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 642.

    They're making this far more complicated than necessary. Why are the CoE getting special treatment? They certainly haven't earnt it, they don't pay taxes and they perpetuate bigotry, what a fantastic source for morality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    I can't think of any other part of the british 'establishment' that could get away with banning women from top management and privileged positions in government.

    Remind me why on earth we have to take anything that crazy people deluded by iron-age myths about rib-women, sky fairies and talking snakes, say seriously. No one is forcing them to get married to someone of the same sex.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    If gays want to marry, let them. They are adults, consenting, and in love. Its all they need. Gay marriage doesn't hurt anyone, so why is it so many think its wrong (religious reasons don't count, as they are archaic and without logical reason)? They'll do what they please behind closed doors and the rest of us can mind our own business. Don't see what all the fuss is about

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    If the Church of England does not wish to marry gay people that is it's right. But it should be a decision for the church to make, not imposed on it by government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    What is pathetic is that this is viewed as a priority due to excessive media coverage. With today's major issues about the economy -this is NOT a priority! Just read that my health trust is under scrutiny and likely new manageemnt because of PFI - this will lead to reduced health services in Cambridge and Lincs as they focus on costs ONLY- despite what the politicos say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    Lots of gay people on here tonight posting comments.
    If you want gay marriages why not start a church that agrees with it, it seems common sense.
    If a particular shop didn't stock and had no intention of stocking something you want, surely you would just go to a different shop.
    Why do you feel the need to change a religion that people have believed in for thousands of years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    We are all equal. Religion is something that divides us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    leave the marriage to the intended purpose.
    Arghh! The ignorance on here is astounding!
    Your religion did not invent marriage! Lets make this perfectly clear for all the religious on here, YOU DO NOT OWN MARRIAGE! It existed before your religion, you stole the concept of union from Pagan peoples, you do not have the right to dictate who can enjoy marriage. End of discussion!

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    So, if you are a gay couple you can't be married in church by a man wearing a dress?
    These are indeed strange times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    What do you want out of 'marriage'?

    A chance to declare your undying love for the individual of your choice?
    Legal protection?
    A good party with your mates?

    You can do that anywhere. You want God's blessing, be sure to find a place whose God wants to bless what you want to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    Funny how the church preaches love and tolerance; presumably this only applies if you sleep with someone of the opposite sex, though?

    I'm straight and married, but I can't for the life of me understand why gay people shouldn't also be allowed to get married. If two people love each other, what's the problem? Why is the Government allowing gay people to be discriminated against?

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    The whole thing should be dropped. Marriage is for a man and a woman to produce children. The CofE would never accepted it and Cameron has backed down from a fight he would have lost. I think Islam just may opt out as well..

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    .....Well said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    Absolutely agree with Andy the Thinker's comments - given that the churches teachings (and those in the Bible) are so clear in this why would any homosexual couple want to be married in a church which consdiers their relationship sinful?

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    @Andy: because your dog can't give consent or sign the paperwork.

    As a gay man who is religious, I welcome the changes and I'm glad they've made provisions for religions that don't want to opt-in, I think that's a great way to protect freedoms all-round.

    If you don't like gay marriage, then don't have one, but don't think for a second you have the right to judge anyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    So how many Christians here who are against homosexuality because of the bible eat shrimp or wear mixed fibre clothes?

    Nowhere in the bible does Jesus say that those are ok.

    If you do you are using the parts of the bible as a lifestyle choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    "Gay marriage to be illegal in the Church of England."


  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    "Promoting gay relationships may be a long-term conspiracy to solve the population problem (but ultimately will cause the human race to die out)"

    I don't think working out, using moisturizing products and listening to Dolly Parton will endanger anyone, especially the survival of humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    Maybe people like ShaunieBabes thinks that same sex marriages will produce children? Or does he think that gay couples cannot bring an adopted child to maturity without influencing the child's sexual preferences? Or does he think that heterosexual marriages do not produce gay children ever? Perhaps, just perhaps, he should THINK more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    532.KM Searle
    10 Minutes ago
    The last two Christian weddings I attended:
    1) Catholic church: atheist groom
    Now, now - you are being disingenuous to prove a point KM! The "athiest groom" is really an ex-Catholic who lied about his athiest faith for the chance to secure a school place for his child is he not? Says more about him that the Catholic Church I'm afraid!


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