Wednesday 12 December 2012

"Thou cannot commit adultery" - the (theo)logical impossibility of 'equal marriage'

Here are the actual words spoken by our 'Equalities Minister' Maria Miller on the Radio 4 PM programme last night in response to a question from Eddie Mair about the legal definition of consummation in a same-sex marriage:
 “I can be absolutely clear to you, when it comes to issues of adultery and consummation those are issues that relate to heterosexual marriages. What they won’t be doing is relating to same-sex marriages, but there will be clear protections in terms of grounds for divorce for individuals who are in a same sex marriage, that will be unreasonable behaviour, that’s exactly as it is under civil partnerships at the moment, so clear protections in there, but clearly there will be some differences.”
There are, of course, some differences between chalk and cheese. But then no one is trying to say these are two 'equal' substances, whereas someone somewhere realized it was rather clever to coin the term 'equal marriage', given that equality is the bedrock (indeed some might suggest, the entirety) of contemporary morality.

The problem is, as the Equalities Minister acknowledges, this is one respect in which same-sex and opposite-sex relationships simply cannot be equal. And unfortunately for her proposals, this renders same-sex marriage a contradiction in terms.

The law has hitherto been quite clear: consummation is a necessary element of marriage and adultery is a violation of the marital relationship. The Bible is equally clear: adultery is forbidden in the Ten Commandments and it is the one exceptional fault that Jesus allowed would permit divorce.

But if you literally cannot commit adultery, then in what sense can you be described as 'married'? The answer is 'By changing the definition of marriage itself'. But then if you have changed the definition, you have ruled out the very thing you were trying to achieve which is to open up marriage to all. The label may be the same, but the content is not.

Unfortunately, we now seem to be in territory where logic and reason have simply gone out of the window. Government ministers and spokespeople seem to be mouthing words without any grasp of what lies behind them. Perhaps the classic moment in yesterday's interview was thus not Miller's admission that same-sex marriage couldn't be made or broken in the same way as marriage hitherto, or her insistence on talking about 'equal civil marriage' in a religious context (the word 'civil' was supposed to distinguish this from 'religious' marriage), nor her three times ducking the challenge that the government said nothing about this in its consultation, but came just after the words quoted above, when Eddie Mair suggested this was important to the Roman Catholic understanding of marriage, to which Miller replied,
“this may well be why the Catholic church does not want to opt into the system of being able to offer same sex marriage”.
This statement is so breathtaking in its potential for ignorance or arrogance, it is hard to believe it was made on air. Either the minister was joking -- hardly appropriate in the circumstances -- or she has persuaded herself that this might actually be true, and that the Church of Rome's only objection lies here. Any other explanation for what she said is hard to fathom.

And this is why I feel we shouldn't trust anything the government is now saying on such matters -- not because they are necessarily consciously lying (though that is by no means impossible), but because they are in a situation not merely beyond their control but beyond their ability to understand.

We can only watch to see how things will develop.

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  1. John

    My experience is that marriage is treated like a grocery store. You don't like the prices or the products in one so move on to another. You meet my needs so I'll meet your needs. You don't meet my needs......

    This is the way they understand it on one level. On top of this (and somehow on another mindset entirely which I really do not get), they load on to marriage most of the expectations that only God can possibly fulfill.

    This consumerist mutual support network is what marriage essentially is to many people and our idea of a christian marriage based on the bible is almost "another planet" stuff. When I talk to people they like some of it but dislike other bits. When I say God wants us to take all or nothing and only all will work, they look at me as if I am completely nuts.

    My point in essence is that most people do no know what a real christian marriage is. Their worldview shaped by (mainly) women's (porn) mags and media leaves people deeply confused and very messed up.

    Stage 2 will be poly marriages, which I think are actually far less damaging than same sex marriages. However, what I suspect here is not one man 2 or 3 wives as in the bible but 2 or 3 men and 2 or 3 women in a loose legal but combined hetro and homo mix, of the sort not found in the bible outside Babylon and Corinth.

    We shall see, in the meanwhile the kids suffer.


