July 17, 2013

Marriage Equality Still too Equal for Some...

... in England and Wales

With the Royal Assent coming very quickly on the heels of action in the Lords and Commons, marriage equality is a reality (on the statute books if not in the registrars’ offices; getting all the forms printed and revised will take some time, as no doubt the Sir Humphrey Applebys of the Civil Service are engaged in their usual careful and studious work. Sad to say that Nigel Hawthorne did not live to see this day.)

Thinking Anglicans reports that not all are pleased with the new law. Some anxious Christian groups are bemoaning what they see to be undue haste in the six months of debate and discussion that led to this Act. Perhaps they would feel more at home with our Congress, if not our Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Roman Bishops in the affected areas of Great Britain have said, “With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central.”

Perhaps I missed the relevant clause of the Act (as it now is) that diminishes "openness to children" for those for whom such "openness" is possible, or the statute that allows for irresponsibility for the care of children born to them. I am not sure what the bishops mean by “central,” but where possible, childbirth is still possible, and the responsibility for the consequences of childbirth appear to be completely unaltered.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


JCF said...

What gets (to) me, is the NOVELTY of this hyperbolic, pearl-clutching reaction.

The NEW faith-claims, re heterosexual marriage, have been plucked from NOWHERE, to form an entire religion (a religion to which the secular state is supposed to genuflect).

BREATHE, Popoids (etc), BREATHE. Sperm&Egg will continue to join up (with or without "benefit of clergy") as they always did. If Leo&Jerome get spousal tax benefits (or penalties!), won't change that fact.

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

“Openness” to children? Really? As though God might close all the wombs in the UK?

You just can’t make this stuff up!

IT said...

By happenstance, I was in the UK for London Pride a few weeks ago. Very low-key by US standards. But everyone was THRILLED by marriage. Keep calm and marry on!

Erika Baker said...

You did indeed not see it in the Act, Tobias. Openness to children (biological children of both parents only, please, no adoption, no fostering, no step parenting and no assisted conception allowed) was never part of civil marriage legislation.

For me, the most fascinating aspect of this whole marriage debate was to discover just how many different unexamined assumptions there are by so many different people about what marriage "is" in law as well as in faith, and what it has "always" been.

One would have thought Catholic Bishops to be above average educated and to be able to understand that children are not a requirement in civil marriage. It has been pointed out often enough during the debate.
One would not wish to accuse them of actual lying - being religious and bishops and all that - but one does wonder what's going on there.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ultimately, the problem lies with the "theology" to which the Roman Church has wedded itself. It is based on principles of natural law dating from a period in which people were profoundly ignorant of some basic facts not only of human nature, but of biology. This view also derives more from pagan Stoicism than from a close reading of the Biblical texts at our service -- not the few that attempt to regulate sexuality but the ones that narrate its richness and complexity, and basis in human love as a means to rectify the condition of isolation.

Instead of allowing themselves to be informed by the findings of biological and psychological science from the late 19th century on, the Roman bishops have been playing the same medieval record over and over until the grooves have just about worn away. If they do not find a way out of this cul de sac they will before long pass into a similar obsolescence -- as well they should -- as those un- or other-churched who know reality better, and are under no obligation to toe a dogmatic line increasingly reject the errors of the past, and Rome with it.

Erika Baker said...

But it also depends on the fiction that civil law is based on Roman Catholic theology.

There simply is nothing in law about "openness to children". This is not a legal concept.

The statement you quote is simply factually false.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

True, Erika. I'm trying to explicate the reason for the Roman's need to open their mouths on an issue which has no effect upon them whatsoever, and moreover to insert their collective foot in the process. It would have been far more suitable to say, for instance, something like, "The changes in the civil law, which we do not support, will have no influence on our teaching and practice." But they (it seems) cannot resist the temptation to look justify their position, and appear profound -- and in the process show themselves to be shallow and duplicitous. This is the inevitable fate of those who hold themselves immune to reform and correction, since all err, even in faith and morals (as the Articles say).

Meanwhile, mendacity doesn't help their cause one bit!

Marshall Scott said...

One of my favorite statements of G. K. Chesterton, put in the mouth of Father Brown, is that to challenge science is bad theology. Sad to see how far from that are current voices in the Catholic Church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Marshall. I think that in the long run this goes back to the idealist vs realist divide. Not allowing oneself to be informed by the findings of science -- because of a belief that all the details of some "truth" must remain inviolate -- obscures the point that there are some ultimate truths, but those are few and far between, and are precisely those truths of revelation sufficient for salvation. By confusing debated issues of moral or pastoral theology with those of dogmatic theology, the Romans have painted themselves into a corner -- on this issue as well as on the ordination of women. It will take a sudden shift to change the situation -- something that in these cases I think only a pope or council could do...

