Gay marriage to be illegal in Church of England


Culture Secretary Maria Miller wanted ''fairness to be at the heart of the proposals''

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The Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from offering same-sex marriages, the government has announced.

Other religious organisations will be able to "opt in" to holding ceremonies, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said.

But she added that the Church of England and Church in Wales had "explicitly" stated strong opposition and would not be included.

Labour said the exemption for the established Church was "disappointing".

The plans are due to be introduced before the next election, in 2015.

Labour backs the government's decision to legislate on same-sex marriages, which will apply to England and Wales, and urged ministers not to be "too reserved" in promoting the policy.

Party leader Ed Miliband suggested that Labour votes would "ensure that this measure is passed in the House of Commons".

The Church of England and Roman Catholics, among other denominations, have voiced opposition to same-sex marriage and are expected to oppose the bill, even with its caveats.


Although Culture Secretary Maria Miller has stressed the government's determination to press ahead with this plan for gay marriage, she has unveiled a series of legal concessions.

The upshot of that, it seems to me, is that only a very small number of churches or establishments are likely to be available to same-sex couples for wedding ceremonies.

That will undoubtedly appease many of her critics, particularly on her own backbenches.

The danger with the explicit legal ban on same sex marriage in the Church of England and Church in Wales, is it will anger many supporters of gay marriage who feel she has given far too much ground.

But some religious groups, including Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism, are in favour.

In her statement, Mrs Miller promised a "quadruple lock" to protect religious freedom, involving:

  • No religious organisation or individual minister being compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises
  • Making it unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation's governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so
  • Amending the 2010 Equality Act to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple
  • The legislation explicitly stating that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply

Mrs Miller said the Church of England and Church in Wales had "explicitly stated" their opposition to offering same-sex ceremonies, so the government would "explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples".

She also said: "I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which would allow that.

"European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional 'quadruple legal lock'. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so."

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, welcomed the announcement, saying: "We should not stop people from getting married and getting that recognition from the state on grounds of gender or sexuality.

"And we should not here in Parliament say that some loving relationships have greater value than others."

Plans to legalise same-sex marriage have divided the Conservative Party and more than 100 Tory MPs are thought to be against the idea.

Religious freedom

One of these opponents, Peter Bone, asked the Commons: "How dare the secretary of state try to redefine marriage?"

Richard Drax said: "I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?"

Another, Sir Tony Baldry, who speaks for the Church of England in Parliament, said: "For the Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it does embody the distinctiveness of men and women.

"So removing from the definition of marriage this complementarity is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged."

From the Commons

Some Conservative MPs grumbled during Mrs Miller's statement that promises to "preserve" marriage had been broken.

They said that when civil partnerships became law, they had been reassured that same sex marriages would not follow.

A look back at the Commons Hansard, from the second reading of the Civil Partnership Bill, on 12 October 2004, provides some evidence for their claims.

Labour's Chris Bryant, a vocal supporter of same-sex marriages, told the Commons eight years ago that he didn't want "same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any sense".

The then equality minister, Labour's Jacqui Smith, said she recognised that people felt "very strongly about specific religious connotations of marriage". She said the government was right to take a "secular approach to resolve the specific problems of same-sex couples".

Her then Conservative shadow, Alan Duncan, who is now a minister in the coalition government, said it would be up to churches to decide what happened in future on the issue of same-sex marriages.

"The clear distinction between a civil secular partnership and the institution of marriage will, in my view, be preserved," he said.

The Catholic Church stepped up its opposition, accusing ministers of ignoring a 600,000-signature petition supporting the status quo.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, and Archbishop Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark, said opponents of gay marriage should lobby MPs "clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others".

In a statement, they said: "The meaning of marriage matters. It derives that meaning from its function as the foundation of the family.

"The union of one man and one woman for love and mutual support and open to procreation has over the centuries formed a stable unit we call the family."

But the Archbishop of Wales said that making it illegal for the Church in Wales to offer same-sex marriages would be a "step too far".

"In my personal opinion it's a great pity it's illegal for us not to even have the possibility to do it," said Dr Barry Morgan. "It should be left for us to opt in or opt out."

The Bishop of Leicester, the right reverend Tim Stevens, warned the issue was creating a division between the political classes and practising religious people.

He spoke out against the government's proposals in the House of Lords and said ministers needed to work towards a consensus on the matter.

But former bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said in response that a "fair number" of serving bishops supported gay marriage but were unable to say so publicly.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that he believed same-sex marriages should be allowed in churches - but only if there was a "100%" guarantee that no church, synagogue or mosque would be forced to hold one against their wishes.

A number of other senior Tories, including Education Secretary Michael Gove, London Mayor Boris Johnson and former Prime Minister John Major, have also backed same-sex marriage by religious bodies.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights organisation Stonewall, said: "We're delighted about the government's statement today and welcome the promise to legislate for equal marriage as warmly as on the three previous occasions that this announcement has been made.

