The good news contained in yesterday’s announcement of the Government’s plan for equal marriage – that lesbian and gay couples will be able to get married, in both civil and religious ceremonies – was overshadowed by the stringent restrictions placed on the Church of England and the Church in Wales.
Anger and dismay from LGB&T supporters
The immediate reaction was of anger and outrage from many supporters and friends of Changing Attitude who were disgusted that the Government intends to legalise further discrimination and prejudice within the C of E, thwarting the hopes and dreams of those lesbian and gay couples who long to marry – in their parish church.
Typical of comments were:
“Shocking that members of the House of Commons are preaching ethics & morals to the Church of England.. About time the CoE preaches & professes Christ, Religion & Theology… The Battle has only just begun wwwhhhooohhh….”
“I don’t understand and don’t agree. Am deeply saddened.”
“What else can the C of E do to make itself look foolish?”
“Horrible news…That the C of E should have been exempted, particularly given the deplorably vacuous case it made against same sex marriage, is a blight on the Gospel, on the Church of England, and on its position as the Established Church.”
“One sniff however of same sex and it’s like lighting the bloody touch paper. The church is obsessed with all the wrong things. Having talked down one gay down from suicide – who was being hounded by the church for his homosexual tendencies – I find there is so little understanding and compassion, gentleness and love.”
Anglican Churches’ “quadruple lock”
Legislation allowing same-sex marriage will be brought forward next year. Religious organisations will be able to ‘opt in’ if they choose, as with civil partnerships, but the two Anglican Churches will be ‘locked out’ by “watertight protections.”
The Government statement says a ‘quadruple lock’ of measures in domestic legislation “would protect religious freedom, putting beyond doubt the possibility of successful challenge through domestic or European courts.” Details of the lock can be found at the end of this blog.
The Government’s facts about equal marriage sheet concludes by saying: “… married men and married woman are now equal before the law.” Maria Miller said: “And we are also building a fairer society for all.” Equal before the law and living in a fairer society, that is, unless you are a lesbian or gay member of the Church of England.
Tony Baldry introduces new discrimination
In the House of Commons yesterday, Sir Tony Baldry explained the exemption for the Church of England, saying the uniqueness of marriage is that it embodies the distinctiveness of men and women, so removing that complementarity from the definition of marriage is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.
The Government has introduced two new category divisions. One is between different churches and faith communities, so that some are able to register same-sex marriages and some are banned, on the grounds that some have Christian definitions of marriage which include same-sex marriage and others, like the C of E, have definitions which restrict marriage to opposite sex couples.
Chris Bryant, an Anglican priest and gay himself, said marriage today is, for very many people, about many other things—companionship, sharing one’s life, mutual support and so on. I find it difficult, he said, to believe that any Christian, including many Anglican bishops and clergy, would not want that for every member of their parish. He asked the minister to consider not putting such an ultimate lock on the Church of England, so that there is freedom for the Church of England?
In the House of Lords, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, a patron of Changing Attitude, said that notwithstanding the official position of the Church of England, a good number of its members warmly welcome the Government’s position. He asked the Minister whether she was aware that privately, a fair number of individual bishops in the Church of England also support it, but are not able to say so publicly at the moment because of the political situation in which the Church of England now finds itself?
Dear of dear, now bishops find themselves the victims of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture, and in their own House.
When is the Church of England going to become more prophetic?
When is the Church of England going to become more honest?
When is the Church of England going to grow up and become more adult?
When is the Church of England going to become more Christ-like?
When is the Church of England going to become more biblical?
When is the Church of England going to risk being open to God’s radical Spirit?
It’s Advent, and yet again, it’s going to be a long time waiting for justice. When O when, O Lord?
The legal locks
The Government reiterated today its absolute commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. European law already puts protection for religious freedom beyond doubt (under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights) but the Government intends to go even further and put in place a ‘quadruple lock’ in domestic law.
The legal locks, which will be on the face of any primary legislation, are:
- no religious organisation, or individual minister, could be compelled to marry same-sex couples (or to permit this to happen on their premises);
- it will be unlawful for religious organisations, or their ministers, to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to do so (and that would mean the religious organisation itself opting in, the presiding minister having consented and the premises in which the marriage is to be conducted having been registered);
- the Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or individual minister for refusing to marry a same-sex couple (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose); and
- the bill will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, or to opt-in to do so. Canon law – which bans the marriage of same-sex couples – will continue to apply. That means that it would require a change in both primary and Canon law before Church of England and Church in Wales would be able to opt in to conduct same – sex marriages.