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The Archbishop Of Canterbury On Church, State, Marriage, And More: VIDEO

5385e__62021555_hi009150430In what was probably his final major interview before resigning as Archbishop of Canterbury, the always thoughtful Rowan Williams continued to baffle liberals, conservatives, Christians, and secularists alike in a far-randing discussion with The Daily Telegraph. 

On the question of marriage equality in Britain, which Williams's Anglical Communion has opposed, the self-described "hairy lefty" maintains a position that has always frustrated marriage's opponents and supporters more or less equally. The church cannot perform same-sex weddings, says Williams, but still:

[The church] has been too – he says “lily mouthed” before correcting himself: “We’ve not exactly been on the forefront of pressing for civic equality for homosexual people, and we were wrong about that.”

To those who fear the constitutional consequences, he says legalising gay marriage would not of itself trigger disestablishment. “We’ve been assured that there will be no pressure on the Church to perform marriages, but of course as things stand, every citizen has the right to be married in Church. That’s alright, so long as the State’s definition of marriage and the Church’s definition are the same. If the State’s definition shifts … then we have a tangle.”

Hear more from the interview AFTER THE JUMP ...


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  1. While it is accurate to state that the Anglican Communion (a "federation" of provinces which act as independent churches) is debating marriage equality, it is not accurate to say the Communion is opposed to marriage. Obviously, many provinces are opposed, many divided, and some significant ones (Canada, US [The Episcopal church], Brazil), fully supportive. Thus Williams' challenge in keeping the Communion in union (And a tragic, IMHO, lack of leadership in attempting to do so.)

    Posted by: KJ | Sep 9, 2012 12:54:07 PM

  2. "...every citizen has the right to be married in Church. That’s alright, so long as the State’s definition of marriage and the Church’s definition are the same. "

    Wrong. On all counts. Divorced "citizens" cannot demand to be married by a priest in a Catholic church, nor do they have any "right" to. Nor can Muslims demand the right to a synagogue ceremony. Nor can legitimate Christians demand to be married in a (non-Christian) Mormon temple with a Mormon officiant. (As if one would want to?)

    Correct to say that no citizen has an obligation to be married in a church in order for his/her marriage to be legally recognized. No more, no less. "Rights" have nothing to do with religious marriage ceremonies.

    Posted by: One True American Pope | Sep 9, 2012 1:37:35 PM

  3. @One True American Pope What you're saying is true in the US, but I think he's talking about the Church of England which is the official church there. I assume Williams knows the law in England, but it does seem odd that the government could override religious doctrine in this way.

    Posted by: A minor saint | Sep 9, 2012 2:30:00 PM

  4. It was the dispute between Henry VIII and the Catholic Church that led to the split. Since it is a state Church, he must also be a servant of the Queen. His opinion doesn't seem to matter much. It is obvious that he needs to change his definition once the State's definition is changed.

    Posted by: simon | Sep 9, 2012 4:06:47 PM

  5. @ One True American Pope

    By Church, he means the Church of England. In England, everyone has the right by law to ask the Church of England to marry them. If the people are divorced and the priest in question doesn't believe in remarrying divorced people, another Church of England priest must be found to do it. Etc.

    So, note that ++Rowan here is not stating his actual view on the matter -- that we may find out later after retirement -- but rather he's explaining the situation as a Church functionary.

    Posted by: Randal Oulton | Sep 9, 2012 5:29:54 PM

  6. @Simon: that's precisely the point. Rowan seems to be of the mistaken impression that an established church is entitled to have opinions, when in fact its supreme governor is the monarch, not the archbishop, and it is obliged to carry out all that Parliament tells it to do.

    When the UK achieves marriage equality, those in the church will perform marriages, or leave. And should they provoke a constitutional crisis by disobeying the law, the church may well just be disestablished, which would be a very happy result.

    Posted by: Vint | Sep 9, 2012 5:33:53 PM

  7. This guy has been a hateful right wing piece of s#it since day one. He too took the easy road on every issue because he is weak and pathetic and more concerned with keeping his job and his power. Now he is FINALLY leaving his job, predictably, he speaks out against what he's done. He is a miserable failure and has been terrible. I am glad he's going.

    Posted by: Icebloo | Sep 10, 2012 1:30:40 AM

  8. Just gimme a good pair of clippers and about 15 minutes with this clown. He's got a tangle alright, it's in his eyebrows.

    Posted by: johnny | Sep 10, 2012 6:18:31 AM

  9. All this is philosophical, theological and intellectual masturbation.

    If Dr. John Sentamu, an arch-conservative bishop and the most likely candidate to assume William's office, is appointed to William's office, the entire marriage equality argument because mute.

    Dr. Sentamu is very outspoken in his opposition to marriage equality. In fact, to put it unkindly, Sentamu is a raging homophobe.

    To complicate matters, the Anglican Communion worldwide has been clamouring for Sentamu to be appointed. His personal history--he is black, a former asylum-seeker who settled in Britain, a self-made man, the Archbishop of York, and a strident champion for so-called "conservative" christian values and biblical literalism--makes him an odds-on favorite.

    As it stands, the conservatives have been lobbying since at least April, quite strongly, for Sentamu to be named as the next Archbishop. Their main tactic is to imply racism and bigotry are the reasons if Sentamu is not appointed.

    That is a devious but most probably an effective tactic since among all the Anglican Communions worldwide, the Anglican church in Africa is the largest, most conservative and fastest-growing. In fact, several American Anglican churches has voted to leave their American Communions and be joined with African Communions, primarily because the Africans are united in their bigotry and hatred of LGBT people.

    This interview with Dr. Williams is the sounding of the death-knell for the liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Dr. Williams' prevarication during this interview and his overall failure to forcefully take a stand for civil equality for LGBT citizens clearly shows why.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Sep 10, 2012 10:10:48 AM

  10. Brandon, I think you meant to type "far-ranging" not "far-randing".

    Posted by: SebastianQ | Sep 10, 2012 1:05:46 PM

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