29 December 2011

Behind the Curtain

Or, a very long post attempting to explain how I wrestled through a complex issue; apologies if it seems rather stream-of-consciousness, not to mention long, but you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to...

Perched at the top of my Amazon wishlist, as it's been for some time, is Ian Ker's recent biography of G.K. Chesterton. To anyone who knows me, of course, this'll hardly be a surprise, given that my shelves are buoyed up with eighty or so books by the great man and more than a dozen books about him.

I've not always been a Chesterton fan; my first encounter with Kensington's greatest son was an unpromising taste of 'The Queer Feet' when I was fourteen or thereabouts, but when I was twenty-one, prompted by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, I drank deeply from The Complete Father Brown, had my mind prized open and my horizons expanded by The Man Who Was Thursday, and fell in love with the man described so ably in Joseph Pearce's Wisdom and Innocence. Whatever appearances may have suggested, I'd fallen far from the Catholic tree in my teenage years, but it was Gilbert who brought me back to the faith; his impact on me hasn't paled as the years have passed.

His combination of goodness and good sense is something that I've long loved, and I've taken to heart the radical difference between Chesterton and his good friend Hilaire Belloc; if Belloc roared like a vengeful bull, Chesterton smiled in charity and seems never to have lost a friend. Pearce's book says quite a bit on the subject, quoting the two writers' contemporary Frank Swinnerton to good effect:
'One reason for the love of Chesterton was that while he fought he sang lays of chivalry and in spite of all his seriousness warred against wickedness rather than a fleshly opponent, while Belloc sang only after the battle and warred against men as well as ideas.'
Belloc, curiously -- and I think wrongly -- felt that Chesterton's gentleness would do little for his legacy as a writer, but recognised that mere longetivity on the page matters nothing compared to the eternal reward that could be won through the preservation of his soul from the cancer of hatred.

Whatever about that, he's certainly had an enormous impact on this blog. My tagline here is adapted from one of his finest epigrams, my description in the sidebar draws from four others, and I'm pretty sure that were you to trawl through the archives here you'd find them echoing loudly with his words and ideas, perhaps most frequently his astute observation that 'it is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.' That my words should echo his is hardly surprising, really, given how much of his work I've absorbed over the years, such that I've internalised huge amounts of it, perhaps most profoundly his deeply counter-intuitive recognition that 'if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly'.

One of the most recent -- and most interesting -- books I've read about Chesterton is William Oddie's fascinating 2008 study, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC, 1874-1908; very much an intellectual biography, it charts Chesterton's own philosophical growth and the development of his religious and other ideas, taking him from his youth through the superficially ephemeral but truly timeless Heretics to 1908, the year of Orthodoxy and its fictional alter-ego, The Man Who Was Thursday. Oddie's book is, frankly, a masterpiece in its own right, and is one I think I'll treasure for a long time; I'm looking forward to Oddie following Gilbert's inky fingerprints as he writes his way into the Catholic Church, and have been glad to see him making a case for Gilbert being recognised among the saints of the Church.

(I'm convinced Chesterton's among them already, and like to think of the signed book by him I acquired some years back, resting beside me as I type, as a second-class relic of the man who brought me back to the Faith.)


Enter the Controversy
Oddie, who edited the Catholic Herald for several years and regularly contributes to it even now, is a journalist who I've long respected; I don't always agree with him, by any means, but I do think he's worth listening to. As such, I was startled a few weeks back to read a piece by him on the Catholic Herald website in which he took issue with recent comments by Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, in support of civil partnerships. Arguing that Nichols's comments appeared to be at odds with Rome and with the English bishops' previously-stated position, Oddie wondered whether Nichols was also in favour of adoption by same-sex couples, and if so, why the Catholic adoption agencies had been forced to close down, rather than be obliged to facilitate such adoptions. The ultimate question in this matter, he concluded, was ‘what does he believe? Just what is he saying, on behalf of his brother bishops and presumably the rest of us?’

Clearly these were serious questions, and though Nichols twice attempted to clarify his position, his explanations didn't convince Oddie, who nonetheless has since dropped the matter, aghast at the hornets' nest he'd stirred up and the sheer venom being expressed about bishops such as Nichols. 

I tried to follow the story as best I could at the time, chatting to friends about it and thinking pretty carefully about what Rome and the bishops of England and Wales had said back in 2003. As I put my thoughts in an email to a friend a couple of weeks back:
'... I've been trying to figure it out. In the main it all seems very clear, but there is one issue that does trouble me a bit.

I've just read the bishops' own 2004 [sic] submission where they opposed civil partnerships, something I'd not been aware they'd done, and how the submission had cited the 2003 CDF document. It seems to me that the current stance is a complete about turn. As it happens, the current stance doesn't bother me; I believe it's coherent, clear, and fully in line with the CDF document once one looks at how the Civil Partnership Act has been phrased. I also think that it's better to change one's mind so that one becomes right rather than to remain obstinately wrong.

That said, I'm having trouble figuring out whether that's been what exactly has happened. Presumably the 2004 submission was in response to a draft of the act, rather than the act itself, so was the final version different enough that we could accept it, on reflection? Or were we, straightforwardly, wrong? And if we were wrong, wouldn't it be better, if need be, to admit that?'
Such were my tentative thoughts a couple of weeks back, before I was forced to think about things rather more carefully...


Catholic Voices
Like a lot of people a couple of years back, it was with horror that I watched the October 2009 Intelligence Squared debate on the topic 'The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world'. I'd read about it before seeing it online, but even then I wasn't prepared: I ought to have been, given that it was obvious that the combined forces of Anne Widdecombe and the Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan were never going to have been a match for a crowdpleasing power of a Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry double-act, and given how I'd read of how comprehensively the crowd rejected the motion, but even so, it was painful viewing. And yet it oughtn't to have been: Hitchens and Fry's predictable arguments were riddled with errors and couched in sophistry; they could have been countered at almost every point.

