Sunday, 5 February 2012

Is it stating the obvious ...

To point out that two women (or two men) can't have sex?

Or is it something which we have so forgotten as a culture that we need to be reminded that sex is a biological system, not a sociological construct?

I ask, because I am genuinely puzzling over this one.

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64 comments:

  1. Canon Andrew Godsall5 February 2012 at 13:38

    Your question begs so many others John. Do you mean it is only a biological system? I disagree there. It is an emotional thing as much as a biological thing. If it were just biological it would be pretty boring - and it clearly isn't.
    And what do you mean by 'have sex'? Which bit are you puzzling over?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

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  2. I look forward to the day (should gay marriage ever be legalised in the UK) when the Equalities Minister who facilitated this has to explain how - in the event of gay marriage annulment on the grounds of non-consummation) is going to explain exactly what constitutes consummation in gay marriages.

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  3. There is a clear and concise description of what constitutes sex at

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEVN_c8EwiQ

    Chris Bishop

    Devon

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. On second thoughts, I will reinstate the anonymous comment just made:

    "Do you ask your wife "Shall we have biology tonight, darling?"

    If the writer would like to elaborate his or her point that would help. If they'd like to give their name and location, that would be even better.

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  6. In fact, after a little more consideration, I'll even address the question by observing that one thing two women or two men can't say, in the sexual sense, is "Let's have biology tonight."

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  7. Canon Andrew Godsall5 February 2012 at 17:45

    I didn't know we had to rely on wikipedia.
    So - is the only thing in a heterosexual marriage that constitutes sex a biological function for the purpose of making babies? Oral sex is out? Touching of any kind is out?
    Sex is as much if not more about the emotional than it is the biological.

    I am totally unclear what point you are really trying to make. But do you seriously say that there is no emotional element to a sexual relationship?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

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  8. I presume that you would agree with Bill Clinton that he didn't have sex with Monica Lewinsky. But I think you would be about the only support he had.

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  9. Andrew, do seriously say that there is no biological element to a sexual relationship?

    Where there is no biological basis to the acts, what do we make of what is happening?

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  10. I presume that you would agree with Bill Clinton that he didn't have sex with Monica Lewinsky. But I think you would be about the only support he had.

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  11. Canon Andrew Godsall5 February 2012 at 20:11

    John - of course there is a biological element. My point is that it can't be reduced to just biology. So I ask you my question again - is there no emotional element to a sexual relationship?
    And what about the other acts that a heterosexual married couple engage in that are not simply intercourse?
    I'm still unclear what you are trying to get at here.
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

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  12. And of course there's an emotional component, Andrew -- at least when it comes to human beings. Nor was I suggesting human sexual behaviour can be reduced to biology.

    The question, rather, is to what extent it can be detached from biology.

    To pick up Peter Kirk's point, the one things Bill Clinton and Monic Lewinsky could not actually have was a sexual relationship, so they had recourse to an artifice which allowed satisfaction (to some extent) of the biological urge in a way that avoided full sexual involvement.

    To that extent, Clinton was actually right (though he was obviously being disingenuous). He did not have sexual relations with that woman. It was neither truly sexual, nor was it properly 'relational'.

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  13. The fact that this is even a question is a sign that you are living in a decadent, hedonistic culture that has lost its way.

    Human beings who live about eighty years if they are lucky need to procreate in order for the species to continue - this is why we have sex - it is pleasurable in order to induce us to do it as an incentive.

    Raising children successfully is a large investment in time, energy and other resources and so human beings in civilized societies form pair bonds one male, one female in in order to share the burden and divide the labour.

    We call it marriage and its purpose is to provide the next generation and to propagate our culture to them. I personally believe marriage is a God given thing - given to us so that we may raise our children in a humane and orderly fashion with them knowing who their parents and siblings are and giving them a sense of identity and place in this world

    Marriage in my culture was a mark of coming of age and adulthood and carried with it the duty if possible to have children which were considered blessings and those unfortunates whose unions were not fertile were considered cursed perhaps.

    No more it seems marriage is about who pleasures your genitals in these enlightened times.

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  14. I am still puzzling as to how Canon Godsall read the article above and somehow converted it to a statement that: "sex is only biological". JR said nothing of the kind.

    He did however make a very good point that male and female humans are clearly made to engage in intercourse with each other, whereas not with their own gender. Its a relevant point in the debate as to whether the government should introduce the innovation of giving special recognition to gay relationships.

