C.S. Lewis on same-sex marriage. Again.

In the introduction to his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis warns against “spiritualising and refining” the word “Christian” so that it ends up as just a general word of praise for describing someone as a “good person”. Lewis compares this with what happened to “another, and very much less important, word”:

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A.

But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?”

They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing.

A similar point can, I think, be made about marriage. It seems to me that at the heart of the case for same-sex marriage is the (sadly rather belated) recognition in society that same-sex relationships can indeed be loving, faithful and committed – as much so as any marriage, and indeed in many cases rather more so than many marriages.

Given the legally-sanctioned odium that has been heaped on same-sex couples in the past, and the continuing prejudice and discrimination that exist today, it’s understandable that people would say “Surely the important thing about a marriage is not the genders of the participants, but their love, faithfulness and commitment to one another? And surely to exclude same-sex couples from marriage is to cast a continuing slur on their love, faithfulness and commitment?”

To which the answer may well be: to be loving, faithful and committed is of course a far better thing than to be merely a man and woman in possession of a marriage certificate. But is being two adults in a loving, faithful and committed relationship the same thing as marriage?

A classic expression of the purposes of marriage can be found in the Book of Common Prayer’s form of solemnization of matrimony. This sets out three reasons why marriage was “ordained”:

  • the procreation of children;
  • sexual fidelity; and
  • for “the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity” (the BCP’s language here is too lovely to paraphrase!).

I’ve always liked the way the Westminster Confession of Faith (contrary to the Puritans’ gloomy reputation) put “the mutual help of husband and wife” at the top of the list. But however you order it, this reflects an understanding of marriage as having three main components: “mutual society”, consummation, and procreation (or at least the possibility, expectation and hope of procreation). And note that there is nothing specifically “Christian” about this: this is a “natural law”, “common good” definition of marriage.

The government’s proposals for “equal civil marriage” seem to take it for granted that only the first of these components is really essential to marriage. To introduce same-sex marriage is ipso facto to say that procreation is only incidental to marriage rather than essential to it; and the guidance ducks the question of what “consummation” (and, for that matter, “adultery”) would mean in the context of a same-sex marriage, which rather suggests it doesn’t see that as particularly essential to marriage, either.

So under these proposals, marriage will become a social institution in which two adults of any gender express their love, faithfulness and commitment to one another, but without any inherent connection with sex or procreation. It’s hard to see what substantive difference there will then be between marriage and civil partnership.

Maybe, though, conservative opponents of same-sex marriage are hoist with their own petard here – since they have done as much as anyone to make “marriage” not only a descriptive, factual term for a particular type of relationship, but also a term of approbation: “this is the type of relationship we approve of”. So that to say “you cannot be married” cannot be heard at this time in any other way than “we don’t really approve of you”; just as it is difficult for any advocacy of marriage as the principal social structure for the “creation and upbringing of children” not to be experienced as an insult by unmarried couples or single parents.

Which is why the extension of the word (and many of the legal structures of) “marriage” to same-sex couples was almost certainly an inevitable development, to recognise the genuine ability of same-sex relationships to provide the mutual support for which marriage is intended, and the interest of the state in promoting stable relationships. If a way could have been found to achieve this without redefining marriage per se, then I could have supported that; and a more thorough and sincere process of consultation could have considered whether that was feasible. But that’s not what’s on offer.


27 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis on same-sex marriage. Again.”

  1. I suppose it depends on how tightly you want to define “procreate” – I take a looser consideration, because we have social arrangements in which we bring up children who are not genetically/biologically ours (adoption), and also we have medical methods that means same-sex couples can indeed have children (even if they only share the genes of one parent – which already occurs in some heterosexual marriages, I had a boyfriend several years ago who’s biological father was an unknown donor due to his father’s infertility).

    I think the nurture and care of children is more important than the act of producing them – we’re never going to run out of humans reproducing! So far, although there aren’t many studies yet, it looks like same-sex couples are at no disadvantage with this.

    1. Thanks for this. Clearly there are many different circumstances in which people have or raise children. But it’s still a significant change in what has been the pre-eminent circumstance for that – marriage – to say that the specifically procreative aspect is no longer to be treated as inherent to it as a social institution.