Describing the debate to a friend of mine who is a priest, I looked downcast as I related just how inevitable it all seemed, and how it ought not to have been. My friend nodded, and said that while Anne Widdecombe does valiant work in putting forward the Catholic case, and deserves our gratitude for that, he often feels she doesn’t help things very much. I agreed, but we were both at a loss to think of anybody else who would have taken her place. The Telegraph's Andrew M. Brown evidently had taken a similar view, ending his piece on the debate with a desperate appeal:
'It was a gripping evening’s entertainment but a little discouraging for those of us who are Catholics. I found myself wishing, one, that the Catholic debaters would for once not content themselves with offering pettifogging excuses but instead actually own up to some of the charges, and, two, I wished that there still existed a great Catholic apologist like Chesterton or Belloc, someone who was not only brave and prepared to square up to the Hitch, but was his intellectual equal. Surely there is someone today who could do that?'
I'm glad to say that not every Catholic who watched the debate simply contented themselves with wishing, as the group called Catholic Voices grew out of that debacle, in anticipation of the Pope's then impending visit to the UK. Jack Valero and Austen Ivereigh's idea was a straightforward one, that being, simply, that a team of young -- or youngish! -- Catholics could be given some basic media training, so that they could articulate the case for the Church on television or radio. I liked the idea, and had I been based in London last year I'd probably have applied to join, though given the rather peculiar directions my life took in 2010, it might well be for the best that I didn't do so. Anyway, they did a good job during the Papal visit, and played their part in ensuring that that visit turned out to be far more successful than anyone had expected.

And no, despite the shriekings of the likes of Terry Sanderson, they weren't Vatican-trained propagandists, taught to obscure, distort, and contradict arguments; they were simply ordinary Catholics, informed of the issues and confident in their faith, able to explain complicated issues in simple language. I thought this was a good thing, and if they weren't always quite as good as people might have wished, or if they made some missteps in the organisation phase, well, if a thing's worth doing at all, it's worth doing badly, as the man said. The point is, this was worth doing.

I suspect Terry was upset mainly because the whole Papal visit left him looking rather foolish, with his hysterical claims that the visit would cost the taxpayer £100 million pounds, rather than less than a fifth of that, being soundly refuted by common sense, not to mention evidence.


And then there's me...
Well, a few months ago I received an email from my aforementioned priestly friend, informing me that Catholic Voices were looking to train a second batch of people, and asking whether I'd been interested. I said I'd been interested the previous year, and so happily applied on -- as it so happened -- the very day that a letter from me appeared in the Irish Times challenging the Taoiseach for having made false statements to the Dáil about the Vatican.

Eventually, after thinking I'd not been selected at all -- something about which I was rather put out, though I still wished the project well as I thought it important -- I was called to come for an interview, and I was interviewed, and a couple of days later was told I'd been chosen; within a fortnight or so of that I met up with the others for our first weekend together in Yorkshire, bumping into one of the others on the train there.

I'm not going to go into how the weekends went, since this sort of thing can only work if we can speak and act in confidence -- one of my closest friends, to whom I've described them in rather more detail than I'll go into here, has said that they sound to her to be akin to retreats in certain ways, and I think she's right.

Still, what I can say is that the weekends have been profoundly transformative affairs: each weekend was an ordeal in its own right, and collectively they've affected me in ways that I'm still trying to grapple with; indeed, there were moments of almost transcendent clarity in Mass last Sunday and the Saturday of the previous weekend, moments which left me lost for words and that unsettle me even now. It's been a privilege and a joy to get to know the other trainees, all of whom have dazzled me with their intelligence, their integrity, their independence, and their fidelity.

That honest harmony of independence and fidelity, I think, is probably essential if we're to be able to speak with any kind of authority on these issues; it'd be utterly wrong for us to say things which we didn't believe, just as it'd be wrong for us to speak as Catholics while saying things that the Church doesn't teach. We're not drones, sent out there to push a line; on the contrary, we're trusted to do our own thing, but that trust is largely rooted in the belief that we're faithful Catholics.

The first weekend focused on just one issue, which we explored in depth as a group in order to help us understand how we can approach these things, and the second saw us looking at two topics, but dealing with them individually in studio situations. For what it's worth, I was terrible on the radio -- almost certainly the weakest of us all -- but that didn't bother me too much. I expected there to be a learning curve. If I was going to be perfect from the offing, I wouldn't need training. And, as it happens, I was far better in the television interview later that day -- it was clear that feedback from the morning and the guidance of the co-ordinators had made a real difference.

Indeed, the training was excellent, and it was fascinating to listening to a couple of the others, after just those first two weekends, taking to the airwaves at short notice to discuss the recent Benetton campaign or the recent BPAS campaign to supply the morning-after pill for free after phone interviews; learning in public can be frightening, but they accredited themselves very well.


Preparing for the Third Weekend
For the third weekend, we were all asked to prepare presentations on various topics that had hit nerves in recent weeks or months; what we said on them was wholly up to us, the idea being that we'd give presentations on issues and the others would grill us on the subjects. Topics were generally well-matched to speakers: a doctor speaking on end-of-life issues, a barrister on employment law, or a female counsellor on Catholic women in public life, say.

My topic seemed a very odd fit, as I was asked to speak about the controversy over Archbishop Nichols's comments. This was a tricky one, partly because the topic was extremely complicated, and partly because insofar as Nichols's support for civil partnerships hits a nerve it does so far more within the Church than it does without. I can only think that I was asked to handle this because, as a historian, I'm trained to winnow through things with a view to figuring out what has happened, and to do so in a diagnostic rather than in an advocatory way. The only guidance I was given was to stay close to the bit of the controversy itself, as Caroline Farrow would be dealing with civil partnerships in a broader sense.

Deep down I'm an analogue sort of fella, the kind of man who thinks a fountain pen is an elegant weapon from a more civilized age, so I printed off Nichols's original comments and his subsequent clarifications, Oddie's articles, the original CDF guidance, and the bishops' 2003 statement so I could work through them all in silent solitude, pencil in hand. I also read the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act online, and read as widely as I could to try to figure out what different lawyers thought of civil partnerships, and how the issue had been discussed in parliament at the time.


Adoption, to start with
One of the first things I was able to figure out was that Oddie's concerns about children being adopted by same-sex couples were wholly misplaced; that issue, about which the Church has expressed serious concerns, was incidental to the civil partnerships debate, having been legislated for in 2002. Although I understand and fully share his distress at the Catholic adoption agencies having been forced to shut down in the face of the new legislation, I honestly can't see why Oddie thought this relevant to the issue of civil partnerships. I'm baffled that people are still conflating these two very separate issues.

(And, for what it's worth, I don't think the Catholic adoption agencies should have shut down; I think they'd have had a very strong case had they taken matters to Strasbourg, since the European Convention on Human Rights, with which the Human Rights Act requires all UK legislation to comply, guarantees freedom of religion and conscience save when the limitation of said freedom is not merely legal, but necessary. Given how many adoption agencies were already facilitating the adoption of children by same-sex couples, it was clear that there was no need for the Catholic ones to do so too. And, of course, since they’ve closed the number of children being adopted each year has fallen further. But that's by the by.)

That left the substantive matter of the civil partnership scheme.

