Nicholas Turner considers some of the early implications of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013
With unseemly haste the government has passed its Marriage (Same Sex Couple) Act 2013, and given it the Royal Assent. If you read it (and you can find it at the address below) you will discover that a great deal of the detail and the practical legal implications are still to be worked out. We have a law, but we do not yet know what it is. Much (and this is stated explicitly) is still to be worked out by the Secretary of State, Ms Maria Miller. This is part of the reason we must wait another nine months before the first new-style wedding – an ironic time scale, when you reflect on the efforts made to exclude children from the whole notion of marriage.
The question I would like to pose is, ‘What should be the news story when this Act comes into effect, in 2014?’ This is not about what the news story will be. We know that already. It will be a gay couple emerging from a registry office, and kissing for the cameras, with wild cheers from the assembled crowd of friends and activists, and hopefully no protesting Protestants bringing the Church into disrepute, by condemning individuals for what is a social wrong perpetrated by a government.
What should the story be? What should be the news from a Christian perspective? It is a serious question, because the answer is not absolutely clear and it is certainly challenging. It is not the first gay couple able to take advantage of the new civil equal-marriage. I wish them, and other gay couples, well. I hope they have a lovely day. But that is not news.
Paying the price
My first suggestion for the news item would be: the first couple – man and woman – who come to a registry office and find that they are being served up this new form of marriage-lite, in which the vows are irrelevant, and which is no more than a civil partnership with a fluffy name. These are the two young people who came asking for bread, and were given a stone. What have they done to deserve that?
Why has the institution of marriage been denied them? You may say, so that gay couples could be included. In which case, why did the government not introduce a Gay Marriage Act? Why did they have to destroy one institution in order to accommodate another? Why did ordinary couples have to pay the price of this ideological inclusiveness?
However, one must acknowledge that marriage is still open to all unmarried couples – in their parish church. They have not, in law, been denied their right to matrimony. They can simply go, as they always could, to their local vicar, without making any hypocritical claims to a faith they do not hold: they need only ask for their rights under law.
And then what? We come now to the challenging part. What happens when one of the two young people has been divorced from a partner still living? What version of matrimony (not equal-marriage) is open to them? Quite possibly, none. This, I suggest, would be the real news story from a Christian perspective. Lots of people will be happy to sell them a wedding, in all sorts of religious contexts or none, but what about the real thing – matrimony?
The real challenge
For liberal vicars, there is no problem. They are happy to marry anyone and everyone, and will no doubt be fighting hard to be able to marry gay couples as well. For (what’s the phrase?) staunch traditionalists, there is no problem. You can only be married once, and that’s the end of it. You had your chance first time around; end of story.
Much work to do
But what of your ordinary, Resolution C vicar? What do we do, who have accepted the Marriage Statement 2002, who seek to uphold the sacrament and also to be as pastoral as we are able? What will we do when the new law comes into force? Will there not be pressure (from conscience, not churchmen) to relax the form of marriage discipline to which we now work? In the past,
there was always the option of Civil Marriage for any couple unable to marry in church; but not now.
Someone will say, you can always use the Service of Blessing. Not so. The service is one, in whatever form one takes it (and I have always found Common Worship unacceptably mean in its provision), ‘after a Civil Marriage’. But if there is no longer such a thing as Civil Marriage, but only this new-fangled, eviscerated equal-marriage, what exactly would we be blessing?
The Church of England has much work to do. Don’t wait for the liberals. We must do it ourselves. ND
The Act can be found at
The official Explanatory Notes at