Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Marriage matters

'Gay marriage is straightforward social justice' says a columnist in tonight's Evening Standard. No explanation is given for this statement - it is simply assumed to be true - but parliamentarians who take the Bible, seriously, including our own Simon Hughes,  have realised that the issue of gay marriage is far more complex.

Simon, as has been reported in this blog, has twice met with Bermondsey Christian leaders to talk about same sex marriage and has thought long and hard about this issue. He made several contributions to the debate in Parliament this week, which are reported in detail on his website.

During the Commons debate he said: 'Let me put my position on the record. I believe, have believed and was brought up to believe that marriage is ordained by God. I believe that marriage is traditionally ordained by God to be between one man and one woman. I believe that marriage was set up by God for the creation of children. I believe that it was to link the biological needs of children with their biological parents. I believe that it was for biological complementarity. I believe that it was for gender complementarity, and that it was a gift of God in creation. That is why I have taken a traditional Christian and other-faith view on how marriage has traditionally been-for one man and one woman-which was the case long before we legislated for such things in this country and made them the law of the land.'

On his website, Simon explains why he did not vote for the third reading of the bill: 'I know that many people will be disappointed. In my heart, I wanted to support my gay friends and constituents and their friends and families and many party members and supporters who support the bill. I want to legislate to change the civil law for everybody. But my understanding of my faith and the view of my church does not accord with the proposal to redefine marriage as the bill currently does. I did not feel therefore that I could in conscience vote for third reading.'

You can read Simon's full account of the debate and his contribution to it here 

I think that in talking about God's intention in creation  Simon has got to the very heart of the matter. To say that 'gay marriage is a straightforward matter of social justice' is ludicrously simplistic. Before you start to change the very nature of marriage you really do need to ask what marriage is ordained for and our MP has made that point very clear, not least in his statement 'I believe that marriage was set up by God for the creation of children.'

And how often have you heard them mentioned in recent debates?


  1. Hi Gary,
    Thanks for the post and pointing up Simon Hughes' contribution to the debate.
    I find my own views have changed on gay marriage, possibly in line with a lot of people's.
    Where I agree most with you is that the upbringing of children is paramount and all too easily neglected in any discussion of marriage.
    However, there are two weak points, I think, in what you and Simon Hughes are saying.
    i. funnily enough for a cleric, I take issue with the 'marriage is ordained by God'. Often people head for Adam and Eve as a starting point here but a. there's no marriage ceremony here, b. the rest of Genesis is so problematic about marriage, in the sense of marriage between one man and one woman, that I can't see where this 'ordaining' happens.
    Abraham has Sarah and Keturah and sexual relations with his slavegirl Hagar.
    Jacob has Leah, Rachel and their servants Bilhah and Zilpah.
    You know all this of course, and that's just Genesis (later David, Solomon...) But for many cultures, marriage has assumed polygamy and these certainly include Old Testament Judaism. But at the time, they would term it 'marriage'.
    For sure, the New Testament is against it, (and I personally am against it) but it's not clear to me that the polygamy of Abraham etc. is regarded as sinful/ a consequence of the fall, in the Bible. Certainly, there's not clear condemnation of the patriarchs and in Hebrews 11, they seem to be fully saved.
    If I'm right, then what it is to be married HAS had a clear change before, as attested by the Bible itself.
    In terms of the bill, without pushing this into churches, once people in general consider people to be 'married' if they are in same-sex relationships, in the same way as straight couples, then the word's meaning just has changed. Words mean what they mean in people's minds. Curiously, 'gay' itself is an example of this; it's just accepted that the meaning has changed: it's unrealistic to use 'gay' to mean 'happy' without being aware that it is understood differently. I feel that the majority of society (and polls bear this out) are happy to use marriage as meaning a permanent relationship between two people of either gender. Once that happens, I can't see it's possible to oppose it.
    As for the essential part of marriage as being for children, I don't think that can entirely hold so long as one happily marries people who either for reasons of age, or choice, know that in marrying that they won't be having - or even 'nurturing' - children. Children are a natural fit for marriage, but not a prerequisite.
    And then we have to deal with the really challenging aspect that children brought up by gay parents seem to be flourishing, if anything, better than those brought up by straight parents. Obviously, the research on this is always hotly contested, but that's been my reading of it, somewhat to my surprise.
    There are so many other factors in bringing up children: are the parents frequently away at work, do they argue too much, do they discipline their children correctly, are they divorcing, are they simply not loving enough to their children...?
    All these can go badly in straight as well as gay couples.
    Anyway, I realise I've bundled too many arguments into a short 'comment', but even though there needs to be more emphasis on children in this debate, I don't see that the crux traditional church position of one man- one woman marriage as 'ordained by God' holds up.
    Robert Stanier

  2. I am so glad to read the excellent comment to the above blog - it makes pretty much all the same points I had wanted to make. (the blog itself was, however, a key factor putting me off coming along to St James church.)