  2. Great post, only you have mudied the water, I hope accidentally, in relation to UK marriage law.

    Non-consummation is not grounds for a divorce, it is grounds for annullment. A statement that the marriage, in fact, never existed. In reality people have sex before marriage (lets face it) and no-where in marriage law is "sex" defined. This line of argument is dead in the water, practically speaking. And liturgically, I was married at the pronouncement of the president (my vicar), not at consummation. Anglican theology is different than Rome.

    As for adultery; adultery is not grounds for divorce, as such. There is only one ground for the legal dissolution of marriage: irretrievable breakdown.

    Adultery is one of the permissible "facts" used to explain this, but is not sufficient on its own, it must be "adultery and intolerability". For example, the fact of adultery expires after 6 months go-habitation whilst knowing.

    There is no reason to think that "adultery" would not be able to work its way into another "fact" such as "behavior".

    Tweet me, @6eight.

  3. Re: "The label may be the same, but the content is not".

    Absolutely. If we have to redefine a word in order to legally access it, we are simultaneously showing that we do not meet the present definition. This then shows that we have no legal right to access the word. The question then is: if we do redefine a word, how does this affect people who were already legally using it?

    A Husband is the married male partner of a woman, and a Father is the male parent of a woman's child. Redefining marriage means a Husband can be the married male partner of a woman OR a man, and a Father the male parent of a woman's child OR a man's child. The word Father would no longer specifically refer to a man in relation to a woman, and therefore no longer describes the physical reality of biological fatherhood. The "extension" of the word Father robs all biological fathers of any legal recognition/protection of the fact that they are physically related to their children. Ditto Mother.

    A right defeats a redefinition. If we allow a redefinition, a redefinition defeats a right.

  4. So the legal definition of adultery hasn't caught up with the real world. I'm fairly sure if my wife caught me engaged in anal sex with another man or woman she'd consider it both adultery and unreasonable behaviour. And the government isn't defining (gay) marriage in such a way as to exclude adultery - a man in a same sex marriage would still be able to commit adultery (with a woman) as would a lesbian (with a man). If you're so concerned, lobby for the government to redefine adultery so it can cover gay sex, whether by someone in a same- or opposite-sex marriage (I'm sure you don't want people taking advantage of the loophole). It's not that gay people can't commit adultery, it's just that - on the definition you cling to - they probably wouldn't want to.

  5. Anon, (why?), in fairness it is the equalities minister who spoke about non-consummation as 'ground for divorce', and if she is wrong on this then one worries again about the Government's grasp of the details.

    As to when and how someone is 'married', the moment (as far as I as a vicar am concerned) comes in their exchange of vows, which is them marrying one another. I do not 'marry' them.

  6. Anulment in English courts on the grounds of non-consummation. Any comments?

    Potter v Potter (1975) 5 Fam Law 161, CA
    H and W married, and found W was physically unable to consummate the marriage. W underwent surgery and they tried again, but were prevented by W's emotional state. H then declined to try further and W petitioned for annulment on the grounds of H's wilful refusal. The judge dismissed the petition and W's appeal also failed: H's refusal was the result of his loss of sexual ardour rather than a deliberate decision.

    Ford v Ford [1987] Fam Law 232, Judge Goodman
    H and W had a sexual relationship until H was sent to prison. They married while he was in prison, but he refused to consummate the marriage at the time and later said he did not want to live with W even after he was released. W's petition for a decree of nullity was allowed: H's refusal to consummate the marriage in prison was not a "wilful refusal", but his clear determination never to do so was sufficient.

    Where the parties jointly regard some other act (usually a religious ceremony) as necessary before consummation, refusal to participate in this other act will be regarded as refusal to consummate.

