Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Homophobic Disintegration

This time it is the Archbishop's Council, making its anti-equality statement, regarding marriage, whereas the mess on the legislation for women to become bishops is the responsibility of the House of Bishops.

The consultation of the government with the Church of England does not seem to extend to the Church of England consulting its own bodies of authority. Perhaps it has an authoritarian view of itself, at the top.

The position of the Church of England is that of, recently, the Archbishop of York. It is hyperbolic and the same strained nonsense. It merges its own doctrine of marriage with apparent social custom. But social custom shifts, and can do rapidly, and is doing. Even its own Book of Common Prayer is not as secure as it thinks for reasons of so-called complimentarity (do they mean plumbing?) as it gives reasons for marriage that would support gay marriage. Thus the dubious document of response quotes Common Worship instead.

It says the government is confusing religious ceremony and civil ceremony as different marriages, whereas there is one marriage. But then one marriage comes about through social custom, and that custom is by consent, and that consent is changing. You might be fooled that doctrine carries objective truth, but there is no objective truth in social custom.

The Church never welcomed civil partnerships, and it says these are enough to maintain legal equalities. But it is not about legal equalities but social custom!

If the Church wants unique access to maintain its religious route to social and legal custom, then it has to change. Otherwise it has to be a private provider of marriage ceremonies and to those for which it discriminates. It can say it will provide for any heterosexuals connected with a local church in a church, and to no homosexuals regardless. But then it must cease to be the State Church.

Its argument should be that it provides true marriage and does so via the religious route of its own believing, according to doctrine, and it happens by social custom not to marry those married by civil means, even if that is an inadequate method to marry. In other words, it ought to be honest that the ceremony does matter and is, in fact, crucial.

But already someone with a Civil Partnership cannot also marry, so someone with such a Partnership cannot marry in Church. So the Civil Partnership clearly does impinge on marriage and is not some other legal tidying-up nicety. But if the Church married people privately, it could do so, dismissing other forms of partnership that it regards as irrelevant from the point of view of emotional partnership forming. That is, the Civil Partnership is not simply some means to make forming a will easier or conveniently tying up some legal knots, but the Church could imagine that it is for its own purposes. It can do that if it is not connected with the State.

It is all the sociology and theology too of institutionalised homophobia. It doesn't really see Civil Partnerships properly: it regards them as legal niceties that may or may not have some emotional aspect. It won't offer blessings for Civil Partnerships even though they are part of the State and social custom.

The statement has been explosive, with an immediate 'Not in my name' campaign started.

But others are leaving. My online friend Erika has decided not to sign a petition but to leave. My sometime debating partner, who would persist in her theological argument being loyal to this Church, and accuse me of always undermining basic arguments, has cut the rope. Once upon a time I used to debate with Merseymike, who was a theist to my non-realism. He ended up leaving the Church and dropping Christianity and is now a 'materialist', regarding the Church of England with contempt. It will be interesting to see how Erika changes her views now she has no obligation towards the homophobic institution. In my last months within a church and parish, I made a distinction between the locality and the national Church, but increasingly one could not maintain the local and try to dismiss the national. I was identifying with both, and that was not ethically possible. However, I also had theological difficulties that meant withdrawal locally too in terms of ceremonial participation.

It seems to me that as a society we should allow social custom to evolve (if rapidly at present) and to do this have marriage available to couples regardless, and also Civil Partnerships available to couples regardless. The latter could then develop its own definitions, particularly based around friendship and a different level of emotional association and be an agreement about sharing. Marriage implies a stronger unit and bonding, and indeed involves personal resources. Religious bodies could provide ceremonies for marriage and indeed for partnerships, as they see fit, but these are registered with the State.

If a Church does not care for social custom as it develops, then it should stop trying to serve it. The Church of England ought to be disestablished. A body that is homophobic (and cannot even raise women to equal leadership) ought to be removed from its legal connections with the State when it has found itself at such a distance from the State and social custom. In any case, the notion of establishment seems very archaic and irrelevant. We can choose our religions and religious ceremonies, thank you very much.


Kenneth Robertson said...

The constant use of the word 'homophobic' to describe those who do not wish to see same sex marriage introduced impedes debate, in the same way that the use of the term 'racist' to describe those who have reservations about the level of immigration has detracted over the years from a balanced consideration of that matter.
The fact is that applying the term 'marriage' to same-sex civil partnerships will add nothing substantive in law to those relationships. The liberalising measure was the introduction of civil partnerships ; gay marriage will involve the 'torture' of the English language as John Sentamu has rightly observed. The government has authority to change the law - however when that involves changing the dictionary we are approaching,in my opinion, the world of Orwell's 1984.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Civil partnerships fail to provide the same rights and obligations as marriage. For example, they lack portability. They are far less likely to be recognized in other jurisdictions than marriage. The Canadian government, which allows for marriage equality, for example, does not recognize civil partnerships. Likewise, Spain. New York State, where my husband, Murdoch, and I live, cannot recognize civil partnerships because there is no equivalent here. There is only marriage. An English same-sex couple with a civil partnership would have to marry here if they want to be treated as a family.

A government which puts a whole class of people into a separate and unequal institution for no good reason may fairly be said to be homophobic.

The English situation is complicated by an unnecessary entanglement of church and state.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Kenneth Robertson said...

Gary's points illustrate that in the case of marriage/civil partnership legislation, changes in the law by one country can create confusion and difficulty for those persons whom they are intended to benefit. The Canadian government of Stephen Harper has stated that a same-sex marriage involving a national of another jurisdiction may not be valid unless same-sex marriage is also permitted in that jurisdiction, which puts in doubt many of the s-sex marriages that have been contracted in Canada since 2004.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Kenneth, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, has had the divorce laws changed in Canada to clarify that foreign same-sex couples who marry in Canada are recognized as married in Canada. He had a bad day in January when one of his government lawyers expressed an opinion in court that a Florida lesbian couple who married in Canada were not entitled to file for divorce in Canada because because Florida lacks marriage equality. Public opinion and the rest of his government were not eager to go back on marriage equality, so the law was changed to allow for foreigners who married in Canada to divorce in Canada especially, as in this case, where the jurisdiction where they reside would not grant them a divorce.

My point is that marriage, because it exists in all countries, is easier to litigate for recognition, whereas civil partnerships, which don't exist outside the United Kingdom, expose UK same-sex couples to much more legal uncertainty when they go abroad. The UK doesn't expose married opposite-sex couples to the same uncertainty when move or travel abroad.

Marriage is the all-purpose term.

New York State largely recognized my Canadian marriage when Murdoch and I got back from Montreal in 2005 even though New York State at that time did not allow same-sex couples to solemnize their marriages in New York. New York still does not recognize civil unions, which would be the American equivalent to civil partnerships.

I consider civil partnerships a silly separate-and-unequal institution. For transgender people the dichotomy of civil marriage and civil partnerships gets even sillier. Under the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, a married couple must dissolve their marriage in order for one of the spouses to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to change his or her legal sex. The couple may apply immediately for a civil partnership.

Equal marriage or marriage equality would not require the couple to do anything because they would remain married even after the sex change of one of the spouses.

The simple solution is to have the same institution, marriage, for all couples, so nobody falls through the cracks.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

The case of the married lesbian couple, one of them residing in Florida, the other in the United Kingdom, is still winding its way through the Canadian courts. The government has said it wishes to waive residency requirements for foreign same-sex couples who married in Canada and who cannot get divorced where they live. But things take time with the courts and Parliament.

Gary Paul Gilbert