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 182.

    It is not true that the Church of England will not be able to "opt-in" to same-sex marriage. It is simply true that the Church of England will not be able to opt in under the currently proposed legislation. It would be able to opt in by a Measure of the General Synod, which would have the same force as an Act of Parliament, and could therefore amend the currently proposed legislation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Richard A G Gibbs

    You can’t expect a golf club (Church) to allow tennis matches (Gay or Lesbian) on their greens !"

    True, but Golf Clubs are banned in law from preventing anyone from playing 'golf' based on sexual orientation!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    We MUST end this last piece of blatant state discrimination. It's outrageous that opposite sex couples can marry, with all the legal implications, but same sex couples cannot. Outrageous.

    If religions choose to opt in or out, frankly I don't care. The civil law MUST apply to everyone equally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Ala Monaco why not require a civil ceremony to make a marriage legal?

    You could still have a church wedding but it has no legal standing.
    That would cut down on some couples costs as church weddings can take on a life and expense of their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I pity Justin Welby. It's going to be difficult for him to make the CoE not seem like a load of bigots who can't come into the 21st century becuase the majority of people in the Church of England are not homophobic and may even support gay marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.


  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Where do the CofE stand on blokes marrying ladyboys? I mean, they have the male kit but take female hormones, its all very confusing when people mess with nature's order...

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.


    Read the statement again... my clear implication is that it can only have been through incestuous relations between Adam and Eve's offspring.

    However, I actually don't believe that we started with 2 fully-formed human beings created by an invisible magician. Again, I thought this to be obvious from my attack on the premise above.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    At last the Government have made a sensible and correct decision> Marriage is an act for 1 man and 1 lady joined in matrimony

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    In this nine-hundred word article, God was not mentioned once. Has anyone else considered whether He wants same-sex marriage? After all, His is the only relevant opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Religion is a delusion. God does not exist. These books where written, and then later augmented, by very narrow minded people, decades after the purported events allegedly took place.
    As to why gays are religious; they have been indoctrinated just like anyone else most likely, and of course they fear death. Outgrow, or educate people away form these things and the world will be better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    The Left do of course have to keep bashing the Church of England in this matter in order to hide the fact that throughout history virtually all societies, both atheistic and religious haven't allowed marriage between homosexuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    I'm not interested in the church at all, so couldn't care less either way.

    However, on a linguistic point, the fact that someone understands a word, say "marriage", to mean what it has meant for centuries doesn't necessarily make that person homosceptic, any more than considering oneself "English" makes one a europhobe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Thanks BBC for openin up comments. I'm just gonno grab some popcorn...

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    30 Minutes ago
    Could someone explain the Church stance on Gay Funerals please?


    Strictly cremation only, in preparation for the fires below.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    The person that thinks this is a homophobe issue just does not understand the argument against gay marriage. This is not about being against gay couples at all. There are some serious canon law problems that would need addressing and of course the good old european rights legislation to contend with if our MP's get their way and jump on the pc bandwagon of pandering to the minority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Its true that this is a strange time to be going an extra mile on this, its hardly as if the gov was casting around for things to do. The basic inequality issue had been dealt with as civil partnership gave equality before the law so why devote time to this now. It can't be because of the numbers, those involved are a very small group. So why - I could take a guess.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    138 RC

    Very droll...but you don't explain how Adam and Steve made it to 7 billion people either. Did they demand equal adoption rights or something? ;-)

    140 Sam Tan - aren't you getting confused a bit about minorities. I'd have a small bet that there are actually more CoE church attenders than there are gays in the wider country.

  • Comment number 164.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    43. Ointment
    "One rule for CofE marriages and another for civil marriages looks like another step towards disestablishment."

    I wish this was so but I think your conclusion is wrong. It looks more like a way of strengthening establishment by exempting the CofE and making it have a "special" status. i.e. exempt from equality laws.


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