Church of England warning on gay marriage

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

Related Stories

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.

Analysis

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".

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    -39

    Comment number 901.

    If the Christian church rejects the teaching of the Bible what justification can it give for its existence? It is then a club for people who want to do whatever they want to do.

    The Bible is clear, marriage is, from the first, an institution for one man and one woman, for life. If you want to do something else, fine, but don't change the meaning of marriage to suit a tiny minority of society.

  • rate this
    +21

    Comment number 865.

    The Church (Catholic and Protestant) has enough problems of its own and in its own back yard, such as child abuse, failing to recognise its duty to support people in need etc. without getting involved in matters which relate to its own prejudice.
    In general the view shown by the public show support for Gay People and the view that we too are entitled exactly the same respect as straight people.

  • rate this
    +102

    Comment number 709.

    As a priest in the Church of England - and for the first time EVER - I am ashamed of the Church that I am called upon to represent in the communities where I serve.
    I dissociate myself ENTIRELY from any move to reject equal marriage within the civil context, and I hope to live long enough to Solemnise such marriages within a church liturgy, and I have made this clear in my own personal submission.

  • rate this
    +79

    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
    +44

    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.

 

Comments 5 of 14

 

More UK stories

RSS

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.