On equal marriage and disestablishment

I think it’s about time for the Church of England to be disestablished, isn’t it? The latest outbreak of whining over gay marriage is surely the final straw; it’s been looking for a long time as if Church and Country are in a dysfunctional marriage, staying together “for the sake of the kids,” and fewer than ever of those kids really care any more.

In fact, I’d suggest that the vast majority of people who tick the “CofE” box on forms do so not because they are actually CofE members, but because they still feel slightly ashamed about putting “atheist.”

The sheer spite of the Church of England trying to force its view that other organisations mustn’t be allowed to perform gay marriages, in case they too might be asked to one day, is breathtaking, and argument enough that their Bishops are unfit to vote on legislation with fairness and equality.

It’s impolite to denigrate other people’s faith, but the actions of the CofE with regard to gay marriage make it extremely tempting, to be honest. How am I expected to feel about an organisation that wields such power, doing so purely to further discrimination? It does so in the name of faith, but that same organisation would happily assist my father were he to embark upon a fifth (probably equally doomed and adulterous) marriage, yet feels that I should not even be allowed to have one.

If you’re reading this post before Thursday 14th of June, I urge you to fill in the consultation response on Equal Marriage in the UK. And remember – this is a matter of equality, not of religion. The Quakers and Liberal Judaism in the UK both support equality, as do other faith groups.

The CofE would stop those organisations from running their own places of worship in the way they want. So, it’s time to disestablish the Church of England, and let it go its own way. If that’s the price of Equal Marriage, it’s a price well worth paying.

3 Replies to “On equal marriage and disestablishment”

  1. I think this has been rather badly reported in the media. The CofE’s response to the consultation can be read in full at http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1475149/s-s%20marriage.pdf.

    It is saying that what the government is currently proposing is not valid in law (UK / European) for a number of reasons. The government cannot protect CofE churches / clergy from having to perform marriages that they do not agree with. Currently the established church in Denmark is in crisis over this very issue and it may well lead to disestablishment there.

    It also points out that the CofE was and always has been supportive of civil partnerships as a way to give same-sex couples equal treatment in law.

    The CofE does not marry divorced people (where the other divorcee is still living). However, it will often bless such marriages – as some churches may bless civil partnerships. The difference being whether they choose to do so based on their religious beliefs or whether they are forced to do something that goes against their religious beliefs.

    Just out of interest, what is it about civil partnerships vs marriage that the LGBT community feels is currently unequal? I probably just listen to / read the wrong things, but I have never heard that explained. Personally I think the naming of civil partnerships is silly, but surely that isn’t the only problem to cause a desire to change the law in this way.

  2. Well, first of all, the CofE has not always been supportive of civil partnerships; the majority of their Bishops in the Lords opposed the introduction, so to pretend now that they think they’re perfectly fine is disingenuous at best.

    And, while the Church has done a good job of making people think this is about marrying in churches, the proposed legislation is not. It is about civil marriages, and however much the CofE tries to muddy the waters – and their dissembling on previous support for civil partnership does not make me inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt – there is no question of the government changing the law to allow religious marriages of same sex couples.

    Given that, and previous ECHR ruliings, it’s quite unlikely that there would be a forcing of the church to perform marriages, just because civil ones are allowed.

    The best solution really would be disestablishment, in my view, and the stripping of the powers of being a registrar from priests – effectively that’s what a CofE priest is when a religious marriage is performed, and the register is signed. It is the anomalous position of the CofE – which in my opinion it is abusing – that is the real problem here, not the desire for equality.

    Why do I think the CofE is abusing its position? Because in taking this action, and steadfastly campaigning against equal marriage, and insisting religious marriage cannot be allowed, and in allowing their Bishops to argue in the Lords against civil partnerships in religious premises, as they have done, they are using their position as the Established religion to deny to other faiths the right to organise their churches in the way they want, and I think that’s reprehensible.

    The Quakers, and some elements of Judaism, the Unitarians, and others are all willing to have civil and/or religious marriages of same sex couples in their places of worship. And the Church of England is actively trying to stop them. That is a grave abuse of the power of the Bishops, in my view, and of the right of others in this country to their own religious freedom.

