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 222.

    The Bible is explicit in its view on relationships between two people of the same sex it is forbidden. Therefore any church (of any denomination) to say its ok are total hypocrites. You cannot call yourself a Christian Priest or follower if you condone such relationships nor for that matter if you condone relationships between man and woman outside of the marriage or pre-marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Not that long ago interracial marriages were also frowned upon. We look back on those times now, and shake our heads.

    Tears all fall the same. We all feel the rain. Keep fighting.


    A straight-but-not-narrow ally

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    I am a Church of England vicar.
    I am 100% in favour of equal marriage.

    So the established church will be barred from conducting ceremonies which state registrars will be obliged to conduct ???

    And, personally, I am very, very sad that the so-called 'official' statements of the CofE, which frankly have been unrepresentative to the point of being lies, have been taken on board by the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    I would have thought the government had enough to keep it occupied with the economy, employment, healthcare, education, policing, defence, trade, national security, the environment, childcare, care of the elderly, homelessness and a hundred other more important issues.

    And why are comments that I rate positively counted as the opposite and vice-versa? Does HYS have a bug?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    I think it is time for the church of England to be disestablished and the Bishops removed from the house of lords. How can we allow Bishops to sit in Parliament when they no longer reflect the views of the majority of British people. Whether that be on gay marriage or women bishops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    It should be up to the CoE to decide if it wants to do it, just as it should be up to everyone else to be able to marry whoever they want outside of the CoE. To BAN them from doing so is stupid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    This means another nail in the coffin for the two big English religions as they move further and further way from mainstream society and become a bigger and bigger irrelevance. As supported by the census results reported elsewhere. If you take away the disappointment that some gay couples might feel, it is otherwise excellent news further supporting Bishops having no voice in the upper house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Politics and religion DO NOT MIX.... Look at Northern Ireland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Why are people bleating on about "The definition of marriage"

    I always thought (back in the day) that marriage was defined as when a woman stopped being the property of her Father and now became the property of her Husband.

    I assume we are all in agreement that this definition has finally changed? Maybe, just maybe, it's time for another change of definition

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Personally I feel the same way - I joyfully attended a friends 'troth plighting' to a same sex partner a decade ago.But that's not how the majority see it

    The campaign for gay marriage, as I have witnessed it, has been an assault on the concept held by the majority to fit the wants of a vocal well connected metrosexual minority who show only elitist contempt for the wishes of others

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    So the church will be protected and not forced to do something they do not want to do. Yet they still protest that gay marriage is wrong and can't even drag themselves to this compromise. After the debacle of not allowing women priests too, it seems the CofE is determined to further prove it is totally unfit for modern society and needs seperate mg from state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Time to shut down all religious buildings.
    If people want to pray to an imaginary friend,then let them do it in their own homes.
    I have no time for the intolerance and bigotry of the religious crowd.
    As for gay marrige,well,if that's what couples want,there should be no bar to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I'm fed up of this - there are far more important issues affecting far more people that need dealing with - drug laws for a start!

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I am a gay man and also in no way do I support or believe in religion and that is my own personal choice. However, I do not disrespect the choice of others when it comes to religion or marriage.

    To me, marriage is bond of love for each other not a bond to religion and a registry office would suffice me quite happily. Equality is recognising gay marriage in law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    176.scobra - its all very confusing when people mess with nature's order
    Oh, very enlightened. No more IVF for straight infertile couples, no more corrective surgery, no more medical interventions, no more providing food to people who live in famine ravished land, need I go on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Whoa now hang on!

    I can understand and even respect that no one or no organisation should be "compelled to marry same sex couples".

    But to outlaw?! That flies in the face of discrimintation. This should be down to the discretion of the minster surley!

    I'm a Christian and I openly support gay marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    I really don't understand this crap about equal rights? you are talking about changing the belief structure of an institution by proxy. Its wrong and I will forever be against gay marriage when there is a civil partnership that grants all the same laws as marriage! How dare you try and force a change in a belief system that is separate from the government just because you are having a HISSY FIT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    There is a God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Just now
    Huge distraction measures are working, pretending religion is the issue. The word married means man and woman end of story,


    Which dictionary is that definition from?

    Or is it your own special, magic dictionary where words mean what you want them to?

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Politicians have an incredible way of finding brand new ways to upset / offend / alienate as many people as possible with a single policy.

    Either have the policy or don't. This 'matrix' policy is absurd. I guarantee in the next few months there will be almost daily disputes regarding if other religions 'explicitly state opposition' as well.

    A typical politician's cowardly approach to policy.


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