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  15. I do find this a very odd question – particularly for someone who presumably has had an active sex life. Neither male nor female orgasms are reliant on penetrative sex and I should imagine (and sincerely hope!) most heterosexual couples have had sexual contact with their partner to the point of orgasm without penetrative sex (via oral sex, mutual masturbation etc.) at some point in their sexual careers – and if not my sympathies go out to those who have what can only be described as pretty boring sex lives! Taking a Biblical lead, penetrative sex seems rather peripheral to the Song of Solomon. I am sure two men and two women can have great sex without the need for penetrative sex. To be brutally honest I find the above question - and some of the comments it has generated – suggests same sex (not to mention heterosexual) couples, should be fettered by the rather meagre sexual imagination of those interested in what others do behind their bedroom door (or elsewhere in the house, if they’re suitably creative and inventive – which I hope most couples are!).

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  16. Just as a P.S. to my comment above, the question you raise reminds me of some of the issues raised by the charity’s trustees in the work I did with a faith-based (Christian) provider of care for disabled people around sex and sexuality. There was an assumption on the part of many of the trustees (and to a lesser degree, staff at all levels) that disabled people don’t have sex lives or sexual desires and feelings. When the working party I was a member of submitted its policy on sexuality to the trustees it was met with abject shock and horror on the part of some (and rejoicing on the part of a few!). Once it was revealed disabled people have sex lives, several of the trustees thought it was the ‘right’ of the charity to provide moral guidance to the users of the charity – until it was pointed out that as those using the charity’s residential and nursing homes were paying the upper end of the market rate for the care they received (tho’ – as is often the case with faith-based organisations – in many cases it was the taxpayer who was footing the bill) that as long as activities were legal, it was none of the trustees’ business what residents did in their own (£700-£1,200 a week) rooms. Yet there were a few residents for whom penetrative sex was impossible (usually for purely physiological reasons) – some of these married, despite the fact their marriages could never be consummated or only one half of the couple could engage in sexual activity to the point of orgasm. Was it right that these couples married?

    Forgive me, if I am wrong here, but it seems to me that the reason for the above question is to suggest that same-sex couples have no right to claim they are ‘couples’ because they can’t have ‘sex’? Tho’ here the ‘definition’ of sex seems pretty narrow and restricted to one particular function. I see a Wiki definition of sex has been offered, but this seems purely biological and if a Christian definition of sex is so restrictive then it logically follows couples can only have sex when they wish to procreate and should abstain at all other times. The emotional and sacramental aspects sex are not represented in the wiki entry noted – tho’ is elsewhere (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_relationships). Is there a Christian definition of ‘sex’?

    I well remember sitting through a long sermon by one of your suffragan bishops (when he was the vicar – and for a time my boss – of the church I then attended) about sex – marriage gives the green light to sex, but there was little, if any mention of what this sex should entail. Similarly I remember hearing a sermon at a City Evangelical church, where the rector went on and on about homosexual anal sex, yet despite his graphic discussion on the subject, not one word was uttered about what constitutes sex in marriage nor of what acts a heterosexual couple could engage in – is oral sex ‘Christian’? Is mutual masturbation ‘Christian’? Is the use of toys, role play, S&M, bondage, anal sex etc. allowed in marriage? You see, I don’t think you can get prescriptive (or proscriptive!) about what constitutes ‘sex’ without getting into the realms of a prohibition/permissive divide when it comes to ‘married sex’. Given you have raised this question, Revd John, I think it is only fair that you should tell us just what does and doesn’t constitute ‘sex’ between a marriage Christian couple.

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  17. Peter;
           If I may. Those activities you describe are no more significant in the scheme of things than completing a crossword or watching American Idol on TV - diversions.

    On the other hand, earlier today we put my eldest daughter on an airplane - she is a nurse and she is off to Kathmandu to work as a volunteer nurse in a hospital there.

    Now sometime in mid 1987 a sexual act took place between me and my wife, unremarkable and unmemorable in itself, but the fruit of that encounter is even now winging her way to Kathmandu.

    And here is the real point if you want nurses and the other useful elements of society twenty, thirty, forty years from now you need people to be conceiving and raising them now.

    And that is why procreative sex is something else entirely from same sex and other non procreative activities. It goes beyond ephemeral pleasures of the flesh and can create something entirely new and something important for the future.

    You have God given free will to choose what you do and how you do it but there is no earthly reason to encourage non reproductive sexual pairings or activity. If that is your choice so be it, far be it from anyone to stop you.

    But there is every reason in the world to encourage and support the creation and raising to adulthood of new people to carry on from us when we are gone. And to encourage and support the procreative relationships that will do this.

    It is actually kind of fundamental.

