Marriage is a holy estate and a gift of God in creation, but, unlike love, marriage is not a necessary part of Christian life. The Anglican Church does not teach that marriage is a Gospel sacrament and in some provinces the Church canonically marries unbaptised couples. Jesus didn’t marry and was not a great advocate of family life either, turning disciples against father, mother, brother, sister and children in his name. St Paul recommends the single life as the better choice, even for those who are already betrothed. People of other faiths get married, and their marriages are real marriages – even though they are definitely not Christian marriages.
The early church did not ‘do’ weddings. Presbyters did not marry people: married couples brought their legal marriage to the altar, they received Holy Communion together and their marriage was blessed in Christ’s name. I believe it is now time to leave marriage to the state and to the lawyers, where it rightly belongs, and for the Church to return to blessing people in Christ’s name at the altar – which is what we do best. People can wear white dresses and walk in to Mendelssohn’s music if that is what they want, but we would be set free from the arrogance of thinking that the Church can define what a ‘real’ marriage is (or isn’t). Jesus said “those whom God has joined together,” he did not say ‘those whom the Church has joined together’. He chose his words carefully.
It is true that the Church would have a new problem, but it would be a problem we should be wrestling with. We would have to work out who (and what) we can bless in Christ’s name, and what difference Christ’s blessing makes to a person or to a couple, or to a house, or to an oppressive dictator or to military hardware. Instead of discriminating against gay people by not allowing them to be married, we would be able to treat gay and straight people equally – all would have to marry legally before a notary. But that would involve challenging the powerful heterosexual majority to give up, for the sake of justice, something they treasure.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington