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 962.


    I think you miss my point, I don't think I'll need to move anywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.

    Marriage is not the preserve of religion and is not the absolute word of god just some interpretation of a story by writers of a bygone age with different values.
    Many human civilisations join together men and women marriage without any form of religious ceremony, service, blessing etc, and have done for many centuries and probably before any religious story books were ever written.

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    I'm an atheist, and I support gay rights, but the fact of the matter is gay couples are entitled to all the same rights as married couples with a civil partnership. Marriage is a religious ceremony, churches should not have to marry people before their imaginary lord if they choose not to. The hypocrisy lies where churches marry non religious heterosexual couples, making gay people feel excluded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    David Cameron, you absolute hero ....

    And all you people that prefer him to focus on the economy ... stops using that as a mask for your homophobia!

    Equality takes precedence over everything ... including people like you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 958.

    So when are we going to force ALL the other religions in the UK to agree to gay marriage?

    Don't hold your breath folks.
    The BBC has its agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 957.

    How about everyone, straight or gay, has a civil partnership to protect their rights in law - property, pension etc? If they are particularly religious, then enlist a priest, mullah or rabbi to bless their union - there are many who will.

    Not being gay, nor religious I can appreciate why this topic is dynamite. Women can't be bishops or be mullahs - that's what wrong with certain religions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 956.

    I can support not forcing churches to hold gay ceremonies (prejudiced though that is), but banning it by law is going too far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 955.

    Another interesting news item that wasn't presented in any TV news programs. Two weekends ago there were major demonstrations in all the main cities in France opposing same-sex marriage.

    Not a sign of this reported in the british media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 954.

    If two people are deluded enough to want a church marriage, they should be entitled to a church marriage, regardless of sexuality. The C of E has shown itself up for what it so obviously is . . . a cheap hypocritical sham, and truly unfit for purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 953.

    Over the years the Conservative Party have done everything they can to attack & vilify gay people. This plan is ridiculous. How can they ban the Church of England & Wales from this ? Either give gay people FULL EQUALITY or leave it alone.
    This has all been done to try to convince people the Tories have changed. They haven't. They will never accept/support gay people. My gay vote stays with Labour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 952.

    seems to be a lot of people moaning about equality under some missguided impression that straight couples have some automatic right to get married in church but gay couples dont. This is not correct. Generally one of you must be resident in the ward to get married in a particular church. Also the minister can refuse to marry you if you are a\ divorced or b\ not a 'member' of that church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 951.

    Now might be a good time to change the law on marriage so that people are free to have a religious wedding or just a ceremont in effect but none of lead to a "legal" marriage which can only be done in a non-religious procedure. Think the same happens now when Hindu marry, they have a ceremony but are not legally married until they go to a registry office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 950.

    The Cof E had better get wedding all the gays it can as the Islamics are going to take over at this rate! Thanks Bliar, you and your croneys sold out the UK to anyone from overseas. Anyone who doubts, just watch BBC news!

  • rate this

    Comment number 949.


    No Christian church should allow gay marriage. The Holy Bible, God's word, says that homosexuality and lesbianism is a sin and strictly forbidden.
    Have you credible evidence that this God exists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 948.

    923. joeftb

    how would a majority Muslim society view such matters


    Move to one.

    I'll wager you'll flee back to this pesky tolerant-of-others Island within a week. For the weather of course.

    You'll just have to grit your teeth as press freedom, religious tolerance, racial and sexual equality, rule of law, human rights legislation and freedom of speech pervades your every waking moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 947.

    This country is screwed up - on the one hand, hetros don't appreciate the religious significance & heritage of marriage and enjoy only its symbolism. On the other hand you have gays who want to ignore the religious significance &heritage and enjoy its sybolism.

    Both want to wear the cross because it 'looks cool'. Pathetic. I'm not even religious but amazed at this issue. Nonsense I tell you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 946.

    Well, that is the last straw for me. I now no longer consider the CoE to be a religion, but a theocratic repudiation of humanity. Either I have the human right to marry another man, or I do not the human rights to marry my girlfriend. Either I am human enough that my gender and orientation does not matter to other people, or I am too much of a worthless heterosexual to be a person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 945.

    This outlines where religion and real life do not match. The church says true love is unconditional and then puts conditions upon it. If The Church of England won't allow gay marriages it is my heart felt profound wish that those people who are gay and want a Christian connection find a better way to connect with God than the churches. Didn't Jesus say something about established religion anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 944.

    @ 880.Geordiebern
    "Outrageous! The Tories are running scared of the bishops in the House of Lords."
    >>Well given the amount of child abuse that's taken place over the years by the Church - wouldn't YOU run?

  • rate this

    Comment number 943.

    Why are the church allowed to discriminate against homosexuals?, the other week they voted against women bishops. If a company took this stance of not allowing gay people to use their facilities or from women in middle management their would be uproar. Their is no evidence for the existence of any God yet the church seem to be above the law!


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