The limits of tradition

The second most senior cleric in the Church of England says that marriage must remain between a man and a woman and society should not attempt to change it because “I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just (change it) overnight, no matter how powerful you are.”

History and traditions can be powerful and even good things but if they are your only arguments against a practice then it is pretty clear that you have a very weak case.


  1. Steve says

    Spoken by a high ranking member of the church that was founded solely so that Henry VIII could get a divorce and marry his mistress

  2. says

    History and tradition hold that Muslim men can marry multiple wives — some significantly under the current age of consent.

    The bible also does not prescribe one-man, one-woman marriage for all. In fact, it prescribes that a man should marry his dead brother’s wife so that he can inseminate her (and does not disqualify him from that duty if he’s already married). And there’s that little matter of concubines. How many did Solomon have?

    Of course, if it were up to me, anyone could marry anyone else — no holds barred. If you can afford it, go right ahead and marry six women (or six men). Whatever floats your boat. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

    But consenting adults only, if you please. No pre-teen girls in “Little House on the Prairie” dresses.

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’m sure this proposed attack on traditional marriage has Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon and his wife Anne Boleyn and his wife Jane Seymour and his wife Anne of Cleves and his wife Kathryn Howard and his wife Katherine Parr spinning in their graves.

  4. James says

    Not to mention that the marital track record of the next “Defender of the Faith” (and many others between Henry and him) is not all that closely aligned with the Church’s traditional and historical teaching to those in less favoured positions.


  5. sailor1031 says

    Since marriage is a property contract, it is the place of government, not religion, to decide what the rules are. And if you don’t think marriage is a property contract just get a divorce. You’ll quickly find that relationships have nothing to do with it.

  6. BillyJoe says

    “No pre-teen girls in “Little House on the Prairie” dresses.”

    Don’t look now, but ou’ve jst exposed your fetish. 😉

  7. Dunc says

    As several commentors have already pointed out, the Church of England owes its entire existence to the fact that you can just change the definition of marriage overnight, if you’re powerful enough.

    Don’t they teach history any more?

  8. Irreverend Bastard says

    I love “tradition and history”.

    My viking forefathers had a long history and tradition of going to England to murder priests, pillage churches, ravish wenches and capture thralls.

    Good old days!

  9. Forbidden Snowflake says

    An interesting thought I recently read on the subject of tradition, which stayed with me:

    Tradition is a descriptive term, not a prescriptive one. It’s what we call the way we have been doing things, not a reason to continue doing them that way.

    Sometimes I mentally replace the word ‘tradition’ in sentences as such as that of the archbishop with the phrase “something we’ve been doing for a while”. It helps see through the bullshit that is the argument from tradition.

  10. Stonyground says

    The likes of Sentamu lie about what the Bible supposedly says because most of the time they can get away with it. Believers and indifferents hardly ever read it and have no clue what it says or doesn’t say. it is only those troublesome Gnu Atheists that have taken the time to study it so that they can call him out.

  11. KG says

    There were at least 4 Acts of Parliament in the UK in the course of the 20th century by which the state changed the definition of marriage by changing the rules on who could marry whom:
    Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907 (this allowed a man to marry his dead wife’s sister; the Church of England opposed this one – I’m not sure about the rest).
    Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act 1921.
    Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act (Northern Ireland) 1924 (passed to remove uncertainty as to whether the previous Act applied to northern Ireland).
    Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Relationship Act 1931 (this allowed marriage to nephews and nieces by marriage).

    The non-matching titles of the first two are rather interesting: in both, the Act’s title says it is about whom a man can marry.

    One pair of my great-great-grandparents appear to have married (after having a son, my great-grandfather) in contravention of the prohibition that existed from 1835 to 1921, on a woman marrying her deceased husband’s brother (the Marriage Act 1835 made these religiously-based prohibitions absolute in law). In the census of 1881, they are recorded as a widow and a single man.

  12. KG says

    Strictly speaking, this is wrong. Henry married his dead brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon; but before doing so, had to get a special dispensation from the Pope. When later he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn (tradition has it that she wouldn’t let him bed her without this, and in any case he wanted a legitimate son), he developed convenient pangs of conscience, and wanted the Pope (a different one IIRC) to say that the dispensation had been wrong, so he’d never really been married to Catherine. It was the Pope’s refusal that led to him declaring himself head of the Church, and he had his daughter by Catherine (later Mary I), declared illegitimate. After that, according to 1066 and All That:

    Henry was afraid his reign would not be long enough for any more divorces, so he gave them up and executed his wives instead*.

    *NOTE: All except Anne of Cleves, whom he had on approval from Belgium…

    In fact, he never consummated the marriage with Anne of Cleves, and non-consummation was one of the traditional Catholic grounds for annulment of a marriage. So in his own eyes at least, he never got divorced at all.

  13. KG says

    Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). But the Bible doesn’t actually say he didn’t have the wives one at a time!

  14. Makoto says

    How old does a tradition have to be to be a tradition? I can recall some fairly old societies in history that had a fairly different definition of “marriage” (not to mention all the cases of not-1-man-1-woman that we know of from the bible)…

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