The Church of England and Church in Wales will be banned in law from offering same-sex marriages according to a shock announcement from the United Kingdom’s government.
However, more liberal and accepting religious organisations will be allowed to “opt in” to holding same-sex ceremonies, came the unexpected announcement from the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. The Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly” stated strong opposition and would not be included in plans that are due to be introduced before the next UK election, in 2015.
The Church of England, The Roman Catholic Church and some other denominations have been vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriage and are fully expected to oppose the bill at all costs, even with its added caveats.
In her statement, Mrs Miller promised a “quadruple lock” in the bill that would protect religious freedom, involving the following:
1) No religious organisation or individual minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
2) Making it illegal for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so.
3) Amending the UK’s 2010 Equality Act to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
4) The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.
Mrs Miller confirmed that because the Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly stated” their opposition to equality and same-sex ceremonies, it was therefore right for the government to enshrine in the bill it would “explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples”.
Other religious groups including the Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and the Quakers, are more inclusive to same sex couples and are in favour of same sex marriage.
This rather unexpected announcement will likely appease some of the critics in the conservative party and elsewhere that have not favourable be towards marriage equality. However, many are still aggressively campaigning against the bill, claiming the bill, even if it is passed will be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. However as European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt with strong protections it seems unlikely they would side with a plaintiff against the ban.
Many in the gay community welcome the bill with one hand, the right to have a ‘marriage’ rather than a civil partnership ceremony, yet with the other hand are deeply disappointed that they wont be allowed to hold it in a ‘willing’ church of England church.
“We’re delighted about the government’s statement today and welcome the promise to legislate for equal marriage as warmly as on the three previous occasions that this announcement has been made. We’re particularly pleased that ministers have been persuaded to extend their original proposal in order to permit same-sex marriages for those religious denominations that wish to hold them. This is an important matter of religious freedom.” Said the head of equality campaigning charity Stonewall, Ben Summerskill.
Others are also angry the proposed bill does not include a change to open up the current civil partnership rules to heterosexual or different sex couples, thus making it truly equal to all.
The Catholic Church has already criticized the announcement claiming ministers ignored a 600,000-signature petition against marriage equality submitted during the government’s recent consultation on gay marriage. “The meaning of marriage matters. It derives that meaning from its function as the foundation of the family. The union of one man and one woman for love and mutual support and open to procreation has over the centuries formed a stable unit we call the family.” Reads their statement. So no change there then, the catholic church has always been clear on the fact that it doesn’t welcome gay people into its congregation or see gay people as equal. However some in the Church of England feel making it illegal for them to hold same sex ceremonies is a step to far, seeing it as binding manacle preventing progress and further alienating it from the wider society of today.
Whilst the pro marriage equality supporters are celebrating this announcement, those against are already drawing up their plans against us. There is clearly a long way to go before marriage equality comes to the UK, however this should be seen as a massive step forward and clearly the biggest since civil partnerships passed in 2004.