As the UK passes the 2nd reading of the bill for Same Sex (but not fully equal) Marriage with a strong majority in Parliament but a minority of Tories, the very party introducing it, I’m left pondering what has marriage got to do with church or state, gender or sexuality? LibDem councillor and trans activist Sarah Brown has ably pointed out the areas of inequality that will still persist for trans, intersex and non-binary people, the eunuchs and tumtums of the biblical period. http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=139
The new Archbishop minces words by saying that he is against the language of exclusion but also against equal marriage. What an oxymoronic thing to say, can anyone in a modern society contrive a sentence that puts together the two words against and equal? Don’t they realise how that sounds, “I am against…equal”! He says we need to create safe spaces for the gays within the church, safe but not the same space, not marriage. And what about trans marriages? What if a male bishop transitioned to female, would s/he have to resign their post because the church hasn’t yet caught up with gender equality? Have they suddenly lost their ability, their theological knowledge, their anointing because of a gender change?
The references that some MPs made to church, faith, bible, natural order, biological complementarity, purpose of having children etc, made me boil. So childless marriages aren’t as legitimate, so the infertile and childless by choice are now second class marrieds. Modern marriage is still defined by semi-ancient edicts, those of men, bishops, state and society. It has often been revised, changing laws about age in 1763 (12 years and older was legal then, probably not far off the age of the mother of Jesus!) and again in 1949 to protect under 16s. A century ago, married women could not own property independently. An institution in the past designed to control and manage inheritance and family, it was about male ownership, heirs and owning women (not just one) as property, slaves. The vows were “take, obey, yield….”. Biblically they could marry 4 women (just as muslims and mormons maintained) so long as you did not marry a woman AND her mother, you could be married off by your father without choice as the daughter or even as the son to your brother’s widow if childless, you could be forgiven sleeping with a betrothed slave for the price of a ram, could divorce a woman for pretty much anything yet she could not divorce a man at all.
Marriage is not between a man and a wife but between a person and other person(s). Marriage is about state-religious control, a socio-religious construct; relationship, on the other hand, is about love, care, companionship, equality, understanding, romance, respect etc. I am with the eponymous misogynist St Paul in Galatians on this “there is neither male nor female, slave nor free in Christ”, so a Christian marriage is not about gender or owner/headship if it is “in Christ”.
Furthermore, I think God affirmed other forms of marriage in Genesis by choosing as father of faith, Abraham, the husband of two wives; Jacob (who became Israel) as father of 12 tribes including Judah and husband of four wives. Not to mention Adam and Eve being the closest possible blood relations, Cain, Abel and Seth marrying their sisters, Shem, Ham and Japheth’s children marrying each other. Then there was Onan/Levirate obligatory sister-in-law marriage, spoils of war marriages. Don’t forget the fact that if we are quoting the Bible to define marriage than only virginal marriages (of the woman, the man need not be a virgin!) are valid according to Deuteronomy 22.
The fear that ‘gay’ marriage would lead to poly marriage or bestiality is ludicrous scaremongering. 50 countries support polyamorous marriage only 1 of those also supports gay marriage, so there is a greater connection between heterosexual marriage and likelihood to allow polyamory!
Another fear that the quadruple lock to prevent religious institutions being taken to court for not allowing same sex marriage, has not been borne out by evidence in Holland the first country to allow it 12 years ago (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21321731), even in Denmark where churches are now obliged to offer it, no minister can be required to perform it, and much like an anti-abortion doctor can pass on the responsibility to another willing minister – if one exists.
The argument from Adam and Eve, as opposed to Steve, as when Jesus commented on divorce, that before the Fall, it was just man and woman, negates the fact that that then legitimises sibling marriage. There is even a Genetic Sexual Attraction Forum for sibling love.
Arguing that marriage without possibility of procreation, is ‘naturally impossible’ and therefore unnatural between same sex couples, forgets that the same is true of infertile couples, many intersex persons etc. Citing the Bible on this is dubious at best, as God is able to intervene in these situations and make it happen or allows a man to sleep with another woman to get a child (surrogacy, often used by gay men).
Jesus was a biological impossibility, sex between a probably 12yo virgin and a unigendered bodyless divinity! Marriage is used throughout scripture as a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, divorced and remarried indeed on more than one occasion, yet that was not about natural procreation but just love, the gender identity or sexuality of Israel or God are not necessary to realise it is about love and commitment. Love is normal, that comes even before procreative possibilities or impossibilities. God is love, therefore, S/He would sanction expressions and commitments of that love between two or perhaps more loving persons.
In St. Catherine’s monastery on Mount Sinai, there is an icon which shows two robed Christian saints getting married. Their ‘pronubus’ (official witness, or “best man”) is Jesus Christ. The happy couple are 4th Century Christian martyrs, Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus – both men.
Yale historian John Richard Boswell discovered this early Christian history and wrote about it nearly 20 years ago in “Same Sex Unions In Pre-Modern Europe“ (1994). In ancient church liturgical documents, he found the existence of an “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th and 11th century Greek) and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century Slavonic).
So let’s not claim that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, for it sometimes been between a man and more than one woman, or between a man and a man, or between a God and a nation or a virgin, in the eyes of some Marian extremism.
A final word on prejudice and bigotry, name-calling never achieved change. Bigotry comes from a millennium old use of “by God” and a mockery of the Norman French, it later came to mean religious hypocrisy and prejudice. Gordon Allport in his classic book The Nature of Prejudice (1954) treats the subject well and distinguishes between prejudgements and prejudice, those that meet emotional resistance during challenge and those that can be explored rationally, “If a person is capable of rectifying his erroneous judgments in the light of new evidence he is not prejudiced”. I once opposed homosexuality and more as an evangelical Christian, it was both ongoing theological and historical study, matched with meeting sincere spiritual people of alternative sexualities, and coming out as trans and queer myself, that led me to reconsider and lose my prejudice. So activists, give the prejudging religious a chance to lose their prejudices via debate, argument and encounter, without abuse. Just as with the recent Suzanne Moore/trans activists/Julie Burchill spat which escalated out of control through invective rather than engagement, debate and mutual learning needs some degree of respect to get anywhere. Blessed are the peacemakers, which does not have to mean compromise, but just the manner of engagement, it is far more likely to win friends and influence people than all out war.