    A v J (Nullity) [1989] 1 FLR 110, Anthony Lincoln J
    H and W were of Indian ancestry and took part in an arranged civil marriage, which was to be followed by a religious ceremony some four months later. Between the two ceremonies they spent only a few days together because of H's work in the USA. Shortly before the religious ceremony (which it was accepted was a prerequisite to consummation), W refused to go ahead with it, giving as her reason H's apparently uncaring and unloving attitude towards her. H apologised and said he had supposed a formal relationship would be appropriate until they were "properly married", but W refused to accept this apology and maintained her refusal to go through with the religious ceremony. H was granted a decree of nullity for W's wilful refusal to consummate the marriage.

    Read more: Non-Consummation of Marriage - Family Law | Law Teacher
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  7. This may sound thick (John you've allowed comments back, so thick comments may come), but does adultery have to be hetro? Wouldn't unfaithfulness to one's partner constitute adultery? Although I take your point, it was the equalities Minister making the point.

    A Christian (post) gay friend, commented on all this, that what is typical among long term gay couples, is that the sex wears off, they stay together a companions, but often will have an understanding that they will have sexual encounters with others. Now, some might say, "well, that's up to them & if it's agreed, no harm done. AND there are straight people with such agreements". Also, it isn't neccesarily or essentially so. But, we can start to see the further damage inflicted on marriage. An open marriage, isn't a marriage. But we are further shifting EVERYONE's expectation of marriage.

    I think this is different from sex before marriage. I am one of those old fashioned Christians who think sex is for marriage, but when people have sex 1st then get married, that's great that they've got married! They are putting something right.

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  9. In 1985 'Faith in the City' was published. It was a brave piece of Christian social and cultural comment on the state of Britain's inner cities, particularly during the woeful ministrations of Thatcher, her henchmen and (equally as bad) the far Left and the nasty politics of the town hall and unions alike (but Thatcherism in particular did much to erode marriage and family life of that I have no doubt see:

    It is curious that what seems to get conservative Christians hot under the collar these days is legislation, attitudes and comment regarding a tiny minority of the population. There is little mention of the macro forces that impinge upon marriage and the family - perhaps because the vast majority of our Evangelical brethren do well out of these 'macro forces' and living in leafy suburbs. Whatever, the last census revealed 0.2% of the population live in civil partnerships... (Hardly an army with banners!) and marriage was in decline long before it or SSM were even thought of; hence why is SSM etc. such an issue?

    I agree that the above quoted minister is perhaps talking off the top of her head and not thinking about the import of her words. But is that unusual for a politician? Or is it just when willy-woofters are mentioned that comment is necessary - for I can assure you this little slip is nought when compared to the political and economic policies of the Right and Left that have severely impinged upon the 'family' that haven't received even a murmur of comment from our conservative fellow parishioners.

    What is rather worrying is that so much is made of how others lead their sex lives when so little is said about how Christians lead their sex lives. A few years ago I listened to a sermon by the Rector of St Helen's Bishopsgate in which he told his enthralled congregation about the woes of gay sex - 'even medically opinion agrees...'. I thought it odd how this minister dwelt on the sex lives of others (real or imagined - and some of our conservative Christian chums seem to have worryingly fertile imaginations when it comes to other people's sex lives!!) yet very little, if any comment is given to what is permissible sexual activity in marriage. I don’t presume homosexual sex is a big pastoral problem at St Helen’s, but still the sermon went on and on about it, with not one mention of what is permissible within marriage. It is odd that 'Thou shalt not...' rings from the pulpit and many blogs, but there is a deafening silence on what IS acceptable in marriage. Hence I would be grateful if there was some comment on this. We're told again and again that marriage gives the green light to sex, but very little is said about the nature of that sex. Is it just a matter of poking it in, jiggling it about a bit and roll over? Or are oral sex, role play, toys, anal sex, sex games, cross dressing etc. okay once a ring has been slipped on the finger?

    I don't ask this to be crude, but because so much attention in the above is given to the sexual activity of a convenient minority, yet we seldom (if ever) hear about sanctions or proscriptions when it comes to the sex lives of the majority. I would venture heterosexual marriage is no guarantee of a wholesome private life - nor is conservative Christian (nor Jewish or Muslim et el) belief.

