role as registrars.

5.6 We oppose any additional legal exemptions which might inhibit the Church of England from opting in. They will compromise the religious freedom of those in the Church of England who are in favour of equal marriage. The Church would be much more genuinely Anglican and Christian if people were allowed to follow their conscience.

5.7 The proper solution would be the one that obtains now with respect to remarrying people who have been divorced. The decision is the responsibility of the parish priest, in consultation with the bishop and with the consent of the PCC.

5.8 When the Church of England accepts same-sex marriage and revises its doctrine, this will require a change to canon law. An amending canon will be required, passed by the General Synod and granted a royal licence, and in addition a measure will have to be passed by the General Synod because it would involve a doctrinal change. That measure would also make the necessary changes to the Marriage Act, making it possible for Church of England clergy to conduct same-sex marriages. These legal requirements protect the Church of England from being required to solemnise same-sex marriages.

5.9 Transgender Anglicans welcome the bill because married transgender people who apply for full gender recognition will no longer have to dissolve their marriages. The fee should be waived for those transgender couples who are now in a civil partnership because they had to dissolve their marriage to gain full gender recognition and who now wish to convert their civil partnership (in their case back to) marriage.

5.10 While a minority within the LGB&T community think that the term ‘marriage’ has negative cultural overtones of patriarchy and female submission, it is also the case that many who would not want to enter the institution of marriage themselves would not wish to deny others the opportunity to do so.

5.11 The spectre of litigation has been raised. There has been no successful litigation by divorced people forcing the Church of England to remarry them in their parish church against the wishes of their local priest. We believe, therefore, that the fear the Church has of litigation is unfounded.

6.0 The Church of England’s attitude to equal marriage

6.1 The Church of England’s official submission to the consultation on equal marriage does not reflect our views, or the views of many others within the Church of England who are in favour of equal marriage in church.

6.2 The Church of England is divided on the ethical issues around same-sex relations and the acceptability of civil partnerships and equal marriage. This division is contextualised within broader debate and disagreement within the Anglican Communion as a whole.

6.3 Church House commonly issues statements which claim to speak for ‘The Church of England’. We have questioned the appropriateness of such statements when the Church of England is divided on major issues such as women in the episcopate, equal marriage and clergy in civil partnerships. There is no unanimity of view about same sex marriage in the Church of England.

6.4 There is a distinction between the doctrine of the Church of England as set out in canons and liturgy and what members of the Church think. The official teaching of the Church also differs significantly from the practice of the Church in congregational life and worship.

6.5 Changing Attitude accepts that the teaching of the Church of England is defined by the House of Bishops and by documents published by the House. However, there is a clear distinction between the doctrine and teaching about the purpose of marriage which bishops claim is definitive, the variation in teaching found in different marriage services and in the practice if individual clergy and parishes.

6.6 When questioned, the Bishop of Norwich thought it possible that Church of England understanding of the status of same-sex relationships and how they are treated will change but that this would not necessarily lead automatically to the Church approving of same-sex marriage.

6.7 The Bishop of Norwich said the Church of England’s understanding of marriage is “rather unambiguously” set out in Canon B 30, which says marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others according to Christ’s teaching.

6.8 Despite the unambiguous statement in Canon B30 the Church of England’s current practice does not conform to this teaching. The Church of England does not limit its practice of marriage to Canon B30 or the text of the Book of Common Prayer 1662. The Church of England recognises that marriages fail and couples divorce and many clergy and parishes in England marry couples where either the bride or the groom or both are divorced. There are several bishops who have remarried following divorce or married a divorcee.

6.9 Although all three prefaces and Canon B 30 affirm the Church of England teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman Changing Attitude believes there are good biblical and theological reasons for revising the theology and extending marriage to same-sex couples.

6.10 The 1928 Prayer Book’s “natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, … hallowed and directed aright” and “The growing together in love and trust” and “the acts of tenderness and love” of the Common Worship preface are qualities desired of same-sex as well as heterosexual relationships.

