Marriage Debate Resources
The District Synod this April will have some time to debate the Government's stated aim to change the nature of marriage by making it an institution which is open to heterosexual couples as at present and also to homosexual couples.
The Government is clear at present that this change will only apply to civil marriages and not to religious ones, however all marriages solemnised in Methodist churches are currently registered by the church for the civil authorities. Only the Church of England has a separate legal status as an established church.
This radical proposal was not in the manifesto of either of the coalition parties at the last election.
This page is a collection of resources to enable Methodists (and others) to discuss these Government proposals and make comment if they should so wish. The order of material should not be taken to be an order of importance. The first material is from the Government, this is followed by an initial Methodist Church statement and then some comments form other Christian bodies. Finally I have tried to sumarise Methodist current teaching.
The Government proposals.
Government consultation documents can be downloaded at this address http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/
There are two documents
The Government outlines the case it perceives for the change and gives the following options in its own documentation:
We have identified the problem that same-sex couples are unable to enter into a civil marriage. Government intervention is needed to allow equal access to marriage for all couples regardless of sexual orientation. The remedy must be legislative because the State regulates the legal status of marriage and the impediment to a couple of the same sex entering (or converting a civil partnership) into a marriage is a legal one. The Government has decided to act now, as we believe that society is now ready to undertake this change.
The policy objectives are:
To allow equal access to civil marriage for couples regardless of gender. This will address the disparity that there are two separate legal regimes for same-sex and opposite sex couples. The intended effect of this would be to allow same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage and remove the inequality that currently exists.
To maintain the existing provision for same-sex unions on religious premises. On 5 December 2011, section 202 of the Equality Act 2010 came into force and allowing civil partnerships to take place on religious premises.
To ensure that there is no impact on the freedom of individuals to practise their religious beliefs and on faith groups' ability to provide for opposite sex religious marriage. We will therefore focus on civil marriage and make no amendments to the formation of religious marriage. There will be no requirement for any religious body to marry same-sex couples if they do not wish to, nor will there be any requirement for a religious organisation to permit the marriage of same-sex couples on their religious premises, if they do not wish to allow this.
To allow married or civil partnered transsexual individuals to change their legal gender (by obtaining a full Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) without the need to first obtain an annulment.
1. Do nothing.
2. Open up civil marriage to same-sex couples and retain the existing provisions for civil partnerships (for same-sex couples only). This would fulfil the requirement to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples. Given that civil partnerships are already established, there is an argument for retaining this provision. wever, there would remain a difference in the provisions available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. This is the preferred option of the Government and views on this will be considered as part of the consultation.
3. Open up civil marriage to same-sex couples, end the formation of all new civil partnerships and allow those who have already entered into a civil partnership to convert their relationship into a marriage (or retain the existing civil partnership). This would fulfil the requirement to equalise the provisions available to same-sex and opposite sex couples. However, it would remove the option of a civil partnership for same-sex couples. While it may cause some concern to those already in a civil partnership, they would be able to retain that status or convert their partnership into a marriage, as they wish. This would also make it more challenging to retain the ability for same-sex couples to register their partnership on religious premises. This is not the Governments preferred option.
The consultation is primarily as to how such changes should take place. The on line consultation does have one question asking if the change should take place.
Has the Methodist Church made a response?
In October 2011 David Cameron announced that the Government intended to legislate to allow same sex couples to marry. This week the Government has published its consultation paper on the matter, Equal civil marriage: a consultation. This can be found here<
A group of Christian organisations has launched a campaign - the Coalition for Marriage or C4M - and a petition to "defend traditional marriage" which has received approaching 200,000 signatures. [430,000 as of 13/4/12]
This short briefing is to outline the actions taken by the Methodist Church in Britain.
The Coalition for Marriage
The Coalition for Marriage is supported by, among others, Christian Concern, the Christian Institute and the Evangelical Alliance. The petition states "I support the legal definition of marriage as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it." The website contains the main arguments behind this position, including that in "virtually all" human societies marriage has been between one man and woman. It raises the spectre that those who do not agree with the changes "will be sidelined", have their careers affected and may not be able to foster, and warns that the redefinition of marriage may lead in the future to polygamy.
Some Methodists will choose to sign the petition; others will not.
The Methodist Church itself is not a sponsor of the campaign or the petition. This is primarily because we believe that the best way to engage with the proposals is through a reasoned response to the consultation. There are also concerns that some of the views evoked by the campaign do not affirm "the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the Church" (statement on Human Sexuality, 1993). As such, for some people, this will be a contentious petition, even though many Christians will choose to support it
The Government consultation
The Government has launched a consultation on extending the legal definition of marriage to include same sex couples. The consultation period will last 3 months.
The Government has repeatedly argued that neither the Church nor the state "own" marriage. It has also argued that any changes will not impact on the churches as they will only affect "civil" marriage. The Church of England and others have argued that this confuses the institution of marriage (of which there is only one) with the gateways to marriage (eg a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony). The Church will therefore need to be careful not to adopt the Government language by default.
The Methodist Church response
The Methodist Council will be invited to appoint a small group (made up of three Faith and Order representatives and two Methodist Council representatives) to draw up a response on behalf of the Methodist Church. This will draw on existing Methodist understandings of marriage and human sexuality. It may also need to cover any potential implications for the law and practice affecting marriages conducted in Methodist churches.
