Thinking Anglicans

Two articles on the Establishment of the CofE

Lord Mackay of Clashfern who was Lord Chancellor, 1987-1997, delivered the Richard O’Sullivan Memorial Lecture, on behalf of Theos and Law and Justice: the Christian Law Review, on 9 May.

The text of the lecture has been published by Theos, and can be found here: Does Establishment have a Future?

The same page has links to recordings of the lecture itself, and the following Q&A session.

Last week, The Tablet carried an (unsigned) editorial comment about the impact of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on the establishment of the Church of England. The full text of this article is, with the express permission of the Editor of The Tablet, reproduced below the fold.

ESTABLISHMENT UNDERMINED
Editorial from The Tablet issue dated 25 May 2013

The Church of England’s position as “the Church by law established” has been weakened by the progress of the legislation to permit the marriage of same-sex couples. Not only is the law on marriage under review, but so is the nature of the Church-State relationship.

What is surprising is how few in the Conservative Party, trad itionally the party of throne and altar, seem to be aware of this. It is as if the nation is taking a significant step towards disestablishment in a fit of absent-mindedness. Perhaps not so absent-minded on the part of the more vociferous secularists, however, who have been aware all along of the potential for the gay-marriage issue to further their own agenda. They needed the Church to do its best to stop the legislation, and fail. Although the battle is not yet finished, events do appear to be going their way.

The clergy of the Church of England solemnise about a quarter of all marriages in England, and so far the law of marriage they administer has been the law of the land. This is unlike the case of the Catholic, Jewish or Muslim communities, who have their own marriage laws, customs and courts where their own doctrines of marriage take precedence. Thus the law of the land can say two people are married, but the internal regulations of each faith community can still maintain that they are not. They can ignore the civil recognition of gay marriages if they want to, in a way the Church of England cannot. At least until the gay-marriage legislation becomes law, those that the common law of England says are married are those the Established Church says are married, and vice versa, with no distinction. In a briefing note to MPs, the Church of England explained that “the assertion that ‘religious marriage’ will be unaffected by the proposals” was misleading, as “at present there is one single institution and legal definition of marriage, entered into via a civil or religious ceremony. Talk of ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriage is erroneous…”

Henceforth, if and when gay marriage becomes law, the Church of England will be like the Catholic, Muslim and most Jewish communities in having a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples. The Government has drafted legal protection for the Church of England that in effect bans it from marrying gay couples. But that will put in place the very distinction between “civil and religious marriage” which the briefing document rejected, the absence of which has until now been one of the defining characteristics of the Church of England’s unique status.

So the Church is being forced to move towards becoming a private self-governing institution with its own internal rules, alongside other institutions in civil society – in other words, towards disestablishment. Some inside the Church of England will welcome that as good for the Church. But the larger question for the rest of society, including other faith communities, is whether that is good for everyone else. Indeed, some outside will hail it as a further step towards the exclusion of religion from the public square, where faith becomes a purely private matter. That is precisely how the victory for gay marriage has been greeted in France. At least the French have had a better idea of what is at stake.

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Craig Nelson
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Craig Nelson

It is certainly true that the established church and state will have adopted different views on marriage, but that is just a plain view of the matter. To do any different the state would have to subjugate itself to the church, which would not be proper in a pluralistic democratic society. If the Church of England had accepted civil partnerships or shown an indication that same sex marriage was in some way under consideration there would be some point in delaying to allow church and state to move in concert, which would have been preferable. However the Church of England… Read more »

Tobias Haller
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It seems to me to have very little to do with the “faith” as such, but to be narrowly focused on the issue of the “recognition” of marriages performed, in this case, only by the civil authority. The question then becomes, what does such “recognition” entail? What does “being married” provide to one — or to a couple — in the Church of England? Are there posts that only married persons can hold? What rights, privileges and responsibilities are attached to the estate of marriage as far as the church is concerned, affecting participation in the life of that church?… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

I believe this editorial fails to grasp the full meaning of the CofE’s submission and the fact that the Bill now before Parliament no longer proscribes marriage within a religious context as was proposed. The government, it seems to me, has fully accepted that there is only one sort of marriage and that it is up to religious bodies to opt in to performing them. The Church of England has no courts to decide whether gay marriage is lawful other than the Queen in Parliament. So we will be in the same position as those who were divorced and remarried… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

