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.