      1. But lots of people already don’t feel like that is an essential part of marriage. Maybe in Christianity it is still important, but many people have different values and have already adapted their understanding of what marriage means so that it doesn’t necessarily include procreation. I think most people would say they would rather procreate within marriage than outside, but that’s not the same as saying procreation is a special aspect of marriage that to do without changes the fundamentals of marriage.

        My stand on all this is that religious organisations are still find to hold to their own values, but so many of us just don’t define marriage the same way, and given our definitions we feel that same-sex couples are just as eligible as man-woman couples to have a civil marriage. In fact my fiance and I are an example of that – we may or may not have children, and we feel the long term commitment of a marriage is a better type of relationship for having and bringing up children, but ultimately it’s about partnership and mutual support and our discussions about having children are essentially no different from the discussions my gay friends have about adoption and other things.

        I found your post interesting but I fundamentally disagree with your view of procreation (even if only in possibility) as essential to marriage. You could argue that civil partnerships should be available to all couples and that “marriage” should be the preserve of religious organisations – I would be fine with this, although I suspect that socially and culturally most people in this country would just refer to all civil partnerships as marriages.

      2. To be honest, I’ve tended to underestimate the importance of the link between procreation and marriage precisely because, from the point of view of Christian faith, it is not the most important aspect of marriage. I’ve tended to be more conscious, in practice, of the element of mutual support, as well as more specifically theological understandings (such as “one flesh” or marriage as an icon of Christ and the church) which clearly have no part in public policy.

        It tends to be non-Christians, in my experience, for whom the connection between marriage and procreation is more significant. I don’t know what data is available on this, but at least in my experience the most common sequence of events these days would appear to be: dating, cohabitation, marriage, children. People don’t generally see marriage as necessary for mutual support or sex; it’s having children that pushes them towards the altar (or the country hotel marriage suite, according to preference!).

        Also, this isn’t about what people’s personal values are relating to marriage; it’s about what are the “public goods” of marriage. Why does the state recognise marriage in the first place? If it’s just about two people’s expression of love for one another, why not just leave everyone to get on with it?

      3. On the relationship between marriage and childbearing in Christian thought, I wonder what you make of Jesus’ argument in Luke 20:34-38, or Malachi 2:13-16, both of which (admittedly incredibly difficult passages) seem to treat the institution of marriage in this age (not under the aspect of Christian vocation) as having childbearing as a sine qua non.

      4. Alastair: I’m not disputing that. My point was just (a) the centrality of procreation is not some extraneous “religious” imposition on the concept of marriage; and (b) as a matter of personal biography, I’ve tended to think more about the other aspects of marriage (while at the same time doing my fair share for the continuation of the species 😉 ), which is one reason why I hadn’t previously thought through this particular point in as much detail.

    1. Wish I could edit out that sp. and punctuation error.
      Why is nobody, (not even the Church) saying that marriage is a *SACRAMENT* – childless or not?

      1. Because I don’t think the sacramentality (or otherwise) of marriage is something that can have a bearing on public policy.

        Indeed, the only view that existing English law has on marriage as a sacrament is that it isn’t one! See Article XXV of the Articles of Religion…

  2. Best as I can judge, your concerns about this process are well founded, and I can get behind the idea that SSM and “opposite-sex” marriage yield different (though overlapping) goods. What I wonder is how fine-grained the legal distinction really needs to be. In other words, why can’t “marriage” include a cluster of relationships that have “family resemblances” but don’t necessarily aim at a single ideal?

    Granted there are no doubt legal nuances I’m not aware of–especially ones unique to the UK context (the Prayer Book issue is fascinating). But what, practically speaking, would be the difference between a model that simply recognizes one type of marriage open to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples and one that recognizes the differences between them? (It’s also an interesting thought experiment to consider whether couples consisting of two men might not also be just as different in some ways from couples consisting of two women as either is from a man-woman pairing.)

    1. There are some very specific legal issues that will come up, in particular concerning consummation. At present, consummation is strictly a matter of PIV. I cannot see any way in which you can come up with a meaning of consummation for same-sex couples that doesn’t involve changing the definition for opposite-sex couples.

      Similarly, I believe that adultery is strictly a matter of PIV at present, and again to give it meaning for same-sex couples will mean having to change its meaning for opposite-sex couples also.

