Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Two Down Under Views on Marriage Debates from Both Sides of the Ditch

I reckon Archbishop Philip Freier (Melbourne) speaks sense here. He argues that the church which is mostly conservative on marriage in a country with building momentum towards sanctioning gay marriage should opt out of being the state's agent for conducting the legalities of marriage.

Key paragraphs are:

"That being so, it might be thought anomalous that the church remains the state's representative when it comes to performing marriage, that ministers of religion (along with civil celebrants) act on behalf of the state by performing a legal ceremony that is recognised and legitimised by the state. 
The Marriage Act has already registered significant social changes, such as providing safeguards for de facto partners. Same-sex marriage would be a far more significant step away from the Christian understanding of marriage that prevailed when the law was first enacted. 
While same-sex marriage stretches this conception of marriage, it seems that in other respects we as a society have very traditional perspectives. Bigamy or polygamy remain taboo. Yet if the argument from the freedom of human choice stands – that it is unjust to deny people the chance to marry whomsoever they want – then we should recognise that polygamy is widely practised in many societies around the world. Islam allows up to four wives – under certain circumstances – yet when a Melbourne sheikh proposed legalising polygamy several years ago the reaction was outrage. 
It might be time to make sanctioning legal marriage a matter purely for the state. Perhaps the people who register marriages should simply be public servants who attest to the bona fides of the parties to the marriage. Marriage could be made more accessible by online registration and processing."
I like the way that he acknowledges that a country such as Australia is both open to change re marriage while retaining some 'traditional perspectives.'

Incidentally, for Kiwi readers following the Motion 30 debate, perhaps especially in the Diocese of Christchurch, there may be some interest in the following motion to our September Synod:

"That this Diocese of Christchurch request that General Synod receive, discuss, and then table the Report of the Motion 30 Working Group in order that there may be four years of education across our church on the substance of the Motion 30 Report."

Since this motion comes from our Standing Committee, it has an important momentum behind it.

For overseas readers, our next General Synod is in May 2016; the Motion 30 Working Group is working on recommendations ranging across matters such as the blessing of same gender relationships, holding our church together across difference, theologies of marriage and ordination.

Did I mention my intention to retire in 2020? [smile]


Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, the reaction of the Australian Anglican Primate most probably reflects the point ov view of the Evangelicals of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. That should not be too surprising, given the influence of that conservative sector of the Australian Church.

Howver, what Archbishop Frieir's statement also indicates is the fact that Australia and New Zealand are very different societies, and that what happens in one does not necessarily cohere with the behaviour of the other. For instance, the various reforming movements that have happened in ACANZP - such as the introduction of women clergy and bishops - took longer to be brought into effect in the Australian Province Thus, Mtion 30, in ACANZP, will take much longer to have any substantive effect in Australia.

Broadly speaking, the Anglican Church in Australia, rather surprisingly - seems to be more conservative on issues of gender and and sexuality than ACANZP. This is one of the reasons I remain a priest in Aoteroa/NZ?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I am sure ++Philip is conscious of being Primate of the whole Australian church, including Sydney. And, yes, Oz society is different to ours in various ways. (Though it could be argued that their Mardi Gras parade in Sydney is more 'out there' than our equivalents over the years :) ).

But I want to suggest that on the possibility of the church withdrawing from being the state's agent for marriage registration, ACANZP might turn out to be quite keen on ++Philip's proposal.

Bryden Black said...

I notice Peter that this article is from the Melbourne paper, The Age. Is Abp Freier then speaking as Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, or as the Metropolitan of the Province of Victoria? The distinction, while perhaps a nice one, is not unimportant - especially re its seeming weight, and not least in relation to perceiving its seeming genesis.

Re its key point. I have for a long time been of the view that the Anglican Church in most parts of the world should stop behaving as the British Empire in disguise. The Church of England still (amazingly!) remains the Established Church of that realm; strictly speaking that has never been the case elsewhere. Consequently, I am of the view that the Anglican Church outside England should legally conduct its affairs as many of the European Continental ones do: viz. re marriage, their ministers do not wear two hats simultaneously, one church, the other civic. If one wishes to get married in say Austria, then trot along to the civic authorities; and if the couple wish to have their marriage then blessed and sacramentalized, then get ye to the kirk! So it should be in lands where the Anglican Church resides.

Given the current form of “marriage equality” enjoyed in ANZ, then I propose even more strongly that we should as a Church here divorce ourselves from being state functionaries, as well as ministers of the Gospel with regards to this rite of marriage. I say this on account of the form of legislation, with its governing principles, having absolutely no way of not being further amended, to grant polyandry, polygamy, or polyamorey, let alone granting two men or two women to “marry”.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear PETER and Bryden; I find myself agreeing with you both on this point - that, in countries where the Church is at odds with the local government on issues of the instition of marriage the Church should no longer represent the Government as its legal contractor of marriage solemnisation. Obviously, in countries where the Church currenly carries out the legall process of marrying a acouple - in accordance with its own rules, when those precepts are accepted by the Church - any change in either church or state law does need to be addressed by both Church and state.

However, I do see the moral imperative of a situation where, when the view of the Church and that of the State, if in conflict, could be best accommodated by separate jurisdiction. This could best, perhaps, be achieved in the way Bryden suggests.

Bryden Black said...

Hope you are enjoying the English heat wave Ron. One thing's for sure: it won't last.
Nice to see meanwhile we can concur on this at least. Bask in that sun/son matey!

Kurt said...

I agree with both Bryden and Ron. It would probably be better for the state to marry any couple (gay or straight) and for the Church to bless the marriage (gay or straight). That would likely satisfy most people on both sides of the divide at least in most of the Western churches. Of course, it does not resolve the theological issues of SSM, which are debated elsewhere on this website, nor resolve the objections of the most conservative Global South churches.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY