June 19, 2012

Impeded Marriages

For those who have difficulty grasping the difference between civil and church marriage in the U.K. Government's presentation on same-sex marriage, it is helpful perhaps to frame the divorce question in the terms in which it is applied to marriage.

"Being unmarried" (whether by virtue of never having been married, or through widowhood, an annulment or legal divorce, is a  "necessary condition" for each party entering into a legal marriage. Up until this point in the U.K., so has the mixed gender of the couple — though this interestingly enough is a quality not of each member of the couple but of the couple as couple.

That being said, the Church makes distinctions concerning which divorces it recognizes -- if, as in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, it recognizes them at all. There is no legal difference between marriages officiated by the state or the church; but there are some marriages the church will not recognize that the state will, on the grounds of other living spouses.

That is the difference the Government is attempting to point to, and it seems obvious that the church's legitimate choice to refuse to recognize some marriages does in fact create or reify this difference.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE; It seems part of the English confusion lies in the fact that marriage can mean both a rite and an estate.

The issue for the church is in solemnizing marriages of which it might not approve; and the church is at present free to refuse to solemnize some marriages that can be solemnized under the civil law, as in the case of divorced person, where the church has discretion to refuse to solemnize the marriage.

As far as I know the legal status of “being married” does not confer any ecclesiastical rights or entail any responsibilities. The church therefore has no interest in distinguishing between a married or an unmarried couple; or married or unmarried individuals; I think we are long past the days when a person who was divorced and had a civil marriage might risk excommunication as scandalous to the community. It is only the rite of marriage that is at issue.

So the confusion here seems to be the use of marriage both for the estate and the rite. It is the rite that is at issue for the church. The civil law proposed is affirming that the church will not have to make the rite available to couples it deems incapable of marriage — just as it does now with [some] divorced persons.

Civil and church marriage will still have the same legal statue, as an estate, but the church can and will be able to reject some couples as unmarriageble under its rites. There is no separate "species" or estates of marriage, but there are civil marriage ceremonies and church marriage ceremonies, and some people eligible for the former are, and will be (likely for some time)  ineligible for the latter, on objective and legally cognizable grounds.



June Butler said...

Tobias, it seems to me that it would be rather simple to write the law in a way that no clergy would be forced to preside at the marriage of a same-sex couple. To bring the matter up at all is to pull in another red herring, of which there is already an abundance in the recently-released anonymous statement which claims to speak for the Church of England...just one more scare tactic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Right on, Mimi. There are so many red herrings out there I'm beginning to think it's Lent.

Erika Baker said...

the strange thing is that according to current proposals, the law will be written so that clergy are *not allowed* to conduct same sex marriages.

The Quakers are among the denominations who are fighting to be allowed at least the option of marrying same sex couples.

The CoE, on the other hand, still screams that those devious gays will find a way of squeezing past the barriers and forcing some poor and helpless priest to conduct a marriage he does not approve of.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Erika. This is the church at its worst, most fearful and unable to see past its narrow and misplaced concerns...

June Butler said...

Erika, I did not realize that the proposals meant other denominations would be prevented from presiding at same-sex marriages. My goodness! What comes to mind is, "Dinosaurs!"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, there is an absolutist streak in English Established Churchdom that is hard to kill. Until the registry office, only C of E marriages were legal marriages; exceptions were made for Quakers and Jews. At present Quakers and Liberal Jews would like to be able to perform same-sex liturgies.

Someone once said that sacred cows make for great burgers. Dinosaurs make for great petrochemicals (though they tend to pollute the atmosphere even then... ;-(