Nichols's statements on the subject were entirely clear, when read in the context of how he was explaining the need to defend marriage as a unique institution, but the key questions related to consistency. Were Nichols's comments consistent with what the bishops had said eight years ago, and were they consistent with the CDF?


What did Rome say?
This forced me to read the CDF's 2003 statement very carefully, such that my copy of it soon developed rather busy margins, illuminated with arrows, circles, and annotations. Entitled Considerations regarding Proposals to give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, it's an interestingly wide-ranging document, addressed not merely to Catholic bishops, say, but to all those -- Christian or otherwise -- who are committed to promoting and defending the common good of society.

At its heart is a tension between on the one hand the need to explain and defend the basic idea of marriage, and on the other the need to give true respect to people who are homosexual. This respect, it must be stressed, isn't a matter of charity in the modern sense that can seem so patronising, but of charity in the truest sense, that being love; it is also a simple matter of justice.

The CDF distinguished between three ways in which states could deal with homosexual unions: tolerance, legal recognition, and the bestowal of legal status equivalent to marriage. It has a bit to say on how we should deal with the first situation, and regarding the other situations it says:
'In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.'
It goes on to explain why such opposition should be necessary, but says very little on what such opposition should entail, and almost as little on what exactly would constitute a 'homosexual union', save to identify homosexual unions as grounded in 'homosexual behaviour'. This, I think, can't be glossed over; the CDF doesn't give a straightforward definition, really only nearing one when it says:
'In this area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure. '
This point is taken up again when the CDF document says:
'It is one thing to maintain that individual citizens may freely engage in those activities that interest them and that this falls within the common civil right to freedom; it is something quite different to hold that activities which do not represent a significant or positive contribution to the development of the human person in society can receive specific and categorical legal recognition by the State.'
It was clear that central to the CDF's argument was its understanding of a 'union' as something analogous to marriage, which as an institution is intrinsically sexual and uniquely valuable; as such, it seemed to me that it was exhorting people to oppose the specific and categorical legal recognition of unions that are rooted in homosexual behaviour; it was not exhorting people to oppose legal arrangements between homosexual persons, save where those arrangements included the legal status and rights belonging to marriage.

Somewhat unhelpfully, the CDF didn't outline what it believed the legal status and rights belonging to marriage to be. I realised that this almost inevitable: such rights must differ from country to country, after all, and the CDF document was not addressed specifically to the minority Catholic Church in the UK, say, but rather to the entire world.

I spent a bit of time wrestling with this, and came to the conclusion that if certain rights belong to marriage, then whatever rights these are they must transcend individual states and legal systems. As such, it hardly threatens marriage for rights which states merely happen to have been bestowed upon marriages to be likewise bestowed upon other legal arrangements, provided that these are not the more fundamental status and rights that belong to marriage alone and that are not the property of the state.

And so, with all these thoughts buzzing in my head, I turned to the bishops' 2003 submission...



What did the Bishops say then?
In June 2003, the Department of Trade and Industry published a consultation paper entitled Civil Partnerships: a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples, setting out proposals for what has become the civil partnership scheme. I couldn’t help but think the DTI seemed an unlikely department to be handling the subject, for what it’s worth, given the DTI’s remit, since it gave the impression that civil partnerships were basically business arrangements, but I’m sure there was a good reason for it at the time.

The Bishops’ Conference submitted its response in September 2003, drawing on the CDF's guidelines in making their case and stressing the simultaneous need for the State to defend both the institution of marriage and the fundamental human rights of every person.

They expressed concerns that the proposed scheme would elevate homosexual relationships to a legal status virtually equivalent to civil marriage, thereby giving a signal to society that the two states are equally deserving of public protection. Their central point, in this regard, was as follows:
'Marriage would be undermined because it would no longer hold a privileged place.  The signal the law would send to rising generations is that marriage as husband and wife, and a same sex relationship, are equally valid options, and an equally valid context for the upbringing of children.   By publicly elevating same-sex relationships to a legal status virtually equivalent to civil marriage, the signal given to society would be that these two states of life are equally deserving of public protection and respect, when in fact they are not.'
The bishops further argued that the proposed scheme was largely unnecessary given recent legal developments, that it was a distraction from the real problems undermining family life in modern Britain, and that in some respects the proposed scheme was inadequate in that it created anomalies with regard to other long-term loving relationships which were not sexual in nature. In this regard the bishops cited the example of two sisters who might have shared property over many years, but they could as easily have made the same point by citing disabled people and their carers, or simply two lifelong friends.

On balance, then, they felt the proposals would not promote the common good, and strongly opposed them.

There was more to their argument than this, of course, but what was clear was that they opposed the proposed Civil Partnership scheme and did so for several reasons, some of which drew on the CDF's own guidelines. Such was their opinion in 2003, before the Civil Partnership Act was debated and codified in Parliament, and before it was granted royal approval.

The 2003 submission was, in short, their opinion of what they feared might happen; it was not their opinion of what did happen.


So, looking at the law...
The Civil Partnerships Act came into law in November 2004, and was striking in a couple of major ways. Unlike civil marriages which require publicly-made promises in a civil ceremony, civil partnerships become legal solely through the signing of a civil partnership document. This isn't something that should be brushed aside as a mere technicality. If I can pluck Chesterton's The Superstition of Divorce from the shelf, we'll see that the great man saw the idea of promises as being essential to marriage:
'I shall therefore begin by asking, in an equally mystical manner, what in the name of God and the angels a man getting married supposes he is doing. I shall begin by asking what marriage is; and the mere question will probably reveal that the act itself, good or bad, wise or foolish, is of a certain kind; that it is not an inquiry or an experiment or an accident; it may probably dawn on us that it is a promise. It can be more fully defined by saying it is a vow.'
And onward he goes to explain that the act of marriage is a vow analogous with vows of chivalry, poverty, and celibacy, just as he had twelve years earlier in Orthodoxy or seven years before that in 'A Defence of Rash Vows'. Marriages, unlike civil partnerships, entail promises; they're covenants, not contracts, and we should never forget this.

Furthermore, whatever its political objectives, the Act was not phrased in such a way that same-sex partnerships should intrinsically be understood as homosexual unions. The law never mentions sexuality or sexual acts in any respect, and does not cite anything analogous to adultery as grounds for dissolution of civil partnerships; fidelity, whether romantic or sexual, is not even implicitly identified as an assumed feature of civil partnerships. In principle, therefore, the scheme can be entered into by any two people of the same sex, other than family members or those who are already married, without any expectations that the partnership contains a sexual or romantic component.

