In last Sunday’s Second Reading we hear the famous passage from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which is a favourite chosen by so many couples for their Wedding Service – whichever Christian denomination they belong to, whichever Church they get married in.
The words St Paul chooses to describe love – always patient and kind, never jealous, boastful or conceited, never rude or selfish, does not take offence and is not resentful; taking no pleasure in other peoples’ sins but delighting in the truth, always ready to excuse, trust, hope and endure whatever comes – sum up perfectly what being married is all about.
This afternoon, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament. Coincidence? Or Divine intervention in the timing of the passage of the Bill through Parliament?
We have heard much in recent months from the Roman Catholic Hierarchy of England and Wales, and of Scotland, expressing their out-and-out opposition to the Bill and to what they describe as “the re-definition of marriage”. They trot out the old argument that the “sole purpose” of marriage is the procreation of children, therefore because same-sex couples can’t have children by the “natural method” then they can’t get married.
It’s not about the “sex thing” – what anybody, gay or straight, chooses to do in the privacy of their own home is nobody else’s business but their own and really shouldn’t be part of the debate. It is about the right of any couple to have their love and commitment celebrated and legally recognised.
But what about the love? What about the express desire on the part of the couple getting married to commit themselves to each other for life, to the exclusion of all others, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health? Does that no longer matter, or is marriage just supposed to be some sort of baby-making factory? Listening to some of the invective, you’d think that it was. “The purpose of marriage is to have babies, same sex couples can’t have babies, so they can’t be married”.
Well what about an opposite-sex couple who for whatever reason are unable to have children? Does this mean that they can’t be married? Case of trying to have your cake and eat it on the part of the Bishops one thinks.
Having more-or-less lost the argument over same-sex couples not being able to procreate – or, rather, should I say, given the fact that most of the population seems to have had enough of the line being trotted out, the anti-equal marriage brigades are now trying to claim that there is no mandate, that it was never in any Party manifesto at the last General Election.
Complete and utter rot. Equal marriage was mentioned – to great applause – by David Cameron in his first Party Conference speech as Leader of the Conservative Party. It formed part of the Conservative Party’s Manifesto for Equalities. It has been official Liberal Democrat policy for years. The political commentator Iain Dale very successfully, and succinctly debunks the “no mandate” notion in an open letter to Members of Parliament on his website.
As an Independent Catholic Priest I have for a long time been convinced that the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have got the whole equal marriage thing wrong. And I remain convinced of that. If two people – regardless of sexual status or orientation – wish to make a lifelong, loving commitment to one another, then they should as a matter of basic human rights be allowed to have that commitment fully recognised by the State, and if they so wish, to be married by a Priest or Minister who is happy and able to perform the ceremony for them.
In demanding that the Bill be voted down, the Roman Bishops are seeking to impose their will on those denominations and faiths who do wish to be able to make marriage open to all. That, to me, does not spread the message of a God of Love sitting on a Throne of Grace. Maybe they need to take a good hard look at history – why did the Reformation happen in the first place? Why are Independent and National Catholic Churches springing up all over the world, remaining Catholic but separate from Rome? Thinking for yourself never was encouraged by the Roman Church. Those who did usually ended up as victims of the Inquisition.
If we look around the world, there are a number of nations which have equal marriage on their statute books. Have the heavens opened and God inflicted a terrible vengeance on them? Has the fabric of society been torn apart? Has the family been weakened in any way? No, No and No.
We have to remember that it took a very long time for the Roman Catholic Church to realise that the likes of Galileo and Copernicus were right, that the earth isn’t flat, that it doesn’t sit at the centre of the Universe with everything else rotating around it
We are constantly being reminded by God that all are equal in His eyes. Time for that to be remembered.
Let us all pray today that this afternoon’s Debate in the House of Commons brings out the best in people, not the worst.
A friend composed the following prayer:
We thank you for the gift of love, which you created at the dawn of time, to be a blessing for all generations throughout the earth, and an earthly reflection of Your passionate, possessive, jealous love for us through all the ages.
We pray that you would fill each and every marriage with your love and grace, and that every husband and wife would know the joy that comes from sharing and giving.
We know, Lord, that every marriage is a model of Your love for us, but that it exists in this varied, evolving, finite, flawed world, that is created as You have seen fit. We thus ask Your blessing upon all married people, and upon all those whose love makes their union blessed and sacramental in Your eyes.
We thank you for all those who create homes and families of love, and wish to join with You in the Creation and Sustenance of all our children, especially those who chose to offer their parental love to those who are not their physical children. We see in Your Word so many examples of intense love between those who are bonded by commitment and choice, that we know that you live in ALL our families, whether they be Families of Birth, or Families of Choice.
We pray for all those who do not enjoy those blessings, remembering that you are Father and Mother to us all, especially the orphaned, and Husband and Wife to us all, especially to those who live lives of solitude, either by choice or destiny.
We pray, as you have commanded us, for those in positions of civil authority.
We pray that our Government will act with wisdom and righteousness, celebrating marriage as the recognition of lifelong love and commitment for all.
We pray for forgiveness for our nation, for a past in which our Government has sought to make evil out of love, and to create artificial differences between Your Children, among whom we know You see not male or female, nor slave or citizen.
And we pray for ourselves, that we would speak out in support of marriage for all with gentleness and kindness, but also with courage and confidence.
In the name of Christ Jesus, and the spirit of Ruth and Naomi and Jonathan and David, our Lord, we pray.
May the Holy Spirit be with our Members of Parliament during their debate, and may Almighty God bless them all.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.