The Church in Wales and same-sex marriage

What does the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill mean for the Church in Wales?

The Equalities Minister, Maria Miller told MPs last December that "the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples".

Mrs Miller's parliamentary statement led to suggestions that the Church of England and the Church in Wales would be banned from carrying out gay ceremonies. The Archbishop of Wales said his Church had not been consulted and he wasn't happy with what he heard Mrs Miller say.

But the minister said it wasn't true to say that the Church of England and the Church in Wales had been banned from holding gay ceremonies, although her use of the word "illegal" gave some people that impression.

Mrs Miller, who is, as I write, opening the debate on the Bill, has said that both churches would be able to opt in to the new law, but in different ways.

The Bill was published last month, and the key bit is Clause 8. If the Church in Wales decides that it wants to hold gay weddings, its governing body can ask the Lord Chancellor to make an order to enable it to do so (a shorthand way of changing the law).

The explanatory notes to the Bill say: "The Church in Wales is in the same position as the Church of England as regards marriage law despite the disestablishment of the Church in Wales by virtue of the Welsh Church Act 1914. However, this disestablishment means that the Church in Wales is not itself able to put legislation before Parliament (unlike the Church of England). The power in this clause is therefore required so that the law can be changed to allow the Church in Wales to marry same sex couples (if it were to resolve to allow it), without the need for primary legislation. An order under this clause is subject to the affirmative procedure."

In theory, the "affirmative procedure" (apologies for jargon) means MPs and peers could reject the order; in practice, most similar pieces of legislation are nodded through both Houses of Parliament.

Mrs Miller's "pragmatic way" has won the approval of the Church in Wales, which said in a statement on January 25: "Since the Statement to Parliament by the Minister for Women and Equalities on 11 December 2012, the government has worked to understand and accommodate the position of the Church in Wales in its equal marriage Bill. As a disestablished church with a legal duty to marry the Church in Wales is uniquely placed. The Bill provides protection for the Church whilst still enabling it to make its own decision on same-sex marriage.

"Under the Bill, the duty of Church in Wales ministers to marry will not be extended to same-sex couples. However, should the Church's governing body decide in the future that the Church wishes to conduct such marriages, there is provision in the Bill for the law to be altered without the need for further primary legislation by Parliament. Instead, a resolution from the Church's governing body would trigger an order by the Lord Chancellor for the necessary legal changes to be made."

So that's cleared that one up then, although it may be some time before gay ceremonies are held in Church in Wales churches. Not only will the governing body have to change its policy, the Church's view of marriage, with with its references to the teachings of the Bible, will have to be re-written rather drastically.