Comment: We can’t assume the equal marriage campaign is won – there’s still a lot to do


Symon Hill is the associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion

“Gay marriage to be illegal in Church of England,” declared the BBC earlier this week. “Gays left at the altar,” announced the Metro. They were attempting to make sense of the government’s confusing proposals to legalise same-sex marriage.

Gay-marriageWhile these headlines are broadly accurate, they leave a lot unsaid – including some of the worst aspects of the government’s plan. To recap: the government conducted a consultation on same-sex marriage in England and Wales.

Cameron’s ministers had been expected to propose only civil ceremonies for same-sex marriage, which would have maintained discrimination against religious same-sex couples. Last week, Cameron said he had changed his mind.

He backed the right of faith groups to hold religious same-sex weddings if they choose to do so. This followed years of lobbying by Unitarians, Quakers, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and other pro-equality groups.

Then came the details.

Culture secretary Maria Miller proposed a “quadruple lock”, that seems to be designed to reassure people who fear churches will be forced to host same-sex marriages against their will. This fear has been whipped up by right-wing lobby groups to the extent anecdotal evidence suggests many Christians appear to believe it.

In reality, there is no organisation calling for the hosting of same-sex marriage ceremonies to be compulsory. No European country that has legalised same-sex marriage has seen the European Court force them onto churches. A religious marriage is an act of worship and almost everyone would agree nobody should be forced to participate in an act of worship in which they do not believe.

Two of the “locks” clarify that no faith group or minister of religion will be obliged to host same-sex marriages. One states a faith group can carry out same-sex marriages only if its governing body has applied for permission. This reveals a worrying level of ignorance about British faith groups.

For example, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union may well decide it is up to each congregation and minister to choose for themselves. But those congregations and ministers will be unable to marry same-sex couples if the national body has not applied for permission to do so.

The most surprising provision concerns the Church of England and the (Anglican) Church in Wales, in which Miller wants to make same-sex weddings illegal. It would be the first time since 1874 that Parliament has passed a law banning certain forms of worship in the Church of England.

Maria Miller referred to the Church in Wales as an established church. She is 92 years late. Wales has not had an established church since 1920.

Some of these measures seem designed to appease opponents of same-sex marriage. The problem is that many of them will never be appeased. They will not accept any provision that increases lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s rights. Assuring people they won’t be forced to go against their conscience is one thing; appeasing homophobia is quite another.

These confused proposals face determined opposition from Tory backbenchers, many peers and a number of bishops who sit in the House of Lords. We cannot assume the equal marriage campaign is won. There is still a long way to go.

See also:

Why should gay couples have to wait for equal pension rights?May 20th, 2012

Tatchell: Equal Love – the law should recognise gay marriage and same-sex civil partnershipsJuly 31st, 2011

Osborne’s gay marriage vow undermined by Tory recordApril 12th, 2010

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  • anonymous

    Look, the Bible speaks strongly against homosexuality and calls them to repentance. If some persons insist on being homosexual, then you should normally not want to identify with the church. Or does the government now want to rewrite the Bible?? Do you really understanf Christianity? Do you understand Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit? Let the wrath of God not come upon perpetrators of such act. Keep politics out of the church of God please. You may create political laws that give as much rights to them as possible but DO NOT involve the church please. Thank you

  • Jess @ Las Vegas Divorce

    Such a cute picture of two men in love. http://nevadaannulment.org

  • Jess @ Las Vegas Divorce

    Such a cute picture of two men in love. http://nevadaannulment.org

  • Jess @ Las Vegas Divorce

    Such a cute picture of two men in love. http://nevadaannulment.org

  • Jess @ Las Vegas Divorce

    Such a cute picture of two men in love. http://nevadaannulment.org

  • Jess @ Las Vegas Divorce

    Such a cute picture of two men in love. http://nevadaannulment.org

  • Newsbot9

    Not all religions or even Christians agree with you. Nobody’s being forced into providing marriage services.

    For myself, I see it as one step towards getting the Government out of marriage!

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Ash

    As I understand it, there are good (albeit rather obscure and technical) reasons for same sex marriage being made illegal for the CofE – reasons to do with the relationship between Statute Law and Canon Law. Is it not the case that the CofE is getting a de facto ability to ‘opt in’, just like other religious groups, because it can change its own rules at any time and come to Parliament for the rubber stamp as it always does?

  • Selohesra

    I’m all for equality in law – thats why we have civil partnerships. What extra does extending the definition of marriage which has always been between a man and a woman achieve?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Brumanuensis

    ‘Separate but equal’ is not equality. Let’s turn your question around and ask ‘what harm does extending the definition of marriage do’?

  • Selohesra

    I am not religious but can see that some who are religious might be offended by extending the scope of marriage – something they hold sacred. As I said before what other right does marriage bestow over a civil partnership? – surely there must be something otherwise why all the pressure to change the status quo that has worked for centuries.
    Surely the governement has got its work cut out clearing up Brown’s mess without the need for this sort of distraction – or it that all this is a bit of a diversion and buying Dave some credit with the socially liberal media types?

  • Selohesra

    I am not religious but can see that some who are religious might be offended by extending the scope of marriage – something they hold sacred. As I said before what other right does marriage bestow over a civil partnership? – surely there must be something otherwise why all the pressure to change the status quo that has worked for centuries.
    Surely the governement has got its work cut out clearing up Brown’s mess without the need for this sort of distraction – or it that all this is a bit of a diversion and buying Dave some credit with the socially liberal media types?

  • Brumanuensis

    The government can do more than one thing at a time, you know, even if you do believe in ‘clearing up Brown’s mess’.

    I don’t really see why the religious get to have a veto over other peoples’ civil rights. The main reason for extending marriage is that civil partnerships are essentially a ‘here is a slightly less prestigious form of marriage’ approach to the problem. The only way to secure full civic equality and to fully include gay and lesbian individuals in society, is by opening up institutions they were formerly excluded from. I don’t think hurt feelings is enough of a reason to deny marriage or persist in the pseudo-equality offered by civil partnerships.

  • Selohesra

    There ought to be a solution that satisfies everyone – gives people equality in law but protect religious sensitivities of others. Would you be happy if the churches relented on marriage but established a new union ceremony reserved just for a man & a woman?

  • Brumanuensis

    Well, civil marriage isn’t a matter for the churches anyway and religious marriage, which has no legal standing, is something they can choose to offer or not. The new laws won’t require the Roman Catholic Church to hold gay marriages, so in practice they’ll still be offering that man & woman only ceremony you’ve proposed.

  • Selohesra

    OK then – rename civil marriage as civil partnership & leave the churches to get on with their marriage ceremonies.Everyone happy then?

  • Brumanuensis

    No, why should we leave marriage to the churches? Even the Coalition for Marriage state in their briefing materials, “Marriage has a place in our history. The oldest recorded English law referencing marriage between husband and wife goes back 800 years – and part of that legislation is still in force today. Marriage is yet older than that. It predates the English language and our nation, and it predates the Christian church. It is as old as the hills, not a recent invention of society to be refashioned on a political whim”.

    http://c4m.org.uk/downloads/briefing.pdf , p. 2

    So if even anti marriage equality organisations don’t believe that the churches ‘own’ marriage, why should we give that impression by renaming civil marriage for their convenience?

  • Newsbot9

    Nope, the Government should stop being involved in “marriage” entirely. Let any two people register a partnership with it, and to have any ceremony which any organisation is willing to perform for them!

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