The Church of England today released a formal response to the (UK) government’s plans to allow same-sex couples to marry. Unsurprisingly they object to the idea that their unresolved homophobia might not be enshrined in British law and forced upon people who don’t share their theological or moral outlook. There’s plenty of language in the document about the bad effects that legalising same-sex marriage would have on society and culture, but no specific examples, of course, much less any specific examples shown to have arisen in those places around the world that have already passed this legislation.
There is plenty of reprehensible immorality on show in the document. And the usual canards that assume the Church’s current religious understanding of marriage is the ‘traditional’ marriage held through all history. One particularly disgusting foray into this territory is:
11. Marriage has from the beginning of history been the way in which societies have worked out and handled issues of sexual difference. To remove from the definition of marriage this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.
I sat with my mouth open at this. It either betrays an astonishing lack of historical understanding, or else an immense degree of misogyny. This is an institution that has socially, legally and theologically been used as a means of oppressing women, from the beginning of recorded history. And it is to this tradition we should look. We should want to retain this institutions role in treating the sexes differently? Staggering. I’d say it is a moral imperative to strip this institution of any vestige of its role in the subjugation of women, by making it a truly equal partnership.
As well as blatant bigotry in various forms, we also are treated to logical fallacies and disingenuousness of this kind:
[The government consultation document states] “The Government recognises that the commitment made between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman in a civil partnership is as significant as the commitment between a man and a woman in a civil marriage”. However, if one of the significant elements of the commitment that a man and a woman generally make to each other in marriage is to be open to bringing children into the world as a fruit of their loving commitment, then the commitment of same-sex couples (whatever its virtues) cannot be acknowledged as identical.
Notice the little sweep of synonyms there. “You said these things were just as significant, but we can show they are not identical” – erm, yes?
Why not recognize that, in a culture where homophobia is still rampant and ugly, committing oneself to a same-sex marriage is a commitment to a shared battle with society. Isn’t that commitment, in that sense, more significant than a commitment between two people who will receive not one iota of public criticism and attempted shaming for their action? We can play that game all day, but it doesn’t change the fact, that wasn’t what the government wrote.
And the whole thing about children just really rubs me up the same way. I am sure more children are born to or adopted by gay couples than to couples marrying in their 50s.
So once again the Church tries to dress its festering bigotry in a smart gown and caring language. Much as it did, incidentally, when it argued for the retention of the slave trade, or against successive legislative reforms on women’s rights, or against the legalisation of gay sex, or against civil marriage incidentally (a fact that is rewritten in the document to say that the Church supported civil unions*!) or against a whole raft of other things they now officially endorse. The hypocrisy is monumental. In 50 years the Church of England will be performing same-sex marriages without batting an eyelid, they’ll have moved on to some other blithe bigotry and will be championing their acceptance of LGBT folk as evidence they’re reasonable, socially responsible folk. Just as they’re happy to affirm the role of women in society, less than 100 years after arguing vehemently against it.
I have no doubt that time will prove them wrong.
* The Church, of course, did support Civil unions, at the point where the options before them were civil union or full marriage. They consistently argued against it before then. And even then, when the civil unions bill was passing through parliament, the unelected bishops who sit there were instrumental in a series of wrecking amendments designed to derail the legislation. So strictly, narrowly, one could say they favoured civil unions. But that is staggeringly disingenuous.