The problem, which many of us might argue is of their own making, has its roots is the House of Bishops decision to approve the legislation that introduced Civil Partnerships instead of equal marriage back in 2004. The pace of change was such that compromise was inevitable and so bishops offered limited support to civil partnerships for same sex couples because civil partnership looked different from marriage, on the spurious argument that since penetrative sexual intercourse was not a condition of fulfilment of the contract of civil partnership, a civil partnership could be a celibate relationship.
The Church has chosen to imagine that the defining difference between a Civil Partnership and Marriage is the place of sexual activity within them. There was a bit of bluster over the weekend about the place of vows, but this simply doesn’t hold in the case of civil marriage. But this is not the way the world beyond the Church understands what is going on here, and as a result we are losing the opportunity to offer purpose and meaning to both marriage and civil partnerships.
If the purpose of marriage is reduced to that of sexual intercourse which is open to the procreation of children, we loose the beauty of marriage in later life, as well as the marriage that embraces people with disabilities or infertility as the result of illness, never mind the possibility of marriage between people whose sexual activity is not procreative because of their gender or gender realignment.
If the House of Bishops persists in the illusion that civil partnerships are a legal mechanism for protecting inheritance rights in celibate friendships, they are losing the opportunity to support a step that could provide much needed stability and protection for the millions of children living in households with parents who are not married.