Friday, 17 May 2013

Church of England issues Report stage briefing on Marriage bill

Updated Friday evening and again Sunday afternoon

Update Sunday afternoon The entire briefing paper has now been published as a press release here.

The Parliamentary Unit, Mission and Public Affairs Division and Legal Office of the Church of England, at Church House, Westminster has issued this briefing note. It begins this way:

The House of Commons will consider the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st May.

A Church of England briefing for MPs in advance of the Bill’s Second Reading was published in February. That briefing summarised the principled reasons why the Church could not support the Bill and included a detailed Q&A on some of the more commonly asked questions (and misconceptions) about the impact of the legislation on the Church of England. It can be seen here.

This briefing should be read alongside the document produced for Second Reading and focuses on some of the issues that are likely to arise during debate on Report and Third Reading.


The Church of England cannot support the Bill, because of its concern for the uncertain and unforeseen consequences for wider society and the common good, when marriage is redefined in gender-neutral terms.

We are grateful for the positive way in which the Government has sought to engage with the Church of England on the detail of the Bill prior to Report and Third Reading.

We do not doubt the Government’s good intentions in seeking to leave each church and faith to reach its own view on same-sex marriage and offering provisions to protect them from discrimination challenges. The ‘quadruple lock’ does, in our view, achieve the Government’s policy intentions in this area and we believe it is essential that the various locks in the Bill are preserved. The Church of England, whose clergy solemnize around a quarter of all marriages in England, has not sought or been granted any greater safeguards in substance than those provided for other Churches and faiths.

In our Second Reading briefing we said:

“The Church of England recognises the evident growth in openness to and understanding of same-sex relations in wider society. Within the membership of the Church there are a variety of views about the ethics of such relations, with a new appreciation of the need for and value of faithful and committed lifelong relationships recognised by civil partnerships.”

“Civil partnerships have proved themselves as an important way to address past inequalities faced by LGBT people and already confer the same rights as marriage. To apply uniformity of treatment to objectively different sorts of relationship – as illustrated by the remaining unanswered questions about consummation and adultery- is an unwise way of promoting LGBT equality.”

“The continuing uncertainty about teachers, the position of others holding traditional views of marriage working in public service delivery, and the risk of challenges to churches in the European courts despite the protections provided, suggest that if the legislation becomes law it will be the focus for a series of continued legal disputes for years to come.”

Those concerns are now the subject of several amendments at Report and Third Reading.

The following commentary does not address specific amendments, but is a guide to Church of England concerns on the presenting issues…

The paper carries a footnote which reads:

It draws on the formal position on same-sex marriage as set out in the official Church of England submission to the Government’s consultation of June 2012, which was agreed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council.


A press release has been issued, titled Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships. The full text is copied below the fold. The same wording is contained in the briefing paper.

Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships

We agree with the Government’s view that the Bill should not be amended to introduce an option of civil partnerships for couples of the opposite sex.

We believe that this would introduce further confusion about the place of marriage in society. We remain unconvinced that the introduction of such an option would satisfy a genuine and widespread public need, other than for those who pursue ‘equality’ as an abstract concept.

There has been little public evidence to suggest that significant numbers of opposite-sex couples who choose not to marry would opt instead for a civil partnership. We are not convinced that any clear new social good is created by this further innovation in civil partnerships and therefore they are best left as they are at a time when considerable uncertainty is being caused by the fundamental change in the nature of marriage.

In our submission to the Government’s consultation on the Bill in June 2012 (available here), we acknowledged that there is an inherent illogicality in introducing gender-neutral marriage whilst retaining same-sex civil partnerships.

“It is very doubtful whether the proposed continued limitation of civil partnerships to same-sex couples would withstand legal challenge, were the main proposal concerning the redefinition of marriage to be implemented.”

At the time this formed part of our wider concerns about anomalies created by the proposals to legislate. We do not believe however that introducing opposite-sex civil partnerships by amendment to the Bill to remedy what is largely a conceptual anomaly is in the broader interests of strengthening marriage as an institution. For the avoidance of doubt, this view is endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We acknowledge that the availability of same-sex civil partnerships has continuing value for gay and lesbian people, including those gay and lesbian Christians who accept the Church’s doctrine of marriage.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 8:28am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

Basing policy on fears about anything's unforseen and uncertain consequences is hardly possible, especially as nobody can say what they might be. The unforseen and unsertain consequences that dare not speak their name, perhaps? Or, more kindly put perhaps, as Fathers Ted & Dougal wrote on their Cinema Placards "Down with this sort of thing. Careful, now!"