"We're particularly pleased that ministers have been persuaded to extend their original proposal in order to permit same-sex marriages for those religious denominations that wish to hold them. This is an important matter of religious freedom."

'Husband' and 'wife'

The consultation on plans for same-sex marriage received 228,000 submissions.

In its response to the consultation the government says it has no plans to change the definition of adultery or non-consummation of a marriage - which means neither could be cited as grounds for divorce in a same-sex marriage, unless the adultery was with someone of the opposite sex.

Rev Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, described the proposals as "disastrous"

They also dismiss the fear that the terms "husband" and "wife" could be removed as a result of same sex marriages.

The government says: "That is not the case - on the contrary these proposals will allow more people to use those terms.

"Couples will continue to be able call each other whatever they wish in their personal life, and in legal and official documents, the terms husband and wife will continue to be used."

They also say that teachers "particularly in faith schools will be able to continue to describe their belief that marriage is between a man and woman whilst acknowledging and acting within the new legislative position which enables same sex-couples to get married".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    So Matron Miller does the bidding of the Bullingdon puppetmasters and caves in to the bigots. Hardly a surprise, hardly news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Whilst personally I have no problem with gay marriage I fail to see how the church can condone it. I'm not religious, but since the church believes the Bible is the word of GOD, no less, and it says homosexuality is wrong then, the CoE would essentially be saying they know better than God if they approved it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Marriage does not belong to CofE so the government should stop allowing CofE defining marriage. All marriages should be approved by the registry office as matter of civil events. Therefore CofE can do whatever they want but all their church weddings should not be regarded as legal binding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Try substituting "Black" for "Gay" - Gay is no more a choice than skin colour - why do we allow this discrimination to go on - why do these people supposedly religious people care who does what to whom anyhow? as long as people are adults and consent - then why should it be anyone elses business?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    It seems a shame that the religious aspect of marriage must be defined by state authorities. As a contract between two individuals I can understand how the state must regulate. But as a religious sacrament it seems absurd that politicians should either ban or promote it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    It makes me so sad to think that a dear friend of mine cannot get married to someone he loves, just because that person is a man. I really don't understand homophobes at all...

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    If gay couples want to get married they can do so, they just can't demand that the service is performed by someone that doesn't want to do it. Nothing unreasonable about that. The essence of this is that religious organisations will not be prosecuted for refusing to do something that goes against their faith. Presumably most rational gays wouldn't subscribe to such faiths anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @14 "(I am, I should add, a practising Roman Catholic.)"

    Keep going, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it eventually.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Absolutely right! How much more of this "political correctness" trash must we endure before governments and peoples come to their senses. With this "anything goes" culture of complete and utter moral decline, what further depths of depravity do we have to sink to in order to appease the looney left and civil liberties groups, who should all be outlawed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    #6 KJPP, if you read the article the CofE has been campaigning to not perform gay marriage why should they want legislation to hide behind when they have made their position quite clear?
    #7 Anarcho the vast majority of people who want to get married in church want the 'pretty' churches which in the main are CofE so I doubt they will be at a disadvantage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Mr. Darcy - giving the CofE the choice would not have been forcing them.
    Denny - you beat me to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I agree, its not natural and should not be allowed in church. I have many Gay friends however I still think that pushing this into the church is the wrong thing to do.

    We will always have different people on this planet. Lets just get along and enjoy what we have now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Farce that same sex "marriages" are allowed in the first place!
    Digrace that politicians are trying to force this through parliament when there are important issues being left off the agenda!
    Churches allowed to opt out?
    So should anyone who wants to stop same sex couples staying in their bed and breakfast homes.!
    Pander to the minorities all the time?-wait for the majority to hit back!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I wish people would leave marriage alone, it's between a man and a woman. I have no problem with Gay or Lesbian coupling but call it something else eg Garried (Married) and Garriage (Marriage). I get sick of the constant errosion of so called correctness this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Gay people already have a civil partnership that gives them the same rights as staright people.

    Why on earth isn't this enough?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Good that the law protects religious bodies which do not want to carry out the marriages.
    Good that gay couples will be able to marry in churches with the church's consent.
    Crazy that the CoE should be given special treatment under law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    At last, common sense prevails!

    Freedom of speech is one thing, but the 'freedom' to impose your will on others as you see fit is no freedom at all.

    Gays have their rights, as do the religious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    2. and your evidence is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Good news, God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I am an atheist who has a number of gay friends. I cannot understand why parliament or gay people want to redefine marriage. Civil partnerships meet the needs of legal equality.

    As around 45% of marriages end in divorce why should anyone wish to enter such an unsuccessful institution! That said, I predict a far higher percentage of failed “marriages” in the gay community


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