      Which is why my main complaint is over the cavalier way in which the proposals breezily suggest that it’s simply a matter of throwing open marriage “as is” to same-sex couples. Like you say, the “goods” of same-sex relationships and opposite-sex marriage overlap in many ways. But the ways in which they differ include areas which would currently be seen, as a matter of both law and (I think) culture, as being pretty central to marriage; and if opposite-sex marriage and same-sex marriage are to be regarded as just being “the same thing” – that is, if marriage is now to be a gender-neutral institution, full stop – then this means changing those central aspects of marriage in order for it to make sense as a gender-neutral construct.

      Hence if same-sex marriage is to be done at all, my view is that it should be as a separate legal state to which existing marriage law is applied as and where appropriate.

      1. Adultery/consummation is an interesting point, but I think that with increasing research from sexologists a growing number of people are changing their perspective on PiV – yes it’s still really the only way to procreate without medical help, but sex as part of a relationship can be much more broadly defined for both different-sex and same-sex couples.

        From a different perspective, I would be really annoyed as a wife who’d been cheated on, if it didn’t legally count as adultery just because it was not PiV, but would socially/culturally clearly be seen as adultery/cheating/infidelity. I would be interested to learn more about how adultery works in divorce cases – why couldn’t you just cite “irreconcilable differences”, do we need a separate “adultery” cause or is it just a hangover from an earlier time?

      2. Yes, I must admit I was thinking of Bill Clinton and his “sexual relations with that woman” as I typed that!

        All this just reinforces, however, that the way in which “equal civil marriage” is being introduced has significant knock-on effects for marriage generally – effects to which little or no serious consideration appears to have been given by the government. Maybe the understanding of “consummation” for opposite-sex couples needs to be re-thought (though frankly I’m sceptical), but in that case let’s rethink it rather than just haphazardly spinning marriage round and seeing where it ends up pointing…

  3. My principal non-theological observation is that we’re treating this as groundbreaking, when (I understand) 10 other countries have already adopted SSM. Does anyone have an insight into how any of them – and their churches – have handled any of the reservations cited above?

    1. Looking at Wiki, it appears that different countries have taken different approaches.

      For example: in Canada, the equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were used to strike down the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples. Presumably that would also operate to strike down any ancillary legal provisions that might interfere with same-sex marriage (such as laws surrounding consummation). That won’t fly in the UK, as the ECHR has confirmed only this week that the European Convention on Human Rights does not grant a right to same-sex marriage.

      In Norway, it seems they passed a law explicitly introducing gender-neutral marriage as a replacement for the previous institution of marriage. Which is what Britain is doing, except that (characteristically) our politicians don’t have the honesty and courage to say so outright.

      In South Africa, it appears they introduced a parallel concept of “civil union”, which could be same-sex or opposite-sex, and constituted as either a marriage or a civil union – but which would then operate legally on the same basis as marriage under the existing law (which seems to have remained in force). So that sounds similar to what I was saying in my previous post (and at the end of this post) about a parallel structure that is then mapped across to the existing law, rather than changing the existing law itself.

      The situation in England is further complicated by the legal status of the Church of England, of course – in particular the ability of Church of England clergy to act ex officio as registrars of marriage, and the fact that the church’s doctrine of marriage is enshrined into law (through the Book of Common Prayer and the Canons), which doesn’t sound to have been an issue in the other countries mentioned (though not sure about Norway, given it has a state church).

  4. An observation.

    I’m not convinced same-sex marriage does redefine marriage in the way some have argued; nor do I think it takes away the institution of heterosexual marriage as, say, John Milbank argued recently. Or at least, if it does, it’s not so big a deal as same-sex marriage opponents make out.

    To illustrate, take the concepts of parenthood, motherhood and fatherhood. Haven’t we managed fine defining, or perhaps “redefining” (I’m not certain of the history of this, but it’s not strictly relevant), the concepts of mothers and fathers to take into account adoptive parents? Does including adoptive parents in a definition of parenthood take away the concept of biological or natural parenthood? Does recognizing adoptive mothers and fathers as mothers and fathers, without qualification, take away from biological mothers and fathers? Or from the institution of natural parenthood? Is there any evidence that recognizing biological parents and adoptive parents as equally “parents,” according to the law, is harmful in any way to the institution of the biological family?

