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 742.

    Leave the Church alone don't force your atheistic beliefs on it.


    Going to make the same judgements on Islam??


    Please save us from the increasingly common cry of 'Bullies' everytime someone doesn't want to have to justify their opinions.

    Oh & strict orthodox islam is as incompatible with the modern world as strict orthodox christianity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    Excuse me, but why do we need a law to prevent CofE churches performing gay marriages? The big problem I have with civil partnerships is that it bans religions that want to perform gay marriages from doing so at the behest of churches that don't want to. Why can't the CofE just forbid gay marriages organisationally? It doesn't need a law banning itself from performing gay marriages!

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    The government endorses religious bigotry

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    The dictionary defines the English word marriage as, "the legal union or contract made by a woman and and a man to live as husband and wife" therefore , if one accepts the truth of this, then two persons of the same sex cannot be married. In law two people of the same sex have the same legal rights through civil partnerships. So what is the problem for gay people? A new system needs a new word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    I think its a good first step - an incremental approach has started here in the USA - and I think soon it will be a flood. An unintended consequence for those churches against same sex marriage will likely be to hasten their demise - as society begins to fully accept gay marriage they will be left standing alone as a out-of-date discriminatory faction.
    Pete Danvers - California

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    I agree with gay people being able to marry but I am glad that religious organizations will not be forced into this and cannot be challenged through the courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    695. Skeptic
    Currently, marriages can be annulled if not consummated.

    Then assume the same would apply for a gay marriage, this is not a tricky concept to get your head around.

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    @698 as religion has befallen many a civilisation in the past i would conclude that this is actually a very important issue. Should we focus on the economy and forget society? family values? Perhaps even how religion even medals with the way our society functions? HYS is topic based im sure there are forums out there for you discuss how ruined our economy is and how bad our health care is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.

    I think gay 'marriage' is a step too far. It flies in the face of every major religion and gay couples should be content with civil partnerships, provided always that they confer identical rights. I'm an atheist but believe this law is 1/ unnecessary and 2/ will lead to a significant rise in homophobic violence. Frankly, for no particular benefit. A laudable aim for a negative return - foolish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.


  • rate this

    Comment number 732.

    To all people who are against gay marriage;
    Are you being forced to marry someone of the same sex?
    Of course not, so it's nothing to do with you. Stop trying to enforce your opinions on others on things that do not affect you.
    Personal freedom doesnt need to agree with you, thats why its personal

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    So misogynistic and homophobic,who would have thought!

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    I can think of 100 more important issues for the Government to focus its attention on rather than gay marriage! As for comments like 'the majority of people support it' (gay marriage) - where does that statistic come from?

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    The Church of England was created by a King who wanted a divorce from his wife which was opposed by the Catholic Church and Pope and yet it seems they have the authority to dismiss gay marriage in their churches and being illegal and sinful in the eyes of God. Who are they to speak referring to us as "Those People". Bigots one and all. They should be ashamed of themselves!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    I am in no way, shape or form a homophobic, however why would same sex couples want to get married in a church that the bible says is between one man and one woman?? The bible can not be changed and does not need to be changed. How hipocritical of them all to think that they could be married in the eyes of the lord when he does not share their view....

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    re 561 WaspsNest.

    I agree, Cameron will deliberately set up the legislation to be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.
    He will then use that as a justification for his own actions and personal position.
    Cameron desperate for the gay votes, or any votes.
    But the votes he gains from Libs and Labour he will lose from a proportion of the previous Tory vote which will now go to UKIP

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    What an exciting debate, which is bringing out the worst in everyone. I do hope the state of the economy, unemployment, crime, the NHS, world peace and other trivia don't distract politicians from what is proving to be quite divisive legislation. Let's rush it through parliament as a top priority...

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    This is dramatic turnabout for Mr Cameron. He was all for it a few days ago but now the principal church of the UK is going to be exempt.

    To pronounce it to be illegal in C of E is severely rubbing it in. Are the Church authorities & posh ladies in hats so scared that many clergy will officiate at gay marriages if it is a simple opt in or opt out arrangement?

    Sounds like selfish behaviour??

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    717.Shaunie Babes
    Just now
    You never have militant homosexuals queuing up to demand that they can get married in a mosque.

    But like all bullies they only pick on people the perceive to be weak
    .......or people who turn the other cheek.

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    Im sick to death hearing about this irrelevant subject, there are so many important and more newsworthy matters in this country, I suspect this media garbage is being used to distract us from real issues.


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