This is a hard post to write, because I'm struggling to put into words exactly why I feel what I feel, and also I know that a lot of people will disagree with me, and of course they're entitled to. Please understand that these are solely my own views, based upon many conversations and reading and thinking. Other people could easily have the same conversations and come to different conclusions.
In a very quick summary, I've come to this conclusion because marriage has already been redefined by society and a lot of the Christian upset over this situation is based on the (incorrect) assumption that we live in a "Christian society". We don't. Christendom is rapidly disappearing from this country and Church is having to adapt or die; many, sadly, are choosing to die. Still, it means there are a lot more Whetherspoons in the country...
Anyway, back to my post.
As Martin Thompson puts it "I can’t get excited by ‘council prayers’ and ‘persecution of Christians’ in the UK", the battle is already lost. We're too late and frankly I'm glad. I'd rather have grass roots real Christianity that makes a difference than this bizarre assumption that we're all Christians.
As a Christian, my definition of marriage is related to my understanding of covenant and my understanding of God's view of family. It's already different to the legal idea of marriage in this country; marriage here is about sharing a name, sharing a legal responsibility and sharing wealth etc.
I first committed myself to Lucy long before we got married, before even we got engaged. I was locked in, no way was I leaving. If we hadn't felt like that it would've been over pretty soon, however much I was desperate for a girlfriend ;-)
A wise friend of ours once said that the state of marriage was changing. He died before this latest thing kicked off. He also posed the following question to us: "A couple come to be saved. They've been together a long time, not married, and they have reasons to stay unmarried. What do you say to them?" I'll mention some of the good reasons in a bit, but as we talked around this subject we decided that marriage involves three very distinct things: 1, the civil rite, 2, the family rite, 3, a covenant with God.
The civil rite is about satisfying legal requirements and it bestows legal rights and privileges. However, some of the changes triggered by marriage can be covered in other ways, changing name, will, joint ownership etc. a civil partnership, whether called marriage or "doo-dap-a-woo-lee" doesn't mean that someone has entered into a covenanted relationship.
The family rite is all about standing before your friends and family and declaring to the amassed that you give yourselves to each other, that you "leave your father and mother" (Genesis 2:24) and that you're staying together forever. You may also be sharing with those gathered that you've entered into a covenant and ask them to witness to that.
The covenant is between the husband, the wife and God. Nobody else needs to be involved in that. Briefly, the difference (as I understand it) between a contract and a covenant is that in a contract everybody puts something in, everybody gets something out of it; a covenant is a set of promises that are made generally forever, they don't necessarily benefit every party, at least not all the time, they generally have a big cost on the non-God party. A couple can make this covenant without ANYONE ELSE present.
People already do these things separately. They may have a wedding abroad, come home and take care of the legal parts of this and then have a big party. Lucy and I covered the covenant part pretty early on in our relationship, the other two parts came in July 2008.
Now what about good reasons to not get married? There may be a few reasons, but I'm going to go through just one right now. It's financial, which isn't always a good reason, but this one might be good. The woman has been married before, she currently collects a pension because her last husband passed away, the man is currently unemployed desperately seeking work, even so desperately as to work in a completely different part of the country. If they became Christians today some Christians would expect them to marry as a matter of urgency, it would frankly be a foolish thing to do. But we can talk them through covenant, we can ask God to bless their union, we can even celebrate their union and leave the legal things for if and when they're appropriate. So what does it matter if they're "married" or not (in the legal sense)?
I don't agree with gay marriage, but I'm judging that situation based on my definition of marriage and my understanding of sexuality as a Christian. However the world does not share my opinions, nor do all Christians. Technically there is little difference between a heterosexual civil marriage and a homosexual civil partnership. The gay community already think of the latter as marriage. We were invited to share with a dear friend of a the family in his "wedding" to his partner, the legal language didn't matter to them, as far as they see it they're getting married.
If the legal definition of marriage changes it will be sad, but it will be a sign of the times. Christians will still keep a different internal definition. You can redefine the legal aspect, but the covenant remains the same.
One last thing. Although I won't be signing, I do wholeheartedly understand where the others are coming from, I believe it is good for Christians to stand up and be counted and I think this is a great chance for Christians to explain why we disagree that marriage can be redefined. I worry, though, that this movement risks alienating people who could otherwise be open to getting to know Jesus.