Saturday, 8 December 2012

same-sex marriage in churches: more responses

Updated Monday morning

Media reports:

Guardian David Cameron faces Tory revolt over vote on same-sex weddings

Financial Times Gay marriage clash looms for Cameron

Telegraph Cameron accused of ‘broken promise’ as gay couples told they can marry in church

Blogs and opinion:

James Townsend The consequences of the women bishops vote start to roll in

…I am relatively relaxed about Gay Marriage – I would never campaign for it, but then could never bring myself to oppose it. However, many of the traditionalists who voted against women bishops have done themselves a great disservice because they care rather more about protecting the institution of marriage than they do about women bishops.

The Prime Minister’s original position not only respected the right of churches to opt out of Gay Marriage (I haven’t yet heard anybody suggest that churches should be forced to conduct gay marriages), but including a legal ban making it non-negotiable. His new position won’t change things very much for the Church of England. The only shift is that people like the Quakers, who choose to recognise Gay Marriage, will be able to do so.

Nevertheless, we can see a hardening of the government’s position which is a direct consequence of the women bishops vote. They are less interested in accommodating the needs of a group of people who increasingly look like nutters on the sidelines.

The great tragedy is that there are some decent (non-bigoted) arguments against redefining marriage to include gay relationships. Unfortunately the debacle of women bishops, which has served nobody, means they are likely never to be listened to again.

Changing Attitude Changing Attitude welcomes government plans for gay marriage in church

LGCM Religious Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

Christian Concern Government breaks promise on same-sex marriage in churches

Maria Miller ‘We should not stand in their way’

…And I know concerns have been raised by some faith groups about our plans and what they will mean for them. I have put it on record many times, and I will say again, that I will never bring in a law that would impinge – in any way – on the Church’s power to decide who it marries and who it does not. No religious organisation, or individual, should ever be forced to conduct same sex marriages. The European Convention on Human Rights already guarantees freedom of religion, and this cannot be breached. We should not confuse this issue, as many do, with some cases currently going through the EU courts about the right to wear items such as crucifixes – this is about a fundamental religious tenet. But in spite of this guarantee, I will also be bringing forward additional watertight legal locks on the front of any primary legislation introduced, to ensure that these protections are iron clad.

Now, many religious organisations have pointed out to me that these protections would be stronger if we changed our original proposal to ban all religious organisations from conducting same sex marriages. Some, like the Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians, have also said that they want to be able to conduct same-sex marriages, in the same way that they can conduct civil partnerships. My own personal view is that we should not stand in the way of this, especially if it means that those that don’t want to will be even further protected. It is a fundamental point of religious freedom that religious bodies should be able to make their own decisions on this issue.

For me, far from being a radical departure, this is simply one more in a long line of reforms which have strengthened marriage, ensuring it remains a modern and vibrant institution. Over the coming weeks and months I will continue to work closely with faith and other interested groups on how best to implement our plans…


The LGBT Anglican Consortium has issued this press statement:

The LGB&T Anglican Coalition is delighted that David Cameron has said the government’s proposals on equal marriage will include an option for ceremonies to take place on religious premises.

This outcome concurs with our own submission to the government’s consultation, and those of our partner organizations.

It is a matter of regret that the latest official Church of England response makes absolutely no mention of the breadth of views on this matter within the Church itself.

Guardian John Major joins prominent Tories backing gay marriage in church

Independent editorial: When Tories dig their heels in

The full list of names of those signing the letter first announced in the Telegraph is now available at the website of FreedomtoMarry.

Quakers in Britain Quakers welcome steps towards equal marriage

Unitarians Unitarians welcome statement by Prime Minister in support of same sex marriage in churches

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 8:27am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

I do not know of any 'non-bigoted' arguments against equal marriage, and I have been listening for years.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 9:12am GMT

First, the government has changed its mind on the plans for marriage (allowing same sex marriages in churches for those who want and agree to them) in response to the consultation where (I am assuming) everyone was against - certainly the C of E was. I think they also felt that they'd lose on the issue in the Commons and they couldn't exclude a human rights challenge. It was clearly a mistake to even go down that path but I understand the reasons for them doing so. It was absurd to say it was a promise - the government has merely consulted on its plans and listened.

Second, and for reasons given above, this has nothing to do with women bishops - if the refusal of weddings in church was supported (e.g. by churches) then it might be a goer but it actually had the opposite effect. I don't really see the women bishops debacle playing a role apart from tearing the Church's credibility to shreds. The credibility mainly existed in their own heads anyway. Pulling on levers that don't work any more - they're not connected to anything.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 9:53am GMT

Fascinating as Mr Townsend's argument is, he's starting from a false premise, and reading into things what he wants to read into them. The decision has got nothing to do with the vote on women bishops, and everything to do with the judgment of the European court in relation to voting rights for prisoners -ie, after much legal opinion and drafting and redrafting, it is the opinion of counsel that no blanket ban would be lawful so they've had to adjust their position in order to try and head off successful legal challenge down the line.....

Seriously, no one's denying the situation with reference to women bishops is a mess, but I'm starting to feel there's a CofE bubble every bit as detached from reality as the Westminster one - and both would do well to understand each other better (as well as the rest of the world). The effect on Parliament and lawmaking of the synod vote is far too early to call at this stage, and I would still expect it in the long run to be zero.

We can choose to solve the problem, or not to solve it, but I'm pretty certain it will be us that does or doesn't do it, not the government, whatever some of the hotter heads bot here and there seem to think.

Posted by: PrimroseleagueMajwheeldon on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 10:17am GMT

Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "We have seen countless cases where Christians have been forced out of their jobs for their refusal to condone and promote homosexual practice".