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  18. @Andrei – thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment – though it seems far removed from the question Revd John is asking. I take your point, but since there is no ‘prohibition’ of procreative sex in Western society – and given the proportion of society that choose to live in same sex relationships is tiny (between 0.5% and 3% depending on your sources) I don’t really think they are going to have a major impact on fertility rates – esp. since there has always been a proportion of any given society that is not able to reproduce (e.g. after WW1 or the American Civil War there was a disproportionate number of women to men, yet the population rose steadily). Moreover the Christian ideal (Matt 19:12, 1Cor 7:32-34) is celibacy - which if everyone upheld this ideal, the Christian Church wouldn’t have lasted very long would it? Nor is there any evidence to suggest civil partnerships lead to an increase in homosexual couplings – and there are a good portion of homosexual couples who have reproduced! I know several ‘gay dads’ who have produced fine, healthy and productive children who have gone on to take a worthwhile place in the world – and here I don’t mean by adoption or surrogacy, but men who were married – no, the procreation argument doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

    As for ‘Those activities you describe are no more significant in the scheme of things than completing a crossword or watching American Idol on TV - diversions....’ I am afraid I have to disagree, sex is a natural appetite and need of the body and has a wider purpose than just procreation. It is rather like food – we could all live quite comfortably off a very bland diet, as long as we were getting the right balance of nutrients, but instead food is a pleasure and often a communal or familial pleasure – the very symbolism of eating as an act of corporateness is most evident in the Christian Eucharist. The same is true with sex – and it is a sad fact that Christians – and in particularly conservative Christians - seem so interested in the sex lives of others. It is ironic, as I keep saying, that overtly Christian societies (e.g. the USA) have far more instances of the very social problems conservative Christians keep telling us would be overcome by adoption of a ‘conservative Christian society’; whereas tolerant and liberal societies have far fewer of these problems (divorce, single parenthood, teen pregnancy etc. – not to mention violent crime and murder are lower in liberal democracies).

    There is a good deal of cheap righteousness gained from the simple fact one happens to be married – ‘that I am not like other men...’ (cf. Luke 18:9-14) and perhaps this is the reason why sexuality has become such an issue lately – that and because if conservative Christians tried to present a united front on doctrinal issues they’d soon be at each others’ throats and their divisions would be there for all to see – so make a big fuss about something that affects such a tiny proportion of population - that curiously enough chimes in with a few age old prejudices – and there is a semblance of ‘virtue’ and unity. Whatever, for most people it is just boring – particularly as many see this over-interest in other people’s sex lives on the part of a certain flavour of Christian as scape-goating and hypocrisy (or a symptom of less easy to define psychological maladies and hang-ups). Less words and more deeds would be a much better means of evangelism than this ongoing and tedious assault on homosexuals and lesbians!

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  19. Canon Andrew Godsall6 February 2012 at 09:04

    I think, John, the answer to your question is becoming clear isn't it? Two women and two men do seem to be able to have sex - both biologically and emotionally speaking. They seem to be able to do so with 'delight and tenderness'.

    I think we already knew that you didn't approve of them doing so, but was there another point to your question?

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

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  20. Rt Rev Dominic Stockford6 February 2012 at 10:59

    Morphine is a jolly useful drug - WHEN USED PROPERLY for pain relief. When used for hedonistic 'pleasure' it is a jolly bad thing.

    Sex is a jolly useful thing when used for the pruposes God gives it - to procreate (or be open to that), and to cement the love between a married couple (which is in God's eyes ONLY a man and a woman). When used for hedonistic 'pleasure' it is a jolly bad thing.

    I'm with John on this one, therefore. And, with the Bible.

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  21. Perhaps Mr Stockford will explain further why God believes it is a "jolly bad thing" for a loving same-sex couple to have physical relations. Why does he assume that faithful, monogamous love must be hedonistic? Just citing ancient scriptures simply won't do. God's spirit has moved us on since they were written

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  22. Of course Anon, if you'd also be so kind as to tell us why it's a jolly bad thing for, say, a loving human-animal couple to have physical relations - etc.

    Perhaps you think that's okay, eh? Do let us know.

    Dan

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  23. John,
    Your gift for asking obvious questions continues, so all the usual prejudices appear to have been trotted out so far, and mine follow here. As for Peter Denton's querying why we are so much interested in other people's sex lives - this sounds like an argument where only one side is allowed to have an opinion.

    Biology was a subject I dropped as soon as I could at school, but not before I had received the Sex Education. It hasn't improved in our schools - it remains Biology and thus a collection of facts, whereas almost everyone who has actually done it knows it is very far from being mere Biology. It is an act from which both parties derive pleasure, and which deepens their relationship.

    Having said that about heterosexual sex, does it apply to the homosexual variety? Because, try as you might to equate all forms of sex together, I can't see that the two are comparable.

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  24. It is good to know most of your commenters support Humanae Vitae. Heterosexuals who use contraception are interfering with their biology in order to indulge their wicked hedonistic instincts. It is time for straight evangelicals to obey the Holy Father.

