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 122.

    As predicted, Cameron has caved in to the loud lobbyists from the CofE, which will enable the Daily Fail to proclaim "a victory for common sense".

    Hoepfully one day, humans will be cured of religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    They call for marriage to be between one man and one woman, but for most of history, including explicitly in the Bible, marriage was one man many women. Or one man, one wife, many concubines.
    To say this is redefining the 'true meaning' of marriage is nonsense, it's already been redefined many times.

    The govt. should aim for secularism, no religion should play by different rules to another.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    The CofE was created out of a lack of respect for the sanctity of marriage. So what gives it the church the right to try and dictate to the rest of us who can and cant get married. When will common sence and logic trump stupid mythology?

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    i dont understand why anyone would want to marry in such a hateful establishment. people are slowly turning their backs on religion, its just a shame its not happening faster and the dear old Christopher Hitchens cant see it happening

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Homosexual relationships are unnatural and marriage should not come into it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    I have been giving Cameron the benefit of the doubt over gay marriage but no more. He is not legislating according to his beliefs, I don't think he is a homophobe, but to keep the support of MP's who should be social pariahs. Sham on him and shame on the CofE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Simply give the relationship another name - not marriage - civil partnership is fair, and fine.
    re: @95 Black has got nothing to do with it. It is still a male and a female marriage.
    The one word you never hear mentioned in these debates is biology!

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    The legal and the religious ceremonies should be unhitched.

    Every couple (of whatever permutation) should enter into (and sign for) their legal union at a civil ceremony.

    Thereafter, any religious ceremony should be simply just that; for those with religious convictions whose place or worship is prepared to offer such a ceremony.

    (PS Why do some gays worship at places that despise gays?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.


    Discriminating against someone on the grounds of their sex and/or sexuality is illegal in the UK.

    Unless, of course, you really, really, believe that it is OK to do so and have a book to "prove" your belief.

    Which makes it perfectly OK to descriminate against whoever you want. Apparently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    There is nothing homophobic about not supporting same-sex marriage. If people have feelings about another social group, they should simply be allowed the freedom to opt out, as in this case. People can then make up their own mind about which institutions they support. It is as wrong to denounce freedom of choice as it is to attack the rights of homosexuals. Business should be able to opt out too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    75. thesearejustyears

    I take it discrimination laws are meaningless guff to you then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Yes I do wonder why God made some people gay, and of course some very ignorant. Any answers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    68. dinger1
    This not only redefines 'marriage' but also 'adultery'!!!! 'husband and wife'.
    ...Oooh so, as a man - it's not adultery if I sleep with my female friend's husband. I'll bear that in mind ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    If gays wish to marry do it outside of the Church, it is an abomination in the eyes of God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    This church of OUR England had a chance of equality in the 1970's and still have not put OUR law's in place it's time to give these medieval religious organisations the boot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Such decisions should be left to the Church not Government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    #34 grumpovian - on what twisted planet does the fact that 2 people of the same sex who happen to love each other represent "moral decline" and how does wanting an end to discrimination against a group of people based purely on who they love indicate sinking into "further depths of depravity"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Same sex people should be able to enter wedlock with whom they want and where they want - it just shouldn't be called 'Marriage'. In its purest definition, marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    If the CoE or the catholic church do not want to marry same sex couples, then they should not be allowed to marry anyone at all. In many Eeropean countries, 'weddings' at church are only religious, not legally binding. if they feel unabe to comply, they should lose their licence. you cannot pick and chose!

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I really don't understand why anyone could have a problem with this ruling. If you're a member of the CoE and support gay marriage, then leave. You can found your own church with your own beliefs as has been done thousands of times in Christianity, why fight needlessly?
    Not fair to say "My beliefs are right, so you change yours" when that’s exactly what you’re doing to someone else!


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