The Straight Civil Partnerships Question

The question is this. If civil partnership is opened to straight couples then would someone in such a partnership be eligible to be considered for ordination?

It is a simple question but carries enormous complexity with it and can help to illuminate where we are in the changing world of legal relationship states.

I first raised this question in June 2013 in a series of 10 unanswered questions about marriage, most of which remain unanswered even now.

The thing is, it is entirely possible that some straight couples within the different jurisdictions of the UK may soon achieve their hope to be in civil partnerships. I’m aware of both a legal challenge to the current law that is proceeding and also government consultations coming from both Holyrood and Westminster.

Now, first of all I need to declare that I’ve always been against extending Civil Partnerships to straight people and thought that the best way forward was to turn all gay couples’ civil partnerships into civil marriages. However that has not happened and so we have a situation where there is a basic inequality – gay couples have the option of either marriage or civil partnerships. And lo, inequality is something that we can’t really tolerate in modern society and so something will need to be done. I can’t really see any alternative to opening civil partnership to straight couples. It seems to me to be only a matter of time and whether I like it or not, that is what will happen.

So, will someone in a straight relationship who is in a civil partnership be eligible for ordination. In Scotland is it well established that someone in a same-sex relationship in a civil partnership is eligible for ordination.

This is not merely a rhetorical question. All these kinds of questions affect real people. As individuals and couples try to work out the best thing for their own relationships they are currently left second-guessing how they are going to be perceived by the churches that they may belong to.

I am aware of straight couples in the church who would be interested in entering a civil partnership rather than a marriage.

But what’s that about.

I’ve been opposed to civil partnerships continuing because I saw them as intrinsically products of discrimination. They were a legal confection devised to look like marriage and to onto which gay couples projected familiar signs and symbols to get as near as they could to the gold standard of marriage. However, things have now changed.

It seems to me that straight couples looking for civil partnerships are clearly saying that they want something that is different to marriage and people like me probably need to get used to the idea that it is just different and not less than marriage now even though it once was.

The church has not really caught up with modern sexual relations in so many areas. As I listen to people twenty years younger than me their presumption is that serial monogamy is a good thing. They believe in faithfulness. They don’t think cheating is acceptable. However, they also are entering into relationships which they themselves would acknowledge might not last forever. The permanence of marriage is not where they are at and I suspect that the civil partnership option might well appeal to such couples.

The thing is, marriage carries with it a whole load of presumptions, not least that the end of a marriage is a Very Bad Thing. Divorce still carries stigma with it.

I suspect that at least some of those seeking civil partnership rather than marriage are choosing to reject the possibility of divorce as they feel that the dissolution of a civil partnership carries fewer negative connotations than being divorced.

But back to the straight civil partnerships question. Would someone in a same-sex relationship in a civil partnership (presuming that such things will soon become a reality) be able to be ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church – or the other mainstream churches for that matter?

If not, why not?

So far as I can tell, Canon Law is silent on any relationships other than straight married ones.

Florence Li Tim-Oi – Celebrating 70 years since her ordination

I’m just off to celebrate a Eucharist because it is a Feast Day – the Conversion of St Paul. The standard, if rather weak, in-joke is that one is going to pray for the Conversion of St Paul rather than simply remember the Conversion of St Paul – not least because Paul had things to say that have not been terribly helpful to a modern world where women and men are equal.

As I celebrate the feast today I’m going to be remembering with thanksgiving this woman: The Rev Florence Li Tim-Oi and celebrating 70 years since her ordination.

Florence Li Tim-Oi

She was the first woman to be made a priest in the Anglican Communion and today is 70 years since it happened. It happened in wartime when there were no men around and it happened secretly and without the permission of synods and decision-making bodies simply, I suspect because they couldn’t meet at the time.

The most extraordinary thing about Mother Florence is that once the war was over, she gave up her license to act as a priest (but not her orders) until such time as her church accepted the principle that women and men could equally be regarded as priests. In her part of the world, that meant waiting until 1971.

I can’t imagine what it was like to wait so many years to be treated as an equal.

No, wait a minute.

I can.