The Affirmation of Same-Sex Marriage

Below is text of the motion “The Affirmation of Same-Sex Marriage” and the accompanying speeches presented yesterday at General Synod. The motion was lost 145 to 95. That is, a whopping 40% of Anglicans at our General Synod voted in favour of same-sex marriage. In the context of our church’s history, this is profoundly significant.

“The Affirmation of Same-Marriage”
Moved by The Rev’d Assoc Prof Matthew Anstey and seconded by Professor Peter Sherlock.

The General Synod

(a) welcomes the introduction of civil same-sex marriages in Australia as providing a state-based way of recognising faithfulness, love and commitment;

(b) gives thanks for the public witness of Christian same-sex couples;

(c) notes the diversity of theological and legal viewpoints published by the Doctrine Commission, Marriage, Same-Sex Marriage and the Anglican Church of Australia, and that this diversity of viewpoints is found among faithful, committed Anglicans who worship in all dioceses of the Anglican Church of Australia;

(d) affirms that marriage is not considered a matter pertaining to salvation in this Church, as noted by the Appellate Tribunal Wangaratta Reference [140]: “at many points in time between 1662 and the present day, that doctrine [of marriage] was changed in response to different understandings of Scripture, changing perceptions about the respective roles of men and women, and the need to accommodate the law of the land …. These changes never signalled that the Church of England’s teachings expounded during the solemnisation rite were being proclaimed as matters going to salvation or part of the ‘faith’ of the Church”; and recognising that in heaven we shall neither marry nor be given in marriage (Mk 12:25);

(e) notes that at no point in the process of the General Synod’s passing of canons relating to holy matrimony (Solemnization of Matrimony Canon 1981, Marriage of Divorced Persons Canon 1981, Matrimony (Prohibited Relationships) Canon 1981) was reference made to constitutional impediments to such, as noted by the Appellate Tribunal Wangaratta Reference [141];

(f) acknowledges the continual evolution within the church, including the Anglican Church of Australia, of its position on moral issues – such as slavery, capital punishment, interracial marriage, contraception, the equality of men and women – and the concomitant absence of any such moral injunctions in the historic Creeds;

(g) considers same-sex marriage as a moral good and a gift to be celebrated, providing an enrichment of the Christian understanding of marriage and a witness to God’s grace and love, consistent with the testimony of Scripture and Anglican tradition as expressed in the historic Creeds.

“Affirming Same-sex Marriage” – M Anstey – General Synod 2022, 12 May

I speak as a straight person, an ally of the LGBTIQA+ community.
This is a debate of monumental significance.
There has been no shortage of monumental debates in our history.

It took the Church 400 years to clarify the Trinitarian nature of God.
It took 1,500 years to clarify that salvation is the free gift of God.
a staggering 1,950 years to assert the full equality of men and women.
Clearly, the fact that the Church has held a position for a long period of time is no guarantee that that position is correct.

In every one these debates, each side claimed that they were on the side of Scripture.

In 1864, an Anglican bishop said:

The Bible’s defence of slavery is very plain. St. Paul was inspired and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was only intent on obeying it. And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God … and invent for ourselves a ‘higher law’?

The Bible’s defence of slavery is very plain. St. Paul was inspired and knew the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, and was only intent on obeying it. And who are we, that in our modern wisdom presume to set aside the Word of God … and invent for ourselves a ‘higher law’?

Does this unbridled confidence in one’s appeal to the authority of Scripture sound familiar?

Each one of these debates was eventually resolved by overriding theological principles and basic moral imperatives.

What then are the overriding theological principles?

The main theological principle of opponents is that the pattern of creation is normative. Hence the constant appeals to Genesis 2 and Matthew 19.

In this view, heterosexual marriage is the only ordained pattern for marriage, bound to notions of biological differentiation and gender complementarity.

There are three, in my view fatal, problems with this argument.

First, just as the affirmation of procreative marriage in Gen 2 and Matt 19 does not entail the wrongness of childless marriages, the affirmation of male-female marriage in Genesis 2 and Matt 19, does not entail the wrongness of same-sex marriage.

It is logical fallacy to say the goodness of heterosexual marriage entails the wrongness of same-sex marriage.

Secondly, there is a sweeping imbalance here, in the neglect of Christological, ecclesial and eschatological patterns of core human identity.

Christological – Christ, as a single male, is the full and complete imago dei, telling the human story in the way we have all failed to tell it. Hence the imago dei is refracted in our humanness, and not in any gendered or potential marital form thereof.

Ecclesial – in Christ, there is neither male nor female. This shows that core Christian identity cannot be tied to gender or sexuality.

Eschatological – in the age to come, there is no marriage.

The opponent’s almost exclusive focus on Genesis entails for their position that complementarity is grounded in gender differentiation, rather than love of the other (“the two shall become one flesh”).