It's worth going back to the 2003 CDF document on this. The document recognised that homosexual unions are a fact, and that civil authorities adopt three broad appoaches in deal with this fact: some authorities simply tolerate them, some advocate legal recognition of such unions, and some favour giving them legal equivalence to marriage.

As I’ve said, the bishops were originally opposed to the scheme as first proposed, and drew on the 2003 CDF document in making a case largely based on the need to defend and promote the traditional understanding of marriage. They were worried that the law of the land would be altered in such a way as to signal that that marriage and same sex relationships were equally valid options and equally valid contexts for the raising of children. In short, they were worried that the

As codified, however, the 2004 law – while not without shortcomings, particularly with reference to its exclusion of siblings from the arrangement, say – did not strike me as sending such a signal; as far as I could tell, it did not undermine the unique position of marriage in British law as it did not presuppose that civil partners are engaged in a homosexual relationship.

As I read, I understood that some have argued that it's only for technical reasons that offenses analogous to adultery aren't cited in the Civil Partnership Act as grounds for the dissolution of partnerships, but I wasn't convinced by this; the law is a technical thing, and it would hardly have been beyond the wit of Parliament to devise technical solutions to whatever difficulties might have faced them in that regard. The fact that sexuality and sexual behaviour are wholly absent from the Act is striking; it's as though Parliament went to a great deal of trouble to omit them.

Wholly silent on the issue of sexual behaviour, treating sexuality as a private phenomenon, the Civil Partnership Act did not enshrine homosexual unions as institutions within the legal structure of the United Kingdom. The Act did not give homosexual activities specific and categorical legal recognition, and it neither foresaw nor approved on homosexual behaviour. Homosexual unions exist as a fact in British life, of course, and these certainly can subsist within civil partnerships, just as they can without them, but civil partnerships should not, in themselves, be understood as homosexual unions.



But But But -
In the main I thought this worked, and I slept on it and it still made sense to me, but it left me with a few little problems to think through.

The first was that whatever about what the law says, as legislated, the nature of the English common law system meant that it would be interpreted in the field, with the courts possibly treating civil partnerships as analagous to marriage, or as being essentially homosexual unions. In ways this has already happened to a significant degree, but I don't think this is something that the bishops can ever comment on in any legitimate sense; whatever input they might have into the making of laws, they can hardly interfere in the interpretation of it.

And yes, I realise that judges will sometimes speak of parliamentary intent when interpreting laws, but that's a dangerous game, which can hardly be second-guessed; given how many hundreds of people vote to enact laws, the judges can hardly speculate on the intentions of all of them.

It was obviously true that the range of people barred from entering into civil partnerships with each other was, as far as I could tell, identical to those barred from entering into marriages with each other. This is clearly the case, and it’s something that – as far as I can tell – the bishops have always objected to. They ‘two maiden aunts’ scenario in their 2003 submission implicitly made this point, and I gather that’s still the bishops’ line now: they believe the civil partnership scheme should be expanded so that it could be entered into by a wider range of people.

I wondered too about the fact that whatever the law may say, it's very clear that lots of civil partnerships are accompanied by ceremonies and vows, and appear to take the form -- in effect -- of civil marriages for people of the same sex, such that they appear to be 'gay marriages' and are widely thought of as such. This is all true, but it is, strictly speaking, unrelated to the civil partnership registration itself; it may provide a context in which the civil partnership document is signed, but it is, ultimately, window dressing, and in any case, the bishops can hardly be expected to comment on individual partnerships. Regardless of whatever common practice may involve or common perception may be, it is important to stress that the CDF's guidance related to questions of legal recognition; the fact remains that the law does not foresee or approve homosexual behaviour, and that it does not give specific and categorical legal recognition to homosexual activities.

I really didn’t know what to make of the peculiar detail in the Civil Partnership Act that said a partnership was voidable if at the time of its formation one of the partners was pregnant by someone other than the other partner. On the face of it, this challenged my belief that the law was devoid of sexual references, but after further thought I concluded that that challenge was a feeble one, not least because it's oddly phrased: it would be impossible for one civil partner to become pregnant by the other; by definition civil partners are of the same sex!

More pertinently, in a world of contraception, IVF, and turkey basters, we surely have to acknowledge that sex and pregnancy have been divorced from each other; we cannot ever assume that a pregnant woman has become pregnant as the result of sexual intercourse. What the law seems to say is that one partner can have a partnership declared void if the other partner had been pregnant at the time the partnership had been formed, even if her pregnancy had followed an agreement between the partners and a third party, possibly not involving a sexual act, or even if it had followed a rape. It’s striking that this relates only to female civil partners; there’s nothing that says a civil partnership should be declared void if either partner should be found, at the time of the partnership, to have caused somebody else to become pregnant. Whatever this detail was meant to signify, it certainly says nothing whatsoever about sexual fidelity.

This, of course, forced me to think hard about the situations faced by those registrars who were opposed to their registering civil partnerships as they felt that by doing so they'd be approving of things which were, in effect, homosexual unions. I've talked about this in the past, actually, when trying to get my thoughts sorted on the issue of gay marriage, and my thinking is that individual registrars could probably differ on this; some might be able to live with presiding over the signing of a document that says nothing about what people do in their private lives, while others might feel that by presiding over registrations of partnerships they were facilitating things they felt they couldn't agree with. In such situations, they surely ought to be able to object to their involvement in such registration, though I think we can imagine such cases making their way -- eventually -- to Strasbourg.

Curiously, I wasn’t able to find any indication that the English or Welsh bishops had ever spoken on this topic; if they had been opposed to civil partnership as they were instituted in law, they should surely have argued that Catholic registrars would be obliged, in conscience, to refrain from registering civil partnerships. Granted, my research may have been lacking, but this seemed to be one of those ‘dog that didn’t bark’ moments. It really did look as there’s no evidence whatsoever that the bishops of England and Wales have ever opposed the civil partnership scheme as it exists in law.



So...?
Having ploughed through heaps of data on the subject, I ultimately came to the conclusion that it’s entirely consistent with Church teaching for Archbishop Nichols to say he supports the civil partnership scheme as an existing and legitimate mechanism to help give stability to committed couples of the same sex, given that the law refrains from granting homosexual unions any sort of parliamentary imprimatur and thereby does not undermine the unique position of marriage in UK law.

It would, of course, be a different matter if marriage itself were to be redefined; definitions are about limitations, after all, and things gain meaning from what they're not as much as from what they are. Nichols's main aim, as he's made clear on many occasions, is to defend marriage as it has always existed in British law.


The Weekend and the Blog
I pulled together my thoughts on the subject into a presentation of 1,400 words or so, and gave my presentation on Saturday afternoon; it went down rather better than I thought it would, given that I was arguing something rather counter-intuitive, which I hadn't believed myself only a few days earlier.  

