Out Of The Closet, Into The Attic

With church attendance falling in Britain, only one in four marriages is conducted in a church.”

The New York Times, 6/13/2012

he Brits are entertaining a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage and, of course, the usual reactionary suspects are mobilizing to stop it. Roman Catholic bishops and the Church of England and, uh, Muslim leaders, are using what cultural clout they have left to try to keep their Iron Age theology in force.

One would think that conducting only a quarter of the marriage ceremonies in the country would not entitle British religious zealots to claim they are speaking for a majority of folks, and indeed they don’t so claim. What they do claim, though, is that they are speaking for God:

In common with almost all other Churches, the Church of England holds, as a matter of doctrine and derived from the teaching of Christ himself, that marriage in general – and not just the marriage of Christians – is, in its nature, a lifelong union of one man with one woman.

It is the nature of dogmatism, I suppose, for theologically rigid folks to force their beliefs on others. And in this day and age it appears to be necessary to lie about why they are doing so:

Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted. Because we believe that the inherited understanding of marriage contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society.

Of course that is false. What motivates these folks is cultural power and relevance, which they are fast losing. In short, just like here in the United States, the fight over same-sex marriage is a fight for survival of religious fundamentalism.

And speaking of the states, from USA Today:

A referendum that seeks to nullify Washington state’s recent law legalizing same-sex marriage has qualified for the November ballot, election officials announced today.

Now, all of this would be understandable, if the proposal in Britain or the law in Washington state forced churches to marry homosexual couples. But no one is arguing that priests or pastors or rabbis should have to offer their dubious services to couples they believe shouldn’t receive the Almighty’s blessing. They would remain free to discriminate against homosexuals and practice their doctrinaire theology within the walls of their churches or synagogues.

So, it is clear to me that the battle is really over whether Iron Age thinking will continue to enjoy the influence it has historically had in the West or whether it will take its place with other quaint relics we have put away in our cultural attics.

And as 60 percent of North Carolinians proved last month—as that state became one of the 30 that have banned gay marriage in the United States—some people aren’t ready just yet to put away their ancient and unenlightened beliefs.



  1. Interesting that it’s the Abrahamic religions that seem in lock-step on gay/sex stuff. (Alright, the Jews are a bit better on the sex stuff.)


  2. Duane,

    Well, as anyone who’s ever thought about it very much already knows, marriage is essentially a property transaction with the main purpose of establishing and protecting paternity. As evidence of this, women take on their husband’s surname, as do any of their offspring, male or female. No bastards, please.

    Of course, the obtained surname is also proof of ownership as the marriage vows of old made clear. This is akin to slavery, which the practitioners of the Abrahamic religions would like us to forget. A curious omission in the 10 commandments is the one that says, “Thou shalt not own another human being.” (But there are a whole lot of laws in Leviticus that tell us how to treat slaves – and women.)

    So, what we have here (probably in Britain too) is a government issuing laws to regulate marriage, which by their very nature is a violation of the 13th amendment outlawing slavery. Therefore, it is, arguably, unconstitutional for government to legislate marriage. Period. What government can do though, is require civil unions due to the joint ownership of property, the protection of children, and the rights and responsibilities of the parties to each other.

    If I was king, I would rescind all laws concerning marriage, including tax laws, and replace them with civil union agreements, which, in turn, would be subject to the law of contracts. Unfortunately, this would allow for polygamy. But on the good side, it would exclude farm animals. OK, for some that might not be so good.

    Just sayin’ . . .



    • Herb – I agree. I see marriage as having historically been a contract (usually the woman was NOT one of the signatories!) and that’s exactly what it should be today (but this time, between the actual parties). And that,, as you say, would cover the legal issues.

      These people who talk about ‘traditional marriage’ need to note the poster graphic that’s going around – it says: “the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we have already redefined marriage.”


      • Moe,

        The fact that, as you say, “usually the woman was NOT one of the signatories!,” is why I brought up the issue of slavery, as in “involuntary servitude.”

        I don’t have a problem with the religious institutions in this country laying down their own rules about who can marry who, and the 1st amendment that prohibits Congress from establishing religion or limiting the free exercise thereof, says so. Members of those groups can decide for themselves if they want to follow their own stupid rules. I do have a problem with the government having laws specifically aimed at marriage, however, cause it ain’t none of their bees-wax.

        Also, I would want an extra cow and a horse for my daughter – at a minimum.



        • 😆 You’ve got it right on marriage – that’s a subtle but hugely important point. Let ‘contract law’ as you suggested earlier, cover ‘marriages’. I like that objection to having laws “specifically aimed at marriage”.


          • You and Herb might be surprised that a very famous Christian essentially agrees with you (us) about marriage:

            “Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

            That passage is from one of the most popular books on Christian apologetics of all time, Mere Christianity, the author of which is C.S. Lewis who wrote it about 50 years ago.



  3. ansonburlingame

     /  June 14, 2012

    As usual, I am amazed at the twists and turns of such political arguments. Now marriage is seen, by some as an extension of slavery!!!

    I first agree that contract law for civil unions, contracts that provide the exact same rights AND responsibilities as any marriage is fine with me for those that choose to use such an arrangment. I suppose that I would insist that it be between two human beings however. I don’t think a “pet cat or goat” can enter into a binding legal contract, even if some nut was trying to protect their cat or goat.

    Duane refered to marriage in a church as “ancient and unenlightened beliefs.” Ancient I will agree with but “unenlightened”, no way. Marriage is traditionally a life long commitment, through thick and thin and until death do you part.

    NO marriage is easy over the long haul. Mine failed after 33 years but we both gave it our best shot, for sure over all those years. Without the “bond” of marriage, I am not sure we would have done so. But once that “knot is tied” their are all sorts of societal and legal pressures to keep it tied. To me that is a good thing and not a “bond” that should be cast off with little on no effort to keep it intact.

    Why is that? Well just look at all the single parent households for starters, a huge drain on society in many cases. Look at the deadbeat fathers that without the force of law would let former spouses and kids sink into oblivion.

    Kids NEED two parents and it is in the best interests of society to mandate such to the degree possible, just for one part of what could be a very long list of other points.

    Modern society does not like to hear words like commitment, determination, when things get tough WORK on it and not just cast something (a wife, girlfriend, job, school, etc) aside to move on to “better things”. Marriage is a big fence, or used to be, to make sure one did not try to leap over it to “greener pastures”.

    Since ancient times, marriage has enforced such commitment between two people. Of course Henry VIII chopped off some heads to remove the commitment as well.

    I am not all that concerned about “God’s view on marriage”. I only try to make the point that marriage or a very binding legal contract still has validity in today’s society and consider it an enlightened goal of society, today as well as in “ancient times”. And yes, I oppose polgymay for the same reasons.



    • [Marriage is traditionally a life long commitment, through thick and thin and until death do you part.]

      That is true only in some religious traditions – it’s neither a tenet of the State; it’s not even a universal tenet of religions.


%d bloggers like this: