Friday, 15 June 2012

Church Times on the CofE response to government

Madeleine Davies has this news report: ‘C of E’ gives an opinion on same-sex marriage

GOVERNMENT plans to legalise same-sex marriage threaten to “cut one of the threads of the Establish­ment”, senior church officials have said.

On Tuesday, the officials sub­mitted a response, purportedly from the Church of England, to the Government’s consultation, which closed yesterday. The response, which is unattributed, was accom­panied by a covering letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Within 24 hours, a petition ob­jecting to the views in the response paper had attracted more than 1000 signatures.

The paper argues that to permit same-sex marriage would “dilute” marriage for everybody. It criticises the “fallacious assumption” that religious marriage differs from civil marriage. And it warns that the Government’s promise to limit same-sex couples to non-religious ceremonies would face the “serious prospect” of a successful challenge in the European Court of Human Rights…

…The claim that the response represents the official view of the Church of England has already been challenged. On Tuesday, the Revd Ian Stubbs, Priest-in-Charge of All Saints’, Glossop, posted a petition dissociating himself from the official submission. “I am bitterly dis­appointed by the Church’s shameful and outdated response to the pro­posals for gay marriage.” When the Church Times went to press, it had attracted 1076 signatures.

The LGB&T Anglican Coalition criticised the “scandalous lack of con­sultation” in the preparation of the response. The failure to recognise that same-sex couples seeking mar­riage wanted “something deeply spiritual which strengthens both the couple and society” had “impover­ished” the Church’s teaching on marriage.

On Tuesday, Stonewall published a poll of of 2074 adults suggesting that 71 per cent of people, and 58 per cent of “people of faith”, in their sample supported the proposals to legalise same-sex mar­riage. The char­ity argues that the “vitriol” seen in statements by “some senior clerics” in relation to the proposals is evidence of a “deeply worrying pre­judice toward gay people”. It argues that extending the right to marry to gay people is an “appropriate remedy” to discrimina­tion.

There is also a leader: Gay marriage: whose views are these?

MANY churchgoers woke on Tuesday morning to learn about their adamant opposition to same-sex marriage. Whether they agree with its position or not, they will find the paper submitted to the Government’s consultation on their behalf to be tendentious and poorly argued. In brief, it says that the government consultation on same-sex marriage is flawed (it is); that marriage has always been defined as between a man and a woman (it has); that matters such as consummation will be hard to work into a new definition (they will); and that there is a false distinction being made between civil and religious marriage (there is, although this is the Government’s clumsy attempt to preserve the Church’s right to discriminate).

Besides these points, however, the paper makes a number of unsupported claims. In just one example, it states that the view of marriage as “a lifelong union of one man with one woman” is “derived from the teaching of Christ himself”, first without citing which teaching, and second without any apparent embarrassment over the use of the word “lifelong”. The impression that Church and state have walked hitherto arm in arm up and down the aisle can be sustained only by ignoring the huge chasm over divorce that opened in the 19th century. Much is made of the Church’s supposed susceptibility to legal challenge; but again, this has not been its experience when clerics have refused second marriages in church. Hardest to follow are the paper’s arguments that the benefits society derives from heterosexual marriage will somehow be absent if marriage is extended to same-sex couples.

Whether its legal arguments hold water, the paper is right to suppose that pressure will increase on the Church to comply. Had the Church been as welcoming of civil partnerships as this paper implies, this crisis might have been averted. By declining to bless them, the Church contributed to the impression that civil partnerships were mere legal arrangements, and not declarations of love and commit­ment. It is patronising to dismiss the desire to emphasise this as merely answering an “emotional need”.

There are many in the C of E, and in the country at large, who hold traditional views of marriage. These ought to be respected. But so, too, should the views of those who, in conscience, see gay partnerships as comparable with marriage to the extent that the use of the same word now seems right. It is astonishing that the unnamed authors of the submission refer to themselves as “the Church of England” on a subject so contentious that two reviews are in progress to discover what people in the Church of England actually think.

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Does anyone have a link to Ian Stubb's petition?