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  25. Anon @5.19
    I thought this discussion was about HUMAN biology.
    Why are you fantasising about bestiality?

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  26. If gay people *can't* have sex - then what are you conservatives getting so bothered about!

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  27. Suem, I'm not sure that pithy one liners are the best way to conduct this discussion. However, if we're going to go down that route for a moment, I would ask this:

    If same-gender relationships are sexual in the full sense, how is it that they never ever produce offspring?

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    1. John - seriously?

      Your logic would mean childless couples never had sex; that infertile people never had sex. In other words, all you do is conflate two things - having sex, and procreation - then proceed as if having sex must mean (successful) procreation. There are reasons you must be aware of as to why the two concepts are not normally conflated or held equivalent.

      Somehow I cannot see any such conflation as actually addressing any real issues in the debate.

      Cheers, Tim Skellett (@Gurdur), Solingen, Germany

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  28. "Why are you fantasising about bestiality?"

    Good grief. Are you the only person to fail to see that I'm just asking Anon (I'm not anon, see below!) to be consistent? How about rebuking them for fantasising about sodomy.

    "If gay people *can't* have sex - then what are you conservatives getting so bothered about!"

    The lie that they can, and the resulting political conspiracy to pilfer billions off the rest of us to subsidise something the state has absolutely no practical interest in or benefit from.

    Dan

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  29. John, I think that same sex relationships are sexual, I agree they are not procreational. But then I don't think the capacity to procreate imbues a sexual act with an automatic virtue. Rape can lead to the production of offspring, so can a loveless or abusive marriage, so can IVF procedures. I think that mutual love, intimacy and life long commitment (rather than the capacity for procreation)are what transform a sexual union into "marriage". You believe it is the capacity to procreate. In this we must agree to disagree.
    But I'd still like to know why conservatives get so upset if they feel that nothing truly "sexual" is taking place?

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  30. "But I'd still like to know why conservatives get so upset if they feel that nothing truly "sexual" is taking place?"

    No-one's getting upset. After all, its not "the conservatives" who started this. Marriage has been what it is for thousands of years - between a man and woman, commitment for life, the capacity to beget and raise children in a family, and recognised and supported by the state.

    The difference now is that a bunch of "progressives", for reasons which they cannot clearly articulate (despite some very long posts above) want to change the definition of marriage. The conservatives ask: "Why?" We are still waiting for a coherent answer.

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  31. I think one or two are confusing general function/type with result. Same sex relationships never produce offspring whereas sex between a man and a woman can. That it doesn’t in every case surely is neither here nor there; the two activities are different types. To suggest that John is trying to say that childless couples are not having sex ( or to go further, that a man and a woman are not really having sex if they are using contraception as procreation is not possible) is to miss the point.

    Equally to suggest that all you need is love and life-long commitment regardless of the difference in function/type of sexual activity (between same sex relationships and sex between a man and a woman) is surely just restricting what we mean by sex to a ‘sociological construct’ devoid of biological function?

    Steven Pascoe
    Cheltenham

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  32. Marriage has been a number of things for thousands of years, including many examples of procreative polygamous marriage in the bible. The definition of exactly who can be married to whom has changed throughout time and history as well. For example, inter- racial marriage was illegal in some states until fairly recently and its legalisation was opposed by some on religious and Christian grounds. The practice of a man marrying his wife's sister was considered wrong under Canon Law, and was formally prohibited by parliament in the 1835 Marriage Act. The remarriage of divorcees used to be illegal and was legalised by the state and is now accepted by many Christians as constituting a marriage in the eyes of God.

    I understand that some believe that persons of the same sex cannot be married, I just disagree. Remember, in another time and place we would have been arguing about the validity of the "marriage" of black and white, of in-laws and of divorcees.

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  33. After a long day doing other stuff, I want to try to return to this thread with a couple of further thoughts.

    First, I think some people are missing the point in suggesting that my initial observation - that two persons of the same gender cannot have sexual intercourse - somehow falls if opposite gender pairings do not always produce offspring.

    Since the observation is essentially about biological facts, that is not the case. It is the same as noting that masturbation, either alone or with another person, cannot produce offspring. Whatever else it is, masturbation is not sexual intercourse.

    Of course that does not, in itself, establish a moral point. That must be argued on other grounds. But I suggest it does highlight a fact which demands recognition in the current debates.

    Secondly, in connection with this, I would like to pick up an observation Peter Denshaw made. He wrote, "sex is a natural appetite and need of the body and has a wider purpose than just procreation. It is rather like food – we could all live quite comfortably off a very bland diet, as long as we were getting the right balance of nutrients, but instead food is a pleasure and often a communal or familial pleasure".

    Certainly for human beings there is some truth in that (although I would add a cautionary note in passing that the 'natural appetite' argument is addressed by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 6:13ff).

