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 62.

    I don't understand the requirement to make this illegal in the Church of England. Since this is a strictly 'opt in' proposal then surely the churches can just opt out. There are many pro- gay marriage vicars who would preside over a gay marriage, so why this is to be made illegal confuses me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    why would same sex couple get married in a church!! the church has its religious values and principles and I think should be respected rather than altered! why would you marry in a church where yourselves disagree with christianity. I am not against same sex marriage, let them be as miserable as every couple. G Luck

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This does show the total irrelevance of the C of E and Wales. If the church was so strong it wouldn't need the law to support it. I'm disgusted that this is happening in this country in 21century. It's like something from the middle east or the medieval times. I thought this country was more advanced than this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    This blanket ban in the Church of England says one thing: there are plenty of people in the CofE who want to be able to marry gay people but the church's governing body wants to crack down on these people.

    Why not let individuals within the CofE make up their own minds? It's doing no harm. This ban is nothing less than enforced prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Being Gay is not and never has been a choice or a belief unlike religion. Equality is about saying all humans are the same. No exceptions. We would not say its ok for Blacks, Asians, the disabled, inter-racial couples (the list is endless) to have a civil ceremony but they cant have marriage so what makes this any different? Bigotry in the guise of religious freedom is still bigotry.

  • Comment number 57.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    If you don't think gay people should get married - then don't marry somebody that is the same sex as you!

    Otherwise, get on with your own life and leave everybody else to theirs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The government once again showing that it is completely out of touch with the will of the people and what is morally right. Instead they have chosen to side with a similarly privileged group of out of touch bigots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I am all for gay marriage. Let them taste the misery it brings to the rest of us. The gay people I know are way too happy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    To be honest if your church doesn't suscribe to gay marriage then why would you want to remain a member of that church - assuming you are truly religious & are not just wanting to use the chuch for a "traditional" wedding?

    If a church is bigoted enough not to want to include you in their flock then surely the right action is to look / go elsewhere?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Hooray! Common sense has at last prevailed

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Protecting religious freedom ! What is this religious freedom is it the right too hate, to degrade people by sex or if they are gay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

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

    God didn't make anyone, he/she/it doesn't exist, except in your imagination. It's about time society grew up and dealt with equality issues properly without all of this childish scaremongering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Utterly mad like everything related to the CoE, which is happy to allow people to put on disgustingly extravant display weddings which will collapse before they're paid for but discriminate against gays who may have waited years to marry. The most joyous wedding I've seen recently was between two gays who'd lived together for 17 years till their state changed the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    If everything upon this Earth was produced by God himself, then who are we to judge him? If it were not for gay people then this Planet would have double the population and double the catastrophies which includes homelessness and famine!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I am pleased that the CofE will not be allowed to marry gay people as it confirms that the Church is completely at odds with majority opinion in this country and will hasten the inevitable demise of state-sponsored religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I thought Dave was in favour of gay marriage? LOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Why would this even be a law? It's a strange kind of discrimination when you can effect the lives of others that have no effect on your own. Any persons, regardless of background, gender, sexual orientation, creed or race should be allowed to marry if they so choose.
    Writing this into law is a massive step backwards.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    If two people want to get married then their sex should be irrelevant, I wish these self righteous nosey parkers would keep their ignorant noses out of other peoples business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    One rule for CofE marriages and another for civil marriages looks like another step towards disestablishment. If the church is determined to be an anachronism, it can't expect to be integrated with the state of a country that has left it behind.


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