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 1972.

    I view religion as a tacit agreement to deny reality and how the world works.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1971.

    There is a vast difference between being anti-gay and being anti-gay marriage. The vast majority of Christians love to see people discover a faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of the sexuality. That is totally different from wishing to prevent legally sanctioned same sex relationships from becoming an accepted social norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1970.

    Legal protection to spare a person the ramifications of the PRIVATE info they shared indicates Lunatics have taken over the Asylum.

    I CHOOSE to bathe in vomit and expect hero treatment or I'm known to sue into wasteland!!

    Am I your hero yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1969.

    K. O'Brien described gay marriage as grotesque. The only thing that's grotesque is that just because he's a member of the Catholic church he thinks he can decide who is a 1st class citizen and who is a 2nd class citizen who is not entitled to love his partner. Gay people pay their taxes just like straight people and should have the same rights. Whether the church gives its blessing is irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1968. will answer you doubts on anything Catholic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1967.

    It's no wonder why the Church is in such decline, they do not accept all walks of life. It is more quickly than ever before becoming a group of hate and discrimination. If they want the Church to last for a few hundred more years they will need to reinvent and accept all people. Hopefully one day we look back on this and it will be remembered beside the days of racial segregation and slavery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1966.

    19 Minutes ago
    Frank Lund ... ANYONE can take part in a Pride Parade - you don't have to produce documentary evidence of your gayness when you turn up

    Perhaps, when I have time, I'll see if I can have permission from the Police to hold a Heterosexual Pride March

  • rate this

    Comment number 1965.

    @1316 2squirrels

    I wasn't asked to 'civil union' my partner, i was asked to marry her. I am no different to every other woman out there, except I was born a lesbian. No matter how many times I tried to deny it, or change it I couldn't.
    Marriage was around in this country long before Christianity or Catholicism was. It is a legal binding not a religious one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1964.

    Some people are gay. Get over it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1963.

    When you see comments like VPL, its ok to speak out if your a minority, left wing or Politically correct.

    He/She comments on EDL. But its ok it seems to be a Welsh, Irish or Scottish Nationalist. But not to be an English Nationalist, Since the other three are left wing. Looks like the only way English will get the same rights is by force of arms or a civil war. Which will happen IMHO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1962.

    @1901 'Andrew Davis'.
    Good point. NO religion has a place in making civil laws in the UK. Been there - done that, centuries ago. It's just a shame that America, that affects so much of the world, have rich 'republicans' obsessed with using religion to garner votes, rather than paying their taxes?

    Religion is a personal matter only, and is allowed by consent in UK. Let's keep it that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1961.

    Incidentally, I wish we would stop valuing societies by how many of its members pair-bond for life. Relationships and social structures should be measured by whether they make those involved happy, whether they support children, people who are elderly or disabled. Marriage laws should be reformed since we're stuck with them, but marriage should not be seen as the greatest thing in society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1960.

    The Catholic Church does not recognise most British Marriages anyway, so why should these be any different.
    No marriage unless carried out in a Catholic Church by a Catholic Minister is lawful in the eyes of that church. Even multiple divorcees can re-marry in a Catholic Church, as long as none of the other weddings were held in one as they 'don't count' in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1959.

    I completely support the proposal of same sex marriage. However, I think that society, in the overall profit and loss of what Christianity brings, is at a huge loss as Christianity is banished from a Liberal Totalitarian Society. What follows is not Utopia. What follows is the disjointed and broken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1958.

    We are who we are. End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1957.

    I'm a gay man and I'm perfectly happy with Civil Partnership, my partner and I plan on getting 'married' in 2 years, we have been together 4 years this year. I do not see the point in changing the name to marriage, especially considering Civil Partnerships give exactly the same legal rights. I also think Civil Partnerships should be kept for gays and let us have our own institution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1956.

    Your name brings to mind the village people.
    What's your point?

    #1929 mincer.

    What's race got to do with it? I am talking about people who find the same sex attractive. That is not normal.
    #1947 perpetual bore. Paranoid?

    A that someone who does not agree with you....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1955.

    After considering the debate concerning same-sex marriage, which I think is a fantastic idea by the way, one has to ask yet again whether Christ actually wanted us to have the "Church" that we now have. He came with a very simple message: love one another. It is amazing how many rules and regulations have now been brought in by different denominations who feel that they know what is best for us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1954.

    Atheist states have persecuted gay people just as much as more religious countries so the issue isn't religious at all but about common sense. For thousands of years in every culture across the world marriage has been a union consummated by the sexual intercourse of a man and a woman, - and it's physically impossible for a gay couple to consummated their union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1953.

    Simple answer to all these secular vs religious problems: Everyone should be registered by belief system (Christian, Muslim, Non Believer etc...) and different laws enacted for each group - Simple! Then Catholics can be banned from buying contraceptives, having divorce etc... Muslims can be banned from buying acohol.. and non-believers can have a modern, secular life-style. Everyone happy!


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