There were precious few questions, though what there were homed in on the conflict between how the law existed in theory and worked out in practice. Afterwards a few of the others complimented me on the paper, saying there'd been so few questions because I'd explained the controversy so clearly, and later on -- indeed, it may well have been the next day -- I was asked whether I'd be willing to turn it into a post for the Catholic Voices blog.

I came home on Monday, and on Tuesday I finished streamlining my talk, losing a few hundred words so that it wouldn't be absurdly long and so that people could read it in one easy go to get a clear handle on the issue. Following a tiny bit of editorial tweaking, it was posted on the Catholic Voices site shortly afterwards.

There was nothing frantic about this. There was no rush to defend the bishops, whatever others might imagine. It just happened; I was asked to explore and explain an issue, and in the process of doing so, reached conclusions I hadn't expected to reach. Others agreed, and we thought it'd be helpful if we could shed some light on the issue.

I fully understand that others might disagree with the conclusions I've reached, and that my colleagues have come to share. That’s fine: this is a complicated issue, and I think we have to recognise that others might legitimately disagree with us. I've no plans to shout down those who disagree with me. Following Chesterton, I may be certain that I am right, but I’m not so bigoted that I’m unable to imagine how I might possibly be wrong.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

"like"

jaykay said...

"...my first encounter with Kensington's greatest son was an unpromising taste of 'The Queer Feet' when I was fourteen or thereabouts,"

Mine too! Betcha yours was in the old "Exploring English" for Inter Cert, no? We had the same teacher for English as for Latin (it was in the 70s, there were still 20 of us studying Latin for the Inter). He was a passionate Chestertonian (in Latin, a Ciceronian and Horatian, as we found out, to our cost, when we studied Leaving Cert Latin with him). Anyway, his enthusiasm for GKC didn't quite rub off on me at that stage, or indeed for years afterwards, but whenever I read the great one now I can't help but do so in Fr. Moore's distinctive voice. God rest him; a true gentleman, like him whose writings he so admired.

I must say I am bowled over by the description of the weekends you've been attending! What a tremendous idea. If such an initiative ever came into being over here you can imagine the panic that would seize certain quarters at the idea of an educated group of young Catholics standing up for the Faith, moreover one that would actually (*gasp, shriek*) express the orthodox view. What would the Irish Times think? Oh the horror of it all!

Well, it would have to be a lay-led initiative - that goes without saying, as in England. David Quinn? I dunno. It also goes without saying that our Ecclesial Establishment (as In the UK) wouldn't be within an Irish mile of it, despite some of the blather I've seen about how the Congress could revitalise the Church. What year are they in, 1979? Then again, some of them never left that timezone anyway.

Nicolas Bellord said...

A discussion has arisen on James Preece's blog about your indorsement of the Archbishop's position on Civil Partnerships. I have made the following comments:


Greg Daly gives a much fuller version of his reasoning on his blog “The Thirsty Gargoyle”. There he writes:

“The CDF distinguished between three ways in which states could deal with homosexual unions: tolerance, legal recognition, and the bestowal of legal status equivalent to marriage. It has a bit to say on how we should deal with the first two situations, and regarding the third situation it says:

'In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.'”

It seems plain to me that the quote from the CDF’s document applies not only to the third situation but also to the second situation viz: legal recognition of homosexual unions. Does not that simply undermine the rest of Mr Daly’s argument?

(The rest follows in a 2nd comment!)

Nicolas Bellord said...

However Mr Daly then queries what the CDF meant by a “homosexual union”. He says the CDF identifies such as grounded in “homosexual behaviour”. I cannot find where he gets that from; I think the CDF takes the common-sense approach that the purpose of most people entering homosexual unions is to give some sort of status to their homosexual behaviour. Mr Daly seems to be saying that a homosexual union as understood by the CDF necessarily involves homosexual behaviour whilst a same-sex union is something different as not necessarily involving homosexual behaviour. I see no grounds for believing that the CDF was thinking along those lines.

When Mr Daly begins to look at the law I believe he goes astray. He writes “Unlike civil marriages which require publicly-made promises in a civil ceremony, civil partnerships become legal solely through the signing of a civil partnership document.”

In fact there is more to it than just signing a document; notice has to be given to which anyone can object like marriage banns; the document has to registered with the Registrar; fees have to be paid. He then goes on to say that marriage involves promises whilst contracts such as civil partnerships do not. Sorry but contract law is all about promises. He claims that civil partnerships are not analogous to marriage.

Marriage in English Law is a status and not a contract. A contract is a private matter between two people which does not affect third parties. This is the doctrine known as “privity of contract”. You do not have to ask a third party before entering into a contract and the parties to the contract can dissolve the contract by mutual agreement. Marriage on the other hand is something that society at large has an interest in. You have to give others the opportunity to object, it has to be registered, it cannot be terminated except with the authority of the state etc. It confers mutual rights and duties which the State can enforce e.g. as to maintenance and care of children. Now compare that with a civil partnership where notice has to be given, where it has to be registered, where rights and duties are conferred and only the Courts can dissolve the partnership on the same grounds as marriages can be dissolved with the exception of adultery – although adultery could be pleaded as unreasonable behaviour. Marriage has always been a status; it seems to me that civil partnerships have the same characteristics as a status.

(more to follow!)

Nicolas Bellord said...

Mr Daly thinks one can make a fine distinction between same-sex partnerships and homosexual unions. He quotes from the CDF document but it would have been better to have quoted the whole paragraph:

“It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the common good if it does not impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which does not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only more serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound influence, and would result in changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common good. Civil laws are structuring principles of man's life in society, for good or for ill. They “play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour”. Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”

The CDF takes a realistic stance that civil partnerships will and are taken as an indorsement of homosexual behaviour and as such will have a deleterious effect on society and thus should be opposed.

I am afraid I find the Archbishop’s stand on this very confusing particularly in view of his continuing toleration of the Soho Pastoral Church Council’s open promotion of homosexual activity and their claim that they have the approval of the Church in organising masses.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

It's true that the line about refusing formal cooperation etc does relate to two of the three situations; that was a slip in my typing, but not my original thinking. My reasoning had taken this into account. I may fix the text to correct any further misconceptions that may arise out of this.

On marriage in English law, I think you're confusing the rights and statuses which belong to marriage with the ephemera of marriage in English law - ephemera that are required from the State and that can be decreed unnecessary by the State. Please check your catechism on this: marriage is not a mere status; it is a covenant, established by the Creator. Do you really think that civil partnerships can lay claim to so lofty a character, or so glorious an author?