But when the patterns of creation, incarnation, the church, and the age to come are held in appropriate balance, the necessity of gender complementarity is eroded entirely. Instead, complementarity is firmly located in love towards the other.

Secondly, with respect to the handful of Scripture texts on homosexuality, I believe that “The moral logic underpinning the negative portrayal of [homosexual practice] in Scripture does not directly address committed, loving, consecrated same-sex relationships today” (Brownson).

And very importantly, Jesus makes no reference to homosexuality.

Thus affirming same-sex marriage in my view is not to dismiss Scripture but indeed the opposite, to take it with the utmost seriousness.

We are thus not rejecting the word of God or its authority, but discerning and embracing the word of God.

Millions of Christians, and thousands of Biblical scholars have come to the same view. And almost everyone one of us sees Scriptures as central, authoritative, canonical.

And after much careful study and consideration, we have arrived at this conclusion.

The claim that we do not take Scripture seriously is as offensive as it is incorrect. In our view, the affirmation of same-sex marriage is entirely in accord with the Scriptures taken as a whole, and with the historic Christian creeds.

What then are the overriding moral imperatives?

First, We must ask, what specifically is wrong about homosexual marriage?

When two people of the same gender give their lives to one another in covenantal fidelity and love, what sin is being enacted? What harm is being done? What evil is being propagated?

In all the literature opposing same-sex marriage, I have yet to find any explanation of the specific sin being committed in same-sex intercourse.

This is telling.

If we take other types of sexual practice, such as adultery, incest, bestiality, and so forth, the articulation of the wrongness (and harmfulness) of the specific sexual activity is straightforward to articulate, morally coherent, and contrary to creational, Christological, ecclesial, and eschatological theological principles.

But for homosexuality, its wrongness is simply asserted as a brute fact. The only ‘argument’ — I use the term reservedly — used is one of divine fiat — homosexuality is wrong because God (it is claimed) says it wrong.

However, cannot be any ad hoc ethical injunctions in Christian theology, as they fail the agreed tests of reasonableness, rationality, and robustness.

If same-sex sexual union is indeed wrong, there needs to be a thoughtful, compelling, coherent account of its wrongness.

Finally, the nature of desire.

Jesus taught that if one has lustful desires, one has committed the sin, even when it is not enacted. What determines the sinfulness is the desire. One could not commit an act of lust without the lustful desire. So Jesus binds together desire and its enactment.

Opponents of same-sex attraction in the ACA agree with us that same-sex desires are not sinful eo ipso (‘in and of itself’).

Same-sex attraction for the other resulting in marital love, is like all other good love: it selflessly seeks the well-being of (agape) and union with (eros) the other, as Aquinas so argued.

It is directed toward the other and yearns for that which is good and true and beautiful for them, and given its reciprocity, it yearns to be loved in equal measure, freely and completely, and to be united bodily with the other. Such love is Christ-like and Christ’s love for us is in fact the measure and standard of all love.

So, I put it thus: when one ponders seriously and deeply the nature of the love same-sex couples have for one another, and when one sets aside all those counter arguments which appeal to fallen human nature (given that such counter arguments count equally against heterosexual marriage), the faithful enactment of such same-sex love, desiring the wellbeing and flourishing of each other, must necessarily be deemed to be good, wholesome, and, indeed, Christ-like.

To put it simply, God revealed in Christ through the Spirit affirms, blesses and delights in same-sex marriage.

Seconder’s Speech to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia
“Affirmation of Same-Sex Marriage” Peter Sherlock, Melbourne, House of Laity

This is the first time the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia has considered the affirmation of same-sex marriage (thank you Matthew).

In the spirit of truth and love, I come before you in humility to share a little of my story with you.

Some of my words may be hard for me to say, or hard for you to hear. So if you or I need to shed a few tears in the next few minutes, that’s ok with me.

In 2012 the late Bishop of Gippsland spoke at length to his Synod about same-sex marriage. He concluded that “The way of the Gospel, in the end, is the way of persuasion by a godly life, and by godly words and actions. A godly life, and godly words and actions are marked by grace, and the truth on any matter will emerge as we live by the same grace with which we are met by God in Jesus Christ.” (thank you John).

I have been in a Christian same-sex relationship for twenty-nine years (thank you Craig). We met in 1993 because of the Anglican Church (thank you everyone). I was a twenty-year old priest’s kid and he was the theological student sent to the parish where my mother was the vicar.

We discovered mutual passions for music and history, justice and theology and a deep desire to share these gifts with others. He asked me to spend the rest of my life with him, I said yes.

In 1993 there were few role models for us in the church and not many allies (thank you Simon and Brian, Mark, Cathy and Stuart). We resolved to forge our relationship around the love of God and love of neighbour, and the exhortation of Matthew 19 to leave our families and all that we have to follow Jesus. So from its beginning our partnership was not the most important thing in our lives. I continue to love Craig for the way he points me to Jesus as the alpha and omega, the source and destination.

