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 982.

    So Cameron and co, backed by Nicky and Ed make gay marriage legal then do a deal with the officially established religious institution so it is illegal if they do it. (thus letting them off the hook). So I guess that means that state backed discrimination, by 26 members in the lords and the head of state are acceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 981.

    Why should the Church of England & Church in Wales be excluded from this law?

    The holiest of the holys?

    Is that right? holys just looks wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    Religions should be free to make this decision, that the CofE is a state religion simply means those decisions are made in special legislation, when the CofE changes its mind the legislation will be amended.

    It would be simpler if we didn't have a state controlled religion, but we do, so this is how the law around this must be wrote

  • rate this

    Comment number 979.

    I knew the atheists couldn't stay away they must be having a field day. I just hope when the law calls them partners in a marriage and all of a sudden they can't be called mother and father in the eyes of the law they might start to wonder was it religions that they should have attacked or may be they should have had a looked at the legal implications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 978.

    What's the betting that when this finally gets to the European Court of Human Rights they'll find it illegal for any UK Christian church to refuse to marry homosexuals, but not so for UK Muslim mosques.

  • Comment number 977.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 976.

    I am not gay, but I have absoliutely no objection to the idea of a same sex marriage. Nor do I actually know anyone who feels strongly against it. Surely it is entirely the busniess of the couple, and their right if they wish to do so....

    So where exactly is the opposition? And how are their views being so strongly heard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

    Weird. It is not the government's business to declare this illegal in the CoE. I can't imagine them telling the Roman Catholic church what to do in similar circumstances. I support gay marriage, but do not think that any religious group should be forced to perform the ceremony. Religion and politics/law should be completely separate. The CoE should be dis-established to prevent this absurdity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    Congratulations and happy weddings to all. But always remember kids need Mom AND Dad that's why they get made the way they do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    899. Ernie

    I didn't say I hated gays; I have gay friends.

    I am a great believer in a strong society being based on the nuclear family of a female mother and a male father; call me old-fashioned, but that is my view. Confused adolescents would normally fall within this framework and go onto lead happy lives. Now I feel it creates confusion and can be damaging to adolescents in its current form.

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    If the whole world were gay life on earth for humans would cease to exist, we would become extinct within 100 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    949. fuzzy
    Have you credible evidence that this God exists?

    Have you credible evidence he doesn't? I'm not religious, but that's a stupid question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    If you think that Civil Partnerships is equal to marriage consider this.
    1 CPs are not recognised in other countries, even those which allow same sex couples to marry.
    2 CPs give MOST but not all of the rights of Marriage. Workplace Pensions, in particular, can treat CP and Married people differently, giving reduced benefits to a surviving Civil Partner if their spouse dies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    What's wrong with marriage between humans and farm animals? This will be moderated today, but treated as a serious question in about five to ten years time, if things continue as they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    Callisto, how would you define a homophobe? If not someone who refuses to recognise the lifestyle choice and does not see them as deserving of equal rights...

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    Does this change in legislation, including the 2010 equality Act, mean that members of the religious organisations who have not opted in to this, such as C of E members who own and run guest houses, will also not be forced by law to recognise gay partnerships/marriages and be allowed to act according to the laws/beliefs of their mother church?

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    I have many gay friends and I support gay marriage. All gay people want are the same rights and responsibilities that straight people have. Is that too much to ask in 2012? With all the opt outs the church hierarchy have forced through though this is a second class choice for gay people. Recent events by the church have reminded me why I no longer attend church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    Whatever religion you are, you either believe everything in your 'Good Book', or you don't. You can't rewrite it because some bits are no longer relevant. If your bible states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and that slavery is OK, then that is what you have to believe. If you don't like it, then change religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    Just forget the entire BS in the Bible. Remember (according to the Bible) that people like me who eat pork and shellfish are condemned to hell! The references to gay people are just as obscure
    The women bishops vote and now this! The C of E is still stuck in the 19th century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    The church proves yet again that it has little empathy or compassion for others and is simply a sewer pit of hypocritical folks who don't want anyone else to have equality.

    Because their storybook tells them so...


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