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Australian Anglicans accused of sexism over new marriage vows

September 13, 2012

SYDNEY

An Australian Anglican diocese has been accused of sexism over proposed new marriage vows requiring a wife to “submit” to her husband. Introduced as an alternative to the traditional vows that use the word “obey,” the wording is expected to be considered at the Sydney diocese’s synod in October.

But some parishes are already using the vows within the conservative diocese, which also declines to ordain women.

Muriel Porter, a Melbourne academic and laywoman who writes on Anglican Church issues, said replacing the word “obey” with “submit” was derogatory. “I’m horrified,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.  “It is a very dangerous concept, especially in terms of society’s propensity for domestic violence.”

Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen said the new vows emphasize a husband’s commitment and a wife’s responsibility. “Her ‘submission’ is her voluntary acceptance of living together, her glad recognition that this is what he intends to bring to the marriage and that it is for her good, his good and the good of children born to them.”

South Sydney bishop Robert Forsyth, chair of the diocese’s liturgical panel that drafted the vows, says they are based on the New Testament’s discussion of the church submitting to Christ.

But an expert on the Anglican Church constitution, Victoria’s Archbishop John Davis, told reporters the changes could be illegal as they are restricted to one diocese.

“The legal relationship is between the Commonwealth and the Anglican Church of Australia, and not between the Commonwealth and each of the 24 dioceses in the country,” he said. 

Primate Phillip Aspinall said the changes may be questionable under canon law, and may have to be discussed within a national church tribunal.

“Submit” has never been used in any version of the marriage vow since the Anglican Book of Common Prayer came into existence in 1662.

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