Bishop Terry Writes…
Recently you will have seen, heard and read much about the “consultation” the Government is holding in order to change the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same sex partnerships. You will also have listened to the Pastoral Letter sent out on behalf of all the Bishops of England and Wales concerning the Catholic vision of marriage. As your Bishop I think it is important that you know and understand the Church’s teaching on marriage and that you share some of the concerns that are implied by changing the definition of marriage. Many people ask why does this concern you? The Government is only talking about civil marriage. I would reply simply by saying marriage is marriage. You can enter it by a civil or a religious route, but it is the same thing. My concern is for the good the institution of marriage delivers to society as a whole: I don’t just care about Catholics. If you change the definition of marriage so that it no longer involves any consideration of children or the family as a unit, bonded across generations, you are embarking on an extraordinary social experiment with consequences that no one can even guess at.
In a marriage the relationship is oriented to and uniquely apt for the coming into being of children. It is because the meaning of marriage holds together both the couple and the openness to children that society places such value on it. There are many sorts of relationship – business partners, friendships, colleagues – but marriage has a special place in culture and society because of what it stands for. Many young people aspire to marriage, because they see this.
It is the job of Parliament to make the laws and in doing so it has the duty to make an informed judgement. What the Church is doing now is to help inform that debate. It is important to remember that this proposal was not in the party manifestos at the last election. There has been no real consultation on whether people want such a change in the law at all. There has been no Green Paper or White Paper to explore the issues. Instead we simply had a party conference announcement, backed by the Prime Minister, that the Government were simply going to do this anyway, subject only to a consultation on how to do it, not whether we should do it.
When people complain that the Catholic Church is making a fuss about matters that don’t concern it, my bottom-line is this: This is not about ‘religious’ marriage; this is about the meaning of civil marriage for the whole of our society. Marriage has always meant a bond of one man and one woman, for life, creating the best environment in which their children can learn to become adults. Marriage exists not just for the couple, but for the common good of society; it is popular because it works. The Government should leave it alone. The meaning of marriage embraces not just the couple but also their children. We should value and treasure marriage as it is because it is key to family stability. There is no need for change.