7.0 Church of England attitude to civil partnerships

7.1 The damage done by failure of the Church of England to welcome, support and celebrate civil partnerships is now being exacerbated by its opposition to equal marriage. The House of Bishops has since revised its position and seems to be preparing the ground for accepting civil partnerships when the review group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling reports in the Autumn.

7.2 Changing Attitude endorses the Christian call to fidelity in marriage. There is no difference between the theology that would justify a sexually active civil partnership as being faithful and based on monogamous promises and the theology of a covenant relationship that underpins marriage. If the Church accepts the validity of monogamous civil partnerships it is de facto accepting marriage.

7.3 Accepting civil partnerships may well bring about the very thing the Church says it fears, which is that the idea of faithfulness and monogamy will be diluted. The danger of accepting civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage is that they will be seen as “marriage-lite” with a lower standard of fidelity. It will be ironic if civil partnerships continue because the Church will be accomplishing the very thing it says it wants to avoid, which is to undermine the call to unbreakable fidelity in marriage.

8.0 Scripture and homosexuality

8.1 Teachings about marriage and homosexuality in Scripture – certainly in the New Testament – do not address the pattern of life lived by lesbian and gay Christians today. St Paul, the only person in the New Testament who addresses the issue of homosexuality, clearly never takes into account the situation of two adult Christians wanting to commit to each other for life.

8.2 Paul makes two assumptions about homosexuality. First, Paul believes that homosexual acts are committed by people who are essentially heterosexual. That is why in Romans 1 he talks about exchanging “the natural use”. It is quite clear in the way Paul writes that people are not homosexual by nature or orientation but are heterosexuals who have chosen to do engage in sexual activity unnatural to them.

8.3 Secondly, Paul was attacking the prevalent forms of homosexuality that he witnessed in Greek society – pederasty and paedophilia.

END

Appendix: Canon B 30 and the Book of Common Prayer 1662

The Church of England’s theology of marriage and the legal foundation of Church teaching is contained in Canon B 30 and the 1662 BCP service. The teaching of this service has, however, already been significantly modified by the 1928 and Common Worship services and this revised teaching gives authority to a theology of marriage which is significantly different from 1662 BCP and Canon B30.

The preface to the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 gives three reasons for marriage. First, the procreation of children; second, for a remedy against sin and to avoid fornication; third, for the mutual society, help and comfort the one ought to have of the other.

The preface to the alternative 1928 service more commonly used prior to the introduction of Common Worship revises the text. The first reason for marriage in the 1928 service is for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord; the second, that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; the third is identical with 1662.

The Common Worship preface, the one most commonly used today revises both the order of priorities and the text. First, 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; second, marriage brings husband and wife together in the delight and tenderness of sexual union and joyful commitment to the end of their lives. Third, it is given as the foundation of family life in which children are [born and] nurtured.

We think the Bishop of Norwich inadvertently provided the committee with incorrect information about Church of England teaching on marriage. The procreation of children is no longer placed first in the Common Worship preface and the bearing of children is no longer essential, the words “born and” being in brackets. Because of this, the church is prepared to marry couples who may be past child bearing age, may be infertile or may have no intention of bearing children. Contraception is accepted by the Church of England as a legitimate way of preventing the conception of children.

The objection raised by many Christians that every marriage must be open to the nurturing of children is something fulfilled by many lesbian and gay couples. Couples have their own children through adoption, artificial insemination and surrogate parenthood. The 1928 phrase, ‘the increase of mankind’, is a value restricted by birth control.

The Bishop of Norwich said the first purpose of marriage is for the procreation of children and that when the Church of England marries someone, the preface in the Book of Common Prayer is recited even when the woman is past child-bearing age. This is simply not true. The Book of Common Prayer preface is rarely used now. A rubric in both the 1662 and 1928 services says the prayer for the procreation of children may be omitted when the woman is past child-bearing.

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