Redefining Marriage and the C4M

A few days ago I read a great piece on the Coalition for Marriage over at Andy’s Study. I’m in broad agreement with his conclusions which, unsurprisingly, are largely the same as my reasons for not signing the petition. Interestingly, Matthew Parris has also joined the debate and made similar arguments in his Times column (which have since been picked up by the Christian Institute). There are a few comments I think worth adding.

It is true that the crux of the argument seems to revolve around who defines the word ‘marriage’. Frankly, I find it odd that this has caused any argument at all. The reality is anybody can call anything whatever they will. Simply because one person chooses to define something in a particular way doesn’t necessarily make it so. That Christians want to define marriage in a particular way does not necessarily make marriage that which they define. Similarly, that the government want to define marriage in a different way does nothing to alter the reality of what a marriage actually is. The suggestions of Andy’s Study and Matthew Parris seem to recognise this and therefore suggest, legally, we do not define marriage at all and allow each his own definition (right or wrong though that definition may be). 

Legally, it seems right to me that all people should have access to the same rights and freedoms (for more fully formed thoughts on this see Should Christians try to bring biblical law into civil society). Contracts to formalise living arrangements – and let’s be under no illusions, legally speaking, marriage is not much more than this – should be available to anyone who wants them be they brother and sister, uncle and nephew, or whatever. Civil Partnerships, although currently not available to a whole host of people (a result of the ill-conceived ideas surrounding the legal definition of marriage), would seem to be the natural answer to this. One can have a Civil Partnership, a purely legal contract, without being married. Likewise, those who view marriage as important can have a Civil Partnership as well as being married according to whatever definition they choose to take.

Unfortunately, Christians who are now agitating about the legal definition of marriage somewhat shot themselves in the foot during the debate surrounding the introduction of Civil Partnerships. Had Christians accepted from the outset that Civil Partnership were not marriage, nor equivalent to marriage, the simple solution would be to implement them, available to all, as protection in law alongside marriage for those who deemed it important. Sadly, the fuss kicked up by Christians (see comments by the Christian Institute) make it profoundly unlikely that many will view this as an acceptable solution.

It is a sad reality that many Christians are keen to gain freedoms for themselves and less keen to win them for others. There is irony in that many of those in the dissenting tradition, once a disenfranchised group active in seeking freedoms for many, are now the very people arguing against the freedoms they have been granted. Admittedly, this is far from a phenomenon limited to Christians – it seems to be a very human reaction – however, as Christians we are surely called to be different (again, for more fully formed thoughts on this, see Right-wing Evangelicalism has forgotten its heritage).

I am convinced the answer lies in removing legal definitions of marriage altogether and replacing it with a contract in the form of Civil Partnerships. The only issue that would remain is whether churches would be required to carry out same-sex Civil Partnerships. The sensible answer would seem to be that churches would never carry out any Civil Partnerships, only marriages (in accordance with their own definition – hopefully biblical – of the term). Therefore, civil partnerships – the legal contract – would only be conducted by the State and marriages would be carried out by whomever wished to do so in accordance with their own definitions of what that entails.

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