Andrew Goddard–Should we Redefine Marriage?

The key claim and insight in the C4M petition is that what is being proposed is the redefinition of marriage. Supporters of the change express it in terms of extending rights or equality or permitting same-sex marriage. However, what it is, at heart, is a question of how, in and through law, we as a community should recognise, categorise and name the different patterns of human relationships in our society. It is not creating “same-sex marriage” but redefining marriage to include both same-sex and opposite-sex couples within it without distinction. There will, in other words, be no legal category or term for what we now ”“ and have for centuries ”“ called “marriage”: “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”.

The question that needs to be thought through is, therefore, whether we as a society believe such a redefinition of our terminology is one that offers us a better description of reality and serves the good of society. The initial evidence suggests that what is being done is at best highly paradoxical and perhaps even incoherent. The government are proposing that what we still consistently compare and contrast with terms that are mutually exclusive ”“ same-sex (homo-) and opposite-sex (hetero-) patterns of relationship – should no longer be distinguished in the law of our land as “civil partnerships” and “marriage”. Rather, both should be classed as an undifferentiated whole and given the same generic name ”“ marriage. Not a new name but the name which has always been used for the more common heterosexual relationship pattern. It is rarely helpful to eliminate existing categories by subsuming two (or more) quite specific, different and previously distinguished phenomena under the same term, particularly when that term was one previously used for one of those more specific categories. Recognition of differences as well as similarities is vital ”“ we would not wish all motor vehicles to be identified as “cars” or all colours to be classed as “blue”.

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3 comments on “Andrew Goddard–Should we Redefine Marriage?

  1. Jim the Puritan says:

    I think it will be important as this moves forward for Christians to distinguish their relationship from that of the world. While I am not for calling the new relationships “pseudo-marriages,” which only inflames the gay activists, we should emphasize the differences between Christian marriages and secular marriages. This may be good, because in my opinion the Church has itself ignored and belittled the institution of marriage for several generations, and this is why we are in the mess we are in.

  2. Henry Greville says:

    I suggest going even further. Christian clergy should stop acting as agents of states with authority “to pronounce” a man and woman “husband and wife,” and should – solely under their church’s ecclesiastical authority and in line with their own consciences – give the Christian church’s blessing to marriages that have been already civilly-performed and recorded according to secular law. Besides, if clergy can’t legally divorce people, why should clergy legally marry them?!

  3. TomRightmyer says:

    England, the former English colonies and other countries not influenced by the anticlericalism of the French Revolution retain the medieval role of the church in marriage in which the church witnesses and blesses the union of man and women. An alternative civil marriage system also exists. I am grateful for the explicit statement in the canons of the Episcopal Church allowing clergy to decline to solemnize any marriage. I have used that a very few times in 45 years of ordained ministry. While I can appreciate Henry Greville’s statement (2) I think his suggestion is contrary to our tradition.