16 March 2012
What responses have been made by other Christian bodies?
The Church of England - the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have both made statements supporting traditional views of marriage as between one man and one woman. The views of the Church of England can be found on their website. A number of Anglican bishops have signed the Coalition for Marriage.
The Roman Catholic Church has also openly supported the traditional understanding of marriage. It is a partner in the Coalition for Marriage. Their web page is here.
The United Reformed Church has no statement on this on its web site yet (1st April 2012)
The Baptist Union site has the following statement:
"Consultation on Marriage"
The consultation on marriage that has been launched by the government raises issues of great importance for all Christians. In Baptist churches marriage is traditionally recognized as the union of a man and a woman, and most Baptists would find it unhelpful for the government to attempt to redefine marriage.
We believe that the appropriate place for debate to take place is in the local church and we encourage churches to make their own response to this consultation. The consultation will close on 14 June 2012 and responses need to be made online. (Home Office: Equal civil marriage consultation) Some churches might also find it helpful to make direct contact with their MP to share their views.
The Baptist Union has produced a number of resources to help churches reflect on these important issues. Amongst them are two BUGB publications – Making Moral Choices and Water into Wine. There is a Human Sexuality Training Course available through Regional Associations.
These are enormously important issues and above all else we need to ensure that we are giving high priority to them in our prayers."
The Evangelical Alliance is an organisation which represents more than one million evanglelical Christians in Britain. Their web site has material on this debate here. The Evangelical Alliance is a member of the Coalition for Marriage.
The Coalition for Marriage has been formed by a group of Christian organisations who oppose the Government's proposals. Among these are the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Alliance. Their website can be found here http://c4m.org.uk/. There is a briefing paper from the Coalition here http://c4m.org.uk/resources/
Gay and Lesbian Christians one group's views can be found here http://www.lgcm.org.uk/2012/01/marriage-equality/
What does the Methodist Church teach about marriage?
Marriage is part of Methodist teaching on relationships, in particular those of a sexual nature. The definitive statement of The Methodist Conference on matters of Human sexuality was made at the 1993 Conference and makes six points.
1. The Conference, affirming the joy of human sexuality as God's gift and the place of every human being within the grace of God, recognises the responsibility that flows from this for us all. It therefore welcomes the serious, prayerful and sometimes costly consideration given to this issue by The Methodist Church.
2. All practices of sexuality which are promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning in any way are unacceptable forms of behaviour and contradict God’s purposes for us all.
3. A person shall not be debarred from the church on the grounds of sexual orientation in itself.
4. The Conference reaffirms the traditional teaching of the Church on human sexuality; namely chastity for all outside marriage and fidelity within it. The Conference directs that this affirmation is made clear to all candidates for ministry, office and membership, and having established this affirms that the existing procedures of our church are adequate to deal with all such cases.
5. The Conference resolves that its decision in this debate shall not be used to form the basis of a disciplinary charge against any person in relation to conduct alleged to have taken place before such decisions were made.
6. Conference recognizes, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church. Conference calls on the Methodist people to begin a pilgrimage of faith to combat repression and discrimination, to work for justice and human rights and to give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality."
"The Methodist Church believes that marriage is a gift from God and that it is God's intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body mind and spirit of one man and one woman." (SO 011A)
This is a Standing Order of the Methodist Church. As such it is part of our Doctrine and Discipline.
Point 4 of our resolutions on Human Sexuality reaffirm the 'traditional' teaching of the church - this can only be seen as an affirmation of marriage between a man and a woman.
Methodist Marriage service liturgies, also authorised by the Methodist Conference, also speak of one man and one woman making a covenant relationship for life.
Methodist hymnody, another bearer of our teaching, also refers only to marriage as between a man and a woman.
Since the passing of the resolutions on Human sexuality in 1993 there have been calls for these to be reviewed. A widespread consultation occurred in 2006/7. Many responses were received, of these about half wanted the resolutions to remain as they are. Of the remainder over 60% wanted the resolutions to be changed in a more traditional direction and a bit under 40% wanted a more liberal stance. Conference agreed in 2007 to leave the resolutions as they are.
While Methodist statements do have respect for all people, whoever they are, in current Methodist teaching marriage is a special relationship between a man and a woman.
Some questions for pondering...
1. Marriage under law can be annulled if not consummated - that is stated not to have existed. Marriage differs from Civil Partnerships in that these are not considered in law to need to be consummated. Does the Government's proposals remove the current link between marriage and the sexual relationship of a woman and a man which often leads to children?
2. Is the government's proposal a 'consumerisation' or 'commoditisation' of marriage? That is - does it make something which has been a fundamental part of human society no more than a lifestyle choice?
3. If the Government's proposals are passed will polygamy ( i.e a man with more than one wife or a woman with more than one husband or a group of people of both sexes who are 'married' to each other) also need to be approved?
4. Is it possible to change the meaning of 'marriage' or is it a 'gift from God'?
Action to take...
You can make your views on this topic known to your MP. Your MP will take note of letters from his or her constituents. You can find out who your MP is and their contact details here. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/