Thinking Anglicans

CofE briefs MPs on Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The Church of England has issued this press release: MPs briefed on Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and the Church of England which links to this briefing document (PDF).

The Church of England’s Parliamentary Office has provided a briefing note to MPs on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and the Church of England prior to the Second Reading debate in the House of Commons on February 5.

The briefing sets out why the Church of England cannot support the Bill and addresses some of the concerns that have been voiced by MPs about the Bill in relation to the Church of England. These include why specific wording is needed to give the Church of England the same protection as other faith groups and how the devolved legislative powers of the General Synod work.

We have made a webpage version of the briefing note available here.

The summary of the briefing note says:

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.

This reshaping and unnecessary politicising of a fundamental social institution, which predates church and state, did not feature in party manifestos, was not included in the last Queen’s Speech and has no mandate from the Government’s own consultation exercise. The legislation has also been prepared at great haste and as a result relies on an unacceptably wide use of secondary legislation.

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 including provisions in the Bill to protect them from discrimination challenges. If the Bill proceeds into law it is essential that the various ‘locks’ in the Bill are preserved as drafted. The Church of England, whose clergy solemnize around a quarter of all marriages in England, has sought no more safeguards in substance than those provided for other Churches and faiths.

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.