    However, whilst we may agree that eating someimes involves more than just 'feeding', nevertheless feeding remains the fundamental stimulus for and purpose of eating. The person who simply eats for pleasure and the person who eats but who, for constitutional reasons, is not nourished by what they put in their mouth (for example if their gall bladder is not working) are both missing out on a key aspect of eating.

    The first is a glutton. The second is merely unfortunate. But both are, in their own way, no longer properly engaged in eating.

    In the same way, what we are loosely referring to as 'sexual' activity is driven by a biological impulse and employs biological mechanisms. However, if the biological process is entirely and always contrary to the impulse itself and the mechanisms, then we need to ask, as I was asking at the beginning, what significance this has for the way we perceive relationships which are constituted on this basis.

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  34. "Marriage has been a number of things for thousands of years, including many examples of procreative polygamous marriage in the bible. The ..."

    Using the same methodology we could justify practices such as grossly underage sex - "somewhere in history, no matter how briefly, somebody declared it legal; so that means its okay for us today!" The fallacy should be obvious.

    Mind you, whilst such a methodology may give you a little support in justifying polygamy, it won't give you any realistic support for homosexual marriage.

    The idea of homosexual marriage is no more than a passing fad in the history of western thought, a split-second when viewed through the whole sweep of history.

    As if that were not enough, we are contending from a Christian point of view, and Jesus taught clearly that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

    So there simply is no rational argument that can be made for homosexual marriage.

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  35. This is Alice in Wonderland stuff dreamed up by a generation of people who have never in their entire lives known hunger, want or war and have grown up in the most pampered and secure environment in the history of mankind. And as a result have developed an overweening sense of self entitlement and self importance.

    It is of course the more privileged of these privileged as a rule who have come up with this absurdity "Gay Marriage" because they haven't got anything better to concern themselves with than shallow pleasures of the flesh.

    Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed there are large areas within your cities where English is not spoken and where women commonly have four, five or more children conceived in the time honored manner.

    And the English Church, whose mission is to evangelize these people cannot because it finds it more important to discuss these inanities preferring to pander to middle class well heeled people whose very identity is tied up with their "sexuality" a somewhat banal thing to put at the center of your existence but the pampered well fed and secure can put ridiculous things to the forefront sheltered as they are from the real world struggles the vast majority of people on the Planet face on a daily basis and do not have the luxury of finding out whether their orgasms may be enhanced with the use of anal beads - there are a great many who would settle for just seeing their kids get enough to eat.

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  36. Andrei that was a fantastic post! And MichaelA yours was brilliant too.

    Suem, if you're reading this (although earlier you claimed no one had answered a question of yours even though I'd just answered it), you need to appreciate that there is a decisive qualitative gulf between ALL the examples you name on the one hand, and so-called gay marriage on the other.

    All those other unions have the common factor of being complementary and procreative in nature (even if not always in outcome). GM is neither.

    Dan

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  37. Dan:
    Who says marriage has to be defined by its complementariness and procreativity? It might be defined by its love, fidelity, longevity, and the "help and comfort" each gives to the other. Your definition is not the end of the matter.
    David

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  38. William Fisher, N.W. England8 February 2012 at 19:42

    I think that we can clear up this argument if we expand Mr Richardson’s statement slightly so as to make it more explicit: that two women (or two men) can’t have HETEROSEXUAL sex. Actually, I’ve been aware of this for quite some time, but, not being heterosexual, I can’t say that it’s ever bothered me. I’d also like to point out, just in case there’s anyone who hasn’t realised it, that a man and a woman can’t have HOMOSEXUAL sex, but I don’t imagine that the world’s innumerable heterosexual couples feel that they’re missing out either.

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  39. David, you say that marriage ‘might be defined by its love, fidelity, longevity, and the "help and comfort" each gives to the other.’ This raises the question of what distinguishes a marriage from other human relationships that display these qualities. Is it a question of degree ? If so how much? And if what we currently call a marriage does not have these qualities it is presumably disqualified by your criteria? It all sounds rather subjective.

    Marriage has always had a sexual component as part of its definition. Trying to get rid of this component would have far reaching implications

    Steven Pascoe
    Cheltenham

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  40. I welcome William Fisher's clarification. Heterosexual sex has been sanctified by different churches primarily for its reproductive purpose for many years (although emotional ties are sometimes acknowledged or celebrated too). I would say that the church's role in such matters is of fairly recent date and most marriages in premodern times were primarily recognised and validated by legal, familial, and other civil witnesses. Perhaps we are now seeing the pendulum swing back to this earlier position. Some parts of the church may wish to stop this movement but it seems to me that they should embrace gay marriage as an opportunity to broaden the definition of marriage in ways which are true to some of the tenets of belief and practice but are also consonant with key (and thankfully well entrenched) social trends. I would be interested to know whether Rev. Richardson thinks that there are any elements of his belief system which could accommodate any aspect of gay marriage whatsoever.