Erika Baker said...

"Truth" can remain inviolate - if only you focus on the spirit of the law, not the letter.
There's even precedent for that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Exactly so, Erika. The spirit gives life, the letter kills.... But even the letter can live when imbued with the Spirit. There is an old rabbinic saying that God refused to give Moses the final correct interpretation of the law, saying that the law is never final, and must always be interpreted by lively faith... or words to that effect...

Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

Just to flesh this out further, certainty is one of the idols in this debate. It is astonishing that those charged with stewarding the sacraments (namely, RC bishops) want to define marriage with such certainty, or at least cubby-hole the mystery within the narrow bounds of a most dubious theological structure. A spiritual disaster!

Daniel Weir said...

The distinction between civil marriage and the sacrament of holy matrimony seems to have been forgotten by Rome in this discussion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

True, Daniel, and all the stranger as that is a teaching of their own (rather late) devising. One would have thought that in England, as in Europe, they would have gotten well used to the distinction, given the Napoleonic Code and the Church of England (which was the only game in town -- in England -- for a long time).

Erika Baker said...

I wonder whether there is less Roman Catholic opposition in countries where priests are not allowed to register marriages and can only marry a couple that has already had a civil wedding. Do they understand the difference better?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, there was some outcry in Spain and France, but it may be we heard less of it because it was in a Romance language... ;-)

And Richard, I think cubby-holing mysteries is a preoccupation for a certain sort of Roman. I have a copy of the old Pastoral Handbook for parish clergy from before the most recent reform of the Canons, and it is full of micro-management on the sacraments. (e.g., how to do an emergency baptism on what they unhappily refer to a "monster" : an aborted (by which they mean miscarried) fetus that appears to consist of more than one "person" -- baptize one absolutely and the remainder conditionally.) There are similar fine points on marriage!

rick allen said...

"...one does wonder what's going on there."

Erika, I think the simplest, most direct answer to your question lies in the teaching of Vatican II on marriage and the family. At this point the documents of Vatican II have managed to embody Mark Twain's definition of a classic, something everyone praises and nobody reads.

Here is a link to Gaudium et Spes:


The specific discussion of marriage and the family is found in chapter one of part two. It contains the Catholic Church's most authoritative teaching on those topics. But it also asserts that that understanding of the family is not simply a matter of religious observance, but of individual and social justice, and that the welfare and stability of secular society depends on it. It therefore calls on all Catholics--not just bishops--to uphold the authentic attributes of marriage, not just as a religous matter, but for the good of the "earthly city."

I understand, of course, that you would agree with very little of what is taught there. I am only trying to reply to a now often-asked question, "Why do they even care?"

As this controversy also makes plain, moral teaching is considered as important in Catholicism as doctrinal teaching. Father Tobias, here as in other places, sees a confusion in that. Maybe it's just a difference. To me, there is just as much a lack of unity in saying "Some of us think adultery is OK" as in saying, "Some us think the doctrine of the Trinity is really outmoded." What is asserted to be right and wrong, is, to me, as much as what constitutes a religion as its doctrinal teaching.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, that appears to be the problem in a nutshell: some seem to possess an inability to distinguish between pastoral/moral and doctrinal/dogmatic theology. Got it in one.

For those who are able and willing to read the history of their development, and the many changes recorded in that history, it is purely a fantasy to suggest that issues of sexual morality (for example, in the present light, regulations governing marriage) are on the same plane as the doctrine of the Trinity in terms of mutability. Who could marry whom, and how and when, and by what manner the marriage was constituted, has been a topic of much variety in the history of the Church. Just to give one example, there was a time when marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian was absolutely forbidden, and regarded as almost as a form of porneia, an for a time in the case of marriage with a Jew punishable by death (Constantius II). Such marriages can now be celebrated with "dispensation." If that isn't a change, I'm not sure what to call it. I don't imagine one can be "dispensed" from affirming the hypostatic union, of the co-eternity of the Son with the Father. Thus there is a clear difference between morals and dogma; and when morals get foolishly elevated to the level of dogma little good can come of it.

Erika Baker said...

I tend to agree with catholic theologian James Alison. In the last 50 years or so we have made a new discovery about human beings. There is a steady percentage of gay people in all societies. These people are not defective heterosexuals.

A moral theology that is based on heterosexuality being "ordered" and anything deviating from that being "disordered" is therefore based on what we knew about people before we began to understand sexuality.

You could therefore argue that Rome has absolutely no theology on homosexuality at all.

