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Who cares about the consequences of gay marriage?

The problem with same-sex marriage legislation is that it wishes to bring into reality something that cannot exist

By on Monday, 5 March 2012

Who cares about the consequences of gay marriage?

People often ask the sort of question that goes like this: “Why don’t the bishops speak out about X?” where X is the great topic of the day. Well, they often do (not everyone listens) and they have certainly done so about the question of the proposed legalisation of homosexual marriage. Cardinal Keith O’Brien has spoken, and if you have not yet read what he has said, you can read it here.

Cardinal O’Brien is the senior Catholic in Great Britain, so you cannot get a more authoritative statement than this.

What struck me about the Cardinal’s article is the way he homes in on the philosophical underpinning of the proposed change to the law. He calls it an attempt to “redefine reality”, and so it is. Marriage as currently understood was not invented by any government, but precedes the invention of government; it is surely the oldest human institution there is; now a government, ours, is proposing to change the meaning of marriage. The government seems to believe that it has the power to redefine marriage – but how can it?

What this opens up, or rather should open up, for the present age is not really interested in metaphysical matters, is the question of the relationship between the human will and the world we live in. Certain things lie beyond our powers. I may not wish to die, I may deny that death exists, I may call it something else, but I will surely die. Death is a reality that no human decree can stay; so is old age; so are the basic laws of economics, or the laws of physics. No one, not even parliament, can decree that up shall henceforth be down, and down up.

A parliament could legislate that we should all drive on the left hand side, or the right hand side, as appropriate. Some countries have changed from one side to the other: but what side of the road you drive on is purely a matter of convention, human convention. Is what marriage is also purely conventional, in other words, whatever we decide it shall be? Our parliamentarians seem to think so, but on this matter they surely cannot be right. Even after any such proposed legislation becomes law, reality will be the same, nothing will have changed.

Natural law precedes human positive law, as some would put it. Human positive law cannot change natural law.

Incidentally, I am not particularly interested in the possible effects such legislation might have. My objections to such legislation are not consequentialist, but rather essentialist. It is not that I think that such legislation will have bad effects, though it may well do (who can predict the future?), it is rather that I think that such legislation wishes to bring into reality something that cannot of its nature exist.

One last point: Cardinal O’Brien’s article has aroused a predictable reaction. He wants to keep the status quo, as do I. He is accused by many commentators of being motivated by hatred. I see no evidence for this. As for myself, I do not hate anyone.

  • David B McGinnity

    The Cardinal is not authoritative, he is authoritarian. Most people are deeply interested in metaphysical and phenomenological matters, but not his sort of ecclesiastical nonsense. The Catholic Church has no special position, no power to take control or to intervene in this pending legislation. Within a few years it will be the law that places of worship will have no special privilege or get-out clause for conducting same sex marriages. This is called social progress.

  • Patrickhowes

    I would have loved you Father to have expanded further on your mention of natural law versus Human law.This is the crux of Europe today.Neoliberal thinking dictates that all minorities should be freely able to live their life as they see fit as long as it does not involve harm.Personal liberty versus social mores.Natural law exists as boundries for the human race to exist as God defined and designed mankind for his purpose and not the other way around.He also cretaed marriage for his purpose and it would now seem that others want to take this from their rightful owners!A woman ,a man and hoepfully their children.Gay rights activist would commit murder if we encroached upon their own way of life so why should they encroach on thers.The idea that society can exist by allowing every possible version of a relationship is whimsical.Cardinal O brien makes the point that why should we stop at one man and one women as then it can be any type of relationship..Abortion was a medical procedure designed in 1967 to stop backstreet abortions taking place,yet now not only has it become a contraception but also we are now hearing talk of after birth abortion!

    Mr McGinnity,”Social progress”,do you really think that having huge numbers of kids from broken families,hooked on drugs,obsessed with materialism amd self gratification,to be forward thinking.As human beings we must exist in a civilised manner,where people are respected.That respect must also endorse those for whom marriage is the most enriching and rewarding way of living their life.Gay people are human beings and entitled to defend their rights but marriage is not a right but rather and institution undertaken by God and as such should be left to those who partake of that view

  • Bart_0117

    There is nothing progressive about not being able to say no.

  • Anonymous

    Cardinal O’Brien’s article is rather troubling. He likens gay marriage to the reintroduction of slavery. That was not a wise comparison because it reminds us that the Church used to be in favour of slavery – and that its moral teaching on important matters can change fundamentally.

    He tells us that civil partnerships “are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of
    those involved”, but provides no evidence at all to support this rather odd view.