I do not distinguish -- even finely -- between same-sex unions and homosexual unions, though I've no doubt a case could be made for such a distinction. Rather, I distinguish between contractual partnerships agreed between two persons of the same sex, and unions which are by their very nature homosexual.

There is, I would hope you'd agree, a difference between two persons of the same sex, and a homosexual couple. There can be overlap between the two categories, of course, but they're not the same thing. Draw a Euler diagram to work it out if you can't manage it

Your understanding of the CDF's document is, with respect, clearly wrong.

The CDF most certainly does not take 'the common-sense approach that the purpose of most people entering homosexual unions is to give some sort of status to their homosexual behaviour'. On the contrary, it explicitly recognises that homosexual unions exist as facts regardless of the law.

Marriage, in law, institutionalises sexual unions; the question is whether civil partnerships institutional homosexual unions.

I don't believe that they do. What they do, instead, is establish a kind of parallel structure of which couples who are already in homosexual unions can avail, just as can any two people of the same sex, other than family members.

For all that people witter about the law having been created to help homosexual couples, I have yet to see even one vaguely satisfactory explanation of why a law with such a supposedly clear intention should never mention homosexuals, homosexual acts, sexual fidelity, or sexual infidelity. It goes to enormous lengths to refrain from giving specific or categorical recognition to homosexual behaviour.

What's more, the CDF most certainly does not take 'a realistic stance that civil partnerships will and are taken as an indorsement [sic] of homosexual behaviour'. In how many countries did civil partnerships on the British model exist in 2003, when the CDF commented on the subject? They certainly didn't exist in Britain, and it is wholly false to claim that the CDF has condemned British civil partnerships. The simple fact is that the CDF has not commented on this point of British law.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Dear Mr Daly,

Many thanks for this. I note that you agree with me that “the line about refusing formal cooperation” relates to “homosexual unions”.

I think your argument from there on is that same-sex partnerships are different from homosexual unions and that what you are saying is that same-sex partnerships are morally neutral and if some use same-sex partnerships as a means of affirming a homosexually active relationship then that is a purely private matter which need not concern us. Is that correct?

But then you say “I do not distinguish -- even finely -- between same-sex unions and homosexual unions, though I've no doubt a case could be made for such a distinction.” As civil partnerships are always same-sex I cannot see that that makes any difference but no matter. So the distinction you are making is between civil partnerships and homosexual unions (by which I think you mean sexually active unions).

To be continued!

Nicolas Bellord said...

You say “On marriage in English law, I think you're confusing the rights and statuses which belong to marriage with the ephemera of marriage in English law - ephemera that are required from the State and that can be decreed unnecessary by the State.”
I was only trying to make the point that marriage is a status in English law – quite different from a mere contract. I am perfectly aware there is more to Christian marriage than its status in English Law so there is no need to point me to the catechism or suggest that I think a civil partnership has the lofty character of Christian marriage. What made you think that I do so think?

You continue: “There is, I would hope you'd agree, a difference between two persons of the same sex, and a homosexual couple.” To be pedantic a homosexual couple are two persons of the same sex but what I think you mean is that not all same-sex couples indulge in homosexual sexual activities. I can agree with that. By the way your reference to a Euler diagram rather threw me. I am afraid that old fogies like myself who learnt their maths prior to the 1960s were not taught about such things. I am trying to catch up; struggling at present with theorems concerning rational functions.

You continue: “The CDF most certainly does not take 'the common-sense approach that the purpose of most people entering homosexual unions is to give some sort of status to their homosexual behaviour'. On the contrary, it explicitly recognises that homosexual unions exist as facts regardless of the law.” I do not see what is contrary about the second sentence. The document does recognise that homosexual unions exist. What it objects to is the institutionalising of those unions.

You query whether civil partnerships (CPs) institutionalise homosexual unions. I believe CPs do just that. This is the point of my drawing your attention to marriage being a status in English law. I believe CPs have created a similar status in law. When someone is asked for their status they say they are single, married, divorced, widowed. Someone in a CP will sure say “Civil partner”. The Office of Law Reform (Northern Ireland) consultation paper on civil partnerships for same-sex couples states that, “the status of civil partner is not a marital status. It is a completely new legal status” (2003:66). The CDF speaks of institutionalising homosexual unions. The nearest parallel I can think of in English law to institutionalising something is giving it a status.

Nicolas Bellord said...

You call CPs a parallel structure. Parallel to what if not marriage?

You then accuse people of wittering “about the law having been created to help homosexual couples”. Here we will be arguing about the history of the enactment of this legislation. Are you really suggesting that the law as to CPs was not enacted overwhelmingly by pressure from the homosexual community and their agencies such as Stonewall? You then go on to say there is nothing about homosexuals, homosexual acts and sexual fidelity in the CP Act. I think you will find an equal absence of anything about heterosexuals, heterosexual acts and sexual fidelity in the statute law about marriage except where non-consummation as a ground for nullity and adultery as a ground for divorce is concerned. Marriage law, at present, just takes it for granted that everyone understands what marriage is without going into the details. I would suggest that everyone knows what CPs are about without going into the details.

You ask in how many countries did CPs on the British model exist in 2003. Well obviously the strict answer is none as there was no British model at the time. But there were well over a dozen countries who had legislated for civil unions by then – I have no idea to what extent they are similar to British CPs as subsequently enacted. I am not sure I see the relevance of this.

I have never said that the CDF has condemned British civil partnerships directly. What I have said is that in the light of the CDF document they are not in accordance with Church law. I doubt whether the CDF sees its role in commenting on individual national laws.

My overall view is that whilst you may produce these fine distinctions they are really not what the problem is about. CPs are seen as formalising and giving status to active homosexual relationships. This is how people see them. You may think people are wrong in seeing matters in that way. The danger is that people do see them that way and that is the danger to which the CDF points in the paragraph which I quote once again and which demands careful attention:

“It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the common good if it does not impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which does not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only more serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound influence, and would result in changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common good. Civil laws are structuring principles of man's life in society, for good or for ill. They “play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour”. Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”

It is the “second phenomenon” that is the danger. CPs give recognition to homosexual unions. Okay there may be some of these unions which are not homosexual in the sense of being actively homosexual but that is not the point.

Incidentally “indorsement” is a lawyer’s spelling of “endorsement” and it has the sanction of the SOED.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Individuals may use civil partnerships as means -- in their minds and with their family and friends -- of affirming homosexually active relationships, but the State does not do so.

