Church of England warning on gay marriage

Wedding cake decoration The Church said exemptions from performing gay marriages were unlikely to survive legal challenges

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The Church of England has warned that proposals to legalise gay marriage could undermine its status.

It says giving civil ceremonies the status of marriage would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman".

The Home Office said religious bodies would not have to conduct gay marriages but the Church also fears this could be challenged in European courts.

Gay rights campaigners accuse the Church of "scaremongering".

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to give same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, but the law does not allow such unions to be referred to as marriages.

Responding to a consultation in England and Wales, the Church of England said government proposals to allow same-sex marriages by 2015 would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history".

It said marriage acknowledged "an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation".

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt: "We're seeking to protect... religious organisations"

The Church claims that plans to exempt religious organisations from performing gay marriages would be unlikely to survive legal challenges in domestic and European courts.

As such, the government's consultation exercise, which closes on Thursday, was "flawed, conceptually and legally", it added.

Tory MP Crispin Blunt conceded the government's aim "to protect, indeed proscribe, religious organisations from offering gay marriage" may be "problematic legally".

"But the proposal the government are putting forward is that marriage should be equal in the eyes of the state - whether it's between a same-sex couple or a man and a woman," he told BBC One's Breakfast.


By highlighting the possible loss of its role as a principal provider of marriages, and hinting even at the potential unravelling of its established status, the Church of England hopes to alert the public to the magnitude of what it believes is being proposed in the gay marriage legislation.

The Church says an institution of "vast" benefit to society as a whole is being undermined to meet a political need, and is being deliberately presented as something far more consequential.

The consultation is a "very shallow piece of work on a very serious subject", according to Church officials.

For the Church, a marriage - with its focus on procreation and the need to be consummated - is something that is simply not available to gay couples. By creating different understandings of marriage, it insists, the whole institution will be weakened - something the nation should not be allowed to sleep-walk towards.

But human rights lawyer Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the vice-president of the Law Society, said the European court was unlikely to agree that any religious organisation would be forced to carry out same-sex marriages.

"But what it might say is that religious organisations should be allowed to if they want to," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, adding that "many" did.

The plans do not allow for religious organisations in favour of change to conduct gay marriages.

The Church says the role of Anglican clergy to perform marriages for any parishioner who wanted one might disappear, undermining the Church of England's role as the state church.

The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said the Church was "trying to uphold a traditional of teachings and understandings about marriage" at a time when "many marriages are in difficulty".

"It's very unlikely that, in just a few weeks, a new, universally-acceptable definition of a fundamental social institution can emerge overnight like this," he told Today.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, meanwhile, accused the Church of England of a "masterclass in melodramatic scaremongering that somehow this is the biggest upheaval since the sacking of monasteries".

He told Today there was "no evidence whatsoever that people will take legal cases against the Church of England" because "the opportunity to sue someone if they don't provide a wedding of your choosing" already existed in law.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people who get remarried everywhere and the churches already say we will not carry out such weddings.

"If there were lawyers and, indeed, excited claimants who wanted to take such a legal case, they would have already been taken in that context," he added.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, meanwhile, said the government's proposals only concerned civil marriages in registry offices and would have "no impact on faith organisations or places of worship".

The Home Office said it had made it clear that "no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages as a result of our proposals".

The Home Office's consultation paper proposes:

  • to allow same-sex couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony
  • to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage
  • to allow people to stay married and legally change their gender
  • to maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service

Source: Home Office consultation paper

"We welcome the Church of England's response and we will be carefully considering all points of view before publishing the outcome of the consultation later in the year," a spokesman said.

In April, prominent Church of England figures wrote an open letter to the Times newspaper saying the Church had "nothing to fear" from the prospect of gay marriage.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales, meanwhile, has urged people to sign an online petition organised up by the Coalition for Marriage.

