Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Civil marriage
February 6, 2013, 12:23 pm
Filed under: Opinion

The House of Commons has now given a second reading to the Government Bill to permit the merriage of same-sex couples. The first thing that has to be said is that clearly the Prime Minister’s understanding of “marriage” is something quite different from “Matrimony” as understood by the Church. As the Book of Common prayer expresses it, marriage has been instituted by God himself, first, for the procreation of children; secondly, as the proper context for sexual intercourse; and thirdly, for mutual love and support as they fulfil the first two objects. For Mr Cameron, marriage is essentially a way in which couples express their “commitment” to one another, though apparently for no purpose beyond this. According to the Bill, at least for same-sex couples the concept of “consummation” will not apply, and “adultery” will only apply in the case of intercourse with a person of the opposite sex. Sexual activity with another same-sex partner will not count.

It has long been the case that the claim of the State to be able to “dissolve” marriages undermines the Christian understanding of marriage as a life-long union; there seems no reason in principle why the State should insist on the Christian principle of monogamy or exclusivity either: why should not Muslims have the right to have up to four wives? This of course is unlikely to happen.

Sir Roger Gale MP has said that he will push for an amendment to bring in “civil unions” instead, which would be available for non-sexual life partners as well. This would leave marriage as the preserve of the church and other religious institutions. This is a sensible suggestion that I, for one, could support. Since it will no longer be possible to term the partners in a civil “marriage” husband or wife- as on the present Certificate of Marriage- surely it would be better to avoid traditional terminology altogether. A civil union or partnership would be simply a contract between two people, having certain legal effects; while “marriage” or “matrimony” would belong to the vocabulary of religious discourse, along with the terminology of “husband” and “wife”.

The Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth has suggested that clergy withdraw from the responsibility of acting as civil registrars of marriage. This too seems eminently sensible. By saying that the law will make no difference to “religious marriage”, the Prime Minister has conceded that civil and religious concepts are different. It is time to put some clear blue (truly Conservative) water between them, by using different names. “Civil unions” will do for me.


3 Comments so far
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I’m thinking about abandoning the use of the word ‘married’, certainly for myself, and saying that my wife and I are in a state of Holy Matrimony.

Comment by David Mawson

If this does become law, and this is very likely, then surely the book of Common Prayer etc will have to be abolished as marriage will not be correctly defined (I think the Prayer Book is approved by Parliament is it not?)

Comment by Joseph Golightly

That really would set the cat among the pigeons!!

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

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