It seems to me that the majority of objections to marriage equality in the UK and U.S. are religious ones and all of these objections are due to the secularisation of marriage. What I mean by this is the process by which marriage is separated from religion and the new phenomenon of civil marriage is created. Indeed no religious material can be mentioned even implicitly in such a ceremony. Despite the fact that civil marriage is supposed to be separate from the church, religious people still feel a sense of ownership of an institution which they view as theirs and this is where the problems lie.
Heterosexual couples have been able to marry in hotels, beaches and other non-religious places for a number of years now, yet I recall no objection from the church in these cases. This was most likely because the church did not feel threatened by the non-Christian heterosexual couple. However, the Christian LGBT couple present a challenging question to the Church of England of ‘changing with the times’, something that the church is not particularly adept at.
I have been following the tribunal of Jeremy Pemberton, a Church of England chaplain who married his partner and was thus denied a licence to accept a promotion. The dispute is over whether this is employment discrimination. To the majority of people, it blatantly is. The Church of England, as Pemberton’s employer, have denied him a licence to work as a chaplain simply because he married his partner. The Church of England even acknowledge that this was the sole cause of the licence retraction.
More recently, Jeremy Timm, a lay reader, has left the Church of England after being forced by Archbishop of York to “choose between marriage and ministry”. It appears that Dr Sentamu cannot comprehend the means by which someone can be married to someone of the same sex as well as a member of the Church of England. These situations are made all the more tragic by the acknowledgment that both Pemberton and Timm’s ministries were “much valued”, yet their licences are revoked simply by marrying who they love.
Christians view marriage as a sacrament, ‘a holy union of man and woman…ordained for the procreation of children’, according to the Book of Common Prayer. Some see non-heterosexual marriage as a threat to what they have always known to be a cornerstone of society. I understand that. However, the Houses of Parliament have made the decision that non-heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry in secular settings as well as those where the religious institution agrees. Everyone, even those who don’t agree, should respect that decision. It does not change the life of the Archbishop of York whether or not Pemberton or Timm spend an hour of their life pledging their commitment and love to their partners. It is the outward appearance of the Church of England which Sentamu and other clergy are desperate to preserve. They want the church to “set a good example to other Christians”, well I can’t see a better way to show God’s love to the world than to show your love for your partner. After all, the Book of Common Prayer compares the love of Christ to his church with the love of a married couple.
Some would say that marriage is unnecessary, leading to the argument of ‘why aren’t gay people satisfied with civil partnerships?’. The necessity of marriage is not up for debate here. The matter is simply one of equality. If either of these men were getting married in a religious context, then perhaps the opinions of Sentamu and other clergy may have more merit. However, these marriages are entirely secular ones. The registrar allows no mention of religion, however implicit.
The fact remains that the Church of England is denying these men the right to marry, separate from the church and religion, just because they cannot grasp the concept of a secular marriage.