    Meanwhile, though there are not many differences between civil partnership and marriage, there are some, especially concerning things like pension benefits and – one of the most important in my view – is that of mutual recognition.

    If you have a Civil Partnership it will not generally be recognised in other countries, including some countries that have their own forms of CP.

    At its worst – as happened to someone I know – when one partner dies while abroad, or is perhaps hospitalised, the other partner may be left with no rights, and no ability to make decisions on behalf of their partner. In the case I’m thinking of, that effectively meant a bereaved partner being barred from attending the funeral, or having any recognition of his loss at all.

    The argument that “it’s almost the same” doesn’t really hold water, in my view. That’s like telling Rosa Parks she should be grateful to be on the bus, rather than walking.

    If the Church wants to opt out of equal marriage, then let them do so – but they should not be forcing their view on those who are not interested in a religious ceremony, nor should they be abusing their position as the Established church to deny freedom of choice to those of other faiths.

    In seeking to do both those things, I think the Church of England is doing itself and many of its members a grave disservice.

  3. I don’t know how the bishops voted at the time, so I can only go on what has been said since.

    Those inequalities between civil partnerships and marriage are interesting, and most definitely need to be corrected and I’m sure the CofE would support that at this time. Whether the best way to do so it to change marriage or improve civil partnerships would be a point where opinions differ.

    I think those differences are not something that the general public is aware of – the general view is that marriage and civil partnerships are completely the same in law, and that any different treatment of them is very rare and easily covered by enforcement of the law. That not being the case is something that needs to be made more public.

    Its recognition in other countries is an interesting question. Those countries that have some form of civil partnerships or same-sex marriage not recognising ours is just ridiculous. As for countries that do not – would the situation be any different with same-sex marriage? If they do not recognise it themselves, then would they believe or care that a UK couple were married? I suspect that they may just take the view that the marriage is not ‘real’ or ‘legitimate’ and continue to withhold the spouses rights. And whilst there may be more legal redress, in an emergency situation is it not the legal right decided at a later date that matters, it is the decision of the doctor/hospital on the day that makes the difference. I’m not convinced same-sex marriage will be a complete solution to it and there needs to be a complete solution, not just a partial fix.

    It should be no surprise that the CofE does not agree with changing marriage for moral reasons. And it should be expected that the bishops would vote against it. But that is why we don’t have a house of bishops but have a house of lords that includes some Bishops. Whether they should be there at all is a question up for debate in an establishment vs disestablishment question.

    However, the legal aspect is far more important for the proposed legislation as it stands. The government would have us believe that there are 2 forms of marriage that can be treated differently – religious and civil. That is not the case. There is a single legal entity of marriage. It can be entered by civil or religious ceremony, but there is no legal difference. The government is saying it can simply protect religious marriage, but lawyers and experience in other countries suggests not.

    If the government was proposing a more complex change to the many different laws that cover all this, then it would be different. The CofE would then have no complaint on legal issues with it, they would just have the moral/religious objection as many other churches do which then has to be balanced with the equality arguments for it. However, the government seems to be taking a very important issue and incompetently oversimplifying it so that what they propose cannot work as it is meant to.

    I do agree that a religious ceremony for whatever form of same sex partnership is in place should be an option, but it should be open to the ‘church’ to decide whether to offer it – for freedom of religion reasons. The problem is that a CofE church would not have this option as anyone living in the parish has the right to be married in the church by its minister.

    I think the CofE has been put in a very awkward position. Many of its members would agree with you that it is doing them a disservice. Others would not agree. However, I do think that the government is doing everyone on both sides of the debate a disservice by the way that it is doing this. Perhaps that should be no surprise the way they seem to mess up everything they start talking about at the moment. Many people seem to be watching the debate and developing the opinion that they should be spending their time on ‘more important things’ like the economy. That may or may not be a correct view on their priorities, but letting people think that is pushing them dangerously towards an bigoted view they may not otherwise have held.

    I worry that it could put back the quest for full LGBT equality many years just because the government is handling it in their usual incompetent way.

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