However, more liberal and accepting religious organisations will be allowed to “opt in” to holding same-sex ceremonies, came the unexpected announcement from the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. The Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly” stated strong opposition and would not be included in plans that are due to be introduced before the next UK election, in 2015.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller
The Church of England, The Roman Catholic Church and some other denominations have been vocal in their opposition to same-sex marriage and are fully expected to oppose the bill at all costs, even with its added caveats.
In her statement, Mrs Miller promised a “quadruple lock” in the bill that would protect religious freedom, involving the following:
1) No religious organisation or individual minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
2) Making it illegal for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so.
3) Amending the UK’s 2010 Equality Act to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
4) The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.
Mrs Miller confirmed that because the Church of England and Church in Wales had “explicitly stated” their opposition to equality and same-sex ceremonies, it was therefore right for the government to enshrine in the bill it would “explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples”.
Other religious groups including the Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and the Quakers, are more inclusive to same sex couples and are in favour of same sex marriage.
This rather unexpected announcement will likely appease some of the critics in the conservative party and elsewhere that have not favourable be towards marriage equality. However, many are still aggressively campaigning against the bill, claiming the bill, even if it is passed will be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. However as European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt with strong protections it seems unlikely they would side with a plaintiff against the ban.
Many in the gay community welcome the bill with one hand, the right to have a ‘marriage’ rather than a civil partnership ceremony, yet with the other hand are deeply disappointed that they wont be allowed to hold it in a ‘willing’ church of England church.
“We’re delighted about the government’s statement today and welcome the promise to legislate for equal marriage as warmly as on the three previous occasions that this announcement has been made. We’re particularly pleased that ministers have been persuaded to extend their original proposal in order to permit same-sex marriages for those religious denominations that wish to hold them. This is an important matter of religious freedom.” Said the head of equality campaigning charity Stonewall, Ben Summerskill.
Others are also angry the proposed bill does not include a change to open up the current civil partnership rules to heterosexual or different sex couples, thus making it truly equal to all.
The Catholic Church has already criticized the announcement claiming ministers ignored a 600,000-signature petition against marriage equality submitted during the government’s recent consultation on gay marriage. “The meaning of marriage matters. It derives that meaning from its function as the foundation of the family. The union of one man and one woman for love and mutual support and open to procreation has over the centuries formed a stable unit we call the family.” Reads their statement. So no change there then, the catholic church has always been clear on the fact that it doesn’t welcome gay people into its congregation or see gay people as equal. However some in the Church of England feel making it illegal for them to hold same sex ceremonies is a step to far, seeing it as binding manacle preventing progress and further alienating it from the wider society of today.
Whilst the pro marriage equality supporters are celebrating this announcement, those against are already drawing up their plans against us. There is clearly a long way to go before marriage equality comes to the UK, however this should be seen as a massive step forward and clearly the biggest since civil partnerships passed in 2004.
Catholic attacks on marriage equality 'unseasonal', 'unfair' and 'inaccurate'
Vitriolic attacks on marriage equality in Christmas sermons by senior Catholic figures in England and Wales have been criticised as unfair and inaccurate by the Westminster MP who launched the UK government consultation on introducing same-sex marriage.
Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone was also the first elected politician to take part in the Out4Marriage campaign.
The response to the reported sermons from Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols and Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury came on Ms Featherstone's website, and are made, she says, "not in anger – but in sorrow".
The Bishop of Shrewsbury has caused astonishment and offence by likening voluntary plans for same-sex marriage to Nazi ideology. Critics point out that this is especially inappropriate, since gay people were among those exterminated by the Nazis.
The Archbishop of Westminster, meanwhile, chose his Christmas Day homily to describe marriage equality proposals as "undemocratic and a shambles".
The comments have been strongly criticised as 'unseasonal', 'unfair' and 'inaccurate' within and beyond the Catholic community.
Ms Featherstone, who is for MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, and now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, wrote: "Of course you can disagree with equal marriage. You can believe that it can only be between a man and a woman. You can ultimately resist getting married to someone of the same sex if you don’t want to when this becomes law. What you surely cannot do is simply rail against the fact that not everyone subscribes to your point of view and try and stop others living life in a different way than your religion dictates."
She continued: "[I]t is quite shameful to argue against equal marriage on the grounds that religions will be forced to conduct such marriages. The Government’s intention to make it possible for those religions that wish to conduct such services to have the freedom to so do - and the Government is bending over backwards (some would say too far) to ensure any fears of religions being forced to conduct such marriages are unwarranted.
"It is even more shameful when that argument is lost to simply shift to the next argument as being the most important – that there is no mandate (The Rt Rev Mark Davies’ Christmas message). Good grief! Not only did all three leaders at the time of the election and since make clear that they all supported equal marriage; not only is it in the Conservative Equality commitment document; not only is it Liberal Democrat Party policy; not only do all polls show the majority in favour of equal marriage; not only did the largest response to a consultation by government in all history also show a majority in favour – but since when did any government do only that which was in a manifesto? A manifesto is a prospectus of what a government will do – not a prospectus of all it will do. The Coalition agreement is a compromise of the two manifestos. That does not preclude – and never has – the bringing forward of further proposals which are then democratically decided by a vote in the Houses of Parliament.
"The other argument brought forth and paraded is that of ‘redefining’ marriage. Well – that depends on your definition. Mine is exactly what the Archbishop of Westminster decries in his statement – that where there is love and commitment between two people that is all you need for marriage. ...