    If not, why should we just assume that recognizing same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples as equally married somehow takes away or harms the institution of marriage itself?

    1. Hi David, thanks for this.

      A couple of thoughts. First, I think adoption is actually a good example of what I’m getting at, with “adoptive parenthood” and “biological parenthood” being in a sense separate institutions, though with a great deal of overlap and most (not all) laws relating to parenthood applying equally to both. It’s not that someone sat down and said, “We must make parenthood ‘equal’ for both biological and non-biological parents”, but that adoptive parenthood has long been recognised as a valid form of human flourishing to which much of the same legal concerns as biological parenthood apply.

      Hence, as I’ve said, same-sex marriage could be implemented by creating it as a new legal institution but then saying that pretty much all legal references to “marriage” apply both to marriage between a man and a woman and same-sex marriage – the only exceptions being in the realms of “biology” (e.g. consummation) and “religion”. That seems to be what happened in South Africa, in broad terms.

      Second: the way in which the UK government is introducing same-sex marriage – splitting the existing, single institution of marriage into two (“religious” and “civil”) and then making “civil” marriage gender-neutral – means that we will no longer have a civil institution which is recognised as a context, let alone the prime context, for the procreation and raising of children. Now, it may be that we conclude as a society that we no longer require such an institution – that “civil marriage” can safely be reduced in scope just to an expression of commitment between two adults, with procreation per se becoming an entirely private and non-institutional matter. But in that case let’s have an honest process of debate and consultation about that, rather than the hand-waving waffle which is the consultation paper.

      1. As much as I am chomping at the bit to see same-sex marriage in the UK, it does strike me as quite hastily put-together. There was one question in the consultation survey, for example, that I thought was really poorly composed (I can’t remember which), and it gave me the impression they’d barely so much as proofread it. Surely the government could have stated its plan to go ahead with same-sex marriage AND provided a much lengthier and more substantial process of debate and consultation as to how best to implement it and deal with the complexities you’ve mentioned. Reminds me of the AV fiasco.

    2. The institution of marriage is a form of union that represents the integration of several goods. These goods may not all be realized in each and every marriage, but the institutional form ensures that they are held together. Adoption is a situation arising from non-ideal circumstances, a situation where the goods that the form of marriage seeks to integrate have been detached. In adoption, there is an attempt to re-integrate the child as much as possible into the integrated goods represented by marriage.

      The form of marriage, as the lifelong exclusive union of a man and a woman, enables the integration of the good of coitus, in its unique significance as an expression of the deep fact of sexual dimorphism, the bringing together of the genders in society (wife and husband, mother and father, represent society – male and female – in nuce), the connection between sex and reproduction, the unification of biological (gestational and genetic), legal, and social parenthood, the protection of the bonds of blood and lineage, the rights of children to a mother and a father, etc. Even a married couple that don’t have children can express the form of marriage that integrates all of these goods. The adoptive parents represent these integrated goods, and re-integrate the child into the form in which they can be realized.

      The core problem with same sex ‘marriage’ is that it is constitutionally incapable of integrating these goods. The form of same sex ‘marriage’ resists the integration of some of these goods, and actually disintegrates others. This is why many of us believe that it is impossible (and not merely impermissible) for same sex couples to marry. It is also why we believe that, no matter how loving a same sex relationship may be, it will never be equal to marriage, even when separate. The form of the committed heterosexual relationship can integrate several goods that no committed homosexual relationship can.

      1. I find this whole “hetersexual and same-sex marriage provide different goods” argument really hard to follow – I don’t see it. I really don’t think procreation or sexual intercourse (PiV) are that fundamental since our social organisation and medical possibilities have changed so radically since Biblical times. I will continue to maintain that the discussions I have with my fiance and the discussions my friends in same-sex relationships have about children are fundamentally the same. The only difference is that we have to also consider what happens if I become pregnant unintentionally. I can sort of see why people might consider that a huge and important distinction (probably something to do with nature) but I just don’t buy it.

        So outside procreation/consummation are there any other reasons?