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  41. William Fisher, N.W. England8 February 2012 at 20:40

    I’d also like to say something in reply to Anonymous (Feb 6, 2012 05:19 AM) who demanded a reason “why it’s a jolly bad thing for, say, a loving human-animal couple to have physical relations”. I imagine that most people, if asked, would reply that they consider bestiality to be wrong. Those who believe in the Bible could quote Leviticus 18:23; those who don’t believe in the Bible could not do this in good faith. But whatever, I have yet to hear of anyone who feels that a convincing reason why bestiality is wrong is needed to justify a heterosexual relationship. I therefore fail to see why it should be needed to justify a gay relationship.

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  42. Mr Pascoe:
    Of course a gay marriage would include a sexual element. It is far more 'Christian' for a same-sex couple to have their relationship blessed by God than having sexual relations outside marriage. The alternative is to demand celibacy which is unreasonable and utterly unrealistic.
    David

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  43. MichaelA, I am simply pointing out your factual innaccuracies. It is not true that, "Marriage has been what it is for thousands of years - between a man and woman" - it has in many societies between a man and several women. I am not making a case for polygamy, simply saying your statement is false.

    The last thing I would do is justify underage sex, even if it has been legal at some points. However, underage sex is often procreative - a girl of eight in India was the youngest child to give birth to twins. So rape, polygamy, incest, sex with minors and IVF are all procreative. Therefore, I do not believe we can use the ability to procreate as making a sexual act virtuous in itself. I think we must look elsewhere for our understanding of what gives virtue to sex. I suggest again that it lies in the quality and commitment of the human relationship which then finds its expression in physical intimacy and tenderness.

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  44. @Andrei
    “This is Alice in Wonderland stuff dreamed up by a generation of people who have never in their entire lives known hunger, want or war and have grown up in the most pampered and secure environment in the history of mankind.” Yes, it is curious, is it not, as the churches have emptied and its power has diminished and the ‘commands’ of the Bible (or perhaps I should say the ‘cherry picked’ commands) no longer carry the same weight in the Western world, that we find life is a good deal kinder? Odder still, that now, rather than when the churches were fuller and their rule evident in our day to day lives, the social morality of the Torah and the Gospels is far more conspicuous in our daily lives (caring for the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the dispossessed, the ‘alien in the land’ the prisoner etc. as well as a far more even-handed justice system, which doesn’t just serve the interests of the rich and powerful). But why should people bother with these triumphs or question why it is that secularisation has brought us a far more wholesome world than its opposite? Sure, it is possible to tut and cluck and claim society ‘immoral’ because the law has chosen to recognise that a tiny proportion of the population (and I think this is around 0.5% in the UK) wishes to live in same-sex partnerships. It is possible to look here and there and see the faults with a system of government and social polity that at no other time in history has brought us a fairer society. It is nice to believe that somehow the past had a greater morality – forgetting the horrors of mass poverty, child labour, slavery, the oppression of women, the working classes and other peoples and nations via the Empire (not to mention flying the face of Ecclesiastes 7:10). Yes, it is true Christians were part of the process of change (especially non-conformists) - but if there was something inherently beneficial in a Christian society, then why did we need social reformers in the first place?

    Hence perhaps..this is Alice in Wonderland stuff dreamed up by a generation of Christians who have never in their entire lives known hunger, want or war and have grown up in the most pampered and secure environment in the history of mankind, who claim their right to judge and to hold social power, when the evidence suggests we own them little – like it or not, we live in a far more moral society than a century ago – and far more so than 1,900 years before that... The problem is for many of our conservative Christian friends, is that they confuse morality with what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms and with what dangles between the legs. Forgetting only a handful of Scripture verses pertain to such things. Of course this is ‘cheap’ morality – it costs the accuser little (and it is far nicer and less costly to point the finger than to wash someone’s feet or turn the other cheek...). Yes, perhaps we do live in an Alice in Wonderland world now... But it is only by dreaming and challenging the world (much of which was wrought by a so called ‘Christian society’) that it has become an infinitely better place than what has gone before...

    Peter Denshaw
    London

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  45. David

    OK, you agree marriage does have a sex component. Then when you talk of ‘gay marriage’ we come back to the main topic which is that two men or two women can’t have sex. Nothing I’ve read so far here has demonstrated that statement is false. In which case how can it be a marriage?

    Steven Pascoe
    Cheltenham

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  46. Mr Pascoe: Because Mr Richardson avers that two men can't "have sex" doesn't make it true. Sex involves more than genital coupling, but is a fusion of bodies, emotions and souls, and hopefully an expression of love. As Lisa Nolland might explain, some heterosexual couples "have anal sex". But you probably believe that's not "having sex".

