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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  • Comment number 697.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 696.

    I am not religious , i don't go to church and i don't believe in any religions. But gay marriage however or wherever it is conducted, is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 695.

    The state only got involved in marriage in 1753. The state can call whatever it wants marriage (I hear in Yemen there was a marriage between a man and a goat!) but that doesn't change the church's definition - we'll just operate outside of state control like we did pre-1753. The state may not recognize "irregular" marriage but who cares - it's not their creation, it's not us that's moved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    I've not seen one decent argument against gay marriage. It will have no effect on other people's lives. You can't quote scripture as you are cherry picking rules to suit your argument and ignoring others. The only true way of saving sanctity of marriage is to ban divorce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 693.

    I believe that gay people should be able to marry. Now the controversial bit. The meaning and origin of marriage has been lost somewhat in modern day. Marriage is a religious ceremony. If a religion believes gay people may not marry it is up to them. You may think this belief is stupid (as I do) but if the government do not like it they do not have the right to change religious tradition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 692.

    I don't see why any taxpayer should be denied a public service which [out of the church] marriage no doubt is.

    CoE on the other hand should be stripped it's special status, converted to a charity and taxed on common basis.

  • Comment number 691.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 690.

    you have to wonder why the church has dwindelling numbers, by refusing gay people to attend church is wrong, people with faith for the church should be allowed to pray. would the church ban a gay vicar from preaching, its just incorrect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    "Just now
    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."

    Nor is the CoE according to this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    Reading below from a lot of hateful and ignorant bigots, can only say, thankfully your bible thrashing days of what your 'PERSONAL VERSION' of religion is dying out and one day we will be in a world without hateful and spiteful people like yourselves.We are meant to be caring and looking after each other. remember that thing in the bible judge not let lest ye be judged? do you speak for God? NO

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    Gay marriage ? Its wrong and against the rules of NATURE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    #519.We _Are_All_Utd
    "And let Religion bashing commence...

    This thread will be like an episode of 'The Big Questions'. One day a heck of a lot of people are going to be proved wrong; it'll be mighty interesting to see which way."

    No, it cannot be proved. That's the beauty of religion. Opium of the masses who drink it and power for the drug-pusher clergy. Govts and capitalists love it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    576.chiptheduck - Very strange for an organisation that worships a guy who went around with 12 male friends'
    Matthew 8:14 Your point?
    The reason WHY Jesus taught 12 men was to deprogramme what they had been taught by the Pharisees concerning women and their roles. Jesus' example to women was one of respect and not one of hindrance or insecurity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    Okay, couple of suggestions:

    Anti-theists, either stop claiming to be atheists or stop bashing religion as a 'fairy tale' etc. Fighting intolerance with insults is like throwing petrol on a fire and expecting it to go out.

    Theists, it was specifically stated that this is a civil matter, not religious. Bible-specific opinion here is tantamount to 'I don't like it so you can't have it'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    I wonder what the separation rate for gay & lesbian civil partnerships is? If it's high then their call for equality in marriage would be undermined. However, divorce is all too common and perhaps the question should be why society is creating life-long relationships that benefit us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    "Maybe religions are giving people something they can view as sensible and sustainable through the millenia of history"

    I think that's basically *all* they're for. And that's fine. Faith can be a rock. Unfortunately, organised religion leaves people open to manipulation. The modern religious intolerance comes from the States; it is not something that is "common sense" to most UK people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    I was born and raised an Anglican Christian and definitely believe in God and the Christian values of love.
    I've broken away from the Church of England until they respect the rights of gay people. Denying them marriage is not a loving thing to do. God made everyone, and that means he made gay people too. God told us to love everyone, and that means gay people too. What they say saddens me so much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 680.

    Marriage is a commitment between one man and one woman for life. It symbolises the pure relationship between Christ and His true followers. Any gay relationship is an abomination according to the Bible. But, yes there is forgiveness for those who repent and trust in Christ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    The funny thing is, all this church bashing is in the bible, and is a significant sign of the second coming. I congratulate you all in partaking in this prophesy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    It is only when somebody actually questions why you have to sit at the back of the bus and then actually goes and sits at the front of the bus that an idea (and human rights) can move forward.


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