        I like David’s discussion of adoption but I don’t feel it’s wholly appropriate to this conversation because by its very nature it requires some separate/additional laws in order to allow these relationships to be recognised. Once their recognised, as far as I know, there is no further legislation that distinguishes between biological and adoptive parents, but please correct me if I’m wrong. Marriage is a different scenario because it always requires some sort of legal recognition, but I fail to see a good argument why that recognition should be different for same-sex couples.

      2. I will continue to maintain that the discussions I have with my fiance and the discussions my friends in same-sex relationships have about children are fundamentally the same.

        Perhaps this is because – “if it’s not a personal question…” 😉 – at the moment those discussions are still in large part hypothetical, or at least a matter for a currently-unspecified future point? ISTM that the discussions that a man and woman have when it comes to the actual point of decision about procreating children is a different discussion from that which the same man and woman have about adopting a child or even having IVF. Not different in every way, but still a different discussion about a different process.

        I fail to see a good argument why that recognition should be different for same-sex couples.

        Just so long as we’re clear that this involves changing the nature of the recognition for opposite-sex couples in some fundamental ways. Take, for example, consummation: as previously discussed, under current law this means sexual intercourse, and not any other form of what our newspapers would delicately term “sex act”.

        So for consummation to make any sense in gender-neutral marriage, it will have to be redefined for everyone. Now, maybe you’re right that society has changed enough for people to think that’s a right thing to do: but did I miss the consultation where that was actually considered and debated, and where the legal ramifications of such a change were properly assessed rather than being kicked down the road for the courts to sort out somehow?

        Because that’s the biggest problem I have with the way the government is going about this: fatuous sloganeering about “removing the ban on same-sex people getting married”, when what is actually proposed is changing marriage as understood in law so that it becomes something that same-sex couples are capable of entering into. Now, many people would probably support same-sex marriage even if framed in those terms (it is, after all, what has happened in countries such as Norway), but probably fewer people, and with stronger opposition; so there is an element of obfuscation, even deception, in how the government is proceeding, following on from a pattern we have seen elsewhere (e.g. on health and education and, well, pretty much everything to which this government turns its attention).

      3. Also: I’d be interested in what you would see as the differences between “equal civil marriage” as proposed and civil partnership. From where I’m sitting, it seems fair to summarise the proposals as extending civil partnership to opposite-sex couples and renaming it “marriage”. Again, maybe that’s what people want – but they’re not being given any chance to consider or debate that, only to submit 200-word survey comments on “how” to go about it.

      4. First of all, institutions don’t exist merely or often even primarily for the ends of those who enter into them. The institution of marriage exists for ends that transcend the private ends of married couples, representing social goods and the interests and goods of particular parties other than the married couple, most particularly those of children. Consequently, comparing the decisions of married couples and same sex couples with respect to children is a very narrow lens with which to view something that is a much larger issue. The institution of marriage also exists because the form of sexual relationship that it upholds is naturally ordered in a manner that means that it can render itself public. The form of homosexual sex is intrinsically incapable of rendering a matter of public interest in this same manner.

        No matter how significantly medical possibilities have changed with reproductive technology, enabling us to circumvent the processes of nature to some extent, the assumption that the circumventing of nature should be regarded as desirable or permissible, even in extremity, is by no means clear. There is also the fact that in circumventing nature, we are dramatically reframing the existence of some of the most vulnerable persons in our society, and compromising the goods of our offspring for the sake of our private will. Do we have the right to do this?

        Marriage upholds a particular phenomenology of children, personalizing them as the outset and protecting their dignity and identity. It holds up the ideal of sexual bonds being intrinsically related to procreation and the rearing of children, and the ideal of children finding their origins in the loving and private union of their mother and father, who have committed sexual exclusivity to each other for life, in an aneconomic, pre-political, and non-technological form of bond. Children are not principally ‘choices’, but gifts to be prepared for and welcomed. Marriage maintains the ideal of the clarity and simplicity of the notion of parenthood. Marriage upholds the male-female unit as the primary and ideal socializing force in the life of children, representing the lifelong, loving, and mutually dependent cooperation of the two halves of humanity.

        This union across sexual difference is not merely the norm presented to children, but to society as a whole. Sexual difference is the most fundamental anthropological fact (far more significant than the difference between heterosexual and homosexual), rendered personal and cultural in gender. Marriage is the primary way in which culture articulates the ideal of loving cooperation and interdependence between the sexes as the social norm and ideal. Sexual attraction to one’s own sex simply isn’t as socially significant as bonds that bring together the two halves of society.