Posted by: Alan Wilson on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 9:26am BST

How can the Parliamentary Unit speak for the whole Church of England? The part about how civil partnerships, by definition a separate and unequal institution, have worked is hypocritical. It would be better to warn same-sex couples that the institution in many respects does not want them in church so they can invest their time and money in more enlightened groups.

In any case, what does civil law have to do with religion? Each sect should be free to worship however they want but should have no right to prescribe civil law.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 9:50am BST

Hypocritical balderdash from C of E bishops - but after over 60 years of hearing stuff like this, I'm inured - virtually !

They did NOT and DO NOT support civil partnerships.

Why do ministers lie like this ?

Posted by: Laurence on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 10:29am BST

I'm puzzled that they keep on about what they see as a problem about the position of teachers. I can't envisage a situation in which it would be appropriate for teachers to express in a classroom setting their personal disapproval of same sex marriage.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 10:30am BST

If the C of E thinks that this is 'an unwise way of promoting LGBT equality', I wonder if 'they' could suggest what wise ways they have in mind instead? I am yet to be persuaded that 'we' in the Church of England (and I count myself a member, just) have ever been properly consulted about this matter.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 11:39am BST

It would be most interesting if the Church of England were brave enough to run a referendum on this issue; inviting practising church-goers to subscribe to a poll on same-sex marriage. I suspect the Bishops might be surprised at the support that would be given to the government initiative.

It is a pity that, given the assurance by the promoters of the Bill that no Church Body of Minister will be compelled to marry a same-sex couple; that the Church of England categorically opposes the freedom of others to enter into a life-long monogamous partnership between two persons who 'Love one another' and desire to continue that love in a relationship recognised by both Church and society.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 12:21pm BST

Bishops to Government: 'But you see, there's only so much of this marriage thing to go around. If we give it to same-sex couples, we might run out.'

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 12:56pm BST

For the two people in the world who haven't seen it:

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 2:12pm BST

'The C of E' should be sending out - and even making videos like this (not boring out of date, mean 'reports' based on invincible ignorance and homophobia) :

Posted by: Laurence on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 4:20pm BST

Does any one know if the Archbishop of Canterbury still supports civil partnerships for opposite sex couples or was that an example of cynical stirring we have become accustomed to from our moral betters?

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 8:02pm BST

Just so bored of these "official pronouncements"

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 8:12pm BST

I think he does not, witness this para on page 4 of the briefing note:

"At the time this formed part of our wider concerns about anomalies created by the proposals to legislate. We do not believe however that introducing opposite-sex civil partnerships by amendment to the Bill to remedy what is largely a conceptual anomaly is in the broader interests of strengthening marriage as an institution. For the avoidance of doubt, this view is endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury."

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 10:54pm BST

Since writing my previous comment, I have discovered that a press release was issued by the Church of England earlier this evening, on the subject of opposite-sex civil partnerships, which repeats the relevant section of the briefing paper. I have added the press release to this article.

However, what Maria Miller has said is that there will be a review of the issue in five years' time. It's not clear whether this press release is in response to that announcement.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 11:42pm BST

Here is the amendment Maria Miller has tabled
Review of civil partnership
Secretary Maria Miller
* To move the following Clause:—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must arrange—
(a) for the operation and future of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in England and Wales to be reviewed, and
(b) for a report on the outcome of the review to be produced and published.
(2) Subsection (1) does not prevent the review from also dealing with other matters relating to civil partnership.
(3) The arrangements made by the Secretary of State must provide for the review to begin as soon as practicable after the end of the five year post-commencement period.
(4) The Secretary of State is not required by this section to arrange a review if, within the five year post-commencement period, the Secretary of State has already arranged a review which, in the Secretary of State’s view, deals with the same matters as the review required by this section.
(5) Arrangements under this section may provide for the Secretary of State or one or more other persons to undertake the review, produce the report, or publish the report.
(6) In this section “five year post-commencement period” means the period of five years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.’.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 17 May 2013 at 11:54pm BST

In case we Anglicans should get to feeling too superior to the Roman Catholics. {face-palm}

@Interested Observer: we shouldn't need atheists to point out the OBVIOUS.