It appears that I do need to point you to the Catechism, which speaks highly of all marriage, not merely Christian marriage. It makes it clear that marriage is a covenant, a creation ordinance authored by God himself. When marriages are between baptised Christians, then those covenants are raised to the status of sacraments.

I have never suggested that you think civil partnership has the lofty character of Christian marriage; it was the universal and covenantal institution of marriage with which I contrasted it. There is, frankly, no comparison between covenants authored by God and purely man-made instititions.

I'm afraid you seem to keep missing points here.

If the CDF can see that homosexual unions exist regardless of their legal status, then it would hardly claim that homosexual unions are entered in order to give them legal status.

The fact that civil partnerships and marriages are statuses in British law hardly means anything in this regard; so too, as you point out, are being single, being divorced, and being widowed. By your own definition, if the law recognises Civil Partner as a status, so too does it recognise Divorcees as such.

I do call civil partnerships a parallel structure, but parallels are by definition not identical. In a sense what I think civil partnerships can be parallel to are those very homosexual unions that the law does not institutionalise. Or, more accurately, I'd say that the unions can be parallel to the partnerships, but only in the sense that a path worn into grass can be parallel to a road.

On the history of legislation, I'm not suggesting for one moment that the civil partnership legislation wasn't driven by pressure from the likes of Stonewall, and if you think that I am I'd suggest you again read what I've written, along with revisiting the Catechism. My point was that regardless of the political objectives that inspired the legislation being put before Parliament, we do not know why each and every MP who supported the legislation voted for it.

You say,
'I think you will find an equal absence of anything about heterosexuals, heterosexual acts and sexual fidelity in the statute law about marriage except where non-consummation as a ground for nullity and adultery as a ground for divorce is concerned.'
No doubt. Indeed, this shows that marriage law recognises that marriages are institutional expressions of human relationships rooted in sexual activity and sexual fidelity. The fact that civil partnership law recognises no such thing is telling, and I see you've not even attempted to explain why the Civil Partnership Act doesn't contain analagous details.

I'm not sure how you square
'I have never said that the CDF has condemned British civil partnerships directly. What I have said is that in the light of the CDF document they are not in accordance with Church law. I doubt whether the CDF sees its role in commenting on individual national laws.'
With your previous statement that
'The CDF takes a realistic stance that civil partnerships will and are taken as an indorsement of homosexual behaviour and as such will have a deleterious effect on society and thus should be opposed.'
I'll leave that for you to ponder.

As for the rest, I do not see that the Civil Partnership scheme gives legal recognition to homosexual unions. I don't see this as a fine distinction; indeed, I see it as a pretty straightforward one.

I understand that you might have a lot personally invested in seeing the two things as the same thing, but that, I suspect, is your problem; if it continues to trouble you, I'd suggest you take the matter up with the bishops' conference, or perhaps with the CDF.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Dear Mr Daly,

The point I was trying to make was about institutionalising homosexual unions as the CDF is opposing such. I was trying to find out what in English Law could be taken as institutionalising something and I am suggesting that the Civil Partnership Act creates a new status for a civil partner and that that effectively institutionalises a civil partnership.

I think your argument is that a civil partnership is not a homosexual union and that therefore the institutionalising of a civil partnership is not the institutionalising of a homosexual union. Have I got that right?

On this particular point about status and institutions I do not think what the Catechism (which I have at hand) has to say is relevant.

You go on to say:

“If the CDF can see that homosexual unions exist regardless of their legal status, then it would hardly claim that homosexual unions are entered in order to give them legal status.”

I take it that by “homosexual union” you mean two people of the same sex who indulge in homosexual sexual activity. What the CDF is opposed to is the legal recognition of that homosexual union – see paragraph 6. It seems to me that a civil partnership is designed and intended to give legal recognition to such active homosexual unions and thereby institutionalises them. You obviously disagree with that interpretation.

Nicolas Bellord said...

You say “we do not know why each and every MP who supported the legislation voted for it”. Naturally not, but presumably if one read the debates in Parliament one would get a pretty good idea of what certain of the Lords & MPs would be thinking e.g:

Civil Partnership Bill [H.L.]
HL Deb 22 April 2004 vol 660 cc387-433387
§11.37 a.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
As this House is aware, same-sex couples are unable to marry and cannot gain legal recognition of their relationships. The lack of legal recognition means that same-sex couples face many difficult issues as they seek to organise their lives together.

What do you suppose is meant by “relationships” which are to be recognised?
There are numerous examples in this debate which make it clear that civil partnerships are all about active homosexual relationships.

Section 1(1) of the Act reads:

A civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex

Surely that word relationship relates to homosexual unions. Further on section 35 gives the Chancellor of the Exchequer the power, by order, to assimilate the recording of civil partnerships to civil marriages. Further section 50 is getting pretty close to relating civil partnership to sexual issues. You should remember that it is possible for a man to change his gender merely by living in the new gender for a certain period.

Nicolas Bellord said...

No physical or surgical change is required other than that so it is quite possible for a woman to become pregnant by a man who has changed gender to being a woman and entered into a civil partnership with the woman whom he makes pregnant.

From section 63 onwards there are some 560 references to the “family” as being equivalent to the civil partnership – surely this is equating civil partnership with marriage. Indeed I have been told that John Finnis, a pre-eminent Catholic lawyer and Professor of Law at Oxford has said that it would require only a one-line Act of Parliament to redefine civil partnerships as marriage. Effectively the battle seems already lost if one accepts, recognises or supports Civil Partnerships. Reading the whole of the Civil Partnership Act is long and tedious but the further one gets into it one realises that the whole purpose of the Act was to elevate the status of homosexual unions to that of marriage without actually saying so but leaving the final redefinition until later.

Civil Partnerships are still fairly novel but no doubt case law will follow and we will then be able to see more clearly whether sexual issues are involved.

As to squaring what I have said previously I perhaps should have said that the CDF see legal recognition of homosexual unions will be seen and are taken as indorsement of homosexual behaviour. Of course you do not see civil partnerships as being legal recognition of homosexual behaviour but I suspect that the CDF would not agree with you.

You finish by saying:

“I understand that you might have a lot personally invested in seeing the two things as the same thing, but that, I suspect, is your problem; if it continues to trouble you, I'd suggest you take the matter up with the bishops' conference, or perhaps with the CDF. “

I see the problem as being one for the Church in England & Wales. The sexual revolution of the 1960s has led to a lot of confusion and laxity in sexual matters and this affected both clergy and laity within the Church. Much of the scandals in the Church have derived from that laxity and has more often than not been of a homosexual variety. In respect of my dealings with the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth I have found an extraordinary lack of concern within the hierarchy, and particularly the Bishops’ conference, over referrals for abortion and sex-change operations. There has then been the whole question of sex education in our schools and the deliberately misleading statements by the Catholic Education Service. Further there is the apparent toleration of the Soho Pastoral Church Council and the openly pro-homosexual activity of its members. You might like to look at the Querying the Church website to gauge how they see the Civil Partnership Act and their interpretation of what the Archbishop has said and how it has encouraged them. The Archbishop’s statements about Civil Partnerships has given rise to queries being voiced as to whether he accepts the Church’s teaching on sexual matters.