Posted by: Paul on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 9:19am BST

Well written editorial. Spot on.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 9:20am BST

I found the document issues in the name of the Church deeply offensive in its language and content. The Church has its own rules. It is very successful in dissenting from State legislation and has secured a privileged position in regard to its attitude to women and homosexuals. Let the State go its own way and the Church its own way, but also let us make room for individual conscience as to how and where marriages can be celebrated by people of good faith, and differeing views. gays and leasbians and transexiuals shoul dbe able to marry in society, whatever the Church says. Una Kroll

Posted by: Una Kroll on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 9:22am BST

The Nameless Church of England reaction? Predictably Patriarchal and Paternalistic, oh and Patronising!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 11:59am BST

A balanced and sensible editorial which addresses the issues in an intelligent and sensitive way, recognising and appreciating the diversity of opinion in the Church of England. If only this had been the basis of our response to the Government's Consultation and not that issued in the name of the Bishops on "our behalf", which has already caused so much offence and misunderstanding.

Posted by: Canon Barry Naylor on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 2:30pm BST

I am ashamed of The Archbishops of Canterbury and York. This is yet another act of rhetorical violence against the glbt community and it needs to be challenged in a very public manner. Equality seems to be something many in the hierarchy simply do not understand. This truly makes some members of the Church of England hierarchy appear as sneaks and cowards. Truly shameful.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 2:31pm BST

Paul: try

Posted by: Amanda Goody on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 6:05pm BST

There is always diversity of opinion. That's just not a basis for defining policy, whereas the Canons of the Church, Resolutions and Acts of General Synod and Pastoral Statements are.

Don't like it? Get yourselves and the like-minded onto the electoral rolls everywhere, get yourselves elected to a majority in the Houses of Laity and Clergy in General Synod and change it.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 6:21pm BST

Among the many flaws in the C of E document (sorry Church Times, you too are wrong on this) is the strange assertion that there is no difference between church and secular marriage. I can point to any number of books on my shelf of books on marriage and matrimonial institutions that show the teaching of the Christian church at least until recent times as declaring that the marriage of non-Christians is not "marriage" at all -- or at least not Christian marriage. How could it be! Scripture also shows, in Paul's permission to non-Christians to divorce, that he regarded pagan or secular marriage as distinctly different from Christian marriage. All this aside from those churches that teach that the nuptial blessing is an essential part of what makes a marriage a marriage in the fullest sense.

Any effort to create a single all-encompassing definition of marriage cannot be successful without significant qualification and many words. "one man and one woman, unrealted by blood or affinity, of the age of consent, with consent freely given, with no other living (or in some traditions, dead) spouse, etc., etc." Marriage is, in short, far more complex than a simple formula can compass. That's why I have a half-shelf of books on the subject!

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 6:28pm BST

'... two reviews are in progress to discover what people in the Church of England actually think.'

Really? I thought that the two reviews had been set up to decide what the Church thinks. Not the same thing at all.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 6:36pm BST

Here's the link to Ian Stubbs' petition: (also worth retweeting and Facebooking etc if you do such things).

Posted by: Kate Smith on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 8:07pm BST

Meanwhile, in other news, the C of E's sister church and partner in full communion, the Church of Denmark, solemnised its first same-sex church marriages today... a situation impossible to countenance in England, according to the present feeble-minded House of Bishops.

Posted by: Mark on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 8:10pm BST

Here is a better link in English:

Posted by: Mark on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 8:12pm BST

Paul This might be what you are looking for, -

Posted by: Jean Mary Mayland on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 9:00pm BST

Paul, Google - Ian Stubbs

Posted by: Susan Hedges on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 9:18pm BST

Perhaps we can comfort ourselves that at the July synod,"As in July 2011, part of the Saturday morning has been structured in such a way as to foster a culture of listening and reflection in the Synod." It has done so much good before, especially among the bishops. Are flying pigs invited?

Thank God for ECUSA>

Posted by: Nat on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 11:02pm BST

Richard Ashby writes:
"Really? I thought that the two reviews had been set up to decide what the Church thinks. Not the same thing at all."

No, Richard, according to the press release of 5th January 2012 the purpose and the goal of the HoB group looking at the Church of England's approach to human sexuality is this:

"The House of Bishops announced on 1 July that it intended to draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality. It also committed itself to offering proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process. The task of the new group is to help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document in 2013."

So what we are to expect is not answers, but proposals on how the continuing discussion might be shaped, and a consultation document. I hope the consultation PROCESS will be clearly defined as well as a document produced - so that we all know where he whole conversation is supposed to be going.

Posted by: JeremyP on Saturday, 16 June 2012 at 5:36am BST

Isn't it slightly odd that the Church Times is taking such a critical line (*purportedly* from the Church of England)? The response should have been authorized by someone (despite that fact that it's not signed), since it was delivered with a cover letter from ++Cantuar and ++Ebor. I've not been reading the Church Times regularly, but normally they're at least polite about what those in Bishop World are doing. Here, they're downright dismissive! Seems like a less-than polite English response to me. Not that I don't agree with their take...

Posted by: Scot Peterson on Saturday, 16 June 2012 at 8:59am BST

Jeremy, I stand corrected but I would also argue that this week's farce has also shown that the HoB is already closing down avenues of discussion by its intemperate and premature denunciation of the government's proposals for gay marriage. If there is really a drawing together of the 'listening process', a process which has had no beginning or end, no format, no structure, no method, no one holding it together, no one recording what is being said and by whom, then the HoB should have honestly said that it couldn't comment on the Government's proposals because the Church was still discussing the matter.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 16 June 2012 at 9:50am BST

Dear David,

You said: 'That's just not a basis for defining policy, whereas the Canons of the Church, Resolutions and Acts of General Synod and Pastoral Statements are.'

It's worth remembering that the powers to enact Canons, Resolutions, Acts of Synod and Pastoral Statements are all _delegated_ powers. The body which delegated them, namely Parliament, retains the option of "defining policy" (which in this case, really means "authorising liturgy") directly. After the events of the last few days, I cannot imagine that members of both Houses are not sorely tempted.

Posted by: Feria on Saturday, 16 June 2012 at 10:56pm BST

The 1753 Marriage Act ensured that 'the only legally recognised marriages in Britain (with the exception of Jews and Quakers) were those performed in a parish church by a clergyman of the Church of England'. This measure was introduced to stamp out clandestine marriages.

The Act placed a duty on the church to solemnise marriages of persons of any faith or none, within a parish, as long as they had the capacity required by law. It imposed an obligations on prospective spouses to be married by and Anglican clergyman, since without a legal marriage, they had no legal rights as married people or as husband and wife. This is not currently the case, now that civil partnerships have been established.

It was the 1836 Marriage Act that legalised the concept of civil marriage in England and Wales. Publishing banns was no longer mandatory, but the provision of formal notice to a registrar was required. Marriages could be solemnised in a registered building and would be recognised by the government. However, this did not re-define the requirements for consent and capacity, only the manner of solemnisation.

The 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act empowered ordinary courts to grant full divorces that could already be procured legally (albeit at great cost) by a Private Act of Parliament in earlier years.

The ground of adultery as the basis for divorce did not change at that time. Prior to the Act, matrimonial causes were governed by ecclesiastical courts and canon law. The 1857 Act and the subsequent decisions still drew upon existing laws, jurisprudence and the historic ecclesiastical framework of marriage in order to apply it those outside of the established church.

If you create another species of marriage, it demolishes a consistent body of case law precedents for marriage. Thus far, each act remedied the manner of solmenisation and the basis for civil redress without introducing disparate sets of requirements for parties to a legal marriage. The requirements for and impediments to marriage must be consistent.

The proposal introduces a new species of marriage that demolishes a consistently applied framework of binding judicial precedents.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Sunday, 17 June 2012 at 8:05pm BST

No-one is introducing a new category for marriage; existing jurisprudence is retained (though developed over time and adapted to new cases as is the nature of case law); it is merely that the ban on same sex couples will be lifted.

The introduction of divorce by the State is an example of changing and different 'conditions' (as between church(es) and the State), so it can happen, and does already.

This is an overwrought and stretched red herring, one of several but I see they are capable of near indefinite recycling.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 17 June 2012 at 9:32pm BST

The 1753 Marriage Act ensured that 'the only legally recognised marriages in Britain (with the exception of Jews and Quakers) were those performed in a parish church by a clergyman of the Church of England'. - David Shepherd -

Then maybe now is the time to get real!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 2:04am BST


The red herring is that your supportive example of divorce has nothing to do with the consistent requirements of prospective parties to spouses.

On that basis, your argument has lost credibility.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 8:40am BST

I think divorce is apposite because for a long time the Church did not sanction remarriage after divorce and only now does so on a variable basis (apparently without anyone taking it to the European Court of Human Rights).

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 11:33am BST

One wonders how those millions of people who do not happen to belong to the State Church of England feel about this denial of their basic human rights by a religious organisation they do not belong to.

The Church of England has enough of a job keeping its own house in order, without trying to legislate for the whole country on this issue.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 12:15pm BST


While I don't defend the Anglican Church's allowance for pastoral discretion in the re-marriage in church of the divorced, before 1857, a full divorce could still be granted for the specific cause of adultery. The comparison of varying conditions for granting a full divorce has tangential relevance to the capacity requirements for all prospective spouses.

Consider that the focus of the proposal is on:
1. distinguishing civil marriage as a different entity from religious marriage, when they only differ by the mode of entry.