        Marriage upholds the non-autonomy of persons, and more particularly of bodies. Male and female bodies are naturally ordered to each other by nature, and in coitus can form an organic union that achieves a greater biological end, in a manner that no other combination of bodies can achieve. The bodies of biological parents and their offspring are bound together genetically and phenotypically. The bodies of infants are related to their mothers through gestation and nursing. The bodies of siblings and wider families are related to each other through shared origins in the marital bonds of parents, and through shared blood and appearances. These are important dimensions of our identity, and marriage protects these bonds as the norm and ideal. Same sex ‘marriage’ cannot, but consistently breaks or ignores such bonds. Same sex ‘marriage’ uproots marriage from the natural order and makes it purely a cultural creation, open to reinvention.

        By upholding the ideal, norm, and desirability of these natural bonds, the recognition of marriage represents a check to constructivist and technological will, and any anti-natural aesthetical purism or autotelicism that would seek to define or pursue our existence without first adopting a receptive posture towards nature. The ideal of marriage identifies horizons of our being that precede and exceed voluntaristic horizons of the political, economic, social, legal, and technological, and ensures that human nature is never enveloped by human poesis. Same sex ‘marriage’ subtly but significantly undermines the dignity of human nature by displacing the challenging the primacy of these horizons and marriage as receptivity to nature.

        Same sex relationships are either an exception to key norms of nature (and being an exception need not mean that they should be stigmatized, pathologized, or proscribed), or they are neutral entities, which by virtue of their character are non-expressive of these norms.

      5. I also wonder how the idea of same sex unions as ‘equal’ to marriage, even if different and separate, can be anything other than the institutionalization of an obliging lie to palliate unreasonable and unrealistic sensitivities. Marriage serves and protects goods that non-sexual or homosexual relationships, no matter how committed and loving they may be, cannot.

        ‘Equality’ of treatment is only meaningful and just where it can proved that they are no relevant differences on which basis discrimination can justifiably be founded. I am all for the equitable treatment of same sex couples, but equal treatment is a ludicrous and tyrannical expectation, foisting unrealistic demands upon the public with little more than the insistence of same sex couples upon their entitlement to social approval and celebration of their unions as no less significant and valuable than true marriages as basis. If equality is desired, it should first be proved.

      6. I think we have reached an impasse. I have seen nothing that convinces me of the importance of procreation and I am not going to convince you that it isn’t important because our underlying beliefs are different.

      7. I think that’s a difficulty in this whole debate. Ultimately it’s a debate not just about who can get married, but about what marriage is. But that very quickly leads on to a debate about what human beings are. And thus we end up at a position of irreconcilable differences of understanding.

        Even at the level of “what is marriage”, it is almost impossible to reconcile the view that “marriage is just two adults expressing their loving commitment to one another” with the view that marriage is “the estate into which a man and a woman enter when they consent and contract to cohabit with each other and each other only”, and “in its nature a union permanent and life-long, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity”. So the two sides end up talking past each other.

        However, the point that remains germane to the debate on the government’s proposals is this: those wodges of text I quoted in italics above are not just one private opinion about marriage in opposition to another private opinion about marriage: they are the definition of marriage under current English law, taken from paragraph 1 of the volume of Halsbury’s Laws on Matrimonial law. So the proposals will of necessity involve tearing up that definition and creating a new one.

        Indeed, if you look at the full definition as linked above, it is stated as a definition of holy matrimony. In other words, the current definition of “marriage” under English law is that it is “holy matrimony” as understood by the Church of England. So the new institution of gender-neutral marriage will indeed be a wholly new institution previously unknown, inheriting many of the attributes of the former legal institution of “holy matrimony”, and with all existing marriages being converted from the former institution into the new one.

        As I keep saying: you may well consider all that to be good and necessary in a secular age. But it’s not what is being said explicitly in the government’s consultation, and it’s not even clear that the government has the faintest realisation that this is what it is doing.

  5. Incidentally, for those in this discussion who are interested, I’ve posted my responses to the consultation document (my “200-word survey comments”…) here.

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