John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, recently released a statement on gay marriage. It’s doing the rounds on Facebook. Here’s a comment I posted there:
What an odd article: long on words, short on reasons why broadening the definition of marriage would be a bad thing.
Civil partnerships aren’t identical to marriage for some people: for example, married couples where one person transitions from one gender to another are forced to dissolve marriages and get civil parterships. For such people, it is very clear that a civil partnership is a second-class marriage: see http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=87 for example.
The Archbishop claims that no Act of Parliament touches upon a definition of marriage, but then quotes a Canon which defines it as being lifelong. Did Parliament lack the authority to legalise divorce and re-marriage (a practice which, as I’ve said previously in http://pw201.livejournal.com/71272.html, has much stronger Biblical condemnation than homosexual relationships, and yet is curiously rather more acceptable to evangelicals)?
The Archbishop fears it may become “impossible to say how a good society needs most of its members to live”. But, if we want government to be involved in marriages at all, it is presumably because we think they are a social good. The people who want to broaden marriage need not be seeking a free for all, they may just think that gay marriages would also be a good. The Archbishop gives no good reasons to think that they wouldn’t be.
Despite saying that he is not merely advocating Christian marriage, his argument ultimately seems to rely on an (evangelical) Christian conception of it and of gender roles. I agree that Parliament has no warrant to define what that conception should be, nor what Pagan marriage or Quaker marriage should be (the fact that Parliament would prevent religious ministers from marrying two people of the same sex is a similarly unwarranted intervention). Let us have a civil conception of marriage based on public reason, and let everyone else do as they like: evangelicals can choose to marry only straight non-divorcees, Quakers can marry gays, and so on, in separate ceremonies, with only the civil marriage being recognised in law, and no compulsion on ministers of religion from equality laws.