I’ve just watched the recording of yesterday’s Urgent Question asked in Parliament by Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough. I was impressed by Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equalities, who responded confidently, generously and firmly to every question. There is a confidence in the Prime Minister and the Equalities Minister about the decision to extend same-sex marriage to Churches and other faith groups.
It was apparent from questions asked that Campaign for Marriage (C4M) have been bringing huge pressure to bear on MPs, a campaign that is clearly very well resourced. Maria Miller made it very clear, repeatedly, that there would be strong and absolute protection for faith communities that disagree with same-sex marriage.
For the Church of England, to the significant disadvantage of those of us who are lesbian or gay and to the disadvantage of our families, friends, colleagues and affirming congregations, the legislation will present an all or nothing approach. The Church of England will determine the matter centrally, in a negative way, preventing any congregation that wishes to solemnize same-sex marriages from doing so.
No reciprocal protection is proposed to the anti-same-sex marriage lobby. They have won the right to ensure that we are not able to marry in our own churches. The staff at Church House agree with the C4M position as was evident in the badly-worded statement issued last week.
It’s no surprise that Church House issued such a statement. I know from conversations with senior staff that they are not convinced that same-sex marriage is a theological possibility. Many lesbian and gay members of staff at Church House will disagree.
I came to the conclusion this morning that Changing Attitude will have to campaign within the Church of England for a review of this policy. The teaching of the Church evolves slowly, of course, and is dependent on the House of Bishops issuing a new teaching document. They have committed this revision process to the two Review Groups and they are going to report to the House next year, one mid-year and the other, Pilling Group, at the end of the year.
We have to develop clear theological and pastoral arguments in favour of permission being granted to allow individual congregations to solemnize same-sex marriages.