Archbishop of York Calls for New Name for Gay Marriage
11:12am 18th June 2013
The Archbishop of York has called for a new name for gay marriages, arguing that plans to call new same-sex partnerships marriage will lead to "confusion".
But the Archbishop did also apologise for disadvantages gay couples have suffered and said he was in favour of gay couples being able to show a loving commitment in a relationship.
The full text of the Dr John Sentamu's speech in the House of Lords is below:
"My Lords, I apologise that I was not here in your Lordships’ House, at the Second Reading, and I thank noble Lords for their greetings on that occasion, when I was recovering from surgery, I'm on the mend but I am not quite there yet – and I want to thank especially the generous compliments to me by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon in her speech.
This legislation is, I suggest, an exercise in ideological redefinition. The amendments before us today are designed to limit the ideological damage.
For the legislation does not address the concrete disadvantages from which same sex couples may still suffer. It is a deep personal regret to me and sorrow that homosexual people are still diminished, which is anathama to me and the Primates of the Anglican Communion by the 2003 Dromantine Communique - where we said the diminishing of homosexual people is anathama to the Christian faith, but it still happens and that is a deep regret for me. For them, I want to say sorry.
For, you see, the great difference between this legislation and the reform that introduced Civil Partnerships, and which was proposed to remedy certain concrete difficulties and disadvantages.
My Lords, what injustices will be remedied by some Civil Partnerships becoming marriage? The argument that this remedy injustices somewhere else doesn't carry much weight.
Ministers of the Crown have argued for the legislation as extending to an excluded minority a concrete privilege currently enjoyed by the majority. But what is that privilege?
The privileges that accompany marriage have already been extended to same-sex couples through the civil partnership legislation. But since marriage has been defined in law and practice as a relation between one man and one woman this as so defined cannot in law be extended to same-sex couples.
The draft Legislation presupposes an account of marriage which makes the gender of the partners incidental to the institution. This to me is a novelty – it does not correspond to marriage as it has been known in British law and society.
It is not a matter, then, of something that already exists, then, being extended - a new institution is being created under the aegis of existing marriage law which is, in fact, quite different from it.
So here we are – somewhat ill prepared midwives at the birth of a new social institution.
Then why not give it a new name? Because something new is coming to birth, why not give it a new name?
The interests served by the legislation before us are ideological, aimed at changing the way people think. Hence the amendments before us today are rightly geared towards protecting individual freedoms in the face of a radically new ideology.
The church shares with the best traditions of this house, a passion for justice, and a deep concern for the particular needs of minorities. Those concerns have been met in the provision for Civil Partnership legislation. Today however the question turns on two other interests of the church: (i) an interest in truthful description of anything and (ii) an interest in defending responsible practices of government against sophistic abuse of language.
It really matters that we recognise this as a new social institution. As a Christian I would argue that being a man or a woman is not incidental to the human relations a person may engage in, but formative of them.
In Christian understanding the human meaning of sexual difference is rooted in the good gift of God in creation. The male-femaleness of the human race is given to us, it is where we are placed, in common with the whole human race in every generation, and our role is to be thankful for it and to understand how it helps us to live the human lives we are given.
This task of appreciating our sexual difference weighs equally on married and unmarried, on gay and straight, on children and adults - on all who have the gift of being human.
Christians, in common with Jews and Muslims, understand marriage as essentially representative of this good gift of sexual difference. This understanding flows from an undivided and unbroken tradition which has helped to define the unity of the human race, uniting nations, religions, cultural traditions and periods of history.
In describing marriage as bound up constitutively and generatively with male-female relations we are describing a good form of life for which we can be unreservedly thankful.
As with any aspect of creation, our interpretations of marriage are not final. Reality is deeper than its interpretation; there is always more to be learned. Our thinking may be shaped in part by artists, working in whatever form, who represent to us some fragment of reality to be recognised.
It will be shaped also by scientists, who model complex interactions and observations in formulae that render them intelligible. It may also be shaped by theologians, teaching us to thematise what artists and scientists have shown within the larger picture of the goodness of God.
The unamended Legislation uses the term ‘marriage’ to describe a new entity, worthy in itself, but not equivalent in meaning of marriage as hitherto described.
I have argued this was not an area for state intervention - the work of government does not lie with teaching us how to interpret reality and think about it. Yet we are here.
The trouble, however, with this undifferentiated use of the term ‘marriage’ is that it will create confusion on the one hand and erode freedom of conscience on the other. Lord Mackay’s amendment seeks to remedy this.
By contrast, the legislation to create Civil Partnerships was clearly a proper exercise, in formal terms, of the authority of government. That legislation was precise in its use of language – it recognised the intrinsic difference between the loving, lifelong commitment of same sex couples and the loving lifelong commitment of male and female couples in marriage.
And those who sought to extend the scope of Civil Partnerships beyond same sex couples would, I respectfully submit, have made the legislation lack legal clarity and its intention would have been blurred, if not faulted. And therefore those which resisted the extension of civil partnerships beyond same sex couples, I want to suggest were right because you would have blurred the whole conversation and discussion.
Without some clearer classification as suggested in the noble and most learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern’s amendment, we introduce a degree of ambiguity not common in Law. This cannot help anyone. Because in Section 11 we still talk about opposite sex, so you have to be very careful how we arrive at an answer.
Responsible government is government under law. Responsible government has to prevent, as far as it can, the judgment that the law is an ass.
I believe that fracturing of the law of marriage into two alternative concepts of marriage inevitably inflicts damage of very serious proportions on English law, weakening the authority of law as a whole.
This damage can be lessened, I would suggest, by Lord Mackay’s very honest amendment. The noble and learned friend’s amendment seeks clarity and makes an important distinction. If it is accepted, and I sincerely hope that it will be, it will go some way to preserve the integrity of the Law. I support this amendment and hope the house supports it to."
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