Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Non sequitur

To my shame I had to check the spelling of the title :(

Recently, I've come across a few comments relating to civil partnerships / marriages for homosexual couples. There's obviously a lot of hot air generated on both sides of the ethical debate in the context of the Church, and lots of prejudice, poor argumentation and random Bible verses get thrown around.

However, a regular argument that surfaces in Christian comment on the issue is that such partnerships undermine marriage and family. How does that work? 'Straight' people aren't suddenly going to abandon their marriages for gay relationships (or if they do, it probably means they have embarked on an unhappy marriage in an attempt to deny their sexual orientation). Likewise the sexual orientation of gay people isn't dependent on whether civil partnerships are available or not. It a non sequitur

It got me thinking (dangerous, I know). Presumably forms of marriage evolved in societies as ways of providing some external and objective account of who is attached to whom, property rights, custody of children, etc. (also acknowledging it was used as a form of patriarchal control over women in many communities). Having said that, it is also possible to see that there are benefits to the wider community in the definition of partnership relationships being other than simply the arbitrary decision of the couple. It enables them to be identified and understood and even provides some accountability between couple and community.

That might all sound quite conservative, but isn't it advantageous to all of society for gay relationships to have the same opportunity to be orderly and accountable? My understanding is that for a lot of gay people, that is exactly what they want.

Whatever the Christian community might conclude in its views on gay relationships (and that may take eternity - literally) it really doesn't make any sense to suggest that loving and lifelong commitments expressed in gay civil partnerships represent any threat to marriage. In fact, it is worth reflecting on the fact that ther are civil partnerships which are more loving, faithful and authentic commitments than many 'conventional' marriages.


Matthew McMurray said...

These are interesting thoughts. I must confess that I tend to want to be rather conservative on these questions.

I am not sure your analysis of the perceived threat to marriage and family is fair.

As I understand the Judaeo-Christian view of marriage and family, the concern is more to do with the belief that God created man and woman to exist in mutual (and, I believe, equal) relationship and support of each other, and to recreate and thus be a part of the creative nature of God and display that part of God's image. Also, the coming together of man and woman more fully represents the image of God as we are both, being very different, created in the image of God.

There has to be, for me, a belief that human beings are created by God and that the natural order is for men and women to come together. Whilst I would not want to go too far along the road that says that homosexuality is unnatural, I would be hesitant to move to a view that said that a homosexual relationship represented the image of God in the same way. To put the cards on the table, I don't think that they represent the image of God in a way that (good and healthy) heterosexual relationships do (as opposed to destructive ones).

I think that the Church needs to be concerned not to go too far towards a view that raises homosexual relationships to an equal glory as heterosexual ones. Men and women coming together and recreating is, I believe, the pinnacle of God's creation: a part of his own being, nature and power passed on to us his creation.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that I don't believe that the Church should be about such things as persecuting homosexuals or advocating homophobic behaviour. The problem is when homosexuals might accuse somebody with a view like mine of, in fact, being homophobic. I don't equate the two.

The problem for me is what recognition there can be in the Church of homosexual partnerships. Then, of course, there are the questions of sexuality and ministry, and all those sorts of questions, the answers to which I am still trying to figure out, if such a thing is possible.

The way in which homosexual partnerships threaten marriage and family is in the losing of a high view of the divine order in creation and humanity that brings men and women together to have a share in the creative power of God.

Matthew McMurray said...

Also, the coming together of man and woman more fully represents the image of God as we are both, being very different, created in the image of God.I meant to add: "as neither men nor women, of or in themselves, can fully display that image. It is only in the coming together, and the complementarity of male and female, that the image of God is expressed more fully."

Michael Gradwell said...

It was interesting to read your comments as a chaplain on partnerships, marriage and non sequiturs.

Is our sexuality nature of nurture? If you accept that there is any element of nurture then you have to accept that the views of society in general and the Church in particular matter. It isn't a question of getting people to abandon a way of life but trying to influence the lives of others.

For those who are religious, the order that man may gain from a civil partnership is far inferior to the union of the couple formed with Christ.

For believers, if Christ is not involved then it really doesn't matter whether there is a civil partnership or whether the couple live together. Let man have his order but let Christ have his marriage.

Christ told me not to judge others so I am not going to. The religious side of me says that if we have any influence on nurture then we should strongly uphold marriage between man and woman, as so ably put by Matthew, The secular side of me says let people decide as individuals what they wish to do.