Countless cases? Oh come off it. Where is the evidence? A few people have lost legal cases sponsored by the so called 'Christian' Legal Centre because they broke the law or refused to do the job they were paid for. Where are all the other countless cases? Exaggeration (or is it a barefaced lie?) does nothing to make their case.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 10:27am GMT

It seems to me there is an assumption that whilst the Quakers etc will opt in to same sex weddings in church, the the CofE will not. But why is this the case?

When it comes to women bishops the conservative amongst us present an argument for Richard Hooker's "harmonious dissimilitude". We in the Church should be allowed to disagree whilst still remaining in the same church. The majority should not impose their view on the minority. So whilst the majority of parishes want women bishops, individual parishes should, if they wish to, be able to opt out of this and be provided with male bishops of an appropriate pedigree.

Whilst I am not sure about the theology of this, I am prepared to go along with it for the sake of Christian harmony.

All I ask is that those same conservatives in the CofE act consistently. Whilst the majority of parishes in the CofE may not yet be ready to support Christian gay marriage, a significant minority will want to go down that path.

So to maintain consistency we should all be supporting legislation in Synod allowing individual parishes to opt-in to gay marriage, just as individual parishes can opt-out of women bishops.


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 11:28am GMT

"Letters to constituents passed to The Daily Telegraph suggest that at least 130 Tory MPs are preparing to vote against the plans."

Which presumably means that around 170 Tory MPs are preparing to vote for the plans. As will perhaps 50 Lib Dems. And the overwhelming preponderance of Labour.

All in all, if the DT's number is to be credited, the vote would be around 450 to 200, or better, for same-sex marriage.

Posted by: Jeremy on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 2:26pm GMT

For the record, in my diocese, Colorado, USA, the bishop lets each parish decide whether or not to do same-sex blessings (marriage not being on the table yet, unfortunately). It is an imperfect solution, but people do have the freedom to decide where to worship, and most LGBT people are going to worship in the welcoming churches, of which there are many (majority, I think). The overall policy of TEC is now to allow same-sex blessings and a new Rite has just come out. So the overall policy is generally welcoming (when legal marriage becomes possible in more places in the US, that may challenge TEC to provide the Sacrament of Marriage, with gay bishops, it would be hard to argue against).

My main point is, that it's possible for the national church to have non discriminatory policies, and allow the parishes to move at the rate that is pastoral for them. This is highly generational, I know no one under 50 in TEC who has a problem with gay marriage. And once the older crowd finds out that the sky doesn't fall and their marriages don't change because others have happiness, equality will be established.

Given that it's generational, discriminatory attitudes toward women and LGBT people is a formula for repelling the next generation.

It's a tough nut. Martin Luther King noted that you can legislate equality but you can't legislate a change in people's hearts. Having generous, loving, equitable laws and policies are crucial, however, and CoE is not embracing that ideal.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 5:51pm GMT

This is absolutely right.

'So to maintain consistency we should all be supporting legislation in Synod allowing individual parishes to opt-in to gay marriage, just as individual parishes can opt-out of women bishops.'


Posted by: Simon Dawson on Saturday, 8 December 2012 at 11:28am GMT

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Sunday, 9 December 2012 at 8:06pm GMT

Simon Dawson said: This is absolutely right. 'So to maintain consistency we should all be supporting legislation in Synod allowing individual parishes to opt-in to gay marriage, just as individual parishes can opt-out of women bishops.'

Actually, no. It's really important for the policy of the larger church to be non-discriminatory. I.e. to acknowledge that all people are created in the image of God and the church must not exclude anyone as a matter of policy. The opt-outs would be a pastoral response from the local bishops. The pastoral response is basically saying - and this is my take on our policy here in Colorado - that not everyone is ready to accept all others as created in the image of God, so they are getting more time.

Over time, the vast majority will come to see that LGBT marriages have no negative impact on straight marriages, and they will wonder what the fuss was all about. Especially as this is generational. The exclusive churches will shrink, and right now, our liberal ones are growing.

A pastoral opt out for some parishes is way different from a discriminatory policy in the national church. If the church adopts discriminatory policies, in the face of strong theology and public opinion, then it forfeits its credibility on a wide range of social justice issues and renders itself completely irrelevant and unable to spread the Good News.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 10 December 2012 at 1:09am GMT

It is said that the census figures to be published soon will show the percentage self identifying as Christian has fallen from 72% ish to 45%ish. This is bound to affect how much attention is paid to the views of religious bodies.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Monday, 10 December 2012 at 4:22pm GMT

Simon: 'It seems to me there is an assumption that whilst the Quakers etc will opt in to same sex weddings in church, the the CofE will not. But why is this the case?'

If fact, we don't even know yet which CofE body (or individual) will be responsible for the decision as to whether to opt in. With the legislation for the registration of civil partnerships on religious premises, the choice of which body, in each denomination, would decide whether to opt in, was left for the Home Secretary to make after the main legislation was passed. On that occasion, the Home Secretary chose General Synod as the responsible body for the CofE - but after the events of the last few weeks, I find it hard to imagine any Home Secretary entrusting General Synod with important new powers.

Posted by: Feria on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:29am GMT

Perry: 'It is said that the census figures to be published soon will show the percentage self identifying as Christian has fallen from 72% ish to 45%ish.'

The figures were released this morning, and weren't nearly that bad. The percentage self identifying as Christian in 2011 had indeed fallen from the 2001 value of 72%, but was still 59% - thanks be to God, still a clear majority.

Posted by: Feria on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 11:37am GMT
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