2. changing the requirements common to all prospective couples entering marriage, while stating that they only apply to civil marriage.

That's like altering the rights of and requirements for British Citizenship, (e.g. by allowing it to be transferred by deed), while claiming that only citizens by descent will be affected, rather than those who are citizens by birth also.

Even if you believe that the ends justify the means, the proposal is making a patently false assertion that you have, thus far, refused to reject.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 7:05pm BST

Fr Smith, I can't see your point apart from the exuberance with which you hold it.

Isn't the actual point that the legal duty of the CofE is irrelevant in cases outwith their own descriptions of marriage? No one is 'being denied basic human rights by a religious organisation, etc'. The 'religious organisation'in question can leave fully untouched whether couples in the same gender who want to have their relationships protected by law can do so. They can. Provision has been made. Presumably if they wish to call this 'marriage' that will be up to them, but it cannot be held as 'legislation for the whole country' for the CofE to define what it understands marriage to be in its own context. The CofE can indeed keep its 'house in order' and also same-gender couples have no let or impediment securing legal protection for their relationships. 'Gay' was a word on offer to define this state of affairs. Perhaps a word can be found on offer to describe the distinctive relationship of same-gender 'marriage.' But check with all GLBTQ folk to determine if what is actually wished for has the appropriate term applied to it. Some find 'marriage equivalence' condescending and a capitulation to heterosexism and/or so-called 'Christian' values.

Posted by: cseitz on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 7:19pm BST

"Some find 'marriage equivalence' condescending and a capitulation to heterosexism and/or so-called 'Christian' values." cseitz

And others don't.

I want to have a civil marriage with my partner.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 at 2:21pm BST

David S., perhaps if you framed the divorce question in the terms in which it is applied to marriage it might help. "Being unmarried" (whether by virtue of never having been married, or through widowhood, an annulment or legal divorce, is a "capacity requirement" if you will, a "necessary condition" for entering into a legal marriage. That being said, the Church makes distinctions concerning which divorces it recognizes -- if, as in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, it recognizes them at all. There is no legal difference between marriages officiated by the state or the church; but there are some marriages the church will not recognize that the state will. That is the difference the Government is attempting to point to, and it seems obvious that the church's legitimate choice to refuse to recognize some marriages does in fact create or reify this difference.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 at 4:20pm BST

'but there are some marriages the church will not recognize that the state will'

The church and state may indeed disagree on whether a prospective spouse is unmarried, i.e. whether a previous marriage and divorce would render that person unmarried. Nevertheless, both the church and the State agree that 'being unmarried' is a 'capacity requirement', without which any marriage is void.

Whether by church or civil ceremony, the disqualification, 'that at the time of the marriage either party was already lawfully married' (MCA 1972 Section 11(b)) applies to all prospective spouses in the UK.

The distinction, then, is not one of disagreement on whether 'being unmarried' is a 'necessary condition' for a valid marriage, but on whether that condition has been met correctly.

However, the proposals would, if implemented, eliminate a 'necessary condition' of 'being opposite gender to one's spouse' that was thus far agreeable to church and state, i.e. the disqualification 'that the parties are not respectively male and female' (Section 11(c)).

The proposal's claim is that you could eliminate this 'necessary condition' by removing the disqualification from marriage law entirely, but in a manner would only be applicable to marriages solemnised by civil authority. This is unreliable.

If you eliminate an explicit clause relating to a UK marriage, the clause ceases to exist for all prospective marriages. The means of registration does not matter.

If not by creating a separate species of marriage (which is more than reifying a difference of interpretation), how is the church able to differ from the State in respect of a necessary condition, as it would no longer exist for any legal UK marriage anymore?

Posted by: David Shepherd on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 at 7:59pm BST

David, let me try once again. The issue for the church is in solemnizing marriages; and the church is free not to solemnize some marriages that can be solemnized under the civil law.

As far as I know the legal _status_ of being married does not confer any ecclesiastical rights or entail any responsibilities. The church therefore has no interest in distinguishing between a married or an unmarried couple; or married or unmarried individuals; it is only the _rite_ of marriage that is at issue.