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  47. Stop talking about sex - the conversation should be about conceiving and raising the next generation and the best way to go about this.

    What people do or not do in the bedroom is of no interest or concern to anyone. Unimportant, who cares.

    Heterosexual marriage which provides a link between the children produced by it and their genetic parents as well as establishing the duties and responsibilities those parents have toward their offspring has thus far proven to be the best way of going about it.

    Duties and responsibilities are scary words to people whose lives are ruled by self indulgence and who want to rewrite the meaning of marriage to bolster their vanity.

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    1. @Andrei

      Yet the strange thing is, that in societies which are liberal, secular democracies, with tolerant attitudes towards sex and sexuality, you would imagine, following your appeal to thinking about the next generation, that you would find high rates of divorce, single parent families, teen pregnancy, social disorder, lack of social cohesion, violent crime etc. However where in the Western world do we find the highest proportion of two parent families – in addition to low rates of crime, teen pregnancy, STDs, and (oddly enough) a comprehensive and generous welfare state? Would this place be somewhere like the USA with its 50% church attendance and a concerted and vocal conservative Christian and political lobby that enjoys considerable social and political power? Oddly enough, no, the USA has some of the highest (if not the highest) rates of marital failure, divorce, teen pregnancy, single parenthood and violent crime – this is particularly true in conservative states and esp. in the Bible Belt (in addition to a weak welfare state and harsh penal system). No, it is Finland that funnily enough, suffers far fewer of the social problems that ‘liberal values’ are suppose to result in! And this is true for many northern European, secular, liberal societies. Whereas, many overtly Christian societies have far higher rates of the ‘social problems’ religious conservatism is suppose to expunge from society.

      So one has to ask oneself, given empirical evidence suggests liberal, tolerant, societies are often more wholesome (in that families stay together, children are more likely to achieve in school, teens tend to be older when they first have sex – and strangely enough many of these countries have much lower abortion rates... the list benefits goes on); why must a mainly secular society (in that here in the UK only around one in ten regularly attend church) be influenced be held to ransom by dogma, prejudice and fear?

      I must add – as one half of a same sex couple (tho’ someone who for twenty-odd years was a celibate, conservative Christian) – I am not really a fan of ‘gay-marriage’; a civil partnership seems ample to legally protect the rights of a same sex couple. However my sympathies for those ardently against gay-marriage are lessened simply because of the vile and disproportionate interest the subject attracts from those who claim Christian orthodoxy yet seem rather uneven-handed in its application. In fact – here in the UK at least – the introduction of civil partnerships has made marriage more appealing (legally and financially) – because cohabiting heterosexual couples have now fewer rights than their married counterparts or same sex couples. And as noted, empirical evidence does not back up the ‘moral panic’ debate. Marriage was on the rocks long before gay marriage was ever mooted – for complex and diverse reasons. To blame the gays is just scape-goating – and as the case of America or the dominance of HIV in Christian heterosexual communities in Africa, or the huge numbers of single teen mothers in Pentecostal South America demonstrate, - perhaps it is a case of ‘physician, heal thyself...’ before getting so proscriptive about what affects 0.5% of the population, and will probably be entered into by an even smaller percentage. Straining gnats and swallowing camels, me thinks...

      Peter Denshaw
      London

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    3. P.S. Andrei- could you clarify 'Duties and responsibilities are scary words to people whose lives are ruled by self indulgence...'? As it seems as if it is playing on the well worn myth of the 'homosexual lifestyle'...

      Off to bed now, so can't elaborate - and I need to snatch some sleep... Tho' of course you'd imagine, the profligate life of one half of a same sex couple, isn’t too bothered about getting to work on time (tho’ strangely enough gay men are disproportionately more likely to have had a degree level education (I only managed a PhD), have a high flying and demanding, professional job (not me – just a lowly counsellor/social worker at a hospice... what good do I do in the world..?) and are more likely to engage in social justice issues and voluntary work... (the fruits of being ‘ruled by self indulgence’ and no doubt trying to ‘bolster their vanity...’))... Well, I suppose such a worldview lets the other 99.5% of the population off the hook – but that is the purpose of scapegoats, isn’t it?

      P.D.

      (sorry had to re-post it – full of typos – I really must get to bed...)

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  48. "Heterosexual sex has been sanctified by different churches primarily for its reproductive purpose for many years (although emotional ties are sometimes acknowledged or celebrated too)."

    This is an inadequate description of marriage and it doesn't describe at all what churches do.

    Churches recognise and celebrate *marriage* (of which heterosexual sex is a part, but only a part). They do so primarily because Jesus so taught (the fact that it leads to reproduction is a part of the reason for this, but only a part).

