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 622.

    It's sad that some people posting as Christians are talking about the Bible being explicit in this, that or the other. The Bible has to be translated and interpreted through the lens of a totally different society and time. Church doctrine can be explicit, but that is still an interpretation -- which like any other, can and will change with time and society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    Let me get this right. The view of most homosexuals on this site is that, because the C of E refuses to recognise their lifestyle choice, they are somehow homophobic and irrelevant. That's why homosexuals have so much trouble being accepted, They are acting like sexual militants and no-one likes a militant in any guise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    As Christian, Judaic and Islamic scriptures, which are shared, state male homosexuality is an "abomination"such that practitioners lives are forfeit how can they marry male same sex couples?

    Rarely mentioned the scriptures contain no references to homosexual female conduct so presumably homosexual women can marry in a Church, Synagogue or Mosque?

    An Atheist why they would want to is a mystery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    @568. malcolm
    All that you have made clear sir is that you are an idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    Marriage is a union between man and woman. If it is between two men or two women, call it something else or don't bother about marriage. Isn't love the vital ingredient in a relationship?

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    The definition of marriage as "for procreation", is based on a misunderstanding of scripture as, if you read Genesis, Eve was only 'cursed' with child-bearing after the expulsion from Eden - and she and Adam had already been married by then. In it's purest biblical sense, marriage is simply a recognised life-companionship and child-bearing has nothing to do with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    The Church claims a marriage is endorsed by God, then show me a marriage certificate with his/her signature. Until then deal with fact and not fiction.

    If two people have found each another, love one another and can commit then well done to them and congratulations.

    I'm a straight man and I believe that a gay couple does not need that Church to approve their happiness, in fact no couple does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    Lets be be honest. How many couples who have married in church believe in god? Getting married was the only time my parents went to church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    Despite every safeguard they put in place, the eu will override it on equality grounds and force people to carry out things they don't want to. The best course of action is to stop it now. It is just tokenism when same sex couples already have the same rights as married couples in the civil partnerships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    The Tories and the Liberals have now excommunicated themselves from from the Christian vote
    Such a suggestion as homosexual marriage in a house of God is an insult to most Christians
    Christians are more likely to forgive the last Government for over their overspend than any than a government that even THINKS gay marriage in churches in a good idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    So it seems the new policy is that you can't discriminate unless you really want to, in which case it is fine.

    To complicate things, with an twist of irony Dickens would be proud of, if you are CoE you are legally compelled to discriminate.

    I'd imagine this policy irritates just about everyone that vaguely cares.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    I am not gay but I support the principle for equal marriage laws. Equal everything, why should it be any other way? I have never understood the fear and outright bigotry some people have toward people who are gay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    God is Love.
    Love is all you need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    I wonder if The Queen was consulted on this issue?

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    Why has the C of E been singled out and is banned from offering Gay Marriage when every other religious community can opt in depending on what the feeling is of the head of that particular religious community?
    Straight couples can marry in a church even if they have been divorced depending on the views held by the vicar of that particular church. That particular vicar decides, not the Government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    Illegal sounds too strong a word!

    This means that C of E and Church in Wales will fall still further out of step with modern world.

    I am member of Church in Wales but nobody asked me? Did Bishop's decide this all by themselves? Severely out of step with laity & yet again! It is little surprising that our Church quota is 50% in arrears, So few members left. No pension money for the Bishop?

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    574. danastarbuck "call it something else; anything but marriage, which is simply a union between a man and a woman defined by God."

    No it isn't. Marriage existed long before your god, and will continue to exist long after he is forgotten. Religions and their deities come and go, always have, always will. Jupiter was the primary god in ancient Rome for much longer than your god. Where is he now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 605.

    I love how some of you talk about the purpose of marriage, as if one day a great meeting of all humankind was called, and this thing called marriage was defined, reasoned out (not that you have any reason) and set in stone for all time.

    Face it, you're just looking for more excuses to keep on discriminating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    Western denominations are becoming a farce, unable to cope with the modern world and continuing the lie that the past was static. Marriage has changed over time, both with Christianity present and without.

    In a few years time, the CoE will be worried about "bums on pews", they might think about changing this anti-gay rubbish. Large scale religion is not about right or wrong. Its about control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.


    I want to marry my dog. Why should we be denied the same rights as everybody else?
    You're not. You just have to get your dog's consent (preferably in his normal hand writing).


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