I think Craig Nelson’s view that the mendacity of the CofE has something to do with it being told that gay marriage would not happen is true. Under the last Labour administration the entreaties by LGCM for gay marriage were treated with contempt by both Stonewall and government. We couldn’t get a hearing from the most juniour official. When CPs were introduced there were a great deal of back room manoeuvres, and it was only after the raft of secondary legislation leaving Civil Partnerships on a par with marriage that we heard the rumbles. I recall the Bishop of London… Read more »

Feria
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Feria

The Tablet editorial: ‘What is surprising is how few in the Conservative Party, traditionally the party of throne and altar, seem to be aware of this. It is as if the nation is taking a significant step towards disestablishment in a fit of absent-mindedness.’ If I were feeling mischievous, I might suggest that it’s less surprising if one calls “disestablishment” by its hypernym, “privatization”. But actually, I think the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, if anything, deepens the Establishment. It creates new connections between Church and State, because of the Henry VIII clause in section 15(2), which empowers the Lord… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

“Some inside the Church of England will welcome that as good for the Church.” Friendly (fraternal!) observer here, but I certainly welcome it as good for the Church. “But the larger question for the rest of society, including other faith communities, is whether that is good for everyone else.” It’s good for people—inc. God’s LGBT people. If those faith communities want to *stand with* God’s people, well then. “a further step towards the exclusion of religion from the public square”: the hyperbole of the (Pretend) Victim. Spare me. “That is precisely how the victory for gay marriage has been greeted… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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What Anglicans outside of the Church of England find most interesting about the proposed legislation is this: If the House of Lords passes the Bill, and H.M. Queen Elizabeth II adds her approval; how can the Church of England (whose titular Head is H.M.) possibly continue to deny the acceptability of Same-Sex Marriage?

Whether, then, the Church continues to refuse to solemnise such Marriages must surely affect in some way the offical relationship ‘twixt Church and State. Perhaps it is time for consideration of the problems of a theocratic government.

C Shelton
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C Shelton

“At least until the gay-marriage legislation becomes law, those that the common law of England says are married are those the Established Church says are married, and vice versa, with no distinction.”

But the state has been marrying divorced couples with the Church’s disapproval for a long time.

CRW
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CRW

@Father Ron Smith

The Queen does not approve laws, she does not even sign them, they never come near her. In fact royal assent has not been given by the monarch personally since 1854.

Royal assent is essentially a legal function and not many people in the UK associate the Queen with any legislation, good or bad. She has not power to veto so she gets no blame or credit.

While there is no legal separation between church and state in the UK there is somewhat of a cultural one.

Will Douglas Barton
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Will Douglas Barton

I don’t think that the church regarded remarried divorcees as not married. It just refused to perform the ceremony. There are still plenty of vicars who do so refuse. It happened to me five years ago. Since I then went on to be married in a different parish by a different vicar, presumably the first one would now recognise me as married, even if he thinks I shouldn’t be. Gay couples may well find themselves in a similar position in a few years’ time – looking around for an equal marriage friendly parish as I had to find a divorce… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

I had understood that the prevailing legislation was the single clause Act passed in 1967 which says the following: (1)An Act of Parliament is duly enacted if Her Majesty’s Assent thereto, being signified by Letters Patent under the Great Seal signed with Her Majesty’s own hand,— (a)is pronounced in the presence of both Houses in the House of Lords in the form and manner customary before the passing of this Act; or (b)is notified to each House of Parliament, sitting separately, by the Speaker of that House or in the case of his absence by the person acting as such… Read more »

Spirit of Vatican II
Guest

This all seems quite otiose. Having witnessed the appalling attitudes of French Catholics at close quarters during the debate on “mariage pour tous,” I breathe a deep sigh of satisfaction to see the two young men in Montpellier tie the knot. If Catholics think that they can secure a place in the public square only by playing on primitive reactionary instincts, they do not deserve a place there. President Hollande has given far better leadership than the Cardinal Vingt-Trois or the Chief Rabbi. Solvitur ambulando, or amando. All the churches have a huge amount of apologizing to do for how… Read more »