When two art students married in the name of art, we might not have noticed, except one of them is gay and the other straight
The launch of the Coalition fo(u)r Marriage (C4M.org.uk) this week has meant that the upcoming consultation on gay civil marriage was raised once again in the media. For Christians the story that we tell ourselves about who we are is being challenged, while for those that want marriage to be redefined the matter is about a deep desire to belong to that story. But what is that story?
Two students married early last year. They are students at the University of Worcester and married as part of their art project. They coordinate their outfits every day and make their own clothing, but he is gay and she straight. Mrs Battenberg-Cartwright said of the marriage: “We work collaboratively on everything, there isn’t a clear line between our work and our tutors have agreed to mark us together… It’s about an artistic unity rather than a love union, to join each other in art and make us the art.”
According to the Daily Mail “the couple say they are committed to each other but if they ever divorce, that would be the end of their creative partnership.”
Perhaps it is a little uncomfortable for us to think about marriage in those terms, because of our preconceived idea about sex, homosexuality and marriage. Yet even if the proposal can seem a little narcissistic to the cynic, there is truth in it. If a young Christian married couple would have said the same thing they would be articulating a theology of marriage that touches on God’s first command to us in Genesis which is to be creative. We are to do that within the context of partnership, for “it is not good for man to be alone”. But we are also to go forth and multiply.
In order to win the argument the Coalition four Marriage need to keep to first principles and they need to keep it simple. This means knowing and understanding what marriage means historically and then argue their point simply and clearly in the public square. But they also need to remember that civil partnerships contain strong elements of what it means to be married. If you only reluctantly affirm, perhaps not even in passing, the good that these partnerships can bring, you are unnecessarily causing hurt. You’re also undermining your own case.
The argument over gay marriage will not be won in relation to anything about the fabric of our society, polygamy, or bringing up children. It will only be won if we can make the case—from first principles—in how current law is structured. Then we must make the case that marriage is fundamentally a religious institution and as such it is up to the religious to define it, not the state, if—that is—we agree that the state should be secular.
The main argument against changing the definition of marriage is articulated well by reformed Anglican blogger, and specialist in matters of sexuality Peter Ould and Andrew Lilco of Conservative Home. Coming from slightly different perspectives they have argued that it is the consummation of a marriage which makes marriage something that happens between a man and a woman because a homosexual relationship by definition cannot be consummated. Most, if not all other aspects of civil partnerships are found in marriage but for the name and the recognition given to it by the church.
This is the legal argument C4M need to make to win, but there is more to marriage than consummation. Ironically it was the creative act those two students engaged in which reminded me what the core element of marriage is. It’s a creative partnership, but it’s also a coming together of a man and woman to be one flesh, to operate in a shared direction towards shared ends.
We have civil partnerships, and where it is appropriate gays and lesbians will take care of children. We don’t know yet what impact this will have on society (in many individual cases the gay parents will do better than some straight parents currently can), but the case for marriage will only be upheld if we argue from first principles and from case law, while always remembering to encourage creativity, partnership and procreation.