I'm having a first today: a guest blog entry from my friend Hugh on the subject of the new marriage liturgy for the Scottish Episcopal Church. One of the drawbacks of the Diocesan Synod was the shortage of time to discuss any of the issues covered, with the result that anyone with a point they wished to make was inevitably hustled to fit into a very restricted timescale. I asked Hugh to present his take on the new rite in the form he would wish it to be considered, and it is this written version that I am publishing here:
May I firstly make clear where my own personal stand is regarding the background debate on human sexuality.
I have no difficulty with Civil Partnerships. Indeed I welcome them as giving legal rights to those of the same gender in committed relationships, comparable to those who are married (that is as husband and wife.) I welcome too that they are now openly able to acknowledge their relationships. I do not know what form a civil partnership takes. I presume that there is an exchange of vows comparable to those in marriage. I am equally supportive of those of the same gender who would wish to make these vows in church and in the context of a service of blessing.
What I do not like is changing the meaning of words to accommodate different situations. The word ‘Marriage’ should retain its ancient meaning – the union of a man and a woman. That is male and female. You might like to think about the language of a plumber, who speaks about ‘marriages’, ‘unions’ and ‘male and female connections’. You cannot plumb a house using the language of ‘civil partnership’.
However that little aside highlights the essential difference between Marriage and Civil Partnership. Marriage is fundamentally about Procreation. Civil Partnership is about Legal Rights. In both there are statements about commitment to the other. (I appreciate fully that there is a whole history of other baggage about that has obscured this.) Public perception is that Marriage and Civil Partnerships are about Romantic Love and that is where the confusion lies.
Marriage is about the potential to participate in creation with God in bringing to birth, quite literally, a new life. This is not the potential of a same gender partnership. (The nurture of a child natural or adopted is a different issue.) And before anyone speaks of the marriage of older people and ‘the potential for new life’ they should simply ponder centenarian Abraham and barren Sarah.
There is also another distinction between Marriage and Civil Partnerships. It is both Legal and theological. It is possible for a decree of Nullity to be declared regarding an unconsummated marriage. This can never be applied to a Civil Partnership.
Because of these differences we should not equate civil partnership with marriage. The Marriage Liturgy should therefore clearly embrace the images of gender, as in the older Rites, which speak of the ‘man and the woman’, ‘the bride and the bridegroom’ ‘husband and wife’. I have stated above that I have no difficulty with same gender partnerships, nor am I opposed to them be recognised in a in Liturgy designed for them. Indeed if that strengthens them in their Christian life it is to be welcomed.
Such a Liturgy should not however be synonymous with the Marriage Liturgy, which as it is at present has been so emasculated that it would be perfectly possible to be used without any reference to gender. And if the word ‘marriage’ were to be broadened in meaning, the Liturgy could be used without any change by a same sex partnership. (Parliament has defined same gender unions as Civil Partnerships and declined to use the word ‘marriage’.) I am saddened that some – not all by any means – same-sex couples demand the right to use that word. I request that they should show the same dignity and respect for heterosexual couples as they request of them. .
I am well aware that my beliefs regarding civil partnerships are not shared by all within the Scottish Episcopal Church and that there are huge tensions within the Anglican Communion. There is extreme pain and integrity at both extremes of the debate. Despite a member of the Liturgy Committee’s statement that the Marriage liturgy is ‘for the marriage of a man and a woman’, his statement still remains open ended and does no more to preclude the use of the service by same-sex couples than does the wording of the Liturgy itself. There then remains what I term a ‘Trojan Horse’.
Everything we do must be in conformity with the Gospel. We cannot proceed in the very delicate process of mutual understanding if there is any shadow of subterfuge, deceit, or manipulation. How we do things is just as important as what we do. I have explained above the distinction I make between Marriage and Civil Partnership. I make no distinction between the integrity of those in either relationship. We cannot proceed, however, with the listening process whilst there is the potential of a ‘Trojan Horse’. Trust is immediately undermined.
When the church comes to a common mind regarding same sex unions there will be no difficulty for an appropriate variation of the Marriage Liturgy being produced for that use. The Bishops could easily authorise it over night for experimental use.