11 December 2012
Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church, the Rt Rev Tim Stephens, Bishop of Leicester, reminded Parliament in a response to the Government statement on equal marriage in the House of Lords, today.
While the forms and legalities around marriage had evolved over time, he said, one fundamental feature had remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.
The Bishop asked for assurances that, for example, teachers would not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings and that proper time would be given for consultation.
The Bishop of Leicester’s response in full:
“Those of us on these benches entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. That is why many of us supported civil partnerships as we believed that the rights and obligations that flow to those who wish to formally mark and celebrate their commitment to each other should not be denied to people simply because of their sexuality.
“However, my Lords, civil partnerships, while conferring virtually the same legal benefits, are not the same as marriage. Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church; and while the forms and legalities around marriage have evolved over time, as the noble lady minister has pointed out, one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.
“Does the Minister recognise that our concern here is not primarily for religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England’s position, but rather a more fundamental concern for stable communities? Can the Minister assure us that teachers for example in Church schools will not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings? Can the Minister assure this House in spite of the accelerated pace of this process, proper time, even over a Christmas holiday, will be given for adequate consultation with the Church of England’s Canon lawyers on the legislative drafting. Can the Minister assure us that the great majority of members of the Church of England and other faiths will not be labelled as prejudicial to gay people for taking a traditional stand, and perhaps most troubling my Lords is the fact that the Government and Opposition have together in their proceeding with this Measure led to division, not only within the country where polls consistently show half the population against this change, but also between the political class and the vast majority of practicing religious people. What plans does the Government have for working towards a degree of consensus on this matter?”