Perhaps the confusion here is the use of "marriage" both for the estate and the rite. It is the rite that is at issue for the church. The civil law proposed is affirming that the church will not have to make the rite available to couples it deems incapable of marriage -- just as it does now with [some] divorced persons. That is the comparison I am attempting to make. Civil and church marriage will still have the same legal statue, as an estate, but the church can and will be able to reject some couples as unmarriageable under its rites. There is no separate "species" of marriage, but there are civil marriage ceremonies and church marriage ceremonies, and some people eligible for the former are ineligible for the latter, on objective and legally cognizable grounds.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 19 June 2012 at 9:06pm BST


One issue for the church is in solemnising marriages, but the issue for the State is that priests in England are agents of the state, under a statutory duty (not just authority) to marry all legally eligible partners, who wish for a church wedding and are resident in their parish in accordance with the rites of the Church of England. This is regardless of the beliefs and affiliations of the couple.

If it was a difference in interpreting a disqualification, like the divorced being considered already (and still) married, then I'd agree that the church could legally withold the rite. However, the proposal merely affirms that the church, in its historic statutory role, could withold the rite from those who would become eligible and survive a legal challenge.

I don't think the State would force either a priest or religion to act against conscience. It would be more plausible for a well-funded pressure group to sponsor a case that would test the exemption of CofE priests from solemnising marriages of gay partners as an infringement of Article 12 rights all the way to Strasbourg. The easiest remedy would be to remove the historic duty of the priest to marry all eligible partners who request a church wedding and reside in the parish.

While the marriage rite is a valid manifestation of belief, the margin of appreciation granted by the European Court would be reduced, if gay marriage became legal in the UK. Article 9 does not protect against interferences (in the right to manifest one's religion) that are deemed 'necessary to a democratic society'.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 1:32am BST

Dear David,

Since you've used that verb "force", I'll reiterate something I've already pointed out on another forum...

It is a logical impossibility for an Act of Parliament to "force" the Church of England into anything. Parliament is the ultimate governing body of the Church of England. Therefore, anything contained in an Act of Parliament is, by definition, something to which the governing body of the Church has voluntarily agreed.

Posted by: Feria on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 8:50am BST


'Parliament is the ultimate governing body of the Church of England.'

So, are you asserting that the Church of England would have no choice, but to comply with the Act of Parliament? That appears to support the CofE response to the proposals.

I thought that others here were claiming the opposite was true.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 10:46am BST

No David, I'm not asserting anything of the sort. As per Adam Wagner, I think it unlikely that the Bill, as initially proposed by the Government, will have any effect whatsoever on what happens in the Church of England.

I'm thinking a little further ahead, to the possibility that a backbench amendment changes the Bill, so that it explicitly introduces a same-sex marriage liturgy for the Church of England. Even that would not mean that 'the Church of England would have no choice'. Instead, it would mean that the Church of England, through its governing body Parliament, had _made_ a choice to introduce a same-sex marriage liturgy.

Posted by: Feria on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 3:38pm BST


Like the introduction of Lord Alli's amendment, then, but with Parliament overriding the function of General Synod in approving the church's liturgy.

Sounds like wish-fulfilment.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 4:49pm BST

No "overriding" involved - General Synod's rôle in approving the church's liturgy is a rôle that was delegated to Synod by Parliament, in the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974. As the then Lord President of the Council, Edward Short, made clear in the House of Commons on 4th December 1974, the delegation is non-exclusive, i.e. Parliament retains the power to approve liturgy itself. (The relevant form of words used by Mr. Short was 'and Parliament can always do that'.)

As for "wish fulfilment": you have correctly guessed that I personally would be content if Parliament did act in the manner I described above. That doesn't mean that I think the probability that Parliament _will_ act in that manner is particularly high. However, that probability will be a good deal lower if no-one ever mentions that Parliament _can_ act in that manner.

Posted by: Feria on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 at 8:38pm BST

"No one is 'being denied basic human rights by a religious organisation, etc'. The 'religious organisation'in question can leave fully untouched whether couples in the same gender who want to have their relationships protected by law can do so. They can. Provision has been made." - cseitz -

Again, Christopher, I have to call your bluff. What the Church of England Statement is trying to do is to prevent Same-Sex Marriage in the U.K. Whatever other relationship is allowed by law at the moment in the U.K. it cannot be legally called 'Marriage'. And for the C.of E. to oppose the possibility of Same-Sex Marriage, if accepted by the British Government, would deny Same-Sex couples the possibility of being married under British Law. Would that not be 'interference'?

Perhaps you don't realise that a Civil Partnership is not legally recognised as Marriage - either in the U.K. or in many either countries. Same-Sex Marriage has a definitely different legal status, which many Gay people want for themselves - whether celebrated by the State, or in a religious ceremony (the celebration of which, would depend on the religious organisation they belong to).

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 22 June 2012 at 12:31pm BST
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