The defensive attitude of the Lords Spiritual to Equal Marriage

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords next Monday, 3 June. Lord Dear, a crossbencher and former HM Chief Inspector of Police, is expected to lead the opposition to the Bill in the House of Lords on a motion tabled by him. He told The Times that he might table a “fatal motion” to kill the Bill off.

CARE, The Christian Institute, Christian Concern and the Christian Medical Fellowship have called for a National Day of Prayer for Marriage on Sunday, 2 June. They claim it is an opportunity to vote down the whole same-sex marriage Bill.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, leads the bishops in the House of Lords on the issue.  In a report in last Friday’s Church Times, Bishop Stevens said: ”We clearly cannot support the Bill because it is contrary to the Church’s historic teaching on the nature of marriage.”

He said, however, that he would want to recognise “that the Government has done a great deal to accommodate some of the Church’s concerns, and to make it clear that individual clergy cannot be proceeded against by anybody”. “Hard work” had been done “to ensure that the Canons of the Church of England will not contravene the civil law of England”.

Bishop Stevens said that he intended to seek more concessions from the Government: further guarantees for teachers in church schools “to teach a traditional view of marriage”, and a “freedom-of-speech amendment to ensure those who argue for a traditional view of marriage are not treated as if they are in contempt of the law or behaving prejudicially”.

Bishop Stevens said that the House did not traditionally take a vote at this stage, but that this might happen. Individual bishops would then have to decide how to vote. I assume this means that tradition is being broken if Lord Dear’s motion is tabled and voted on.

From Changing Attitude’s pro-equal marriage perspective, Bishop Tim’s comments are depressing. Perhaps he said other things that went unreported. Everything the Church Times does report is designed to reassure those who oppose equal marriage. There is no recognition that many lesbian and gay Christian couples want to marry and are supported by their families, friends, colleagues, members of their congregations and parish priests.

The Church’s concerns are accommodated and concessions are sought (unnecessarily) to protect teachers who want to tell their pupils how God disapproves of same-sex marriage even though it’s legal.

Apart from two exceptions, I don’t think any bishop has the courage to state publicly that he fully supports and blesses lay and ordained same-sex couples who wish to marry.

The narrative of the House of Bishops is one-sided and defends the status quo. My memory takes me back to 2003 and 2006 when I attended the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The conversation in TEC is so, so different from England. TEC is by no means conflict-free and lives with a schismatic minority. But there has been strong, confident, generous support for thinking about the place of LGB&T people in the Church, robust, practical encouragement from bishops to engage with the issues and feelings at parish level, and a confidence that dares to celebrate LGB&T ministry and gifts.

The Church of England and the House of Bishops are so timid and careful. The Listening Process still hasn’t been started in many dioceses, let alone direct engagement with where LGB&T people are in British society in 2013.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, next Monday, to hear bishops confidently affirming the loving, faithful, committed relationships of clergy and laity in their dioceses? Instead, I fear all we are going to hear are the bishops bemoaning the problems the Government is creating for them and the Church of England.


  1. says

    Thanks Colin, perhaps it’s time for the conversation to be started via the Media in such a way to demonstrate that those who oppose SSM are in a tiny minority and that most members of the Church are at least accepting if not fully supportive to the LG&BT couples in the Church who rightly wish to celebrate a blessing of their union in the same way as straight people in their parish church, surrounded by friends and family.

    The alternative might be a petition to have the decisions of the HoB ‘not in our name’ raised to coincide with the relevant votes of the HoL on the issue.

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