Questions: Call for evidence
The Meaning and Purpose of Marriage
The meaning and purpose of marriage can differ between traditions, religious groups, cultures and across social and demographic divides. Within certain traditions, marriage can embody unchanging and inherent principles. For others, the meaning of marriage evolves with time and must respond to the age and context within which we live. For others again, marriage must be defined by an independent and neutral actor, or even, not at all.
Many of the differences in position, belief and opinion with regards to recent debates revolve around the differences in the meaning and purpose of marriage. In order to unearth such underpinning assumptions and beliefs, this first set of questions will ask the fundamental question: what is marriage? The questions intend to prompt a deeper exploration into the founding principles and core purpose of marriage. We encourage personal reflections and institutional beliefs, in addition to material or research that reflects the understanding of a wide range of groups.
- Is marriage an evolving institution? Does it have an objective and intrinsic nature?
- Does it represent unchanging and inherent principles? What is the relationship between principles and practices?
- What are the limits to the definition of marriage?
- Does marriage mean the same thing to everybody, or does its meaning differ for different people? If marriage means different things to different people, how should society decide which of these meanings are acceptable, and which are not?
- Have perceptions of marriage changed throughout society and particular groups across time? What does the institution of marriage mean across different religious and cultural bodies? How does this impact on the meaning of marriage?
- What is the purpose of marriage? A public expression of commitment? A way of strengthening personal relationships? Or does it represent something more?
- What does the term ‘equal marriage’ mean? Does it mean marriage for couples of the same sex, or does it have a wider application? What does the term ‘equal marriage’, which is deployed by government, suggest about fairness and hierarchy?
The Relationship between the State, Culture and Religious Institutions
Drawing on the above, this second set of questions explores the respective roles of the state, culture and religious institutions in defining, shaping and promoting marriage. Do they work independently or collaboratively? How effective are they? Does responsibility rest primarily with one actor, or many more? Do they all even have a role to play? The questions will also prompt an assessment of the impact on the rights and responsibilities of individuals, same sex partners and married couples and on constitutional arrangements with the established Church.
- Historically, in what ways has marriage changed in your community and how do you feel it is changing in the present day?
- If governments provide material incentives for marriage (such as recognition in the tax system), does this undermine the institution or strengthen it? Have different incentives encouraged or dissuaded couples to marry in the past?
- What roles do the state, culture, faith communities and the established Church have to play in defining, shaping and promoting marriage? Should the state be the primary vehicle in the defining, shaping and/ or promoting of marriage, or is it a matter for culture and religious groups – or a mixture of all?
- What are the implications of this for the nature of the state and the law, and its relationship with other institutions, history, tradition and culture?
- What impact will the introduction of same-sex marriage have on the established Church and its place within the constitution and the law?
- What is the Church’s role in education surrounding marriage and civil partnerships, both on a broadly societal and specifically pre-marital basis?
- What is the relationship between marriage and rights and responsibilities? Does marriage bring its own rights and responsibilities? Will the focus on equal rights for individuals promote or inhibit the purpose of marriage and successful familial relationships?
- Will equal legal access to marriage encourage the institution to become more diverse and varied? Or will it instead negate existing differences between relationships and remove that which is distinctive about marriage itself?
Marriage, Family and Community
Social and civic institutions, such as marriage, the family and an established community, are often at the heart of agendas for social renewal. Marriage is championed by many as an institution that can prompt individual commitment and trust between two people, but that can also promote or inspire such virtues throughout communities and wider society.
This final set of questions asks to what extent, if any, marriage – in terms defined by a religious group, the state, academic literature, or an individual, such as you personally – can impact on the family, community and wider society. Does it promote virtue, reciprocity and association, or can/ has it play a negative role?