    Whatever, I find the eager desire to claim 'validity' simply because one happens to be heterosexual and/or married smacks of Luke 18:9-14. It would be good to see the churches produces another Faith in the City - showing a little more interest in Biblical morality - which is far, far wider than sexual morality - tho' perhaps not as rewarding for those in search of cheap, feel good righteousness - and we're back to Luke 18:9-14 again...

  10. Peter

    I see where you are coming from and I agree that we not going to heaven because we are heterosexual, nor that just because we are heterosexual that we have a fantastic sex life. (I would say however, that Biblically based marriage brings great sex)

    It may also come as surprise that rule based morality will not save us either. However, Jesus wants us to be his bride, this means he wants us completely with nothing held back. We are so used to individual choice being the most important thing in our life (In the West) that we easily miss out on a full relationship with God. You see Jesus wants everything, all of us, not just the parts of our lives that WE are willing to give him. Maybe it is our money, our fame, our family, our sexuality or even our wife or husband. The Bible teaches us that we cannot have a fantastic relationship with our wife/husband until we put Jesus ahead of even this part of our lives. (Imagine that we did put our wife/husband ahead of Jesus? Imagine the distress when they fail, which they will. We have in fact made her/him an idol.) Money, power, looks, fame, success, sex, family, country, politics and yes you are right, even morality can be an idol. Morality can be especially seductive, as we can start to feel that by being "good people", God owes us a good life.

    Most people are not willing to fall at the feet of Jesus, they hold back on something, something in their lives that they love more than God. There are so many dramatic testimonies (Don't we love these) not because God particularly loves the big sinners, but because when you have reached the bottom, you are willing to let go of everything and give yourself completely to Jesus. Then we can joyfully become the “bride of Christ” and be born anew, be washed clean and start our new life with Jesus truly in the centre as our one true wife/husband.

    Marriage is where we can experience a small window into the imtimacy and joy of our future relationship with God.

    That is why marriage matters. One man one woman both in Christ.


  11. Peter

    You say it is curious why Christians are getting hot under the collar about this issue. Yet if it wasn’t for the Government bringing forward these proposals we wouldn’t be having this debate. People generally felt that the issue was sorted with the introduction of civil partnerships, which enjoy all the legal benefits of marriages, and cannot understand why the Government see the need to redefine the understanding of marriage when there clearly hasn’t been a strong demand for it.

    It seems from the proposals that the Government want ‘equal marriage’ or genderless marriage to enable same-sex couples to make vows of life-long fidelity and commitment. Yet it is surely a sign of muddled thinking when it says at the same time the act of infidelity will remain gendered, in that adultery will continue to be regarded as only taking place if it involves a man and a woman?

    The inference from this is that the expectation of life-long fidelity for same- sex marriages will be different from opposite -sex marriages. The obvious concern is that in an era of ‘equal marriage’ the same- sex understanding will in time become the norm for all marriages.

    So when you say there is too much focus on the sexual acts of a small minority, arguably there hasn’t been enough. The Government hasn’t focussed enough on this and they need to do more work in this area because at the moment what is being proposed doesn’t make sense.

    Steven Pascoe

  12. If governmental decisions were made on the basis of science, medicine, statistics and logic and church decisions were made on the basis of Scripture and Tradition, there would be no debate on homosexual practice or unions.

    Sanity and safety, not politics and pressure would prevail.

    1. Further thought: The problem is that truth has been nibbled away a little at a time and the public consciousness has been shaped and deceived by the political pressure groups until the law and the church have no moral grounds or public support to resist their objectives.

      It takes great courage to say NO and mean it, for both the fathers/mothers of a willful child and of church/society/government, but NO must be said and meant and held firm to preserve truth, love, life, peace, freedom, prosperity and sanity for future generations. Currently we have sin-sick souls, sick of mind, will and emotions, due to the fact that in Western nations, laws enable us to break all of GOD's laws, and some would force us to do so.

      Scripture and the Commandments are there to guard the health of individual and nation. They are vital to our individual and collective life. Trouble is, they need character, courage and conviction to profess, to follow and to guard and there is precious little of that.