By Tuesday 5th of February this week, a consultation on whether gay couples should be allowed to marry one another will come to an end. If the movement is successful, marriage, whether between man and woman or a same sex couple, will become equal in the eyes of the state. This will change the very definition of marriage from a lifelong union between just man and woman to that of any couple.
Currently, same sex couples may enter into a legal relationship through Civil Partnerships, which were introduced in 2005, giving the same legal treatments as marriage across matters such as inheritance, pensions and child maintenance. In essence, an opposite sex couple may choose either to marry or enter into a civil partnership, while same-sex couples may only undertake the civil procedure. This has led some supporters of gay marriage to argue that the difference between civil partnerships and marriage encourages the view that homosexual relationships are in some way different to heterosexual ones. We have known for some time now that homosexuality is innate in our species, and that it is a form of love, not just a form of sex. Thus it deserves as much respect as any other union between two human beings.
However, the Church of England has released many statements arguing that the move towards gay marriage is among one of the most serious threats it has faced in its 500 year history. To me, this claim seems incredibly absurd. For what reason does the Church of England believe it holds the sole monopoly on marriage? Why should it be up to them to define what legally constitutes a marriage, when only a quarter of marriages take place inside Church of England churches? It’s a concern that the Church’s response has been so utterly excessive, with senior clergy criticising the governments’ attempt to redefine marriage as a “potential attack on the church itself”.
Furthermore, the Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens has also criticised the consultation, adding that “unintended consequences” could threaten the church’s historical role. One may enquire as to what this euphemistic “historical role”, that puts the church so vehemently against changing marriage legislation, may be. In order to repudiate this mendacious claim, it is worth noting that a major contributing factor leading to the creation of the Church of England was Henry VIII’s wish to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, with the intention of marrying Anne Boleyn. With the threat of excommunication from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII named himself the head of the newly created Church of England. This further accentuates the hypocrisy of the church’s stance on gay marriage.
Under the Freedom of Religion act, the Church of England would be well within their rights to stand their ground and deny gay marriage within their churches. However, the church’s position that gay marriage laws should not be passed altogether is entirely unreasonable. If such a position were to be taken seriously by parliament, the Church of England would be given the power to prevent the state from moving with the times and recognising gay marriage. This is grotesque; surely it must be up to the people, and not a single religious organization, to decide what the definition of marriage should be. It seems plainly clear to me that the best advice for those who oppose same sex marriage to follow would be that of the gay rights charity Stonewall, who advise that “those who disapprove of same-sex marriage, [should] just not to get married to someone of the same sex.”