Sunday, 11 March 2012

Marriage … what is it all about?

Today I read that:

The Catholic Church today told worshippers they have a ‘duty’ to resist Government plans on gay marriage.

A letter from two senior archbishops, read in 2,500 parish churches during Mass, argued changes would reduce the significance of marriage

Read more:

The Guardian mentions it here.

The Washington Post here.

And the BBC here.

There are hundreds of articles from different sources that have appeared within the past 24 hours.

The text of the letter is here. In case it disappears from that link I’ve copied it here.

I don’t know how the people that have heard the letter being read out to them have felt about it.

In looking around a little I did come across some refreshing places.

Queering the Church  which has also led me to the Coalition for Equal Marriage which has a petition with the following wording:

I support the right of two people in love to get married, regardless of gender. It's only fair 

I’ve just signed it. It’s worth reading the thoughts they have about the uniqueness of marriage and the consequences of changing the legal definition of marriage.

The content at Queering the Church here and here is especially heartening, somehow.

I also found Press for Change which has some interesting stuff relating particularly to trans-gendered people.

The text of the letter from the Bishops is here. I’ve interlaced it with some of my own thoughts in italics. And a lot of people have similar thoughts.

A Letter on Marriage from the President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference of
England and Wales

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.

Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.

I’ve seen it expressed, by Catholic’s, that what follows is the vision of some Bishops and church leaders. Rather than being the Catholic vision.

I believe that not all Catholics share this vision.

However, I don’t know enough about leadership, church structure and authority in the Catholic church to be sure about what difference this actually makes.

I know, from experience, that in some churches, if the leaders say this the way it is, then if you think it is some other way you have to go and join a different church.

The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the
Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.

I’m not sure anyone really knows where the roots of the institution of marriage lie. It’s quite a mish-mash

I have a feeling, though, that it’s more about love and commitment than it is about gender.

We are human … and built into us there seems to be a need to both give and to receive love. I don’t see that gender needs to be the main issue in this.

A man and a woman can complement each other … but so can two men or two women.

The natural reproductive pattern of the human species is about gender. But does marriage necessarily include reproduction? Heterosexual partners don’t usually have to make marriage vows that include reproduction. There are promises to accept and love children but not usually to procreate. At least that’s how this reads to me.

Nature itself is a contradictory kind of thing. I don’t believe that marriage is an institution with laws that are governed and dictated by nature.

Contrarily, I suspect that religions and societies developed the concept of marriage to define a structure in which stable , loving and committed relationships could develop and flourish.

Because of this I think that it’s fair enough to redefine it if the redefinition serves to extend this stability to other people.

Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.

People understand that the ideal of marriage is a lifelong commitment. No one that I know of plans on redefining this.

My own feelings, though, are that it is a commitment to do things like:

- to accept children lovingly 

- to be true in good times and bad, sickness and health

- to love and to honour

It’s not about promising to reproduce. Nor does it necessarily have to be a commitment between a man and a woman, unless we choose to make it that way.

Love and commitment are the things at the foundation of society.

Marriage provides a way for people to promise openly that they will love each other and commit themselves to that love and to each other.

Marriage actually guarantees nothing.

It’s the love and commitment that do the work.

Marriage is a vehicle through which the love and commitment can be expressed.

If the definition of marriage is changed so that people who happen to be of the same sex can make the same promises of love and commitment doesn’t that have the power to strengthen society rather than weaken it?


There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that  the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.

I don’t have a problem with this, other than to say it represents an ideal. An ideal that is sometimes impossible to achieve.

In the real world parents die, wars happen and families break.

In the real world some children would be better living well outside their natural families.

And some children would even be better outside of the institutions that have pledged to take care of them when they have no family.

Stable relationships are a good thing. I think most people accept this. But I don’t see that stability necessarily involves reproduction and child rearing. It involves love and commitment.

The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a  partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the
dignity of a sacrament.’

These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.

This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.

In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its
sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.

In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.

The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.

Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to
the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.

We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.

I don’t know … it seems like the meaning of marriage here is being reduced to being all about having children.

It’s almost as though someone has sat down and though … “what is it that same sex partnerships can’t do” and then based a whole argument upon it.

My own feelings are that children are best brought up within loving and stable relationships. And that people who have children should try to make it work that way.

I can see why religions then say that people should marry before having children. As an expression of love and commitment.

But I’m not at all sure about the way it’s being twisted the other way around. Implying that you should have children if you want to be married, rather than if you want to have children you should get married.

Children … and grown ups as well … thrive best when they are loved and when they know that this love is stable and committed.

In one of the Bible passages that I like a lot (and I know, I am as picky as anyone) it says a lot about love but nowhere does it say that love is exclusively a man and a woman thing.

Changing the legal definition of marriage may have profound results.

With every blessing.

Most Reverend Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Westminster

President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Most Reverend Peter Smith

Archbishop of Southwark

Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales


I know there's more than a single point of view for everything.

So, if you’re aged 16 or over and live in the UK … take a look at and think about it. And also take a look at to see the opposite side.

And then … be reasonable minded bout this and sign the petition at Smile

No comments: