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 522.

    Curious as to the appeal of wanting to be married in a church? Why not a Mosque or other religious establishment?

    Doesn't seem very "fair" to force the CofE to practice something they dont preach!

    Right decision by the government

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    "And we should not here in Parliament say that some loving relationships have greater value than others."
    That's disingenuous. Nobody's said that.
    Was she saying any 2/3 people/animals should have the right to get married?
    Different doesn't mean less valued.
    There's something unique about the union of opposite genders, it's OK to have different words for different kinds of relationships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    Marriage pre-dates Christianity by a long while. Christianity appropriated marriage from the Roman system that was already in place, where the purpose was indeed about men and women -- but absolutely nothing to do with religion. If marriage is to be about love, rather than an archaic political/financial contract as it was before, then the sex of the people involved is irrelevant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    So, if the state is happy to allow gay marriages in religious establishments, as long as they are happy to permit it, but strictly prohibits the state religious authority from doing so, have we not reach a point where we can no longer tolerate the idea, and therefore the practice, of a state sanction religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    The Bible quotes "Adam and Eve" not "Adam and Steve".... Marriage: The formal union of a man and a woman, by which they become husband and wife. SIMPLES...!

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    If the church of ENGLAND will not marry gay people then I will not employ asian people.....Surely that is fair?

  • rate this

    Comment number 516.

    I just don't understand this, I'm neither gay not a practicing christian but surely this is about neither, it's about equality. Does equality apply to everyone except the chuch?

  • Comment number 515.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    Why would anyone want to be married by an institution that doesn't believe that they ought to be married to the individual they've chosen as their partner? As long as there are places - civil venues or places of worship that accept their choice - there's no earthly reason to try & barge in where they are not welcome. The only point you should want to make is how much you love your partner.

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    The more comments I read about this the less sense it makes
    It looks like most people are saying the non-believers should be able to tell believes want to do in there own church’s or am I missing some thing

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    the best decision, as religion distances it's self from society as a whole it will increase the chances of it becoming completely obsolete, i can already think of a few church's in glasgow that would make a good pub/venue with a cracking beer garden. praise the beer gods they will marry anyone & you dont even need to know their name. lets all get married. LOVE & BEER FOR EVERYONE, or wine

  • Comment number 511.

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

  • Comment number 510.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    2 Minutes ago
    A man has had gay tendencies since a child.
    The local hospital changes his sexuality to female.

    He (Now She) falls in love with another lesbian woman.

    Can the two women get married?"

    I can't work out if you're pro or anti gay marriage but I will say that just because you're gay doesn't mean you want to change gender.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    Over the years I've seen both CofE and RC slowly retrench in the old testament, whilst at the same time ignore its own clergies prolific mortal sins, and it's own hypocrisy.

    Non of this is in the spirit of what Jesus preached, not as far a I can remember.... how can they call themselves Christian..

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    Never saw that coming.((((((((((SARCASM)))))))))))

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    173. George
    In this nine-hundred word article, God was not mentioned once. Has anyone else considered whether He wants same-sex marriage? After all, His is the only relevant opinion.

    Why don't you just call him and ask what his opinion is about this issue these days. Of course, 2000 years is a long time and he might be having second thoughts now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 505.

    We shall fight the oppressor for your right to have babies, brother - sister, sorry.
    The foetus shall gestate in a box - it's symbolic ... Loretta

  • rate this

    Comment number 504.

    This is getting stupid

    So we have rights for gays and we have rights for freedom of religion all enshrined in the Human Rights Act as liberally interpreted by Blairs Human Rights Judges (friends of the wife)

    I would like to know if there is a hierarchy of rights. Are gay rights more important than freedom of religion or vice versa, or does racial discrimination trump them all ?

    Stupid law

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    Heterosexuals do not have a monopoly on "goodness". You only have to think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan to understand that difference should not give the right to any group to feel righteous and therefore superior.
    I'm happy if I gain complete equality in the civil, secular world - which means I don't want my existence to be defined by religious ideas I don't subscribe to myself.


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