    He says that marriage has only ever meant the union of a man and a woman, as if he has never read the Old Testament and does not know that it can also mean one man and many women.

    He worries about teachers getting into trouble for teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman – seeming to forget that Catholic teachers already teach that marriage is indissoluble to classes of children where a number come from homes where the parents are divorced and re-married. They are not bothered at all by the church’s teaching on marriage and take it with a large pinch of salt.

    Fr Lucie-Smith uses natural law to support the cardinal. Natural law arguments are all bunk. They are basically “If God had wanted us to ___, he would have given us _____” where you fill in the blanks to support whatever case you like. For a centuries the Church used natural law arguments to justify its total ban on charging any interest on a loan; when it was finally realised that charging interest was very useful all the spurious natural law arguments were forgotten.

  • Andr3w

     I struggle to see how you can accuse the Cardinal for being ‘authoritarian’ and then follow by saying that ‘places of worship will have no…get-out clause for conducting same sex marriages’ in spite of the fact that this will undermine the consciences of many religious people and follow the pattern of authoritarianism that many people in Europe are afraid of.

  • James H

    Changing the law will not make it right. Despite the airy predictions of the pro-abortion lobby in the 1960s, the pro-life position is just as strong, if not more so, than it was then.

    As it was then, so will it be in the future. Black can not be changed into white by legal fiat.

  • Mark Castilano

    What I find most sad is the Cardinals facile rhetoric. What he has presented is devoid of any credible reasoning. For example, natural law is like the sea and the weather and the law of the jungle, “dog eat dog”. Natural law is merciless and cruel. I suppose in this case the Catholic Church could be compared with natural law as it is merciless and cruel.His ranting and raving have demonstrated just how idiotic Catholic teaching is, and how it on course to wreck social structure. The midwives case in Glasgow has compounded the idea that Catholics are not to be trusted because they are so far removed from reason and logic. However, it does not matter one jot what the Cardinal says because the law will go ahead.

  • Mark Castilano

    Conscience is an arrangement of neurotransmissions and neurochemistry and is a consequence of operant conditioning. So it does not matter too much about religious fanatics emotional reactions. That is the shape of things to come.

  • maryp

    Good for the Cardinal. He speaks for millions in our country. 

  • Seamus Milner

    Cardinal O’Brien is the senior Catholic in Great Britain, so you cannot get a more authoritative statement than this.(1) Since when was Great Britain a meaningful term in either secular or religious terms?
    (2) Where in canon law is the notion of “senior catholic” to be found?
    (3) When did Cormac Murphy O’Connor die?
    (4) Does “the senior Catholic in Great Britain” have more authority than any other Catholic anywhere? If not the comment is nonsense even on its own terms.

  • Peter

    The Cardinal is doing his job.  He has said that it is wrong; he has said it loud and clear, and he has given reasons for it.

    There is only so much one can do.  As Jesus said: “if anyone does not welcome you or listen to what you have to say, as you walk out of the house or town shake the dust from your feet”. In other words, leave them be and let them get on with it.

    The role of the Church is to guide, not to coerce.  If individuals or groups, or even society at large, refuse to take heed of that guidance, that is their problem not the Church’s. 

  • Seamus Milner

    Incidentally we don’t complain about the “remarriage” of divorcees being marriage for the purposes of the secular law of England and Wales. Isn’t that also not in fact a marriage as far as we are concerned.

  • Paula Mendez

    Excellent article. True, I don’t think much will be changed since natural law cannot be changed but I do feel for the children, my children who will be exposed to this type of propaganda in schools and their innocence destroyed just becuase a minority seeks the redefinition of marriage and all that goes with everything surrounding the ‘Equalities Act’.

  • Anonymous

    I think what we have to remember is that the Catholic Church is different from the state. In several different ways the two are already different. It aserems to me that both sides of this debate at least need to be able to listen to the other. Those who would be in favour of gay marriage need to understand and accept that marriage as a sacrament in the Catholic Church represents something very specific, and which is, like or not beyond the lives of homosexuals (as gay people cannot conceive children naturally) and that the Church has a responsibility to talk to those under its charge.  But perhaps we in the Catholic community need to be more considerate in the tone that we use, and perhaps need to be understanding of the fact that many people live beyond the teachings of the Catholic Church, like it or not. You don’t hear of Cardinals and Bishops using this kind of damning language to condemn the actions of unmarried people living together, or of any marriage not under the auspices of the Church being referred to as ‘marriage’.

