The Church Times reports this morning: Same-sex-marriage Bill will lock C of E’s right to abstain by Ed Thornton
THE protection for the Church of England to be contained within the Government’s same-sex-marriage legislation was a surprise to church representatives, it emerged this week.
On Tuesday, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, announced that the Bill would include a “quadruple lock” of measures that would “protect religious freedom”. These would specify that it would be illegal for any Church of England minister to conduct a same-sex marriage.
But at a meeting with Parliamentarians on Thursday, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, said that this level of protection had not been mentioned in meetings with the Government. He regretted that no prior consul[t]ation had been sought…
And there is this sidebar
The legal position
IF, once the same-sex marriage legislation is passed, a parish priest decides to break the law and marry a same-sex couple, it will be to no avail: the marriage will not be valid.
This is because the legislation will not alter the Church of England’s canons, one of which – Canon B30, paragraph 1 – states that marriage is “of one man with one woman”.
The Government’s legislation does not, therefore, make it illegal for C of E ministers to marry same-sex couples, as some reports have suggested: it merely reinforces what is already the case in canon law.
Since canon law is also part of public law, the Government has had to make it specific that same-sex marriage legislation does not apply to Church of England marriage rites.
The Government is not attempting to alter canon law for two reasons: first, it is responding to requests from Church House officials that it permit the Church to maintain its existing position on marriage; second, it is preserving a long-standing tradition that Parliament does not legislate for the Church of England in matters of doctrine and practice.
It would be up to the General Synod, therefore, to pass legislation changing the C of E’s doctrine and practice of marriage. A legislative package would have to include an Amending Canon redefining the nature of marriage, and the passing of a Measure (the General Synod’s equivalent of an Act of Parliament) which altered both statute law concerning C of E marriage rites, and the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer.
If passed by the Synod, the Measure would require parliamentary and, ultimately, royal assent.
This post from Ministry of Truth Making sense of Cameron’s ‘Quadruple Lock’ on Equal Marriage gives a great deal of detail.
…Okay, so why has the government now put religious marriage on the table when, previously, it was only offering to support same-sex civil marriages?
The answer to this lies in the legal advice that the government will have received prior to the publication of its response to the consultation on equal marriage in which they will have been told that by affording legal recognition to civil same sex marriages they would be paving the way for a legal challenge under article 9 of European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought conscience and religion.
To be absolutely clear on this, as this is an issue that has been widely misrepresented by opponents of equal marriage, the issue here is not that affording legal recognition to civil same-sex marriage would allow gay couples to use current equality legislation or the European Court of Human Rights to compel the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, or any other religious group or denomination to set aside their theological/doctrinal objections to same-sex marriage. Even without the proposed ‘quadruple lock’ the likelihood of either the High Court of England and Wales or the European Court of Human Rights forcing any religious organisation to carry out same-sex marriages against its wishes is somewhere on a par with the chance of my being elected the next Pope. The High Court does not, as a matter of principle and long-standing convention, issue rulings on matter of theology while the European Court’s preferred approach to religious cases is perhaps best characterised as ducking the issue by batting the matter back to national governments/courts under their margin of appreciation.
What was highly likely, had the government not made some provision for religious same-sex marriages, was a legal challenge to the government, and not to any individual church, under article 9 of ECHR from one or more of those denominations that has already indicated that it does wish to be able to conduct religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, a list which currently includes the Unitarians, Quakers and Liberal Jews. From the point at which secular law recognises same-sex civil marriages their ceases to be any viable legal argument for restricting the ability of religious denominations to recognise and conduct same sex marriages, if that is consistent with their theological position, solely on the basis that other religious groups are, themselves, opposed to that same practice….
And, regarding the fourth lock in particular:
…Unlike other churches and religious organisations, the Church of England, as the established church, is legally obliged to conduct marriage ceremonies for anyone who asks subject only to the rules of canon law and secular provision of the Marriage Act 1949 (and subsequent amendments) irrespective of the actual religious beliefs of the parties who wish to marry. As long as both parties are content to be married under the rites of the Church of England, legally able to marry and are willing to comply with the Churches administrative requirements, e.g. the posting of banns, etc. then, save for an explicit legal exemption relating to divorcees whose former spouse in still alive, the Church has a legal duty to perform the ceremony.
This being the case, the government cannot merely leave the option open without creating a constitutional problem by giving rise to a potential conflict between statute and canon law, one that can only be resolved in one of two ways given that the Church remains, at least for the time being, opposed to carrying out same-sex marriages; the government must either legislate for the Church of England in line with current canon law, in which case statute law must specify that it remains unlawful for ministers of the Church of England to marry same-sex couples, or it must remove from law the Church’s legal duty to perform marriages for any heterosexual couple who asks to be married under the rites of the Church.
As this second option would entail the Church taking a very clear step on the road to disestablishment, the government have chosen to take the first option and maintain a consistent position between statute and canon law by retaining a ban of same-sex marriages within the Church of England in statute law…
John Bingham at the Telegraph wrote: Gay marriage: Church of England signals it could ‘live with’ Government plans
…Church officials have acknowledged that they could potentially “live with” the proposals drawn up by Government lawyers to prevent churches facing human rights challenges to force them to conduct weddings for homosexual couples.
It comes in marked contrast to claims earlier this year that same-sex marriage could pose the biggest threat to its position as the established church since the reformation.
The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has made clear that he is opposed to same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile the House of Lords heard on[e] claim that several bishops secretly support the principle of gay marriage but are afraid to speak out because it would contradict the official policy of the Church…