And for those of us who like our theology to be based on facts and not on outdated knowledge that is now no longer anything but prejudice the only question is when they will finally understand it and develop a moral theology for it.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika. On top of all that, the fact also remains that the initial objections by the Roman bishops are falacious, in that no heterosexual families or their children will necessarily be affected by this change in the law. There is no change to some purported "institution" -- as there is no such thing as "an institution" of marriage -- there is only the "practice" of marriage, and there are within that practice only individual marriages, some good, some bad. There are bad heterosexual marriages, with poor or even abusive child-rearing, as well as exemplary heterosexual marriages with no children at all. And this law will change none of that.

The Roman position is not only specious, it is false.

musculars said...

Catholic moral theology moved from natural law towards more gospel centered values after Vatican 2 except in sexual matters where it still is mired in the unintelligible telos of sexuality which as you point out seems severed from newer scientific understandings. Through the phenomnological lens of soon(too soon?)to be St. John Paul 2 Theology of the Body an attempt was made to answer the critique in its reliance on scripture but most agree it as a failure and skewered as a biased defense of Humane Vitatae.

Dr. Farley was far more successful at arriving at a coherent sexual theology expansive in use of gospel moral values in Just Love for which she was honored with a Vatican condemnation

rick allen said...

"In the last 50 years or so we have made a new discovery about human beings."

Erika, this is part of what I doubt. I read Father Alison's piece, but I can't buy it. It's partly because this claimed discovery looks to me more like a matter of interpretation than actual discovery. It's not like the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, or the existence of Hawking radiation in the vicinity of a black hole. It is a characterization of facts long known. It's as if I were to say that we've discovered a new fact about human beings, that some small percentage just can't stay married, and that therefore we have to re-think what Jesus said about divorce.

Homoerotic relationships are nothing new. They have been known and experienced and observed for millenia. At the time of the New Testament they were not only ubiquitous, but were celebrated by some of the greatest spirits and most powerful individuals as deeper and nobler than the relationship between men and women. So I honestly doubt that we have made any genuine discoveries not observable by our ancestors.

Again, I hope to explain, not to argue. We have seen a new schism arise in a comparatively short time, and we have gone two separate ways, and elaborated the reasons for both. As with sola scriptura or divorce and remarriage, we have two different views which we won't stop advocating when called upon. But the division is largely institutionalized and set in stone. A few will change. But I think it will remain helpful to understand, even in disagreeing.

Erika Baker said...

you see, the problem I have with your view is that it does not correspond to my own experience of my life.
I don't blame you for not understanding it, after all, you do not share it.

But I know I was born the way I am, I know I am not like "them" Paul talks about in Romans who are given to unnatural desires. I know that my love for my wife is the most beautiful thing ever and that it is not unnatural or immoral.

When moral statements conflict so much with people's lived experience, then the kindest gloss I can put on it is that my way of living was not known or understood when the bible was written.

As James Alison says - to view something as disordered you have to have an ordered norm. And when people might have argued that a 5-10% variation from the majority biological norm is abnormal, our personal experience of our lives and their complete ordinariness is that this steady variant IS the biological norm - and therefore not disordered.

Roman theology simply has nothing to say to us.
And the more people get to know us and the ordinariness of our lives the more this view will permeate society.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Roman Catholic church will take decades if not longer to catch up. But catch up it will. Because it is not a stupid church nor an intrinsically immoral one. And once it recognises what it's doing to gay people and on what poor footing its theology stands it will change.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Yes, homosexual relationships have been known through out history -- as individual occurrences. Gay couples haven't been seen as part of the social order. Now that gay people are living openly, they're pairing off like everyone else. Just a natural variation.

The damaging factor isn't that gay relationships were unknown in history, but that the Christian tradition is silent on them -- except to misconstrue them as disordered failings from a universal norm. The church has fought to keep gay as invisible in society as it is in scripture, and to deal with occurrences in the confessional. Don't ask, don't tell, with a vengeance. The veil has now been rent, and all some can see behind it is ugly sex. Nope -- we're here, we're queer, and we only want to contribute.

Erika Baker said...

I want to be a little careful about what it means to say that certain kinds of relationships have been "known" throughout history.
What level of knowing are we talking about?
There could be isolated references in literature. Or there could be references in poetry.
But that is not necessarily the same as a general knowledge of such relationships.
I'm always astonished by how many people, even today when we have civil partnerships (and soon marriage equality) in Britain, still don't actually know any gay couples.
And I would like to suggest that for any phenomenon to be truly accepted it has to be known so widely that no-one can still hoodwink people and demonize those who are representatives of that phenomenon.