What I know of the CDF is that they are a very small organisation who are inundated with problems from around the world. Any representations from me is merely going to add to their burdens. I hope they keep an eye on these blogs. As for the Bishops Conference I await and pray for signs of change before approaching them. In the meantime airing these problems, which are not my personal problems but problems facing the Church at large, on blogs seems to me to be the best way to deal with them.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Nicolas,

Given that you seem to think that these matters should be addressed on the personal websites of individual Catholics, rather than by addressing the bishops or Rome, one would hope that you'd have some understanding of the basics of blog etiquette.

You'll note that at no point on this blog have I ever used my own name. I made a point for years of keeping my name off this blog, and regardless of what others may do elsewhere, house rules apply here; it's a personal blog, after all, and not one where I speak in any official capacity. You don't catch people addressing Adrian Hilton on his Cranmer blog as 'Mr Hilton'.

More seriously, I was disgusted by your behaviour the other day, taking a lengthy response I'd posted here and posting it - without permission - elsewhere, preceding it by saying that you were posting it there so people wouldn't need to bother reading my blog. That's bad manners in any context, and I've noted your failure to apologise for it.

That said, and I think I've made all this very clear, though you can waste all the time you want typing three more long comments in reply.

Does the Civil Partnership Act institutionalise civil partnerships? Of course.

Are civil partnerships homosexual unions? No.

(Yes, I realise you disagree. We've established that.)

Is it a requirement of civil partnerships that the partners be in a homosexual union? No.

Can homosexual unions exist within the framework of civil partnerships? Of course.

Does this mean that the homosexual unions themselves have been institutionalised in law? No.

The fact that why can tell why some MPs and Lords voted the way they did doesn't change the fact that we can't tell why all of them did, or even why most of them did. Your point on that is irrelevant.

Whatever John Finnis may have told you, or perhaps more plausibly, however you may have understood what he said, it would probably take rather more than a one-line act of Parliament to redefine civil partnerships as marriages. As I've explained before, the Church of England's liturgy is licensed by Parliament and that states that marriage is not lawful save when couples are joined together in accord with God's law.

This whole issue is far more tricky and nuanced than you seem to realise. As for what you suspect the CDF would think, well, it's nice that you at least admit that you don't know this. The only way to know, after all, is to ask them; it's not to ask me.

Benedict Ambrose said...

MightI refer the hononouble blogger to the following link?

http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/catholic-voices/

The author is a sterling bloke. I think there could be a mutually enlightening exchange of views here - at least, I would be intersted to hear what you might have to say to one another. Anyway, I hope you find it of interest.

Toby said...

Dear Thirsty One,

I'm a big fan of yours and delighted that you've brought your obviously considerable intellect and fidelity to the Magisterium to the Catholic Voices project. Your work on the Irish abuse scandal has been a great service to the Church.

I've read your post on CV and this current post and they're highly persuasive, but in an attempt to be somewhat Chesteronian in my analysis, I have the feeling that you're arguing that what looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and walks like a duck is actually a pidgeon.

I can't help but think that you're excellent analysis (although I ultimately disagree with it) is far more nuanced that any that has gone on amongst the Bishops in their approach to this issue.

I don't agree with your interpretation of what the CDF means by "homosexual union" particularly in the context of the general teaching. I would have thought that a legal recognition of a same-sex partnerhsip surely could not be considered to try and help people with same-sex attraction live in a chaste relationship. There seems no doubt that CPs allow homosexual unions to be legally recognised even if whilst not being explicitly required to be sexual. In addition the exclusion of same-family CPs only makes sense on the grounds that the State does not want to promote incest and therefore CPs are envisaged in at least some cases as being sexual.

You mention that it is very striking that the Act does not mention sexual relations, however, I think this was just put in the "too difficult" category both from a drafting perspective and from a public taste perspective. Can you imagine the codification of what constitutes meaningful sexual relations between lesbians. The law has struggled enough as it is to decide what constitutes consummation for the purposes of civil annulment (I remember childishly giggling in a law lecture at Cambridge whilst a red-faced lecturer proceeded to talk about "meaninful intercourse but not necessarily resulting in ejaculation"(!)) and I think there would be no desire to have its draft and final legislation plastered across the newspapers.

Finally there is no doubt that CPs have been used as a stepping-stone to marriage; I think the reason that same-sex marriage is likely to pass on to the statute books is because in the mind of most people they are marriages and people don't really see what the difference is. Irrespective of what the legislation is on the statute books if the effect on society is corrosive then the Church should combat it. For example if the Church was against fox-hunting with hounds I would expect it to still be lobbying against it even though it has technically been banned. Otherwise surely we are in danger of going back to a legalistic Old Testament approach?

To me the most confusing thing about this whole episode is that after the introduction of CPs I was left thinking that our Bishops were against them and then suddenly out of the blue it appears that they back them, but then all the clarificatory comments afterwards appear rather vague and a little tenous.

Anyhow keep up good work, for which, at least, I am grateful.

Pax,

Toby

Benedict Ambrose said...

Realy, everything that Toby just said - not least the respect for your efforts for the faith on your blog hitherto.

I'm grateful to Toby for having been spared the effort - and for having to stump up the energy to make it.

Lynda said...

I'll accept that TG has written this in good faith. However, he has clearly fundamentally misunderstood what the CPA 2004 does. Legislation effects what the legislature intends - this is a matter of legal science. The CPA is very clearly intended to be a creation of a public/civil status for homosexual relationships between two consenting adults of the same sex, not within prohibited degrees of relationship, not married or in a CP with another party. A literal reading of the Act leaves one in no doubt as to purpose and effect of the statute. I am a lawyer and there is no controversy over what this Act achieves. It is not even necessary to look to the parliamentary debates, which underline what it does. TG, You are usually very logical, perhaps even Chestertonian, at times (!) but not in this instance. Sadly, the propaganda by those who wished to convince people that the CPA was something other than conferral of marriage-like status on homosexual relationships has duped many people. I haven't the energy to go into a comprehensive account of the Act; that's been done elsewhere. If in doubt, read the Act - it's a v clear piece of legislation.