Church 'does not own marriage'

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone said marriage was "owned by the people"

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The Church does not "own" marriage nor have the exclusive right to say who can marry, a government minister has said.

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said the government was entitled to introduce same-sex marriages as a "change for the better".

The Liberal Democrat was responding to comments by Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that "not even the Church" owns marriage.

But Lord Carey accused her of putting an "unwarranted slant" on his words.

Ms Featherstone's comments come as ministers prepare to launch a public consultation on legalising gay marriage next month.

Traditionalists want the law on marriage to remain unchanged.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ms Featherstone said: "Some believe the government has no right to change it (marriage) at all; they want to leave tradition alone.

'Reflect society'

"I want to challenge that view - it is the government's fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better."

Start Quote

Ultimately it's about the freedom of a small group of people to be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else”

End Quote Ben Summerskill Chief executive, Stonewall

Her comments came after Lord Carey, a critic of plans to legalise gay marriage, said "not even the Church" owns marriage.

She said: "(Marriage) is owned by neither the state nor the Church, as the former Archbishop Lord Carey rightly said.

"It is owned by the people."

But Lord Carey told the Telegraph: "When I said that not even the Church owns it (marriage), I meant that the Church has no authority to change the definition of marriage as far as Christian thinking is concerned - there is a givenness to it.

"Lynne's logic implies the will of the people is sovereign.

"So let's suppose that in 10 years' time it is proposed that, as people are living in multiples of four, we may call that marriage also."

Ms Featherstone also appealed to people not to "polarise" the debate about same-sex marriages.

'Underlying principles'

"This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs," she said.

"This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms."

Lord Carey Lord Carey held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991 to 2002

Civil partnerships give same-sex couples the right to the same legal treatment across a range of matters as married couples but the law does not allow such unions to be referred to as marriages.

Earlier this month, Lord Carey said legalising gay marriage would be "an act of cultural and theological vandalism".

The Church of England said in December it would not allow its churches to be used for civil partnership ceremonies unless the full General Synod, the Church's governing body, gave consent.

It said it would not host them just as a "gentlemen's outfitter is not required to supply women's clothes".

The announcement came after a new law allowing civil partnership ceremonies to be conducted in places of worship in England and Wales comes into effect.

The Roman Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales said this month that the government's proposals to create civil partnerships for same-sex couples would "not promote the common good", and that it strongly opposes them.

'No monopoly'

The government will open a consultation on the issue of same-sex marriages - as opposed to civil partnerships - next month. A similar consultation was conducted by the Scottish government last year.

Mike Judge, of the Coalition for Marriage, a campaign group which is against the government's changes, said the Church "does not have the monopoly on marriage" but the government "does not own marriage" either.

"I don't think Lynne Featherstone should be bulldozing ahead with plans to redefine it," he told the BBC News Channel.

He added that it appeared the government's consultation was "just going to be about how we redefine marriage, not whether we redefine marriage".

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, a gay rights charity, said the issue was not about religious freedom, nor was it party political.

"Ultimately it's about the freedom of a small group of people to be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else," he said.


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  • Comment number 327.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    As a gay man I totally understand the equality argument but, while marriage is so tied up with the church, why worry? I have no desire to be "blessed" by a load of backward hypocrites that believe in fairy stories. They should spend some time exploring the real meaning of love rather than abusing the word to console their insecurities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Look at history, the Church has a VERY chequered and violent past. What I don't understand is that people keep referring to God in this debate. Fact; the world was not created by God, science proves this. Marriage was created to keep heterosexuals from having sex with parents, and family and the Church actually states who one can marry. If Gay couples want to marry, what's the problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Exactly. Once you have governments using marriage as a basis of social and political policy - as they have done for centuries - the church cannot claim that it's purely a religious concept. If it was confined to a religious ceremony and had no impact on the lives of anyone but the faithful, fair enough. But the church can't have their cake and eat it, too.

  • Comment number 323.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    I agree homophobia is a daft word. But then, so is "homosexual." It has long been argued that the etymology of this word is in error as it puts the emphasis on sexuality. It is possible for anyone to decide to engage in sexual acts but the defining factor in human sexuality is not the sex act at all but the completely involuntary feeling of who you fall in love with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    Generally speaking........
    Can a boy and a boy have a child naturally ? No.
    Can a girl and a girl have a child naturally ? No.
    Can a boy and a girl have a child naturally. Ah. Yes. There's the correct combination.
    Seems pretty plain we were designed that way and that's therefore how it's meant to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    A couple of comments

    1. No one has stated that churches will be forced to marry people

    2. Marriage is a legal institution, not a religious one, as it carries legal rights and responsibilities.

    3. Only 18.6 percent of people go to church at least once a month. That indicates the serious decline of the church's power.

    The only reasons to oppose same-sex marriage is fear or hatred.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    Yet another nail in the coffin of marriage, another institution wrecked by government. As a believer that marriage is a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman then today there is absolutely nothing in marriage for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    MarrIage is not owned by church or the state... Not even people own it... But God does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    I can't believe that in this day and age, people still believe in something that is blatantly not real! People are real, gay and lesbian people are real, god is not. So lets concentrate on the things that are real, and allow same sex marriage once and for all. Its a boring story now, just get on with it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    Men & women were DESIGNED for each other, and marriage designed for them. Having 2 men or women marry is 'fruitless'. Why do gay couples need to 'marry'? A commitment can be made outside 'marriage'? Christians are constantly persecuted for their 'traditionalist' views, & not moving with the times, when in fact, we base our beliefs on God's word, which we have no authority to change for the times

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Gay & lesbian can do what they want as long as they're not expecting Christian wedding. It will be unfair to ask a minister to carry out a ceremony against their believe. They can go to mosque orSynagogue if they so wish. Lib Dem is a ticking time bomb. Their policy on moral issues & religion says it all. Nothing surprises me; hope the damage will be minimal by the time they leave the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    From what I have read, this is largely a case of government interference where it is neither wanted or needed. The majority of gay peoples comments that I have read express that they are quite happy to have the civil partnership as their expression of their commitment to each other. I feel that this is just a matter of trying to look as though they are in touch with society. They are NOT THOUGH

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    Comment number 313.

    @273. You seem to be confused. The proposals are for marriage in non religious premises, they will not force Christians opposed to gay marriage to hold one in their churches, eg Anglicans have said they won't. However thos Christians with a different view to you will be allowed to hold gay marriage, at the moment it is illegal for them to even if they want to

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Are some people deliberately trying confuse the issue by saying that religious marriages that are being planned? These will be *civil* not religious marriages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    #292 "in the margin and very much a minority interest"

    Yeah.... just like homosexuality.

    Put it to the people. Same sex marriage, yes or no?

    But when are we ever asked anything except that AV joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Gay couples do have rights but so do the clergy. surely forcing preists to act is against their own rights? Equalities as a term seems to be becoming more closely associated with nihilism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Just like morals, there was marriage in this country before Christianity, so I don't see how the church can claim some kind of monopoly,

    That said, if they don't want to allow same sex marriages in their own buildings that's their own business.

  • Comment number 308.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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