A front page story in today’s Guardian reports that the Church of England and the Church in Wales have expressed their “complete shock” at the government’s proposal to create a ‘quadruple lock’ which legally excludes them from being able to solemnize same-sex marriages in church. Both Churches claim they were not consulted over the introduction of this element in the proposed legislation, which would make them the only religious organisations to be legally barred from conducting the ceremonies.
The introduction of a ban on same-sex marriage applying only to the two Anglican churches was apparently greeted with dismay by senior figures in both churches, who said they knew nothing of the legal plans until Miller made her statement to the Commons.
The Rt Revd Tim Stephens, bishop of Leicester, was highly critical of the proposals when he spoke in the House of Lords on Tuesday, a speech which Changing Attitude criticised as being shockingly inaccurate.
Bishop Tim has now apparently told a closed meeting of bishops, Lords and MPs that the government had not consulted the church on the proposal and said that the church had never sought the government’s so-called “quadruple lock” on gay marriage. This is another astonishing development.
A Church of England spokesman confirmed to the Guardian that the church had not been consulted over the government’s plans, saying: “Bishop Tim is correct that the first mention of a ‘quadruple lock’ came when the secretary of state announced it in the Commons. We had not been privately informed of this prior to the announcement.”
Apparently there is astonishment within the church that it was not told about the final proposals. That is presumably astonishment in Church House and among some bishops. Changing Attitude is also astonished at this revelation which adds to the confusion about the Church of England’s stance.
A spokeswoman for Dr Barry Morgan, the archbishop of Wales and patron of Changing Attitude, confirmed that the Church in Wales had not been consulted over the “quadruple lock” either. The spokesman said it had come “completely out of the blue” and had left the church “completely shocked. We feel it’s a step too far and we weren’t consulted and we’re now looking into what we can do. We will be pushing to have it amended, I would imagine.”
“At that time, we thought that the government were saying that this law would be one that all churches would be able to opt into, so we were keen at that time to have sufficient legal safeguards around us to ensure that none of our clergy – or the church – would be prosecuted under equal opportunities [legislation],” she said. “But we had no idea that we would be completely exempt. There was no indication at all that, as a church, we would be completely exempt and it makes us look like we’re exclusive and we’re different to the other churches.”
The fourth element of the Government’s so-called quadruple lock, and the one which Changing Attitude totally opposes, would ensure that the canon law of the Churches of England and Wales would remain unaffected, requiring further legislation, so we thought. According to this guarantee, if either church wished to conduct a same-sex marriage, changes would be needed to both canon law and primary legislation.
In her statement to MPs, Miller said: “Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples.
“This provision recognises and protects the unique and established nature of these churches. The church’s canon law will also continue to ban the marriage of same-sex couples. Therefore, even if these institutions wanted to conduct same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law. Additional protection that cannot be breached.”
The Church of England’s submission to the government’s consultation in June stressed that “the Canons of the Church of England define marriage, in accordance with Christ’s teaching and the doctrine of the Church, as being between a man and a woman.”
The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who met the Director and two trustees of Changing Attitude on Wednesday last week and who was at the Lords meeting, said Stevens’ revelation that the church had not been informed had drawn “audible gasps” from members of all parties.
Ben said: “It’s absolutely extraordinary. The government gave the clear impression that this had been done at the request of the Church of England … but the bishop of Leicester said: ‘We didn’t ask for it’ … and was very upset about it because it gave the impression that the Church of England were unfriendly towards gays.”
Asked why the government had chosen to propose the “quadruple-lock” guarantee, Bradshaw said: “The only explanation I can think of was that they thought it would help placate some of their homophobic backbenchers. But it seems to have backfired massively because the rightwing homophobes were out in force anyway and the Church of England now appears to be extremely upset that not only was it not asked, but it’s added to [the] general misery over women bishops and now this. It makes the Church of England look much more reactionary and unreasonable than it actually is.”