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 942.

    Cameron's in a difficult position. I don't believe he's homophobic, but he's a politician who faces a proportion of supporters who are against this. It's the same with the CofE - it's a global organisation, with a huge following in Africa, where views on sexuality tend to be *very* different from Europe. It's wrong to assume that all Christians think alike, or all agree with the official stance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 941.

    There's a lot of un-Christian comment around today. Not that that surprises me. The census confirms that there are more with a propensity for knocking religion and showing little respect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 940.

    I'd be the first to argue in favour of a completely secular state and the church's disestablishment, as an atheist.
    However, marriage should be the basis of family life, which in turn forms society. I think it should be 1 man and 1 woman, since homosexual relationships are not the natural basis of society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 939.

    Only religions would bar 2 consenting adults who love each other the chance at happiness. 25% Of English/Welsh people ticked the "no Religion" box on the 2011 Census (a 10% increase from 2001). 1/4 of people don't believe and yet CofE are still calling the shots? The gov needs to grow some and draw a line!

  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    I'm not relegious, nor am I gay. However I'm glad that the CofE are sticking to their beliefs which is admirable (in my oppinion) in a time of extreme policical correctness, which will inevitably cause a strong backlash. Though it is straight forward; to marrie in the CofE you must do so with the opposite sex, it's nothing new it's always been this way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 937.

    If you wish to get married in church,because this is your religious belief then great.Who is to stand in the way of of two people, whatever their sexual orientation from announcing their love for one another before god.

  • rate this

    Comment number 936.

    The majority of people do not support gay marriage and long may it be so

  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    858 Fr Simon: The CofE's submission was not a consensus view, and was submitted without consultation. It is therefore not representative of the views of many within the Church.

    And have you consulted the CofE, Fr Simon? Or do you presume to know the will of the Church, and the will of God?

    Do not put your God to the test, old boy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 934.

    877. Minerve, You are such a horrible person. Marriage should just be about 2 people who love each other, may be the people who wrote the bible were just hateful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 933.

    Does this mean it will be illegal not allow marriage between two males, or two females in a mosque? mmm, surely that might cause a few problems when tested.

    PS Perhaps Fr Simon (858) can direct us to the relevant passage in the bible that supports this, that might totally negate any contra argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    Someone needs to talk to the EU about enshrining discrimination in law!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 931.


    The Church has no legal ownership of marriage. It is a state sanctioned act licensed to the Church.

    It is Bizarre that a faith that allows gay people to worship in their temples (despite what the Bible says) does not afford them the moral right to marry in them . Total hypocrisy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 930.

    @889 Which religion is it an institution under?

  • rate this

    Comment number 929.

    Another absolutely absurd decision by this ridiculous government. I now seriously worry that to appease their neanderthal MPs and supporters they will try and ban mixed race marriage, or marriage between couples who are neither stinking rich, middle class conservative bigots. Could this be the beginning of Nazi-ism in our green and pleasent land?

  • rate this

    Comment number 928.

    How can it be made illegal for the C of E and C of W to marry gay couples but not illegal for other religious groups to do so? Where is the equality here? The fact that the former have opted out is fair enough..but if and when other groups have opted out will it be illegal for them as well?

  • Comment number 927.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 926.

    Quite how you reconcile prosecuting hotelkeepers for not allowing gay couples a room, and then making gay marriage illegal, is quite beyond me. I'm not going to get into my personal views of the rights and wrongs of all this but lets have some consistency please and avoid appearing to be idiots. Either we should embrace single-sex relationships or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    I am all for equality in marriage, gay or straight, but had to smile when I read the above and realised that there is no plan to have equality in divorce. A gay man can only commit adultery with a straight woman, having an affair with an another gay man is not adultery. And no divorce on grounds of lack of consummation. Should it not be equality all around, divorce as well as marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 924.

    492. That would not do. How would the church make any money. Getting married in church is not free!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 923.

    I wonder, how would a majority Muslim society view such matters?


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