Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished


The Church of England is worried and upset about government proposals to legalise gay marriage, saying these plans might come between it and its dearly beloved the state.

The church — whose supreme governor is Queen Elizabeth II — warned that it could be forced out of its traditional role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state.

Well we can’t have that. We can’t have the established church – whose top person is the monarch – being “forced” out of its traditional role. We can’t ever have anybody or any institution, however archaic and useless, forced out of a traditional role. Everybody knows that traditional roles are the best things ever, and must always be preserved and protected from change and reform.

“The Church of England’s unique place in the current marriage law of England means that the proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on our ability to serve the people of the nation as we have always done,” it added.

It said the plan “fails to take account of the fact that consummation has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.”

Whut? Consummation? What’s that got to do with anything? No wait, I get it – when it’s straight marriage, they can check for consummation by looking for blood on the sheet. With gay marriage that won’t work.

No, wait, that won’t work, because actually you don’t find the vicar who performed the marriage on the doorstep the next morning, ready to inspect the sheet. You used to, yes, but not any more – that’s one of those traditional roles that have faded away over time. Pause to shed a tear over another traditional role destroyed by our frivolous secular ways.

So that’s not it, so what is it? That “consummation” is a word that applies only to straight couples so that even if there’s no way to verify that a marriage has or has not been consummated, the fact that it doesn’t apply to gay couples makes the church superfluous? Is that it?

Surely not. Surely they can’t be that silly.

Can they?

 

Comments

  1. says

    It said the plan “fails to take account of the fact that consummation has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.”

    Who is on top when the marriage between church and state is consummated?

    Seriously, a church official actually said that? Do these wankers even read their own stuff before it goes public?

  2. says

    I think the question that’s on their mind goes something like this:

    “When two women are together, in bed…what exactly do they do with each other?”

  3. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Do these wankers even read their own stuff before it goes public?

    I classify this as “unearned authority problems”. See, he’s probably not used to people arguing with him, or disagreeing with him, or mocking him – to his face, at least – so it doesn’t occur to him to think before he speaks. Everyone will agree and obey cuz jesus!

  4. eric says

    The CoE is full of historical ignorami or they just love irony. Either way, they are pretty well doomed to repeat history here.

    Has none of the church leadership thought about the fact that the CoE owes its very existence to a monarch deciding to flout the traditional role of England’s official church (then Catholic) in regards to marriage?

    Have they forgotten what British leaders did the last time an official state church issued a ‘my way or the highway’ proclamation about their power over marriage?

  5. says

    I read this on the BBC site yesterday, and the first thing I thought was: “And this [CofE having less of an “in” with the govt of the UK] would be a bad thing in what way, exactly?” The un-selfconscious assumption of privilege at work here is a wonder to behold.

  6. says

    I also read this story on the beeb, and my personal favourite line was

    [The church] says giving civil ceremonies the status of marriage would “alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman”.

    Because human social constructs always have an immutable nature. I also quite liked this one:

    It said marriage acknowledged “an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation”.

    Either nothing in that statement is incompatible with gay marriage, or people who don’t want children are wrong.

  7. says

    Of course, the problem here is grammatical, and the point about consummation, though traditionally definitive of marriage, is merely a red herring. The whole paragraph in the submission, reads as follows:

    We note that in paragraphs 2.14—2.16, the consultation document leaves the complex question of defining adultery, non-consummation etc. to be determined by case law. The stated objective of having identical reasons for ending both a same-sex and a heterosexual marriage is problematic and does not seem to be achievable given that the existing definitions of adultery and non-consummation cannot be applied to the case of a same-sex marriage. The proposed reliance on case law to sort out these points is unsatisfactory. More fundamentally the analysis fails to take account of the fact that consummation has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.

    Whereas it should have read (with the amendments — a bit roughly — in italics):

    We note that in paragraphs 2.14—2.16, the consultation document leaves the complex question of defining adultery, non-consummation etc. to be determined by case law. The stated objective of having identical reasons for ending both a same-sex and a heterosexual marriage is problematic and does not seem to be achievable given that the existing definitions of adultery and non-consummation cannot be applied to the case of a same-sex marriage. The proposed reliance on case law to sort out these points is unsatisfactory. More fundamentally the analysis fails to take account of the fact that in both civil canon law sexual consummation of the marriage has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.

