Thus today we can read what the UK Roman Catholic bishops have to say. Here, here or here with H/T to Thinking Anglicans. In suggesting that there is something substantive on offer through their words I am not suggesting there is nothing on offer from those supporting the bill. (Though David Cameron's reasoning seems to amount to 'I think supporting this ultimately is electorally advantageous'). Among things said by the bishops, here is a pithy expression of the heart of their opposition to the proposed UK bill:
"The fundamental problem with the Bill is that changing the legal understanding of marriage to accommodate same sex partnerships threatens subtly, but radically, to alter the meaning of marriage over time for everyone. This is the heart of our argument in principle against same sex marriage."
Slightly longer is this:
"Marriage has,over the centuries, been the enduring public recognition of this commitment to provide a stable institution for the care and protection of children, and it has rightly been recognised as unique and worthy of legal protection for this reason. Marriage furthers the common good of society because it promotes a unique relationship within which children are conceived, born and reared, an institution that we believe benefits children."
Naturally, underpinning this approach, is the deeply held connection within Christianity, strongly retained in modern Catholic theology, arguably weakened in liberal Protestant theology, between sexual intercourse and procreation. Any bill, in any country which strives to widen the meaning of marriage from a specific (i.e. exclusive, faithful, permanent) relationship between a man and a woman to a relationship between any two people can only do so at the cost of weakening, if not severing the connection between sexual intercourse and procreation.
Interestingly the bishops draw on the wisdom of famous atheist Bertrand Russell as they expound this connection:
"‘But for children, there would be no need of any institution concerned with sex …. It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution.’"*
Speaking for myself, I find that some of my views about marriage are being challenged by the ongoing debate occurring in Western civilisation. Too easily, I find myself realising, I have viewed marriage in 'romantic' terms: having fallen in love with each other, two people cement their love and celebrate it publicly by marrying each other. On those terms (and note how I have worded the sentence), marriage is indifferent to which genders are involved. Falling in love is certainly a pleasant way to inaugurate a relationship which leads to marriage, accompanied as it is by a vast array of music and countless films and novels, but it is not the only way, as cultures in which marriages are arranged would remind me. But marriage as I have experienced it (the first twenty five years are nearly upon us!) is the establishment, extension and maintenance of family, both the joining of two families of origin and the extending of each of those families.
The blessing of children in a marriage is the fulfilment of the great purpose of sexuality (on this atheistic evolutionists, theistic evolutionists and creationists are agreed!), the driving power of which draws two people together. That two people in a sexual relationship find purpose and meaning in their sexual activity such as enhancing their emotive love for one another is always a lesser purpose: without the great purpose of sexuality being fulfilled, neither person would exist! Bertrand Russell makes a good point: without children to consider, would there be any need to regulate sexual relations? (I assume he means relations entered into mutually between equals).
In one way I recognise with a degree of sympathy (now!) why politicians are pushing for same sex 'marriage' even where legal provision for 'civil union' or 'civil partnership' exists. Their world, I imagine, is a world of rights and access to them. The simple right to a fair trial is the cue to a vast, complex apparatus (of laws and government funding) of police, courts, department of justice, provision of legal aid, regulations for lawyers and so forth. Marriage confers certain rights (e.g. re next of kin, property) and politically it is demanding to restrict access to those rights by denying them to one group of people and conferring them on another group. Politicians are not accountable to God but to people and thus we see them being indifferent to who accesses those rights in respect of people the majority of society sees in ordinary terms. (Thus politicians are not about to open marriage up to siblings or to multiple spouses as society views these matters, still, as extraordinary. Conservatives seeing a 'slippery slope' from same sex marriage to, say, polygamy are misunderstanding society). Even though the rights conferred by marriage may be similar to those conferred by civil unions, the latter withholds one right, the right to say one is married! The Catholic bishops in the UK, however, are challenging a different matter. Not rights in respect of marriage, but the purpose of marriage in relation to the ongoing existence of society. Their point is that changing the definition of marriage cements into society a notion that procreation of the next generation of society is of little importance. The irony of many Western societies at the moment is that their governments are making economic decisions which work from precisely the same notion: the next generation and the burdens of debt bequeathed to it are of little importance. As good existentialists we are asserting the right of the present generation to have everything it desires.
The thoughts above are not intended to be a 'last word' on the matter; and they do not deal with the questions which arise where marriages between men and women do not or cannot produce children. But it is good to keep thinking as I head off tomorrow to the fourth Hermeneutical Hui of our church. A superb preview of the hui is given on Taonga. Readers here might be relieved, from one side and another, to see that I am not a presenter :). I do go however, to represent my diocese ... which is a rather clever move as the costs of my getting there are borne by the wider church since I am also on the planning committee for the hui. I think that observation deserves two :) :)
Consequentially, blogging might be light if not lite over the next few days!
*The fuller quote, to put Russell's remark in context is:
"The existing approach to marriage in British law encourages a particular understanding of marriage and the obligations taken on by those who marry. British law currently provides, for example, that a marriage is between two, rather than several, individuals; that the commitment of husband and wife is meant to last for their lifetime; that there is a sexual aspect to the relationship (in the requirement of consummation for there to be a valid marriage); that the husband is presumed to be the father of the child carried by his wife; and that the partners to the marriage will remain loyal to the relationship to the exclusion of all other sexual partners.