Updated yet again 23.00 with statement from DCMS
There are multiple reports in the media this morning.
Church Times see preceding article.
Sam Jones Guardian Church of England and Church in Wales protest at gay marriage ban
The Church of England and the Church in Wales have expressed their “complete shock” at the government’s plan to ban them from offering same-sex marriages, claiming they were not consulted over the proposed legislation, which would make them the only religious organisations to be legally barred from conducting the ceremonies…
…The Right Rev Tim Stevens, bishop of Leicester and the Church of England’s lead spokesman in the Lords, told a closed meeting of bishops, Lords and MPs that the government had not consulted the church on the proposal, adding that the church had never sought the government’s so-called “quadruple lock” on gay marriage. He also expressed his regret at the government’s lack of consultation.
A Church of England spokesman confirmed that the church had not been consulted over the government’s plans, saying: “Bishop Tim is correct that the first mention of a ‘quadruple lock’ came when the secretary of state announced it in the Commons. We had not been privately informed of this prior to the announcement.”
Miller had been due to meet the Church of England representatives last Thursday but she cancelled the meeting at the last moment…
John Bingham Telegraph Church accuses Maria Miller of ‘omnishambles’ over gay marriage announcement
…Although the meeting went ahead in Mrs Miller’s absence, the bishop was given a general briefing about legal provisions to enable gay couples to marry without churches which chose not to carry out the ceremonies facing challenges under human rights laws.
The first that officials at Church House in Westminster knew of a special legal bar, specifically aimed at the Church of England, was when Mrs Miller made her statement.
MPs expressed amazement when Bishop Stevens set out the sequence of events during a meeting yesterday with the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to discuss the separate crisis over women bishops.
Barry Gardiner, the Labour MP, who was present, said: “He said that ‘the Government did not consult us on this and we wish they had sought our advice’ – it was pretty strong.”
He went on: “At the end Bishop Justin simply said I really have nothing to add to what Tim has said, I agree with every word that he has said.”
Mr Gardiner added: “I think that there was shock on the part of the Church leaders that the Government had not even thought to consult with the bishops on this.
“The Government has behaved in an extraordinarily high-handed and cack-handed way.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted it would have been “inappropriate” to tell the Church of England about the provision before it had been announced to Parliament.
But senior Church of England officials likened the cancellation of the meeting and failure to brief the Church to an episode of the satirical programme The Thick of It.
“It is an ominshambles,” said one. “This is legislation on the hoof, it has been a botched job.”
A spokeswoman for the department said: “Clearly, it would have been inappropriate to discuss the fine detail of our proposals prior to them being announced in Parliament.
“But the Church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages would continue.”
Questions are now being asked about why the Church of England did not express this surprise about the fourth lock earlier in the week. See this blog post: The Church of England, #equalmarriage And The Truth
The Church of England was quick to explain that the Government was not giving them any extra protections but respecting their right to opt-in constitutionally if they so wished. Their press release is here (it is their second version. The first was entitled “Equal Marriage and the Church of England”. Obviously that couldn’t stand, so it has been changed to “Same-sex Marriage and the Church of England. Note the “Same Same Marriage” reference in the left hand sidebar which I like to think suggests someone at the press office wasn’t happy with the need to change the title!). An excellent explanation of the Quadruple Lock and the Church of England’s position can be found here. But let us quote from the press release.
For Parliament to give the Church of England an opt-in to conduct same sex marriages that it hasn’t sought would be unnecessary, of doubtful constitutional propriety and introduce wholly avoidable confusion.
The Church of England, on the 11th, was extremely clear they didn’t want an opt-in as they already had one…
…Now the main issue the Church of England representatives have is that they were not consulted on the details of the proposals. Given their initial press release afterwards (where they expressed satisfaction with what the Government was proposing in terms of legal protections) I find this very disingenuous. Do these representatives want marriage equality in the church? The Bishop of Leicester, quoted in the story, certainly doesn’t…
And now the BBC has this report Gay marriage: Church says government move ‘absurd’
The day before the PM’s remarks, CofE officials had met for talks on the issue with officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
“What is clear is that the amount of detail given by officials from the department certainly wasn’t the level of detail revealed on the floor of the House” five days later, said a CofE spokesman. “It think that’s surprising, at the very least.
“There is this sense of the government slightly making it up on the hoof. This is an important and serious issue and a complex area of law. Doing all this on the hoof is absurd.”
But a DCMS statement said: “It is just not true to say that we have not properly discussed our proposals with the Church of England.
“As part of our consultation process, and before we finalised our proposals, Government officials met the Church of England at a very senior level.
“The Church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages could continue. While it is inappropriate to share the exact nature of legislative proposals before announcing them to Parliament, discussions with the Church were quite specific about the quad lock.”
The CofE spokesman said there was no wish for “protection or exemption for ourselves in ways that are any different from any other Church”, though it was accepted that its unique position as the established Church would require particular legislation.
“If, despite our opposition, the legislation goes through, we support the government intention of leaving the choice of conducting same-sex weddings with all Churches and faiths.”
He added: “The Church’s position is about the meaning of marriage; the Church’s position is not about being anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) – we fully support civil partnership.”
The DCMS itself has published this on behalf of Maria Miller: Equal marriage and the Church of England.
…We discussed our plans with the Church of England
Some have suggested that the Church of England didn’t know in advance about the legal protections we were proposing. This is simply not correct. We sat down and had detailed, private discussions with them prior to my statement in Parliament. But of course, the rules of the House of Commons mean that the detail of legislative proposals is presented to Parliament before anyone else. We will continue to discuss our plans with them going forward, and those meetings have already started…