    Jesus not only taught that marriage was between a man and woman, but also that it was instituted by God at the beginning of creation.

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  49. "MichaelA, I am simply pointing out your factual innaccuracies. It is not true that, "Marriage has been what it is for thousands of years - between a man and woman" - it has in many societies between a man and several women."

    You haven't pointed out any inaccuracies. My statement was and is correct.

    "The last thing I would do is justify underage sex, even if it has been legal at some points."

    I am sure you don't wish to. I am simply pointing out that that is where your methodology inevitably leads.

    "Therefore, I do not believe we can use the ability to procreate as making a sexual act virtuous in itself."

    Since no-one has argued that, you don't have to worry!

    "I think we must look elsewhere for our understanding of what gives virtue to sex. I suggest again that it lies in the quality and commitment of the human relationship which then finds its expression in physical intimacy and tenderness."

    Thanks for your suggestion, but there are 6 billion people on this earth and they all have suggestions. I am not meaning to be rude, but just pointing out the reality – the church follows the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, not one of 6 billion suggestions!

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  50. Peter Denshaw, it would help if there were more facts and less 'spin' in your assertions:

    "Yes, it is curious, is it not, as the churches have emptied and its power has diminished and the ‘commands’ of the Bible (or perhaps I should say the ‘cherry picked’ commands) no longer carry the same weight in the Western world, that we find life is a good deal kinder?"

    I understand that you are trying to relate standards of living to churches emptying, but your correlations are not remotely accurate. The same criticism applies to your following paragraphs: you seem to be just stringing together random historical facts without regard to their actual relationship to each other. I wish I could be more constructive but its hard to know where to start.

    "It is nice to believe that somehow the past had a greater morality – forgetting the horrors of mass poverty, child labour, slavery, the oppression of women, the working classes and other peoples and nations via the Empire (not to mention flying the face of Ecclesiastes 7:10)."

    So, we are debating the possibility of introducing homosexual marriage in 2012; and you blame all opposition to this on things like child labour and slavery which Christians were opposing back in the 18th and 19th centuries...

    "No, it is Finland that funnily enough, suffers far fewer of the social problems that ‘liberal values’ are suppose to result in! And this is true for many northern European, secular, liberal societies. Whereas, many overtly Christian societies have far higher rates of the ‘social problems’ religious conservatism is suppose to expunge from society."

    So, you have rendered several complex issues (none of which are related to homosexual marriage) down to a simple paradigm that you like. How does this assist?

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  51. David

    ‘But you probably believe that's not "having sex”.’

    Correct; it’s not sexual intercourse. How we describe the thing does not affect the underlying reality. We have a habit of doing this in society. For instance, we say that a man and woman ‘made love’ when in actual fact any idea of love in the mind of either partner could have been completely absent.

    Just changing the label does not alter the content. Which is why the suggestion that the solution to the problem can be found by re-casting the statement to ‘two women (or two men) can’t have heterosexual sex’ does not work.

    And the underlying reality is that sexual intercourse has a biological element. Any activity between two people of the same sex does not have that biological element, so it’s not really sex, no matter what people may call it.

    Steven Pascoe
    Cheltenham

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  52. William Fisher, N.W. England9 February 2012 at 13:05

    Steven Pascoe, it’s a free country. If you want to use the term “sexual activity” as meaning “only heterosexual activity”, then go ahead. They can’t touch you for it.

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  54. @MichaelA - thank you for your helpful comments... Perhaps you've not understood my train of thought (this could be my fault for not articulating myself properly); whatever, we're at 50 odd comments, which I think is enough of a liberty with someone else's blog, so I am not going to say any more here. Tho' I will say it is a pity other issues concerning Biblical morality - esp. social morality and personal integrity - don't initiate as much comment as when discussiing the habits and foibles of a tiny proportion of our population... A sad fact, which says it all really don't it!

    Thanks again:

    P.D.
    Ldn

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  55. Peter D,

    Thanks for your email. I may well not have understood your points, and I apologise for any misunderstanding or overreaction on my part.

    Your comment about the importance of social morality and personal integrity is a good one. Hopefully we will all do our best to discuss and implement these things, leading to a better church and society.

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  56. Oops, 'email' should read 'post'. My bad

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  57. MichaelA: 1. Your statement was incorrect.
    2. My methodology does not lead "inevitably" to underage sex.
    3.I am delighted you understand that the ability to procreate does not confer virtue on a sexual act. I am sure then that you will not demur when I look to other qualites than procreation to guide me in my understanding of the integrity or otherwise of human relationships.

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  58. Suem, thanks for the repetition, duly noted!

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  59. Thanks for the gracious reply:)

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