For the next quarter of a century we got on with the mission of being disciples of Christ. I have some inkling of what life was like for the sixteenth-century reformers Margaret Cranmer and Agatha Barlow. It is not easy to be around Anglicans who threaten you with mortal or supernatural injury, who insist that you hide your relationship, who plain ignore you, or who ask quite frankly bizarre questions about sex. A tragic feature of our debates about marriage is that one side talks about love, and the other about sex. So it was bloody hard going at times.

Then in 2017 the Federal Parliament legislated for marriage equality.

Reader, I married him.

It was the briefest possible ceremony on 15 February 2018 during our lunchbreaks, attended only by us, the registrar and two witnesses (thank you Philip and Andrew). No public announcement, no photos, no party – and no presents. Mum and Dad, I’m sorry we didn’t tell you till afterwards; it was wrong to deny you a chance to celebrate with us.

Our wedding was a weird and difficult moment. We faced a moral quandary on which the church offered no meaningful guidance other than the travesty of a million Anglican dollars wasted in an act of violence. The time for celebrating the start of a life-long partnership had well and truly come and gone.

So why did we do it? As Magda Szubanski so memorably put it, our wedding was a matter not of the marriage bed but of the death bed; not a licence to have sexual intercourse, but a statutory commitment till death do us part. When my husband had a heart attack last year, the marriage contract was for me a safety net, one that I did not have when he nearly died in 1999.

Is our marriage an example of godly and gracious living? That is for others to judge. I can, however, testify to the Spirit’s work in the same-sex marriages of my brothers and sisters in Christ. So today I bless John and Rob, Jane and Sarah, Chris and Lawrence, Jenny and Mandy and so many more besides who are godly and gracious witnesses to the resurrection.

Because I have a heart for evangelism with the LGBTI community – and because this issue touches the life of every Australian – I believe that the public recognition of same-sex Christian marriages provided by this motion is of vital importance to the gospel in this time and place.

We must not hide in the dangerous darkness of fear and secrecy, threats and lies. Young LGBTI Christians need role models and theologians they can trust, who can quell deep-seated suspicions.

This church needs the willing hands and inclusive hearts of the growing queer Christian community, to bind up the broken-hearted and to preach the gospel of peace (thank you Steff).

In 2018 Craig and I neither sought nor received a church blessing of our marriage. We tried that in the 1990s when we foolishly asked the Anglican Church for bread and you gave us a pebble. Back then we decided that instead of a wedding banquet that was all about us and our love for each other – not really my cup of tea – back then we decided that we would have lots of parties throughout our life, that, in a pale imitation of God’s bountiful extravagance, we would surround as many people as we could with joy and laughter.

That’s the ultimate biblical thing to do. This is our vocation and yours: the church militant here on earth is called to be a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in which Jesus invites everyone to put on our wedding clothes and join the eternal feast.

After the last couple of years … perhaps the last couple of days … does anyone remember when church was fun, joyful and hospitable as Jesus intended? So let me conclude with two invitations based on our theology of marriage.

First, to LGBTI people listening to this debate, I invite you to remember that nothing can separate you from the love of Jesus; you are welcome at the heavenly banquet.

Second, to members of the General Synod, I invite you to remember that God loves you. And you know what? I love you too.

Whether you vote yes, no or something else to this motion, next time you are in Melbourne, be like Jesus and invite yourself to a party at our place.

Bring a friend.

Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you

Response Following Debate – Matthew Anstey – 2022, 12 May

Mr President

I want to acknowledge that we have been discussing matters touching upon the lived experience of many Anglicans in our churches and community, some of whom are feeling very vulnerable.

I want to acknowledge also Anglicans who identify as non-binary, intersex, queer or transgender, and I am sorry that our debates this week have been framed within binary notions of gender, and so have failed to sufficiently include your lived experience and Christian faith.

I want to acknowledge the many rainbow people and their allies and friends have been praying for General Synod and in particular these debates.

I hope that some of our prayers have been answered.

Although I expected this motion to be lost, I still wanted to bring to the floor for debate.

For a number of reasons…

In part, because I want to honour all those who belong to LGBTIQA+ communities, and their allies and their families, who long to hear words of affirmation, acceptance, and welcome.

In part, because I made a commitment to speak up on this issue, regardless of the cost, because the pain of this struggle is a burden that must be shared.

In part, because, as a church, I fear the window of opportunity for dialogue about this issue might be closing.

I understand this is the first openly affirming motion to come before General Synod, and I hope it is not the last.

But the overriding reason for bringing this motion is because I am passionate about doing all we can to make the Anglican Church of Australia a community that is affirming, inclusive, comprehensive, and open-hearted.

Because in the Gospel of Christ we hear those words all of us long to hear:

“You are beloved by God and will never be abandoned.”

I commend the motion.

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