June 15, 2012

Further on the Rejected Marriage Proposal

I commented below on the Church of England's response to the Government's proposal for marriage equality. I neglected to note that among the many flaws in the C of E document (sorry Church Times, you too are wrong on this, in your otherwise eloquent debunking of the church statement) is the assertion that there is no difference between church and secular marriage. I can point to any number of books on my shelf of books on marriage and matrimonial institutions that show the teaching of the Christian church at least until recent times as declaring that the marriage of non-Christians is not "marriage" at all — or at least not Christian marriage. How could it be?! Scripture also shows, in Paul's permission to married non-Christians to divorce, that he regarded pagan or secular marriage as distinctly different from the marriage of Christiana. All this aside from those churches that teach that the nuptial blessing, or the church's role, is an essential part of what makes a marriage a marriage in the fullest sense.

Any effort to create a single all-encompassing definition of marriage cannot be successful without significant qualification and many words, e.g., "one man and one woman, unrelated by blood or affinity, of the age of consent, with consent freely given, with no other living (or in some traditions, dead) spouse, etc., etc." Marriage is, in short, far more complex than a simple formula can compass. That's why I have a half-shelf of books on the subject!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
with another tip of the biretta to Thinking Anglicans

9 comments:

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

Many years ago (back in the '60s) while attending Adelphi University, I took a course in Cultural Anthropology. The professor had a somewhat cynical take on marriage. In her opinion the foundation of marriage (which occured before the advent of Homo Sapiens) was an agreement between the female and the male where he could have all the sex he wanted as long as he provided food and shelter for the female and the offspring.

Be that as it may, the institution of marriage long pre-dates the Church. We merely took an existing arrangement and put a theological spin on it.

It's not unlike what we do in liturgy: we take practical things, like candles used for lighting, and movements for getting from point A to point B expediciously, and create a theology for them.

Daniel Weir said...

In a YouTube video that is making the rounds, a priest in the RC Church makes the point that for his church there is a very clear distinction between civil marriage and the sacrament of matrimony. Thus the argument that civil marriage is a threat to Christian marriage is simply absurd. Why the learned prelates of our Mother Church fell into that same error is a question that demands an answer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Deacon Charlie. Daniel, exactly. It mystifies me that people so ignorant of their own history are willing to make such false assertions!

Chris H. said...

Could it be that since(as I understand and may be mistaken) the CoE is the state church anyone who lives in the parish can walk in and tell the priest to marry them, the difference seems moot? I know priests in the U.S. can refuse to perform a wedding, but can priests in England? If they can't, then there is no separation. If the State makes same sex marriage official, is there a difference?

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Chris, you've hit on the "real" problem here, which is not that there is no difference between civil and church marriage, but becuase of the establishment and peculiar parochial nature of the English (and I think the Welsh) church people do have the right to be married in church even if they are atheists.

However, and I will stand corrected if this is true, but I do not believe a C of E church has to marry a couple one or both of whom are legally divorced from another spouse. So all that is needed is a clarification in the standing law that grants the church the same ability on the grounds of the sexes of the couple. The fact is, in England, civil marriage has been an option for generations. Both are recognized as "legal" -- so there is no "legal" difference between church and state marriage. But there is the difference in who it is that can be married in church, currently concerning divorcees, and with a minor change in the law, same-sex couples. But since it is a change in the marriage law that is under discussion, exactly this distinction is being made, and the church is crying out no such distinction should be made even though it is in their interest to make it. Can you say Crocodile Tears? or perhaps more apt in this analogy, the tears of the Walrus and Carpenter....

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that, while everyone in England has a right to be married in their parish church, no vicar is ever forced to marry someone if they think there is a serious problem with the marriage (and so some Evangelicals have refused to marry non-believers, and so on). Divorcees is the obvious case, but there is also the immigration issue; many vicars refuse to marry non-EU citizens unless they have been approved as genuine by the local (secular) registrar. I don't think there's any question of any vicar ever being forced to conduct a same-sex wedding against their own conscience. At the very least, the same situation as with divorcees (on which there is an actual, official, get-out) could apply.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Anonymous, my understanding was that a vicar could NOT refuse to marry any couple unless there was a legal bar to their marriage -- i.e., in the case of divorce. In any case, same-sex relations could similarly easily be distinguished in any change in the law, by adding them to the category of marriages a vicar could refuse. Of the C of E could finally get with the program and accept that SSM is a good and right thing to approve!

John-Julian, OJN said...

What continues to amaze me is that it seems that no one has chosen to make use of the simple and clear distinction between "marriage" (which is and always has been a civil matter) and "Holy Matrimony (which is and has always been an ecclesiastical matter). How can the Church claim any kind of jurisdiction over "marriage" when "marriage" existed CENTURIES before the Church came into existence? And, obviously, the state is clearly, openly, and overtly denying any jurisdiction over "Holy Matrimony".

It seems such a simple distinction, but it seems never to be made in these arguments.

(And, yes, I know that the C of E's established status makes for confusion.......)

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Fr. J-J. I have made precisely that suggestion in the past. (Great minds run in the same groove, I suppose!) Both words, however, can refer to both the "estate" and the "rite." But if one wanted to make the distinction, this would be a way to do it.