I was struck by this part of the statement: it is crucial that marriage as newly defined is equipped to carry within it as many as possible of the virtues of the understanding of marriage it will replace.
This recognises that the passage of the bill will introduce a new definition of marriage. As it currently stands, that definition does not include a notion of sexual fidelity (the flipside of having no definition of adultery), of the complimentarity of the sexes, of procreation within marriage, or of consummation. It is therefore significantly different to what I signed up to on my wedding day nearly 17 years ago, and to the churches stated teaching on marriage, which in turn is reflected in our wedding liturgies.
Firstly: if the Same-Sex Marriage Act definition of marriage becomes the 'official' definition, do we need to coin another term to signify committed relationships which include the above elements? One tweeter yesterday suggested 'Holy Matrimony', which has pedigree, but sounds a bit 1662. It also misses out the fact that none of the above 4 elements are specifically religious.
Secondly: if clergy are to continue as 'clerk in holy orders', and to act as registrars for marriage, what is our legal status now that the state definition of marriage has changed? In presiding at, and registering, a marriage, I'm already doing something which goes by the same name as a civil marriage ceremony, isn't the same, but has sufficient overlap to be ok. If the new definition of marriage leaves out 'the virtues of the understanding of marriage it will replace', then at what point do civil and church marriage become two separate-but-related, rather than overlapping, things? In other countries civil and church weddings are kept separate, and maybe it's time to reckon with that here as well. As Jonathan Chaplin puts it:
I don’t literally mean that I was married twice on the same day but only that my marriage was solemnized in two successive ceremonies. Here I want to argue that the great advantage of this two-step arrangement is that it puts on clear display the quite distinct roles of church and government in the public recognition of marriage, to the benefit of both. It affirms both roles while avoiding a blurring of their complementary objectives. It also protects the proper freedom of both church and government to operate on their own understandings of marriage. It is a model I wish to commend to the Church of England – indeed to all churches. I also want to argue the more specific point that the longstanding expectation that Anglican parish churches will marry any legally eligible resident has now become a burden from which the Church of England should seek to extricate itself. These two reforms would be mutually reinforcing in working towards the goal of liberating the church to witness better to the truth it professes about marriage. (In fact, if the first were achieved, the second would follow automatically.)
What would the impact be? We've got more church weddings this year than at any time since I joined this church, and I love the fact that the CofE is open to anyone in the parish who wants to be married here. It's a great chance to explore spiritual and relationship questions with people, and I also think we offer a much better marriage preparation and support package. Simply as a service to families and to the community, I wouldn't want to see that lost.