‘To thine own self...’ – Part six

Let me be clear. I am not an enthusiastic advocate for same-sex marriage in this land for the simple reason that there’s no ‘demand’ for it from those who would be joined together – if there are any. When ‘demand’ surfaces then we debate it meaningfully, but not before. It’s clearly something that arouses deep passions which impact on decision makers in both Church and State. To hear legislators declare that there’ll never be same-sex marriage on their watch is an affront to the democratic process. Ultimately, I think it’s a question about how and why we use words in the way we do and, as I suggested last week, the answer may differ contingent upon the ‘game’, Church or State, we’re playing. Change to our present understandings will clearly entail a sensitive analysis of a variety of social, political, legal and religious issues, coupled with acceptance of the self-evident truth that nothing and no-one is forever and a clear-enough vision of what we seek to achieve. If you ask me whether in conscience as a priest I would celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple, my answer is I would if I could. If you ask me whether I would be prepared to bless now, in Jesus’ name, any two persons who declared their love for each other, then, again, I would answer ‘Yes’. That’s it.

Some of the arguments I’ve read about all this in recent years are very odd. One is that same-sex marriage is discriminatory against heterosexual married couples who choose to have kids. Eh? But no one seeks to make married couples less than they are in accordance with the choices they’ve made. Another is the more obvious one that marriage to one person, and only that, was ordained by God for procreation. That’s the traditional Roman view, of course. It’s a very ‘pure’ idea but has never really worked in practice. The ancients, we’re told, ignored it in taking multiple wives. Abraham had three, Moses two and Solomon – well, we all know about him, don’t we? The ‘outside’ woman, or man for that matter, though not centre stage maybe, has never really left it. And within or without the context of marriage, couples, these days at least, claim the right to choose whether to go the baby route. Others must confront the ‘accidents’ of their union. Some couples are unable to have children. Others marry in the twilight of their years. Others seek abortion for various reasons. Then there’s all the other ‘fudge’ factors – birth control, sterilisation, female emancipation and the recognised dangers from population explosion which never confronted the ancients. Then again, some refer, understandably enough, to heterosexual marriage as a sort of sacramental societal glue which holds everything together. But then, what of divorce? And perhaps we shouldn’t forget that the alleged ‘God-given-ness’ of it all was arguably just a way of making divinely respectable what was in fact just a property transaction. Either party to the marriage effectively ‘bought’ the other as dowry or bride price. Moreover, if it really is societal glue we want, then surely a commune would do just as well.

On the other side, I suppose you might argue that in most relationships there are active and passive partners corresponding, in traditional understandings, to the male and female and having nothing to do with anatomical structure or biological function. Again, you might recognise that at the heart of all our close relationships is love, a love used by God to turn everything upside down, and that by making formal commitments of love to each other, no matter our sexual orientation, we’re expressing God’s purposes for our world. The necessary and sufficient nature of marriage is that it’s a gift of God and a sign of grace. The gender of the couple is not a determinant. We know so little of God, but that He’s Love itself is the one thing we say we hold dear. He’s not a God who demands we sacrifice our children, nor a God who orders the destruction of whole peoples, nor a God to curse any relationship rooted in love and therefore in hope. He’s bigger than all that, isn’t He? Isn’t He our very heartbeats? Well, isn’t He? The call to reassess our concept of marriage may also serve, then, to make us focus on our understandings of God. We may just find that in Him there’s never an end to things, only ever a beginning.

Very well, but without decriminalising buggery, the repeal of section 9, Sexual Offences Act, we’re going nowhere and so that, surely, is the key issue. Of course, you can have one, decriminalising, without the other, marriage, but not the latter without the former. The repeal of section 9 raises all sorts of questions about the nature and function of our Criminal Law. Does it prohibit what some regard as sin? Is it coterminous with morals? Well, DV I’ll look at that next week.

Go safely, then – until the next time.

YEAH! De Profundis from the boundary: Jesus’ “morality is all sympathy, just what morality should be. If the only thing that he ever said had been, ‘Her sins are forgiven her because she loved much,’ it would have been worth while dying to have said it... the moment of repentance is the moment of initiation.” – Oscar Wilde

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