Marriage: one man and one woman?

Updated: A clergy member of the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission has written a response to the recent report by that group defending the view that marriage has always been about one man and one woman. Meanwhile, the Church Times says this about the report: “ignore it.”

Thinking Anglicans posted the links and an excerpt.

The Revd Canon Dr Charlotte Methuen, has published an article at Our Kingdom under this title: Marriage: one man and one woman?

This week the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission published a statement on marriage. (PDF) It makes the case that marriage is between one man and one woman. Traditionally this has been true in England for a long time, and the Commission (made up of bishops, clergy and laity who advise the church on doctrine) was asked to offer a theological justification for the Church of England’s current position. But is this the way marriage has always been conceived? And does it have to be?

The Church Times says in an editorial, now behind a paywall, “Ignore it.” Thinking Anglicans has this quote:

[The report] speaks of a unique relationship between a man and a woman without ever explaining this contention. Seldom clear, the text adopts a particular obscurity whenever a contentious matter is touched upon, such as the complementarity of the sexes. Yet it combines this with a dogmatism that is at odds with its purpose as a study document. What on earth were the Bishops thinking when they agreed to its publication?

Canon Metheun’s essay details the changes in understanding of marriage through the Old and New Testaments, through the history of the church and in culture, including marriage’s presumed second-rate status to celibacy for much of the church’s history. She also talks about how marriage was not always understood as a union of equals, and that women have often suffered when marriage was understood mainly in terms of property and patriarchy.

She concludes:

Marriage is always rooted in the social context in which it is experienced, and subject to the norms and expectations of that context. Increasingly I find myself convinced that one of the flaws of our current conception of marriage may be precisely the emphasis on “one man and one woman”, which seems consistently to imply expectations about the role of women and men which tend to be biologically determinist and which reach beyond the question of who is biologically capable of bearing children. From my observation of couples around me, I would judge that the joys and pains of long-term relationships between two people of the same sex seem no different from those of two people of different sexes. Indeed, long-term relationships between two men or between two women sometimes seem less fraught, perhaps precisely because the couple is not having to negotiate centuries of expectation of how men and women should relate to one another.

Marriage, as the Church of England (among other religious bodies) has been pointing out, has been between men and women, and in the Christian tradition between one man and one woman. But it seems to me that extending the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples might in fact be a redemptive step. For it might allow the institution of marriage to transcend the profound inequalities between men and women which have too often shaped it.

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