Christian supporters of marriage equality have reacted with dismay to a formal statement from the Church of England today (12 June), opposing proposals for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
The statement comprises the Church of England’s response to a government consultation on plans to grant same-sex couples the right to legally recognised civil marriage ceremonies in England and Wales. It makes clear that the denomination’s leadership is firmly opposed to the idea.
Critics have been quick to point out that the document does not represent the range of views to be found within the Church of England or in Christianity more widely. Same-sex marriage is supported by Anglican groups such as Inclusive Church, as well as wider Christian groups with Anglican members, such as Accepting Evangelicals and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.
The Church of England statement accuses the government of seeking to “redefine” marriage, which has “always and everywhere” referred to the union of a man and a woman. A considerable part of the statement is devoted to insisting that men and women are fundamentally different and that marriage reflects this “biological complementarity”.
Symon Hill, associate director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, said that the Church of England had “missed an opportunity to move on from the defensive tone that often characterises debates on this issue”.
He said, “Marriage has meant many things in many cultures. When the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1882, critics claimed that it was an attack on the sanctity of marriage. Similar claims were made when laws were introduced to protect women from domestic violence and rape.”
Hill said that Jesus had arguably “redefined” marriage when he challenged casual divorce and disputed the views of some who used selective quotes from the scriptures to back up their own position. He said, “In all areas of life, Jesus upheld relationships based on love, equality and respect, rather than on power or legalism”.
The Church of England document expresses fear that the government’s consultation has created the impression that 'civil' and 'religious' marriage are different legal categories, when in reality they refer to different types of ceremony: there is no distinction in the legal status of the relationship.
In the light of this confusion, Ekklesia this morning reiterated their call for a thorough overhaul of marriage law to recognise the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society.
Ekklesia want to see a system that would allow people to carry out ceremonies with personal, social and – if important to them – religious significance, with legal registration being a separate process. They say this would allow supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage to act on their beliefs, to promote them, to publicise them and to seek to persuade others, without being able to use the law to enforce their views on those who disagree.