Church Of England Warning on Gay Marriage

Posted by on Jun 12, 2012 | Comments Off on Church Of England Warning on Gay Marriage


Government plans to open marriage to gay couples by 2015 could undermine its status as the state church, it said.

The Home Office said religious bodies would not have to conduct gay marriages and that it was considering all views.

Gay rights campaigners accused the Church of “scaremongering”.

The Church of England said by opening marriage to gay couples, an institution defined for centuries to be exclusively between a man and a woman would have its meaning “hollowed out” and reduced to the level of a “content free”, “consumerist”, agreement.

The plans do not allow for religious organisations in favour of change to conduct gay marriages.

Church officials claimed the exemptions from performing gay marriages, which the proposals suggest for religious organisations, would be unlikely to survive legal challenges in domestic and European courts.

Tory MP Crispin Blunt conceded the government’s aim “to protect, indeed proscribe, religious organisations from offering gay marriage” may be “problematic legally”.

“But the proposal the government are putting forward is that marriage should be equal in the eyes of the state – whether it’s between a same-sex couple or a man and a woman,” he told BBC One’s Breakfast.

The Church insists the age-old idea of marriage as being for procreation, and needing to be consummated, would not apply to same-sex marriage.

It says the duty of Anglican clergy to perform marriages for any parishioner who wanted one might disappear, undermining the Church of England’s role as the state church.

And it warns creating “religious” and “civil” marriages with differing understandings of their purpose and character would serve to weaken and dilute the institution for everyone.

The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said the Church had supported civil partnerships when the legislation was introduced eight years ago and continued to be supportive of the gay community.

But human rights lawyer Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the vice-president of the Law Society, said the European court was “very tender to religious sensibilities”.

If the issue was taken to the European court, judges were unlikely to agree any religious organisation would be forced to carry out same-sex marriages, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But what it might say is that religious organisations should be allowed to if they want to,” she added.

“What we do know is there are many religious organisations that do want to be able to carry out same-sex marriages.”

“I think the difficulty we have here is the substitution of equality for uniformity, that is to say that there can be no distinction at all between men and women,” he said.

“From a standing start within three months to arrive at a fully considered, weighed and articulated redefinition of a fundamental social institution which has been thought about in one particular way for centuries… to change all that on the basis of a consultation like this seems to be at the very least unwise and ill considered.”

Advocating legal discrimination:

In April, prominent Church of England figures wrote an open letter to the Times newspaper saying the Church had “nothing to fear” from the prospect of gay marriage.

They said statements by church leaders give a false impression of popular feeling.

The government’s consultation closes on Thursday.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the government’s proposals only concerned civil marriages in registry offices and would have “no impact on faith organisations or places of worship”.

He accused the Church of “scaremongering, exaggerating the effects of same-sex marriage and advocating legal discrimination”.

“Senior churchmen are protesting against a law change that will not affect them,” he said.

The Home Office said it had made it clear that “no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages as a result of our proposals”.


Analysis Robert Pigott :

image of Robert Pigott

By highlighting the possible loss of its role as a principal provider of marriages, and hinting even at the potential unravelling of its established status, the Church of England hopes to alert the public to the magnitude of what it believes is being proposed in the gay marriage legislation.

The Church says an institution of “vast” benefit to society as a whole is being undermined to meet a political need, and is being deliberately presented as something far more consequential.

The consultation is a “very shallow piece of work on a very serious subject”, according to Church officials.

For the Church, a marriage – with its focus on procreation and the need to be consummated – is something that is simply not available to gay couples. By creating different understandings of marriage, it insists, the whole institution will be weakened – something the nation should not be allowed to sleep-walk towards”





You can subscribe by e-mail to receive news updates and breaking stories.