  • David B McGinnity

    I agree that black can not be changed into white and communion bread cannot be changed into flesh and blood. Catholic dogma has no substance, but the laws passed by parliament do have substance and all citizens, including Catholics will have to abide by the law. The two Glasgow cunning and greedy midwives thought that they could trick and manipulate the law to their advantage, they could not.

  • Paul Halsall

    Marriage between people of the same sex has occurred, and been celebrated, in a large number of cultures across time and history.

    I look forward to the day that gay Catholic couples will openly celebrate nuptial masses. 

  • Charles Martel

     Men cannot marry men. If you believe they can, you are not a Catholic. If you are not a Catholic, then why do you waster your time on this site?

  • Charles Martel

     Not going to happen. Dream on, old chap. Our Lord promised us that hell would not prevail against the Church…

  • Charles Martel

     Dear Seamus,
    (1) Since several thousand years ago. As far as Caesar was concerned, the land he was invading was Britannia; one island. It still is. You may also have noticed that it has been a united kingdom since 1707.
    (2) No such term as such, but you know damn well what the writer meant, so stop being such a twerp.
    (2) He is not dead, but Cardinal O’Brien is currently the highest ranking prelate in the British Isles in office.
    (3) He most certainly does, by virtue of the fact that he is a Prince of the Holy Roman Church: one of the electors of the Supreme Pontiff.
    (4) May I suggest that you pull your head out of your liberal orifice and if you are a Catholic, try to study history and a little bit more about the Church of which you are such an ignorant member.

  • Charles Martel

     Heil, McGinnity! Crush those Judeo-Christian Untermenschen!

  • Charles Martel

     You must be a very lonely atheist chap to be posting on a Catholic website. Do you really think you are making a difference to anything? As the Yanks say, get a life, old chap.

  • Charles Martel

    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
        For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
        Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile

  • Anonymous

    Prove it.

  • Paul Halsall

    Look, altar girls already happened…

  • ConfofChi

     ..hadn’t noticed same sex altar server getting married!

  • ConfofChi

     ..hadn’t noticed same sex altar server getting married!

  • theroadmaster

    Innumerable societies of various beliefs, cultures and ethnicities across the globe, down the centuries, have instinctively recognized the unalterable “Natural” design inherent in the solemnized union behind one woman and one man, commonly called marriage or in its sacramentalized form, matrimony.  This model of family life, has been the source of flourishing communities at a local level and the replenishment of human stock on a planetary level for eons.   No matter how much secular legislatures try to redefine this institution by trying to change it’s parameters, the wisdom of previous generations cannot be overthrown by semantic trickery or social conditioning.

  • Anonymous

    As a Catholic, Cardinal O’Brien does not believe that a man who has been validly married and then divorced can remarry while his wife is still alive.  According to him divorced people are no more able to marry than two people of the same sex. In both cases it is, according to traditional Catholic teaching, impossible.

    Yet the state (and indeed the state church) allows divorced people to marry, and has done so for many years. Why is the cardinal so anxious to speak out against same sex marriage, yet so silent about the far more frequent misuse of the term “marriage” in allowing the divorced to attempt to marry?

  • Morys Ireland

    Excellent article. For me it’s a total non-starter. As you say, ‘gay marriage’ is an oxymoron; it cannot exist and so in many ways it doesn’t seem worthwhile to consider the consequences. But it’s more than likely legislation of this kind will be passed within the next few parliaments, whatever the make-up of the government, and so it is on the consequences that any meaningful debate has to be had.

    Frankly though, this is another one of those ‘convenient distraction’ style debates that increasingly unpopular governments play-up in order to detract attention from their total mishandling of the country. Do many Tory voters really feel that strongly about gay ‘marriage’? I doubt it.

  • James

    You are obviously very ignorant of Christianity.  Metaphysics goes to the very root of Catholic theology.  I can’t help but thinking that theology and philoshopy in general would be wasted on such a closed mind as yourselves. 
    You are totally missing the point and are self-deluded.  If the Government was so stupid as to try to force the Catholic Church to “marry” people of the same-sex, something that it will never ever do, then the Church would have a simple response.  Back to the old times.  The Church would refuse to conduct the civil side of “Church weddings” and only conduct the religious side of things.  Therefore, catholic couples (man and woman) would have to have a civil ceremony afterwards (as is the case in several European countries), and same sex couples would be totally barred from a Catholic, religious marriage.  The government has absolutely no power to stop this, it cannot interfere in Canon law!!  Catholic church 1 Bigots such as yourself 0

  • Anonymous

    Er, that’s a rather different thing. They aren’t allowed everywhere – I certainly never would – but they don’t have a sacramental function and how they can be compared to gay marriage I have no idea. Also your earlier comment about well- connected gay couples having nuptial masses – I find this very hard to believe. Can you explain what you mean?