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 1:52am BST

This is so confusing. Wales is it's own country. But the English Parliament is voting on SSM for England and Wales. But Wales represented "international participation" in the nomination of the ABC. I think I'll pour a glass of wine!

I think those scribes at Church House, Westminster need to retire, immediately. Such nonsense! For the record, separate is inherently unequal.

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 5:00am BST

The press release on civil partnerships for sex-discordant couples is stupid. It claims that not many sex-discordant couples would get civil partnerships if they could. In France, lots of straight couples have been choosing pactes civil de solidarité over civil marriage. The President of France was in a pacs with Ségolène Royal, for example. They were able to dissolve their union much more quickly than if they had been married.

Evidence seems not to matter for the writers for the C of E.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 8:03am BST

Cynthia, it's the British Parliament voting. England and Wales have the same legal system, law isn't devolved to Wales, so they have to be the same.

Scotland has a different legal system, which is devolved, although the British Parliament can make laws for it.

Although Scotland isn't affected by this legislation, there is no protocol whatsoever for restricting voting rights in the British Parliament, so Scottish and Welsh MPs will be voting on this legislation for England and Wales. Welcome to the joys of an unwritten constitution.

To be clear, there's no such animal as "the English Parliament" - there is a British government with MPs from all the 4 constituent parts, then individual governments for Scotland, Wales and NI. Laws affecting only England are voted on by everyone, this is not reciprocal.

Posted by: Primroseleague on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 8:06am BST

Thank you, Promroseleague!

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 9:23pm BST

Dear Cynthia, you have stumbled on the bizarre complexities of the British constitution (non written). England and Wales forms one jurisdiction within the UK for most matters. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolution but different in each case. England has no devolution so is governed entirely by the UK Parliament. Wales has some law making capability but family law is not one of its competences. Family law is devolved fully to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that will be left to their respective institutions. Ecclesiastically Wales is a different Anglican province - the Church of England covers only England.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 10:51pm BST

I do welcome the decision of the government to hold a review on the issue of civil partnerships. This is a sensible step. I think there are real social policy reasons to allow opposite sex civil partnerships. However, I feel it is sad there hasn't been much discussion amongst the group it affects - heterosexuals - as to whether it is needed.

I am against civil partnerships being removed for same sex couples while the following hold true:

a)some parts of the UK do not allow same sex couples to marry (e.g. Northern Ireland)
b)the Established Church recognises civil partnerships but not marriage
c)civil partnerships should only be withdrawn if there is a cross UK agreement to do so.

Although I support opposite sex civil partnerships I am not swayed by the argument that not doing so is in some way discriminatory against heterosexuals. There is a very strong legacy of discrimination against LGBT people in terms of exposure to bullying, violence, discrimination and will continue to be deprived of the ability to marry (or CP) within the Established church. Oh and future school children not yet born are to be subjected to the indignity of having Christian school teachers expose them to their bigotry - before being taught by Christians putting their own 'conscience' ahead of their commitment to children's wellbeing, children will start to ask themselves about their own identity at the same time as being taught they are less deserving than others.

So no, I'm not worried about heterosexuals being 'discriminated against'. While the likes of George Carey are around discrimination against LGBT people lives on secure and will leave deep traces in our country for decades to come.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 11:21pm BST

Craig said
b) the Established Church recognises civil partnerships but not marriage

What does "recognise" mean here?

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 18 May 2013 at 11:43pm BST

Dear Simon,

Very good question which I can't totally answer because the Church of England deliberately engenders a certain confusion on its attitude to civil partnerships. On the one hand they think that Civil Partnerships are wonderful things (that they have always supported), at other times treating them as if they're radioactive.

Still the C of E says gay people should enter into civil partnerships and not marriage and to that extent 'recognises' them. It is a limited form of recognition, to be sure.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Sunday, 19 May 2013 at 12:12am BST

Watching the debate, I couldn't help noticing that the proposition by certain opponents of the Bill - that heterosexual couples should be allowed to take up Civil Partnerships - seemed somewhat cynical. It seems that opponents will do almost anything to delay the implementation of Same-Sex Marriage, and if advocating C.P. for straight people will help to delay things - they're all for it.

Surely, the ultimate objective of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill is that every eligible couple should have equal rights to be married, and to access the civil rights attaining thereto. the C.P. issue is clearly a red herring here.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 19 May 2013 at 9:41am BST
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