Gay marriage: Roman Catholic archbishops step up fight


Archbishop Peter Smith: "For thousands of years marriage has always been between a man and a woman"

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The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is intensifying its campaign against the government's plan to legalise same-sex marriage.

In a letter being read in 2,500 parish churches, the Church's two most senior archbishops say the change would reduce the significance of marriage.

The letter says Roman Catholics have a duty to make sure it does not happen.

The government wants to introduce gay marriage by 2015, but says churches would not have to perform weddings.

Last week Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said the "grotesque" plans would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world" if implemented.

And on Friday, in a speech to visiting US bishops, Pope Benedict XVI warned of "powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage", in the wake of the US states of Washington and Maryland legalising same-sex marriage.


David Cameron has given his personal backing to plans to introduce gay marriage.

But there are signs that the barrage of protest might be having an effect on ministers.

The Catholic journal The Tablet reports that the question of whether gay marriage should be allowed at all will now be included in the government's public consultation on the issue expected shortly.

Previously the consultation was to have been more about how it would be introduced.

A change of heart - if there has been one - might be based on a look at opinion outside the churches too.

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

The letter by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, and Archbishop Peter Smith - the Archbishop of Southwark - tells Catholics that changing the nature of marriage would be a "profoundly radical step" that would reduce its effectiveness and significance.

In one passage the archbishops write: "There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children.

"Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible."

They also add that changing the law would "gradually and inevitably transform society's understanding of the purpose of marriage.

"There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children."

The letter ends by telling Catholics they have a "duty to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations".

'Measured language'

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says Archbishop Nichols - the Archbishop of Westminster - has a record of mobilising the faithful.

To many Christians, while a civil partnership confers all the legal rights of marriage, a church wedding is a mystical event, the making of promises before God in a sacred setting, endowing the relationship with a special "blessed" quality, our correspondent says.

Start Quote

We're sure most churchgoers will be as opposed to their leaders on this issue as they are on birth control”

End Quote Ben Summerskill Stonewall

He adds that the letter is couched in "measured language" but it is intended to rally Catholics against the changes.

The leader of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, has said the law should not be used as a tool to bring about such social changes such as gay marriage, and may turn out to be ahead of majority opinion.

And the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, opposes gay marriage but supports civil partnerships, which he says have addressed the injustices faced by same-sex couples.

"There's a difference - and people don't these days want to talk about difference - there's a difference between a civil partnership and marriage, and that difference doesn't mean one is better than another, but they're different."

Lib Dem support

Ben Summerskill, from the lesbian and gay charity Stonewall, said most people who heard the letter would ignore its contents.

"It's a shame Catholic church leaders are so deeply opposed to a 21st-century balance of rights that they're not reading out letters about serious issues such as the Aids crisis in Africa or the 2.5 million children who live in poverty in this country.

"We're sure most churchgoers will be as opposed to their leaders on this issue as they are on birth control," he said.

Mark Dowd, from the group Quest, which represents lesbian and gay Catholics, said the archbishops were out of touch as other countries had begun to make changes.

"Probably the Archbishop resembles King Canute standing on the shores with the waves coming in. It's really a question of the tide of history turning and there's very little that can be done about it."

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat spring conference, the party's leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg gave his support to gay marriage, saying the "freedom to love who you choose is a fundamental right in a liberal society".

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone will launch a consultation later this month on how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples. She has said she wants to challenge the view that the government does not have the right to change marriage traditions.

The Catholic journal The Tablet reports that the question of whether gay marriage should be allowed at all will be included in the consultation.

The Scottish government has held a consultation process north of the border and received more than 50,000 responses.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1272.

    1201. bothfeet
    social stability is best served by reserving marriage for heterosexual couples. The rest must be content with civil union. Britain doesn't need the social chaos of redefined marriage."


    And yet, the countries that have had gay marriage for years have not fallen apart or become unstable. Funny that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1271.

    1258. Good point.

    We also shouldn't forget the same Abrahamic scriptures we are debating here are also responsible for the death penalty for homosexuality in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Nigeria, Mauritania.

    The church's dogmatic morality is nothing but an empty bag.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1270.

    The rights and wrongs of gay marriage argument is no longer significant. The hate on display on this forum to fellow British people is quite simply shocking and scary. The real issue is the intolerance towards people of faith, which goes WAY beyond any sentiments expressed against homosexuals.

  • Comment number 1269.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1268.

    @1206 'fascinated123'.
    Excellent post. Indeed marriage is a civil, legal matter in the UK and should remain so. If you believe in your own god/s - then fair enough. I fail to see why anyone's sexual orientation should be treated as an anathema.

    I think murder, drug dealing, stabbings, rape, robbing old people in their homes and abuse in care homes are real crimes - to name but a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1267.

    religions are archaic means of population control through fear and lies. just like governments. They both destroy lives through wars and persecution spreading hate. pay no heed to either, do what you want so long as it harms no other living thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1266.

    Marriage, as the West knows it, isn't mentioned in the Bible. What is mentioned is a Marriage Feast as a celebration of the agreed time by extended families that a male/female betrothed start a lifetime together with the fruit being the children.

    Gays cannot create children (but no doubt scientists are working on it) so a gay 'marriage' is null and void from the onset.

  • Comment number 1265.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1264.

    @1216. Doctor Bob
    ''word has it that the old chap up there is slightly higher in the power structure''
    Can you prove that there is an 'old chap' up there? If not please keep you fairy stories to yourself.
    Everyone has the right to be deluded but they mustn't impose their delusional thinking on anyone else.
    If I'm going to hell I don't think I'll be lonely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1263.

    This argument is about as important as whether somebody dislikes Marmite or not. As long as there is no violence or force involved they can think what they want. In a free society I shall decide which lifestyle suits me better or not. Come judgement day I can't wait to give him a piece of my mind. What a shame I will be disappointed! Marriage you can keep it and it's a Woodland burial for me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1262.

    #894, I think you will find that gay activists are just pushing for the same basic human rights as are enjoyed by the rest of us, including state recognition of the fact that they are in a loving relationship.

    It sounds to me as if you are the person advocating a ban for anything which doesn't fit in with your (narrow minded) view of right and wrong.
    A secular society is the way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1261.

    Marriage as we now understand it in "the West" has only existed since the mid 16th century when the Church's carved out a formal role for themselves, previously Church's could record marriages but this was voluntary. All it took to get married was two willing partners. The Church became involved partly to stop arranged marriages. It developed more every century since to keep up with society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1260.

    Why cant the 3 main parties be honest on this subject instead of trying to win votes.

    There is nothing they can do on this subject even if they wanted to.

    They know this or if not they their research.

    The BBC should also know this and spell it out to clarify the situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1259.

    Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky announces intention to resign from commission to look into British Bill of Rights

    I wait with baited breath

  • rate this

    Comment number 1258.

    10 countries around the world have marriage equality!! The fabric of their societies have not collapsed. Children still grow up in loving homes.

    So what is the church really scared of here, since their claims of the harm marriage equality will do to society have not come true in ANY of those 10 countries. Equal treatment in the eyes of the law is never a bad thing

  • rate this

    Comment number 1257.

    Understandably, the catholic church would be against gay marrige for moral reasons. It would be bizzare if they were supporting it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1256.

    The world is waking up to the manipulation of religions. The bible is so contradictory that you can do just about anything and find justification for it, including war, slavery and selling your children. It is no accident that they choose to control your sex drive, for when they do that, the rest of your personality is easy to conquer. Biggest hypnotic induction in the world is "Let us pray".

  • rate this

    Comment number 1255.

    And your proof or evidence to back this statement is where?

    Shall we look to the legal system for the many cases where priests have used their power to "do what they want" and abuse children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1254.

    What gets me is that people are still concerned and worried about what the RC or any church has to say. These people follow the ways of an invisible man, follow rules and commandments created by men that knew nothing of a scientific matter, and control the highest percentage of child molesters in the world (and get away with it) yet have the 'right' to claim this is wrong... Ironic eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1253.

    Why on earth does anyone care what these fruitcakes believe. I d rather ask my cat.


Page 41 of 104


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