  • Anonymous

    I’m confused: does the proposed change in the law mean that heterosexuals will no longer be able to marry?

  • Anonymous

    Just so that we are clear, you are advocating that the Church be forced to “marry” gay couples? How chillingly totalitarian, but also how silly. No government would dare. No government could ever get away with it, the Church would never accede to it whatever pressure was applied.

  • Anonymous

    There is a large amount of misinformation on this blog. Marriage was originally introduced as a society protocol for sharing property. In particular it was designed to ensure a legitimate source of children. Legitimate is the key word here. Men were entitled to father children with many women but from an inheritance point of view had to be sure they were handing their estates to rightful heirs. Different cultures handled marriage differently but it was almost never about love between the couples and almost always property. There is no such thing as Natural Law but rather certain cultural practises which evolve to suit the powerful within society. Interestingly homosexual marriage is not unheard of in history and Juvenal makes references to frequent gay marriages. Also, anthropologically, we must look beyond European history to understand this issue and we find many different cultures handling the issue differently. There are still some tribal cultures where one man and one woman marriages are not the norm at all. It is important to identify the difference between Catholic practise and global marriage development. It was not until the 1500s that marriage was codified into canon law. So for three quarters of Catholic history it was not deemed an important enough issues to worry about. A little perspective is required here.

  • Davidaslindsay

    When the Attlee Government legislated to regulate marriage, it simply presupposed that marriage could only ever be the union of one man and one woman. No one said anything, because it was so obvious.

    Of course there have always been other things as well. But they were and are, in the technical sense of the word, deviations. The union of one man and one woman is the universal norm, simply as a matter of fact. Ask yourself why that should be, and what makes us think that we in the Postmodern West are so much wiser in these matters than everyone everywhere else and at every other time.

    There is simply no comparison with, for example, interracial marriage, which has never been illegal in this country, and which has only ever been so anywhere if specific legislation had been passed to that effect. By contrast, redefining marriage to include same-sex couples is only legal anywhere because specific legislation has been passed to that effect.

    This is one of the three most dramatic and most drastic proposals that Parliament will ever have considered. Ever. It ranks even with the recent legalisation of human-animal hybridity and the recent permission of two persons of the same sex to be listed as the parents on a birth certificate. But is Ann Widdecombe right to call for a referendum? No. We do not need a referendum. We need MPs who will just say no. Even retrospectively, repealing such legislation if it had already been enacted.

    With the nature of marriage up for debate, we should seize the opportunity and the initiative.
    The extension to relatives of the right to contract civil partnerships, which do not need to be consummated, since not even Tony Blair could devise a way of enabling the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith (the present title derives not from Henry VIII but from Edward VI, and was conferred not by the Pope but by Parliament) to grant Royal Assent to legislation making legal privileges conditional on sexual acts other than that, within marriage, which constitutes the consummation of marriage. The present restriction of civil partnerships to same-sex couples is an expression of triumphalism; it is a way of saying, “We are the masters now”.

    The entitlement of each divorcing spouse to one per cent of the other’s estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, and the disentitlement of the petitioning spouse unless fault be proved, thereby restoring the situation whereby, by recognising adultery and desertion as faults in divorce cases, society declared in law its disapproval of them even though they were not in themselves criminal offences.

    The entitlement of any marrying couple to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 as regards grounds and procedures for divorce, and of any religious organisation to specify that any marriage which it conducts shall be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly.

    And the statutory specification that the Church of England be such a body unless the General Synod specifically resolve the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses, with something similar for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

    That would be a start, anyway.

  • Charles Martel

     Mark, you’re clearly not a Catholic; why do you bother writing all this stuff on a Catholic website? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Charles Martel

     Paul, Paul, Paul; seriously, it AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. Don’t waste your time dreaming about it.