More than 550,000 people have so far signed the petition set up by the "umbrella group of individuals and organisations in the UK that support traditional marriage and oppose any plans to redefine it".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    Forget their posturing - the curch only 'owns' marriage if the people say so. Let's make marriage a humanist ceremony to include everybody (with all the traditional trimmings if that's what people want), and leave the church in the past where it seems to want to stay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    The Christian church does not own marriage, if the church feels it is being undermined by the state introducing changes to what constitutes marriage , the church should feel free to step down as the official state religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    I dont know why we give the 70 year old male virgins in frocks any say over who can marry or indeed any say over our laws in the UK. Marriage was a ceremony between people who want to commit to each other long before the church hijacked it and cashed in on it. Bring on full equality please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    What a ridiculous argument - gay couples should not be allowed to get married because it's a religious ceremony. Religion is a creation of man. There is no doubt about it. Marriage is a human tradition and part of society. Everyone should be allowed to marry. Furthermore it might show some religious extreme countries like Uganda it is ok to be gay and for once the Church might do some good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    It is distressing and ugly to see the church peddling intolerance, discrimination and hate towards anyone.

    If the church taught Jesus teachings of love, tolerance, non judgement, helping others then the churches would be thriving rather than being bitter and fearful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    Marriage is a religious institution; the government have no right to attempt to redefine it blasphemously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    It is not the governments place to interfere in religious ceremonies. Marriage is a first and foremost a function of the church, uniting two people in the name of God, NOT the state!

    Civil partnerships allow the union of a homosexual couple, I'm afraid all we're seeing here is yet another vote winning exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    We already have two types of marriage; civil and religious. All we are asking is that civil marriage is opened to gay couples as well. The church seem to be being childish in their response to the proposals. So let them block gay marriage in churches ( I don't understand wanting an organisation who doesn't accept you, to perform the ceremony?) but at least allow us the right to a civil marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    Why should we be afraid of offending the Church when all the Church does is offend and outcast those who do not conform to its beliefs? Can a Registry Office refuse to marry Church members because of their religion - no. So why should a Church be able to refuse to marry any couple purely based on sexuality? Religion is more of a choice than sexuality is after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 668.

    Some of the comments I've read on here are truly abhorrent and hurtful.
    Comparing gay marriage to people marrying their pets, that because gay people can't conceive they shouldn't be allowed to marry, etc.

    Marriage is about love and love only. Not your sexual orientation, the colour of your hair, the colour of your skin, your height, etc..

    It's the 21st century, stop descriminating people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    So many bad religions lol
    So why have they nearly all survived 2000+ years

    They haven't.
    You may as well say murder, rape and theft etc are right because they have been with us longer than any religion. Oh and btw - homesexuality predates any religion as it is implicit in our species.

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    Most anti gay marriage people don't go to church and only quote the Bible at their convenience

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    Once again major coverage being provided to a bunch of irrelevant medieval witch doctors frightened to death that the world has moved on and we're no longer in the middle ages. Time for the debate to start about how we, as a secular state, reduce the influence of all of these religious bodies of every denomination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    The church's position is untenable. They have thousands of gay clergy, yet they're allowed to discriminate and make judgements about how other people should live.

    They really are turning people off from religion with this hypocritical stance on this issue. Someone should point out the year to them, and then point out the theory of equality.

    Gay people are everywhere, get over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    Be interesting to see how hard the government push this in the Muslim church. Not exactly known for their open tolerance to homosexuals, are they.

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.

    I see the gay lobby are out in force as usual. Look up the word marriage in a dictionary if you want to know it's meaning. Other groups should find their own words, institutions and ceremonies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    @penguin337 #548: "Although any religion sanctifying marriages which cannot reproduce is going to struggle a bit"

    I thought religion was about seeking ultimate truth or a relationship with a loving deity, not a competition to breed more impressionable offspring you can indoctrinate before they're old enough to critically assess its claims for themselves… :-/

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    Religious marriage is an archaic means of maintaining male domination and the suppression of women to mere property. Modern marriage is about loving, caring, sharing and lifelong companionship between equals of whatever sexual orientation. Religious marriage should be downgraded to an option for those who are religious and for whom equality is less important than faith.

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    556. walnutandcoffeecake
    As a Church of England Vicar I look forward to the day when I will be able to marry gay couples. The marriage service celebrates faithful, committed and loving relationships and should be open to all those willing and free to make a life long commitment to each other before God.

    And this is exactly the sort of stance a true, accepting Christian would have. I applaud you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 658.

    I'm hardly surprised that the bigots have come out in force here and sensationalised on what in reality is nothing to do with them. Rather than those that read the first few lines and think they have enough information to really to put across a valid point, the article says: This will not force religious institutions to marry, in fact it maintains that law, all it does is allow for CIVIL marriage.


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