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 242.

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

    You do know that you're not the only person voting at any one time don't you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    So, if I set up a Group of like minded people and, over time, develop a tradition, does that mean the law will then bend to my homophobic, sexist or racist views?

    I really don't get it. A few hundred year ago it was OK to kill those against the church, but times change. When will this message get through?

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Why would you want to get Married in a building whose congregation frown on what you do and the way you live and love? No wonder the Pews are empty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    According to the Bible adulterers must be stoned to death, as must women who cannot prove they are virgins on their wedding day.

    In insisting on 'Biblical' privilege, does the CofE also insist on virginity tests, and stoning to death those that fail it?

    Or are they simply old fashioned hypocrites hiding behind failed logic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    I don't see how the Church of England could marry two men or two women - the Bible defines marriage from human physiology and biology, not just love: The sexual union of a man and a woman, ideally for life.

    Two people may love each other, but sexual union/marriage is not always appropriate or physiologically possible (eg one already married, siblings & near relatives, or two men / two women).

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    If your heterosexual. and you wish to get married, you'll probably end up marrying a heterosexual. If your gay, and you wish to marry, you'll more than likely marry someone who is equally gay, and if the church has an issue with either, then get married somewhere else.
    What's the problem?
    Or is all this just some people trying to make a point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    No real problem with individual vicars/ministers etc being able to choose not to conduct a gay marriage as a matter of personal conscience. Not sure why entire organisations, in which there are actually very diverse views, should be exempted, and even less sure why it should be 'illegal'. Surely this turns a step forward into another grossly offensive and unjust piece of anti-gay legislation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Gay marriage,so what, if they are happy let them get married, it affects absolutely,no one, sometimes i wonder if we are still in the stone age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    I wonder what would happen to the CofE if Prince William was to decide he wants nothing to do with the organisation when he becomes king?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Just goes to show how redundant & obsolete religion is and the sooner we can be rid of all of it the better for the peace and tranquility of the planet. It also raises the point, it's time for the UK to disestablish itself from the Church & become a fully secular state without recourse to minority group unrepresentative of the general public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon faith), a eternal marriage according to doctrine is between one man and one woman, not man man or woman woman. End of argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Marriage is an antiquated concept. If I was straight I'd be campaigning for Equal Civil Partnerships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    check the plumbing, one girl one boy, its called procreation within marriage or at least a premenant relationship. What PART OF NATURE DONT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. you can be gay as you like, i dont care. Marriage is for consenting adults of the OPPOSITE sex

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Is it any wonder that churches are empty? I have no belief in any god, just in people and the members of the church certainly give me doubt even in that! There should be no discrimination on any grounds, and if these people believe in a god, then that god made them all, both straight and gay, so they are saying they know better than their god? Defunct religion, sheer idolitory!

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    The headline went to far, it should have stopped after "The Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law".

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.


    Get a sense of humor and don't take everything you read and say so seriously, I don't (as you clearly haven't noticed)

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    The legal ramifications will reverberate for years. This is a stupid move and will confuse future generations. Children being taught incorrectly will wonder if they are meant to be a man or a woman, what is right for them or what isnt. As to saying that churches will not be forced - did Cameron check with Human Rights Court at the EU because what he says doesn't go any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Just another in a long line of ludicrous decisions that reeks to high heaven of religious insecurity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Careful what you say, I've heard the CofE is also planning to bring in laws sentencing all witches to be burned at the stake and anyone who preaches about this nonsense of Earth being round and not the center of the universe will be stoned.

    Oh wait sorry that was centuries ago, silly me, in this day and age everyone is equal.

  • Comment number 223.

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


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