  • Parasum

    It’s worth re-reading a sermon by Bishop Augustine Verot of Savannah, Georgia, in which he protests vigorously *against* abolitionism, and *for* slavery, justifying it on grounds of natural law, among others; some months before the American Civil War:

    The argument from natural law is particularly interesting, and it shows how baseless & lawless was the tyranny of the Union in forcing the Southern states to give up an institution nowhere blamed by Christ (even though he had several opportunities to say it was wrong) and constantly upheld as lawful by the Church. If slavery is wrong, them the Church has been wrong. It is that simple. There is no natural law reason whatever why Christians should not own slaves, as Bishop Verot clearly shows. Emancipation was praised by the Church – but the holding of slaves was not condemned. For Jews to hold Christians slaves was condemned, but for Christians to hold Christians as slaves, was not.  That slavery may be repugnant to non-Christians, is no reason for calling it wrong. Mistreatment  of slaves is an abomination – the bishops is very clear that some features of slavery, as it is has been practiced, have been wrong; but he makes equally clear that for Christians to own slaves is not wrong, but right.

    And the Church cannot change the natural law – therefore, the right to hold slaves is still in force. Obviously, slaves must be justly treated, as human beings & not as machines: in a Christian state, slaves would very likely be much happier & much better cared, and much more sure of being well-treated by their masters, than many poor people are in Britain today. Poverty in Britain might be half-way to being solved, if slavery were re-introduced. Masters would have a duty to look after their slaves, who (following Babylonian precedent) would be entitled to own and transfer property. If the underclass became the property of the wealthy, members of the underclass could all be given employment. Slavery would solve a great many problems. And it would not violate the natural law; and would bring about a great deal of actual charity to the less well-off, who would exchange the miseries of liberty with poverty for slavery with security. All of which would be excellent for the country as a whole.

    Some of those arguments are used by the bishop.

    If the natural law  argument cannot be relied upon to show that slavery is wrong, how can it be relied upon to show that marriage is of its nature between one man and woman alone ? The only basis for *that* is revelation, not natural law, because natural law did not show various Biblical Saints – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, etc. – that marriage could be contracted only by one man and one woman.  If marriage can be between several partners, why can it not be between partners of the same sex ? Natural marriage is not the same as Christian marriage, which is not the the same as Christian sacramental marriage.

    Cardinal Dulles on Slavery [reviewing a book by John T. Noonan]:

    The Cardinal’s logic in the reasoning he uses against Noonan is self-destructive, & historically dubious. If the Popes, in condemning religious liberty, were not including the USA, they did a rotten job of making that clear; they were, if the Dulles defence is valid, sowing confusion. A teacher who sows confusion is a rotten teacher – his intended  defence turns itself into an indictment of those Popes. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, summarizing current Catholic doctrine, explains: “The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human
    person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from
    external constraint in religious matters by political authorities.”” That quotation shows only that the Declaration is inconsistent with itself as well as with pre-Conciliar teaching; a more reliable index of the true state of Catholic teaching is that this quotation is in practice completely ignored.  Talk of a right to religious liberty is anti-Christian rubbish, and Dulles is using anti-Christian sophistry – if he is right, & the Church embraces this sophistry, then the Church has to be consistent, & permit his argument to be valid outside that question. What the Declaration allows, is what gay people are asking should be recognised: the right to gay marriage is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human
    person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from
    external constraint in religious matters by political authorities – or by religious authorities, for that matter.


  • Parasum

    It is simply false to say that there is “unalterable “Natural” design inherent in the solemnized union behind one
    woman and one man, commonly called marriage or in its sacramentalized
    form, matrimony.  This model of family life, has been the source of
    flourishing communities at a local level and the replenishment of human
    stock on a planetary level for eons.”

    The above ignores the OT, and a lot more evidence to the contrary. Monogamy is historically only one form of marriage, and not the only one. Once all the properties of sacramental marriaged are taken into account, such a marriage becomes the practice of a small minority of the human race. The Catholic understanding of marriage becomes less usual, if all the properties of marriage the CC claims to believe in are listed. To mention only that it is monogamous and between partners of different sexes, is very deceptive, because this gives the unwary the misleading impression that the CC’s notion of marriage is a very simple one that is that of all mankind. Nothing could be more false, historically and theologically, than such an idea.

  • Sweetjae

    So basically what you’re saying is the conscience of Adolf Hitler is higher thatn yours? You are just full of nonsense that you yourself don’t know what your are talking about!

  • Sweetjae

    Never gonna happen my brother while God is still God!

  • mitsy

    They can in Catholic Spain and Portagul….According the Catholic Church my onw parents aren’t married because my mother was divorced and I am therefore iligitimate in the eyes of the RCC. Nice to know. Many thousands of children are growing up, being taught in Catholic schools and finding their own parents in heterosexual marriages are excluded from the church, that is a bigger issue that people that the Cardinal needs to address. Those children are being lost to the faith due to the hurt inflicted on their parents. It is a millstone around the necks of those children. I don’t care if you think I am Catholic or not.

