Christina Patterson: This gentle muddle of Church and State may be as good as it gets

Gay men and women will soon be able to get married in this country, and so they should

Share

It almost makes you laugh. It almost makes you slap your thigh, and shriek, and weep that an institution that was founded to wreck a marriage, and start another one, is making such a very big fuss about who's allowed to marry whom. But it is. The Church of England is. The Church of England thinks, in fact, that a marriage that has lasted 500 years, and that survived the Spanish Armada, and the English Civil War, is seriously under threat.

It might, it's true, prefer not to use the word "marriage". It is, it's true, very careful about the way it uses the word "marriage". A "marriage", it says, in a 15-page document it issued on Monday, is "the union of a man and a woman". It is, it says, just to be clear, the "lifelong union between one man and one woman". A marriage, it adds, not quite so snappily, should include "biological complementarity" in order to also include "the possibility of procreation".

The document is a response to the Government Equalities Office consultation on "Equal Civil Marriage". But the "consultation", it thinks, isn't actually a consultation, since the document that's meant to be launching it "prejudges the outcome". The document, it says, "expresses the issues in prejudicial terms which pre-empt the principles on which it purports to consult". It talks, for example, "about the existence of a non-existent concept". It talks about "contentious views" as "undisputed facts". The "consultation", it's clear, has made the Church cross.

But a consultation on gay marriage was always going to make the Church cross. If your religion is based on a 2,000-year-old text that says things like "thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind", it's quite tricky to write a document saying that marrying a man, if you're a man, is an all-round brilliant idea. And particularly when the text says that "if a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman", both parties have "committed an abomination". And particularly when it says that they should then "be put to death".

If you don't like the Old Testament, and think it's a little bit bloodthirsty, and racist, and sexist, and homophobic, and mean, then you can say, as a lot of leaders in the Church of England do say, that the New Testament is much more important. You can say that Jesus was nice and kind and said that you shouldn't judge other people, or throw stones. But you'll still find that when it talks about men having sex with other men (but not women having sex with other women, which nobody in the Bible seems to think is possible), it uses words like "vile affections" and "against nature". It's quite hard to sound the trumpets, and bring out the confetti for something your religion tells you is "vile".

The Church of England, unlike the Bible, doesn't like words like "vile". It prefers to use words like "concern". It prefers, in fact, to avoid offending anyone if it can. "We have," it says in the summary of its response to the consultation, "supported various legal changes in recent years to remove justified discrimination and create legal rights for same sex couples." It has done this, according to the Archbishop of York, who may not understand that civil partnerships aren't usually Platonic, "because we believe in friendship". But gay marriage, it says, is a step too far. Gay marriage, it says, would be "divisive" and "unwise".

Is the Church right? Is there, when it comes to religion, such a thing as "right"? If you think marriage is something between a man and a woman, of course you'll think gay marriage isn't right. And if you think marriages should only take place in a church if they're blessed by God, and that they're only blessed by God if they're between a man and a woman, of course you'll think that a marriage between two men, or two women, shouldn't take place in a church. You might well wish you didn't. You might, in fact, really wish you could change the rules, because it would be a lot less embarrassing, and would mean you wouldn't have to come across as old-fashioned, and even homophobic, but rules are rules and you didn't make them.

You might even want to say that you tried. You really tried. You might want to say that the Church you belonged to had tried very hard to make a text that reflected views that were normal 2,000 years ago sound as if it reflected views that were normal now. It had built seminaries, and libraries, and universities to find ways of interpreting ancient texts that sounded a bit more sympathetic and a bit more modern. And it had, as a result, changed its views about lots and lots of things. But sometimes you could try, and try, and try, and try, and still be stumped.

And if you're stumped, and the law of the land says you have to marry gay people in a church if they want to be married in a church, in the way that you are, at the moment, legally required to marry people who aren't gay, you can see why you might think you have only two options. You can see why you might think you'd either have to leave the Church, or that the Church would have to break off its relationship with the State. And if you're gay, or just someone who thinks it's a bit ridiculous to try to get people to live by rules that were made 2,000 years ago, which is probably quite a lot of us, you can see why you might think that breaking off the relationship between the Church and the State would be a good thing. You can even see why you might think it might make some of the problems of religion go away.

It won't. Gay men and women will soon be able to get married in this country, and so they should. They may even be able to get married in a church. But whatever happens to the relationship between the Church and the State, religion won't go away. It certainly hasn't gone away in the US, which has no official State religion, but versions of Christianity which play a much bigger part in national life than ours. These are versions of Christianity which don't agonise about finding sympathetic, modern interpretations of the Bible, but prefer instead to talk about a God who believes abortion is murder, and hates gay people.

Religion, whether we like it or not, is here to stay. And it's the radical versions of it that are on the rise. Those of us who wish they weren't might look at the muddle of the Church of England, and its relatively good intentions, and its desperate efforts to be as open to as many people as it can, and its desperate attempts to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear of an ancient text, and conclude that it's sometimes better not to break up a marriage, and stick to the devil you know.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/@queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas