As previously, this has been kept to a length and style hopefully suited for parish magazines and the like. The article is about 600 words. If you use it, please give appropriate credits.
Why not civil partnerships in Anglican churches? (By Rev John Richardson)
To answer this question we must first venture into territory unfamiliar to all but a very few.
Most people imagine that this is simply a matter of ‘inclusion’, allowing the ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ minority to enjoy the privileges of the ‘straight’ majority. Church ceremonies, they believe, should be open to everyone, and indeed it is the government’s clear intention that this should be so.
But as experts in this field are well aware, things are far from being that straightforward. One such is Professor Adrian Thatcher, a Research Fellow in Applied Theology at the University of Exeter, and a strong advocate of change in church policy.
In a paper presented to the 2011 ‘Inclusive Church’ conference, he wrote as follows:
... there are other sexualities than straight and gay. Intersex, bisexual and transgender people, are generally excluded from the rigid and inadequate frameworks within which the Church discusses sexuality ...
And he added,
... sexual inclusiveness will not be complete until they too feel wholly affirmed as members of the Body of Christ. (‘Gender and the Gospel’, Nov 2011, p1)
What Thatcher says about the Church, however, is clearly the intention of others for society in general. For them, the idea that the world divides into either ‘straight’ or ‘gay and lesbian’ is already outmoded. Instead, human sexuality has a multitude of expressions.
According to Thatcher, “new research in Classics, New Testament Studies, Medical History and Queer Theory” are revolutionizing what has until now been a “sterile theological discourse”.
And if you’ve never heard of Queer Theory, you really don’t understand the current debate.
The fact is that in the long term the aim is not simply the inclusion of people in the existing institution of marriage but to go on broadening the patterns of relationships society accepts and endorses. Marriage, Thatcher notes, “is a flexible institution that has incorporated many changes”. The only question is “whether marriage can accommodate the change that some same-sex partners want” (p14). If not, then presumably other relationships will be have to be found.
It is against this background that we must understand the position of the Church of England. For Anglicans, marriage is not a “flexible” institution but a divinely ordered one, which ultimately reflects the relationship between God and his people.
What makes a marriage ‘marriage’ is two things: covenant and sex.
Where there is no covenant — no promise ‘to have and to hold ... till death us do part’ — there is either promiscuity (expressed in the prevalence of sex outside marriage) or widespread unfaithfulness (leading to divorce and marital breakdown).
Within the marital covenant, however, sexual activity is properly channelled — to bearing children and building love.
But as even Adrian Thatcher recognizes, sex is inextricably linked with reproduction: “Beings who reproduce,” he writes, “need to be sexed”, meaning they must have one of the two genders (p9, his emphasis). Thus although health issues and age may impose limits on fertility, ‘sexual’ intercourse is intercourse between two people of opposite sexes. ‘Same-sex’ sex, by contrast, is a contradiction in terms.
The Church of England has therefore taken the view that it will only recognize and bless ‘opposite sex’ unions as having the status of marriage. And insofar as civil partnerships are already widely treated as ‘gay marriage’ (as any follower of Coronation Street will know), it would thus be inappropriate for Anglican ministers to conduct them in church.
Ultimately, therefore, those who question the Church’s stance need to ask where they themselves would draw the line. The answer matters not just to us but to the future of our society.
(John Richardson blogs as The Ugley Vicar)