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 562.

    What beats me is why these days religion has to have anything at all to do with marriage!

  • Comment number 561.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    Well I am a gay man. But marriage IS different. It reflects the fact that man and woman are needed to conceive children and I think centuries of culture should not be overturned. provided civil partnership gives me similar legal rights I am happy with that. Why force a change for everyone else? We will end up with bans on terms such as Mother, Father, Wife, Husband - is that we want to force.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    I listened to the "debate" in HoC and tbh I am ambivalent, it does not affect me. I am not sure the thing is well thought out at the moment and committee stage will have a lot of work to do. The thing that sticks out to me atm are that there are no plans to allow civil partnerships for heterosexuals, that will surely get a legal challenge. The lawyers are rubbing their hands already I suspect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    I want to marry my dog. Why should we be denied the same rights as everybody else?

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    It is only right that the gay marriage proposal be ruled against. What people wish to be in a same sex relationship is up to them thats there decision. Same sex marriage however should not be allowed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    So the CofE decided to reassess recently whether women should be allowed to become bishops, in part, claiming that it was about modernising the establishment. And yet they refuse to even consider modernising to accept the gay community, when the gay community, I am sure, far outweighs women clergy. CofE is an old has been and should be relegated and considered of little importance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    @485. sch
    When will governments become pro family rather than pro gay...

    Why can't pro family include pro gay?....surely we should wish for children to be brought up in stable loving families, whether those be in a same sex relationships or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    @515, be interested on what you would say to the gay couples who have children, I know a fair few, are they exempt from your 'pervert' label or are they corrupting the next generation and should have their children removed and brought up by a bigot like you? I know what my answer is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    I have no issue with same sex marriages or where they conducted. But thank God the Church of England has been able to give its point of view on the matter as - lets be honest- same sex marriages are never going to be conducted in Mosques yet they do not receive the same scrutiny as the CofE. If they were ever going to force the CofE to do it, then force them ALL to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    You would think people, gay or straight, could just see Christianity for what it is. A dogmatic, hateful belief system that has no place in today’s society unless you feel the need to be subjugated and remain ignorant to the nature of reality. The reason gay people feel discriminated against and on an unequal footing, when it comes to being a Christian, is because they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    That's it, the final and utter end of the established church.
    It is now about as irrelevant as the incense they waft.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    538. Shaunie Babes "If we don't fight homosexual marriage then the next step will be allowing them to adopt children."

    Lesbian and gay couples can already adopt children. Do try to keep up or are you just trolling again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    The government has a problem with many backbenchers and others opposing civil gay marriage so they suggest something even worse - legal marriage in church.
    The government then bring out safeguards for religious institutions in the form of legal protection, the need to opt in etc and the anti gay marriage lobby are supposed to be so grateful thet they end their opposition to gay marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    If you Gays dont like it, why not set up your own church and have your own ceremonies there instead. The CofE and the CofW dont want you so just respect others peoples views for once in your sad lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    I am neither gay nor religious - each to their own. However, I really can't understand why the churches should accept something they don't believe in? Should I be totally offended by not being able to use my local gym because it is women only? Then again I don't see the point in marriage full stop - if you love someone you love them - a piece of paper and a party doesn't make it more more real.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    6 downvotes for pointing out the the CofE doesn't own the word "marriage" (post 343)? I honestly expected better. Gay marriage is long overdue. If the CofE exemption is the cost, it's worth paying and is yet another nail in the coffin after the female bishops issue. "Marriage" means whatever the speakers of the English language collectively use it to mean and that isn't 1 man and 1 woman anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.


    "To bend the rules of the church to allow and to promote homosexuality was never going to happen... Would lead society right up the wrong path"

    Religion has been doing that for centuries. Religion only holds back the tolerance and progression of the human race. All major problems and disagreements always lead back to religion!

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    Although I find religion generally tedious and offensive, and at times extremely sinister, my sense of tolerance ensures that I would never discriminate against anybody who chooses to believe in a higher power. That certain religions do not hold such values illustrates what a mockery of that in which they believe they have become.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    if the established state church can't be bothered with equality legislation both gay marriage and women bishops then let it be speedily disestablished.


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