This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
Blessing the void


Nicholas Turner returns to the problem of how to bless a civil partnership and the questions that will face when the Coalition considers the introduction of so-called gay marriage


I


wrote last month about one of my favourite philosophers, J.L. Austin, who taught a great deal about


the power of words. Many of the sentences we seak are not statements but acions. Nowhere is this more vividly


exemplified than in a marriage service, when the couple form the union themselves by the solemn vows they make one to the other. What Austin taught, beter than any other, was the need to recognize those occasions when we use words to do something, and not merely say something. Tis


distinction between acion


and commentary – or rather most people’s inability properly to distinguish between the two – was immediately brought to prominence when Dr Williams spoke


to MPs


recently, and restated the Church of England’s refusal to allow the blessing of civil partnerships in church. I have writen on this before, when the Civil Partnership Act was being introduced six years ago. Allow me to repeat the point, for it will become still more


important when Parliament


considers, as it has promised to do, the introduction of gay marriage some time this month.


No spoken words Section 2 of the Act tells us that


a civil partnership is formed solely by registration. Te registration, ‘in the presence of a civil partnership registrar, and in the presence of each other and two witnesses’, consists solely of a signature on the civil partnership document. Tere is to be no declaration of


consent or commitment, no vows of any kind, no expression of any undertaking whatsoever. Above all, and this is the crucial point, the spoken word has no place in the formation of a civil partnership. Tat is the law. If you read the parliamentary


debates in 2004, you will see that this was not a bizarre oversight: it was quite deliberate. Te Minister of


State charged with introducing the legislation stated unequivocally that ‘spoken words are not part of that registration process’.


Importance of words By contrast, as we all should know


and as Austin so clearly described, words are central to the solemnization


and faithfulness have called down that blessing from him. No word, no blessing. Te formal pronouncement of God’s


blessing upon the couple


at a church wedding is not a benign hope. It has content only because the solemnization of the marriage has content.


Nothing to bless As the Minister stated, ‘a civil


there is to be no declaration of consent or commitment, no vows of any kind


of marriage. In a church wedding, the


couple are the ministers of


the sacrament, and in their words they are not sharing information, expressing their feelings, or offering a commentary upon what they are doing, they are doing it. Tat is why those words are so formal, solemn and hallowed by long usage. No words, no marriage. As for the blessing (and remember


there are two in a wedding) it is dependent upon the words of the couple one to the other. It is not tacked on as a form of reward for those who come to church; it emerges from what has gone before. Te Church


pronounces God’s


blessing upon those who by their publicly expressed covenant of love


partnership is formed when the second civil partner signs the civil partnership document, a civil marriage is formed when the couple exchange spoken words.’ A civil marriage can be blessed (though some clergy may refuse to do so) because it has spoken content; a civil partnership cannot. No content has been permited in law at its formation: there is nothing, no thing, to which a blessing may be atached. Tere is, therefore, no foundation for a service of blessing, even a morally objectionable one. Tis is the situation now, and it is quite clear. It is not a mater of justice, nor our own feelings, but of content. What, however, will the government


propose by way of ‘gay marriage’? All good liberals are in favour of it. Yes, but what exactly will it be?


Marriage and partnership Lord Falconer, architect of the 2004 Act, argued that civil marriage should be brought into line with civil partnerships. Tis was the reason for the immensely complicated legislation, and the inclusion of several clauses that could only seriously refer to heterosexual couples. It is not clear, at present, exactly


what is being proposed. It will make a difference which is equated to which, marriage to partnership, or partnership to marriage. I am well aware that most MPs and most of their constituents will not care less one way or the other. But we, as traditional Christians, remain guardians of this sacrament, one of God’s great giſts to mankind.


April 2011 ■ newdirections ■ 13 ND


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40