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 1297.

    I personally wouldn't like to have a both parents the same gender - in my opinion child should have at list one mother and one father. And now everything is about a church and meaning of marriage (which is important as well, but church is disappointing saving just own position) but why we are not speaking as well about the harm which can be done by giving the children to thesamegender couples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1296.

    The CoE tries to maintain it's position as having a political mandate on how the country is governed. It is now time to move towards a secular state with the CoE dropped from the political arena with the reformation of the Lords, then if Archbishops or any other member of the clergy wanted to sit the should stand for election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1295.

    1257.dont_mince_it - How do you know? Because you read it in a book? I have read books and seen cave paintings that seem to indicate we were seeded here by an off World race of entities, now they may have been hermaphrodites for all we know.

  • Comment number 1294.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1293.

    Since when does one religion own the concept of marriage, tell me, when did the church of England, established in 1594, come up with a concept that is as old as civilisation itself? marriage is not a christian concept and you have no rights to claim ownership of it. the bible and UK law are not one and the same this is a democracy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1292.

    So is Christian faith about the teachings of Christ as told in the Bible or about the insitution of the church??

    What one can find in the Bible helps quite well to make up ones own mind on marriage.

    This above comment of "the church" is not about biblical teaching, it's about them being afraid to lose influence & power- an age old story.

    Do people really understand the difference??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1291.

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

    Good! Why do we want such a bigoted, abusive organisation to have any kind of status? This is a morally abhorrent and disgusting position for anyone to take, especially people who lecture the rest of us on our behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1290.

    I am truly disgusted by the hateful, prejudiced and utterly UN-CHRISTIAN nature of many of the anti-gay posts on here. You people are an absolute disgrace to your religion, to modern society and to your beloved Jesus who would be appalled by you.

    It is this simple: Religious people get no say in other peoples' lives. We're not interested in hearing your opinion. Butt out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1289.

    Marriage is nothing to do with the Christian church, or religion in general. The civil principles of marriage pre-date any religious ceremony, so the church should keep it's nose out of other people's business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1288.

    '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' - but there is no ban on infertile, or old, hetrosexual couples marrying, so this argument falls flat. It sounds to me like elements within the church are looking for reasons to justify their stance, rather than using reason to inform their views.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1287.

    The message is clear, if you want God - go direct!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1286.

    Minerve ranted:
    "There is no such thing as 'Equality', the sooner we except this the better! Don't you gays get it? The church 'DOES NOT BELIEVE IN GAY MARRIAGE!'. Go and create your own religion and build your own churches... Go and create your own club!"

    I think we're all agreed that we don't want to join your club, dear. We just want your Club to keep its nose out of our society!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1285.

    The comments from the church are unhelpful. Marriages between men and women fail quite frequently with the people having affairs or deciding that their, "til death do us part," doesn't suit them any more.
    Marriage is fundamentally about the commitment of two people to love and respect each other for life. Same sex couples should be as free to make this commitment as opposite sex couples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1284.

    I find this inconsistency over marriage a bit odd. This goes back to allowing illegitimate offspring into the church and them getting married. Previously the illegitimate were banned. If they can be that flexible over a potential revenue stream why all this sound and fury now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1283.

    surely this statement by the church of england constitutes blackmail and isnt that against the law ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1282.

    A lot of people here are openly criticising the Christian Church for it's stance, but I see little criticism of other religions who have the same stance. Perhaps those pushing for change should try changing muslim's perceptions of marriage, or perhaps jews?

    In the Christian Church the bible clear states (Genesis 2:23-24) that marriage is the joining of a MAN and a WOMAN as one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1281.

    We could remind the church of all the different forms marriage which predate the current.
    We could mention how little homosexuality is addressed in the bible. (About 3 lines right?)
    Or show an books worth of quotes of jesus pushing equality.
    We could remind the church that they dont get to make law.
    But why bother? Give them all the consideration they deserve and completely ignore them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1280.

    Under socialism there will be no marriage: there will be a union of all sharing with all, free love for everyone, unspoilt by property relationships. Capitalism is collapsing, soon we can create new communal expressions of love. As the socialists chant on their demonstrations: 'What do we want? Socialism!. When do we want it? Now?'

  • rate this

    Comment number 1279.

    a civil union provides all the same rights as marriage apart from allowing your spouse to take on a title (a few other small things as well).

    so if a man becomes a lord, it is about time that his husband can become lady?

    (this comment is meant to be funny)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1278.

    Lets get this clear, this has nothing to do with legal rights etc or discrimination. This is about a redefinition, something which has minimal perceived benefits, so can easily been seen as a potential encroachment of religious tolerance. The CoE do raise a valid point when they say this could open a can of worms. It could lead future to lawsuits, as CoE will have to treat "marriages" different.


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