Thursday, September 24, 2015

Some initial thoughts

  • The commission's proposal to "graft" same-gender couples into the estate of marriage, but as a distinct dispensation, is one from which I would have recoiled probably even a year ago, but they make a case for it which gives me real pause. At the same time, I can think of some of my heterosexual co-religionists who would shudder at the idea of mixed-gender love as a metaphor for divine love.
  • The "opt-out provision" is, to be sure, sweeping. In a way, I find this less offensive than if the proposed canon simply restated the discretion of clergy to decline to solemnize a marriage, which they already enjoy on a blanket basis. Since such a restating would be canonically superfluous, it would serve only as a sop to heterosexual anxiety, in essence to simply place on the record that same-gender marriages are extra dubious.
       Good Anglo-Catholic that I am, I am less troubled by episcopal discretion over sacramental discipline (and the discretion of subsequent bishops to revise it) than I am by the idea of putting marriage equality to a vote and allowing diocesan synods to enact canons abolishing it. Ending the patchwork of ad hoc diocesan local uses is the point of General Synod action on this issue. 
  • The footnote about the current prohibition of repeating of vows in the blessing of civil marriages is an important point, one which has troubled me since the Montréal scheme was authorized. The theory, in Anglican thought, is that couples who declare themselves married, whether before minister or magistrate, are married. They cannot be "remarried", but if the marriage took place outside the church it can be "christened." 
          In the old Canadian Book of Occasional Offices rite (which complements the BCP marriage service as the one in Occasional Celebrations does that of the BAS), this involved the couple making the vows "which Christian marriage demands." This makes sense, since at least in Ontario and Québec (the two civil provinces I know), a civil marriage ceremony (even that word seems excessive) doesn't really involve vows of any description. (In Ontario at least, couples have broad latitude to customize the order of service and may include either written or canned vows, but the legal formula effecting the marriage requires only a declaration before witnesses of eligibility and consent).

         The Occasional Celebrations liturgy makes no such provision, and in fact rubrically excludes it, even though, as noted above, the making of vows would not in fact be a repetition at all! The commissioners are, I think, right to be uncertain whether civil marriages can be "christened" in such a way.
  • Finally, although I have used the phrase same-gender marriage, it is in fact not clear (at least I didn't notice it in my initial scan) whether the commission is concerned with the distinction of gender or of sex. What about gay couples who are chromosomally "opposite sex"? In the Church of England, their position is clear, albeit in the negative: one's gender is what it says on one's ID, including a gender recognition certificate.
       Trans people may marry a person of the "opposite" gender-marker in the C of E, but individual clergy have the right to decline (since it is an established church, they have no such right in general terms, unlike our clergy). This provision tacitly recognizes a biological-determinist theory of gender ("God made you the sex that's between your legs) as a legitimate view which Church of England clergy can hold in conscience. The CoGS commission is silent on the question.

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