Marriage difficulties

Our (UK) Arch/bishops are in a tizzy over the possibility of gay marriage. 

After last week's intervention by Cardinal Keith O'Brien where he compared the possible legalisation of such marriages to the prospect of legalising slavery (yes, my mother could not understand that one either), the Roman Catholic bishops' conference had a letter read this Sunday in all 2,500 churches in England and Wales warning against the radical nature of such a step and how it would undermine the traditional understanding of marriage, out would go 'the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children'. 

The letter had the virtue of greater coherence than the rambling article of the Cardinal in the Sunday Telegraph but neither his intervention nor that of the Roman Catholic bishops nor the Anglican Archbishop of York (who appeared on television to tell us that marriage and civil partnership are different and that this difference is important and should be upheld) truly clarifies why the traditional understanding of marriage should be maintained rather than it be extended to same sex couples?

Not least because the 'traditional understanding of marriage' probably never has cleaved to the reality of people's actual lives!

That marriage can include the procreation of children is undoubtedly true and that society should support frameworks that provide safe and secure spaces in which children can grow into well-being is utterly vital. But it is clear that not every marriage leads to (or intends to) the procreation of children. It is equally clear that in the world, there are many couples that support and sustain children they have not 'procreated' and that a binding commitment between them, where the intention is to share all, may help to support and sustain such safe and secure spaces. Why not, therefore, acknowledge that in truth 'families' are (and have always been) more diverse than the traditional definition of marriage would have us recognise? And work to extend and deepen that definition?

Meanwhile, I will leave better minds than mine to ponder the 'complementarity of male and female' - I only doubt whether such an abstraction has ever been the basis of any abiding or real particular relationship.

I find the opposition of the bishops to this extension hamstrung by a remarkably legalistic and instrumentalist view of marriage, not grounded in the actual tapestry of lived lives (neither in the present or historically). This would be the real testing ground of the usefulness of any 'instrument'! 

But beyond this, at heart, I find the bishops strangely areligious when it comes to marriage - in seeing it first and foremost as an institution (in the 1662 Prayer Book, according to the Archbishop of York, and that is defined by an Act of Parliament, so there)! 

If marriage is a sacrament - an outward and visible sign of grace - renewed in grace - it can only be the practice of a relationship that is continually broken open to the real, transforming presence of God. This makes it a spiritual practice, first and foremost, one that cannot be institutionalised (or only by falsifying it). It is as if 'God' as living presence is too embarrassing a one for our bishops (especially on Sunday television) and He barely gets a look in while we wrangle after tradition (one rooted in that recent, and dissolving, invention: the nuclear family).  Too idealistic I suppose to imagine the practice of the presence of God at the heart of our lives! Or that, at least, bishops be representatives of that idealism rather than the prim pedlars of  'morality' that the Daily Mail would like them to be!

P.S. Just in case one feels that it is the forces of reaction who have all the worst tunes. Here is a quotation from Mary Ann Sieghart in today's Independent -"I use the inverted commas because I don't believe sexuality is a moral issue at all unless it involves people getting hurt". (She is decrying the politicisation of sexual behaviour in the United States). Since the potential of getting hurt rests in every sexual relationship that I can imagine between sentient humans, I have no idea what she can mean!


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