The Church of England has got itself into a mess as usual with regard to same-sex marriage and civil partnerships.
Having opposed civil partnerships from their inception, some church leaders later supported them for what looked like strategic, ecclesiastical reasons. They could be used to support the Church of England’s own holding position.
The Church of England was saying to homosexuals: ‘We cannot go as far as giving you marriage, but we can give you civil partnerships with a few quiet prayers (psst, just don’t tell the traditionalists). Now go away, dear, and be grateful’.
At the same time, it was saying to traditional believers in a more peremptory manner: ‘We have not changed the teaching of the Church. There’s nothing going on here. Now go away and be grateful.’
But it was always pretty obvious that Church leaders were at odds over teaching on homosexuality. The parallels with the Brexit process are extraordinary. We have also seen the tortuous efforts of Theresa May to kick the can down the road, thereby avoiding crisis after crisis. This is paralleled by the ‘good disagreement’ process that aims to delay the most divisive of decisions for as long as possible.
Presumably, it is thought that the combatants will be on life support by the time the decision must finally be taken.
The Supreme Court has now judged that civil partnerships are discriminatory because they are only on offer to homosexuals and not others. The Government is consulting over whether to abolish civil partnerships or open them up to heterosexuals.
In my view civil partnerships do not have to be sexual relationships so they should be opened up to other kind of relationships in which people live together for long-term companionship, such as brothers and sisters. This was argued by traditionalists in the 1990s when civil partnerships were first mooted.
But this means that it is no longer possible for the Church of England to pretend that civil partnerships can be used to put homosexual relationships into a separate but equal category. The Church of England’s room for compromise is reducing uncomfortably.
It can either stick with traditional teaching and hold up marriage between a man and a woman as the Christian model for relationships. Or it can follow other liberal churches to a more permissive and progressive view of marriage, which includes homosexual couples.
Either of these options would result in a more honest Church. After all, if the Church goes with the zeitgeist at least homosexuals would know they are not being patronised and lied to any longer and traditional believers could make their own choices. Conversely, if the Church is faithful to its teachings then that would be a healthy, honest, decent and loving outcome to the debate.
–from the Church of England Newpaper, July 6, 2018, edition, page 20 (subscriptions encouraged)