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 857.

    808. adam
    Read 1 Corinthians Ch 6
    I prefer not to form my opinions by reading a morally reprehensible book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    A marriage needs two witnesses and a registrar to record the event to make it legal. It does not matter where it happens. SO this is not really concerned with homosexuals having a right to a legal marriage, they just want to make trouble and continue to appear as if they are victimised. Divorced people lived with a ban on church weddings and they survived with less noise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    Why don't more Christians stand up for their principles and their believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of Yahweh? According to the Bible, He is angered by gays and wants them put to death:

    If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    801.Shaunie Babes
    Then stop using it as means of name-calling heterosexuals who express their heterosexuality


    Last I checked, heterosexuality was expressed by being sexually attracted to the opposite gender.
    If that's no longer true, we really will have a population problem!

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    The CoE refuses to marry divorced people - even princes -, so why would they not be able to do the same for gay couples who love each other?
    If it leads to disestablishment, well. that happened in Wales in 1920 without destroying society there. Is England so far behind?

  • Comment number 852.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    To 796. David Traynier

    Leviticus 19:19 states :"'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

    Better not wear those poly/cotton clothes eh

    19:27 "'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

    Better not get my hair cut then.

    I guess its just easier to pick and choose what you want to follow, rather than everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    Si g , I think it should be down to the church to decide if they want to do it and if they don't it's up to them , how can we make someone do something they don't want to do it's not right if someone tried to make you do something you don't want to do you would not be very happy what every your reasons for not wanting to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    Traditional heterosexual marriage deserves to be regarded as superior to 'gay' union. It is the bedrock of our society so that children are brought into the world and grow with a father and a mother. Let gays have their civil unions but don't degrade marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    I've not been to church properly for years but their stance makes me want to start going regularly again, lets get some decent natural moral values back in this day and age without being accused of being some kind of bigot just because you oppose someone else's views and/or beliefs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    To all the priests who support gay marriage: But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. Luke 12:9

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    I am not affiliated to any organised religion. I also heartily support the freedom of any informed, consenting adult to do what they want as long as nothing is adversely affected by what they do. But isn't the idea of marriage largely for procreation purposes? Isn't a non-denominational civil service enough to satisfy both the need to feel 'married' and protect legal interests? Why more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    @ 801. Shaunie Babes

    Plainly homophobia is not and does not have to be a medical condition (what a strange idea?!).

    But here's a definition:

    ho·mo·pho·bi·a   [hoh-muh-foh-bee-uh]
    unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.

    Sums up the CoE's position quite nicely if you ask me.

    Or perhaps you can explain its reasoning?

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    The church seems to have a penchant for attempting to fight losing battles based on out-dated doctrines that are disconnected from mainstream society. I'm no theologian, but it seems to me that the church has rarely been connected with 'the people' for at least a thousand years. The only difference today is that its lack of alignment is clearer in today's technology-enabled society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    homosexuality was the reason God poured fiery sulfur on the cities, completely destroying them and all of their inhabitants. To this day, the area where Sodom and Gomorrah were located remains a desolate wasteland. Sodom and Gomorrah serve as a powerful example of how God feels about homosexuality specifically.

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    @796 David Traynier- the world would be a far better place without idiotic and facist like ideologies like yours , your comments should be posted to the police I have taken a sceen shot off your offensive and inciteful comment. idiot

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    The UK Constitution has Christian belief at its core as evidenced at the Coronation Ceremony and the nation's Jubilee Celebrations last weekend. Our most learned theologians deserve to have significant weight given to their advice. I regret that this point of view does not seem to feature in the Editor's Picks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    One wishes the Church could be less obsessed with sex and speak with the same conviction on everything from abuse of children by religious communities, poverty, etc... But, oh no - for the Church it's sex sex sex sex...

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    Marriage is principally a legal undertaking, and as such should remain secular. This is a secular country despite what our outdated constitution and unelected Prime Minister might say.

    The church can refuse to marry whoever they want, but they DON'T get to say who can or can't be married in civil ceremonies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    How does homosexual people getting married do anything to effect heterosexual people getting married? The church is yet again proving how archaic it is. If anything gay marriage should be introduced and the church abolished.


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