  • mitsy

    Many thousands of children are being hurt and disillusioned when they find their parents are excluded from the Catholic Church, why would they want to be active Catholics? The church seems to care more about the unborn than those that are already born and hurting because of the Church.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you Misty. The reason that the teaching of the Church on these matters is such a mess is that has been made by celibate people who have no experience at all of sexual intercourse, marriage, or raising children. 

    In what other walk of life would people who have never, so to speak, played the game be entitled to make the rules for everyone else. It is no surprise that the Church of England, which began with the same teaching as the Catholic Church on divorce and contraception has, thanks to the lived experience of its mainly married leadership, changed its position on those matters.

  • theroadmaster

    I think that you should think about the implications of stating that my description of marriage as having an “unalterable natural” design is false.  In fact, the celebration of the union between one man and one woman is predicated on the complementary, biological, physiological and spiritual qualities of both men and women which leads them  to mate and start families.   This has been the building block of countless societies and has ensured the propagation of human populations down the generations as well as their socio-economic prosperity,

    Monogamy is the normative form of marriage since ancient times.  I know that tribal societies in biblical times did permit polygamous forms of this union but the bible while in places not outrightly condemning them, called for the husband to be generous and fair to his wives as in the book of Leviticus. The Judaic laws of the O.T were regulatory in the area of marital relationships and sought to minimize the often strained  and damaging effects of this arrangement on women and children.  But the biblical references to this subject usually urged marriage to consist of one man and one woman.  The Pauline letters in particular call for marriage to be restricted to that model.  

    Polygamy was stamped out in every state in the US during the course of the 19th C and Utah, the natural home of the Mormons, had to outlaw it during the latter part of that century, to allow it’s bid for statehood to go ahead.  Presently the practice of having more than one wive has been restricted mainly to countries in Africa with predominantly Muslim populations.  In the West it has became socially verboten to promote such a form of marital relationship
    Your description of the Church’s view of marriage, as consistently being the union of one woman and one man(with global regional variations such as the toleration of polygamy accepted) and open to procreation as “deceptive”, is simply a denial of the historical truth.  Even where homosexuality was tolerated, as in Ancient Greece or Rome, the solemnization of same sex relationships on the same level as marriages was never socially considered.  Marriage, as properly understood through the ages, was indeed the celebrated union of one man with one woman.

  • Paul Halsall

    These are exactly the opposite statements to those made by opponents of female altar serves before Rome betrayed them.

  • Paul Halsall

    To give an idea just how independent civil marriage is from church marriage consider this:

    Although the early Church was keen on purity issues, it would have been impossible for it to insist that all sexually active members be legally married [there were no Church marriages for hundreds of years as all acknowledge]. This is because marriage in Roman society was restricted to those who had the right of “conubium” – that is free Roman citizens. Marriage was understood as a contract, but contracts could not be made by many – including slaves. Thus many Gentile converts especially in Rome, [Jews, and residents of some cities could presumably make use of local marriage customs] would have been unable to contract marriage. While slave relationships did have some recognition as conterbinium, a huge array of couples simply had no legal way of being “married”, but there is no evidence that they were precluded from marriage. 

    Another interesting variant was in Syria. There the extreme ascetic form of Christianity practiced apparently precluded all but celibates from being baptized until their deathbeds. Thus, apparently, no Syrian Christians were united by any Church ceremony. Certainly as non-baptized “adherents” they would not have been able to contract “sacramental marriages”. 

    The idea that there has been a consistency of Christian practice in the past is a myth.

  • Paul Halsall

    On the other hand, at least following Tertullian, it was common by the third century, at least in Latin Africa, for couples who had been civilly married to then attend mass and take communion together – that is, have the nuptial mass after the actual nuptials.

  • Paul Halsall

    Montaigne refers to same-sex marriages in Rome in the 17 century.

    In China, in Fujian province, there was even a God of same-sex marriage.

    And now there are legal same sex marriages in 8 US states/territories, all of Canada, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and South Africa.  They are recognised in Israel, and so forth.

    Same sex marriage already exists and to rattle on about how it “cannot exist” is simply demented.

  • Anonymous

    Great comment, Paul. Do you have a link to an article on the God of Same-Sex marriage in China? I am keen to know more. 

    I am staggered at the amount of historical ignorance shown by some many of the commentators here. It is great to find someone who has a better historical perspective.

    Where would we be without Montaigne!