    The official church is obviously hung up on the word ‘consummation’ which has traditionally been understood only in terms of male/female sex. There is absolutely no reason for maintaining this understanding, and no reason why alternatives should not be worked out at common law. The church’s submission also argues that there is no difference between civil and religious marriage, but that is only because the church has conducted “religious” marriage in a civil context, marrying, by the rites of the church, people who have no religious belief. Possibly this is a necessary aspect of establishment, and if so, the church is right to suggest that this would put a wedge between the church and the state, but so what? On the one hand, does the church want to conduct pretended religious ceremonies for those who do not share the church’s faith, or does it want to be a church, and not a branch of civil government?

    What the Church of England is really worried about is the effect that the acceptance of gay marriage would have on the worldwide Anglican communion. Rowan Williams has had his finger in the dyke ever since taking over Canterbury. The Anglican Covenant, which would bring change to a stop in the Anglican communion, and subordinate it to the most conservative provinces of the church in Africa, is a dead letter. But, as Diarmid MacCulloch says over at the Times, speaking of the sacred old men of Bishop World:

    More than half of Bishop World’s submission is taken up with legal complications to allowing same-sex marriage. None of these would be real if Bishop World wasn’t so opposed to the idea, but the document talks them up into a potential crisis for an established church. Perhaps Bishop World didn’t notice that last week, the Danish Parliament enabled another established church, the Lutheran Church of Denmark, to celebrate same-sex marriages in church, with suitable provisions for clergy who don’t want to do so.

    So, what’s the problem? It’s a fillibuster. I think it’s the communion, and possibly also the fantasy of some sort of an understanding with Rome — a problem the Danish church doesn’t have. Lots of C of E members are in favour of this change, but like all religions, the Church of England can’t be brought kicking and screaming to humanity and compassion. But it might mean disestablishment.

  8. Trebuchet says

    It said the plan “fails to take account of the fact that consummation has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.

    That sounds like it’s a marriage between the church and the state that’s being consummated. Who’s on top?

    Now I need to go erase the image of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lizzie II from my mind.

  9. Ken Pidcock says

    Two questions:

    (1) Is it only the Church of England that is able to conduct weddings on behalf of the state? So if we’re married in a Catholic church we have to go through some separate civil process?

    (2) If my opposite-sex partner and I want a CoE wedding, are they more or less obligated to provide it because of their association with the state?

  10. says

    @11: There’s a nice capsule history of marriage in England here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17351133. Note point #7 which says that civil ceremonies at the registry office have been available since 1836 (my parents wanted to go this route in 1943, but wound up in a Methodist ceremony due to family pressure). So it’s doubly arrogant for the CofE to be proclaiming some special status on this, when they lost their monopoly almost two centuries ago.

  11. Francisco Bacopa says

    OK, so what I know from britcoms tells me the UK has civil marriage in some kind of thing called a “registrar’s office” which is kinda like a JP court in the US. CoE isn’t involved in that. If the CoE doesn’t want to marry same sex couples, they don’t have to. I also understand there is religious diversity among Christians in the UK. I think they have Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and even some liberal sects like the Christian Church DOC. Some of these sects may disagree with the CoE.

    Best wedding I ever went to was a wedding for two men officiated by a DOC assistant pastor at the Bruce Religion Center at the University of Houston. It wasn’t legally binding, but was still the best wedding I ever went to. And don’t think that Texas will be among the last states to allow gay marriage. Houston is the largest city in the world with a gay mayor. I hate living in my once progressive New South state that has now become a butt of jokes (and deservedly so since 1994), but I assure you when the wave comes, we will be in it.

  12. Jurjen S. says

    I’m just imagining Queen Liz muttering “Who will rid one of this turbulent priest?”

  13. Ken Pidcock says

    @17

    I hate living in my once progressive New South state that has now become a butt of jokes (and deservedly so since 1994), but I assure you when the wave comes, we will be in it.

    See ya there.

  14. musicalatheist says

    Wait, so if a heterosexual marriage were to include every sex act imaginable except penis-in-vagina intercourse, does that mean it would be technically unconsummated, and could be annulled on that ground?

    Because if piv is the only legally recognised form of sex, that would mean that you couldn’t divorce someone for adultery if they only had anal, oral and manual sex with the third party. I can’t believe that this is the current legal situation.

    If this is not the case, and sex acts are in fact sex acts, then consummation and adultery are exactly the freaking same for same- and opposite-sex couples.

    It seems so completely reasonable. There must be a strange and convoluted catch. Going to do some research.

  15. Godless Heathen says

    @Trebuchet,

    I had the same thought, although I was thinking of the a church building having sex with a government building. Which is much less disturbing than what you thought of. :-)

  16. eric says

    @20 – I believe PZ Myers has reported on highly religious teens taking vows of chastity, wearting promise rings, etc… and then – much to the surprise and chagrin of their religious parents – interpreting those promises to mean ‘no piv…everything else okay.’ 😉

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