For those unsure of what “Proposition 8” refers to, The Times provides a summary:

Californians didn’t vote solely to elect a commander-in-chief on November 4. They also voted on a handful of proposed laws written and placed on the ballot by citizens themselves. One of them was Proposition 8, to amend the state’s constitution so as to overturn a ruling that recognised gay marriages.

Against all the odds, and most of the opinion polls, Proposition 8 was passed into law, thanks in large part to a massive get-out-the-vote campaign by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).

So now, after 18,000 legal gay weddings over nearly five months … providing gay couples with the same legal recognition and protection as straight couples – same-sex unions are once again as illicit as crack.

It has since been suggested that the LDS (aka, the Mormons) spent an incredible $20 million pushing Proposition 8. Its leaders even composed a letter to be read to every congregation, declaring that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His Children”. This from the same organisation that brought us elderly prophets with broods of under-age brides, before the polygamists defected and escaped to fortified Texas compounds….

From what I understand, same-sex civil unions have no effect whatsoever on churches: they are free to impose whatever conditions they like on their own wedding ceremonies; so why the massive effort to deny other people the protection of the law?

Equal rites

Many of the most vociferous opponents of blessing and giving of equal legal rights to committed same-sex couples are themselves on their second or more heterosexual “marriage”. They quote vigorously from a half dozen verses which are variously interpreted (and not one from the mouth of Jesus) but regularly studiously avoid the clear biblical teaching, including from our Lord himself, that divorce is grave sin. With the concept of committed same-sex relationships being absent from the culture and times of the biblical authors, one should not be surprised that there is no biblical teaching on this. One needs, hence, to construct such ethics on the understanding of sex, sexuality, relationships, and so on. The trajectory has been clear: the acceptance of artificial birth-control (the reversal of traditional teaching at Lambeth 1930), through the diminishing of the centrality of procreation in revised marriage rites, to the acceptance of non-procreative sex between homosexual partners. Roman Catholic official teaching has seen the inevitability of progressing through this trajectory, but its teaching on contraception is almost totally ignored, and its practice of annulments makes its teachings on divorce farcical.

Mixed up on marriage

To attempt to draw a consistent, reasonable Christian teaching about marriage from churches and their practice appears nigh on impossible. Here are just a few of the current conundrums:

  • The (NZ) Anglican position currently needs a marriage to have the intention to be life-long and exclusive. Yet I know of many, including clergy, who have a pre-nuptial agreement. Is that not like crossing your fingers while you take the vows? Is making a pre-nuptial agreement grounds for an annulment in the Roman Catholic Church?
  • The (New Zealand) state law says nothing about either life-long or exclusive – and does not require this in any “marriage” vows. Yet the church appears to call people married by the state “married”. Anglican and other clergy will happily bless such state marriages – are they blessing a “marriage”?
  • Roman Catholic marriage celebrants regularly marry couples they know, in the eyes of their church, cannot get married, nor is their marriage recognised by their church. They are clearly making a farce and mockery of the marriage sacrament. Yet the marriage celebrants continue to officiate at such ceremonies, are not excommunicated, and, in fact, I am unaware of any Roman Catholic official comment on such practices.
  • The Church of England has one of the most stringent anti-divorce positions in Christianity (interesting – with Henry VIII in its lineage!) Hence Prince Charles and Camilla could not be married in church. But the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed their state marriage immediately following that ceremony. Are they married? In the eyes of the CofE? Is the Christian marriage rite not the exchanging of vows followed by a blessing – how does this differ in the case of Prince Charles and Camilla?
  • Roman Catholics can, on a number of grounds, have their marriage annulled. This declares that a marriage never existed. Magically, the legitimacy of the children is unaffected. But have the couple been committing the sin of fornication throughout their (non-married) relationship? How does a couple know they are actually married? If they want to be certain, should they apply rigorously for an annulment and then know they are actually married when (as would be rare!) they are repeatedly refused an annulment? Does a couple know they are actually married if they stay together until one of them dies? Or have they been living in sin all their lives and now it is too late to check?
  • A couple where the woman is post-menopausal may marry in the Roman Catholic Church, but not the impotent or paraplegics. If they marry outside the church, are they married? If you have a “Josephite marriage” (where the marriage is not consummated, and the couple agrees to abstain from sex) this is accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, but may be grounds either for canonisation, or for an annulment!
  • In some Anglican provinces baptism is not a requirement for sacramental Christian marriage. In the Church of England a priest could be required to perform a marriage ceremony for (eg.) a Hindu couple living with the parish boundaries. S/he would be obligated to use the Christian Marriage rite. Is it then a Christian marriage?
  • An Anglican priest known but quietly living in a same-sex relationship would have little concern, but if publicly committing to this relationship will lose his/her licence as a breach of the formularies. An unmarried couple presenting a child for baptism are required to declare their renunciation of evil and turning to Christ. I have yet to hear of a refusal of such a baptism on the basis that it is incompatible with the formularies.

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