Church of England criticizes government plans for same-sex marriage

By ENS staff
Posted Jun 12, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] U.K. government plans to enable same-sex couples to have a civil marriage have come under attack by the Church of England, which says that “such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

The church’s comments were made in a submission to a government consultation on same-sex marriage, which was launched in March and closes on June 14.

The consultation said that it plans to “enable all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.” The government has acknowledged that it intends to introduce same-sex civil marriage by the next general election in 2015.

Civil partnerships were legalized in the United Kingdom by the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, which became law in December 2005. The Church of England currently makes no provisions for civil partnership ceremonies in its churches, although some clergy are believed to perform same-sex blessings at their discretion.

The government intends to retain the option of civil partnerships for same-sex couples, including the ability to have a civil partnership registered on religious premises, but it says it would make no changes to religious marriages. “This will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman,” its report states.

The church’s submission, which is unsigned but reportedly drafted by members of the House of Bishops and other senior figures in the Church of England, states that marriage “benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which includes, for many, the possibility of procreation. The law should not seek to define away the underlying, objective, distinctiveness of men and women.”

The Church of England’s marriage liturgy notes: “Marriage is intended by God to be a creative relationship, as his blessing enables husband and wife to love and support each other in good times and in bad, and to share in the care and upbringing of children.”

The church’s submission criticizes the government for implying that there are two categories of marriage – civil and religious. “This is to mistake the wedding ceremony for the institution of marriage,” the submission says. “Changing the state’s understanding of marriage will, therefore, change the way marriage is defined for everybody and, despite the government’s assurances to the contrary, will change the nature of marriages solemnized in churches and other places of worship.”

The Rev. Colin Coward, director of LGBT advocacy group Changing Attitude, issued a statement June 12 saying that the church’s submission was a “disaster” and that it had been drafted “without consulting those most affected by the proposal – lesbian and gay members of the Church of England.”

“The Church of England’s statement and response have achieved headlines which send a message to the nation that Christians are prejudiced against lesbian and gay people and have set out to block moves to equality in marriage and justice for lesbian and gay couples,” he added. “It is a disaster for the mission and evangelism of the church.”

Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the Church of England’s second-most-senior cleric, has been outspoken in opposing the government’s plans.

In an interview with The Telegraph newspaper earlier this year, he said: “Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are.

“We’ve seen dictators do it in different contexts and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.”

Roman Catholic bishops in England and Wales also responded to the consultation urging the government not to proceed with the proposals “in the interest of upholding the uniqueness of marriage as a civil institution for the common good of society.”

The Methodist Church of Great Britain also has opposed the government’s proposals.

Among the religious groups that have supported same-sex marriage are Quakers in Britain, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism.

The government has assured religious institutions that they would not be compelled to perform same-sex ceremonies on their premises.

But the Church of England states that several major elements of the government’s proposals have not been thought through properly and are not legally sound.

“Ministerial assurances that the freedom of the churches and other religious organizations would be safeguarded are, though genuine, of limited value given that once the law was changed the key decisions would be for the domestic and European courts,” the submission states, adding that the consultation exercise is “flawed, conceptually and legally.”

Coward argues that many lesbian and gay Anglicans want equal marriage, religious as well as secular, in church “because for us marriage is a spiritual as well as a legal institution which strengthens and enriches both the couple and society.

“There is no evidence to support the Anglican hierarchy’s claim that to change the nature of marriage to include same-sex couples will be divisive. The recognition of long-term same-sex relationships has no impact on the institution of marriage for heterosexuals.”

About a quarter of weddings in England take place in Church of England churches. According to the church’s website, marriages in the Church of England increased by four percent in 2010 to 54,700.


Comments (12)

  1. Fred Horton says:

    It is sad to see bigotry against homosexuals robed in religious prevarications as done by the Church of England in its submission on same-sex marriage. We have only to think of the abuse of homosexual people over the centuries and most especially during the Holocaust to understand that the time has arrived to end this campaign of discrimination, torture, and murder now. For the Church of England to inform the Civil Authority that it cannot adjust the civil law in favor of integrating the “least of these” into our society for trumped-up religious reasons is humiliating and wrong. I hope the Bishops in their wisdom will see fit to repent of their bad witness to the faith we share and rethink their submission.

  2. John Speller says:

    There seems to be some distress within the Church of England about this “submission.” It is unclear who is responsible for it — apparently not the House of Bishops or the General Synod — and what authority it has. There is considerable dissent about it in the Church of England — see, for example,
    It remains to be seen how all this will develop.

  3. The Reverend Canon Susan Russell says:

    Three quick takes on a Busy Tuesday:

    1- By this argument, same-sex couples change the nature of marriage the same way the ordination of women change the nature of priesthood.

    2 – You’ve got to love an “unsigned report” which was “reportedly drafted by senior officials” speaking for the Whole Church. Thank God for the Tea in the Boston Harbor!

    3 – Three cheers for the First Amendment.

  4. The Rev. Canon Richard P. McDonnell, D.Min. says:

    The CoE’s and other churches’ position on same sex marriage is, as we say in New York City “BULL”. It may even be Papal !!!

  5. Michael Neal says:

    Please come quickly Christ our Lord!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To even have to debate on an “abomination” in the church is ridiculous. READ scripture and DON’T twist it to mean something it is not. But the “BIBLE” means nothing to those who don’t believe in” ABSOLUTE” truth anyway, even those who are so-called “educated”. I have friends who live an alternative lifestyle and most know that it’s wrong according to scripture and they do it anyway, and I love them anyway, just like Christ. I know what scripture says, and I try my best to follow it, if there is a problem it’s between those who support and live that lifestyle and Christ.

  6. Marylin Day says:

    Why does the C of E want to continue to be an “exclusive” church which does not allow all members the same benefits? Please join us in the 21st century!

    1. Bob Griffith says:

      I’m so tired of these accusations around “inclusive” and “exclusive.” My experience in higher education and Church have and continue to show me that those who yell “inclusive” the loudest tend to be the most exclusive – they allow for no other opinion than their own. It is an affront to the notion of “all welcome at the table,” because all are not welcome unless those others capitulate to the already determined conditions made by those who yell “inclusive/inclusion” the loudest.

      There are legitimate reasons held by some who wish to retain a man-woman definition for “marriage” that have nothing to do with an attempt to exclude anyone. I say this even though I favor same-sex marriage. If we want real “inclusion” (particularly as it might be defined by Jesus and not secular dogma), then we need to quite throwing dispersions at people who disagree with our opinions – and quit being so insecure within ourselves that this kind of childish and short-sighted response is all we get.

      We cannot have civil conversations that might actually change hearts and minds with those whose opinions differ from our own if this is how we respond.

  7. Tod Roulette says:

    Now that our supposedly learned and liberal ArchBishop of Canterbury (first among ‘equals’) is leaving I was hoping the C of E would come to its senses. Especially since it has not agreed to sign the Anglican Covenant in its current draft. But, alas white male heterosexist patriarchy dominates not only the Anglican Communion but other parts of the communion. ‘Fight the Power’ and realize scripture evolves in its understanding and context. Ughhh. I will continue to sing in the choir and challenge the sunday school to see the history of the Church and its inherent biases since the Apostles.

  8. Julian Malakar says:

    Thanks God for opening eyes of Bishops finally in defending original true meaning of marriage between one man and one woman that carries from generation to generation. Denying traditional meaning is equal to denying history. Concept of sexual orientation is modern day invention, therefore it demands a new term for union of same sex. There is no superior or inferior of the word. It is win-win situation.

    Supporting traditional meaning of marriage does not mean, opposing equal rights of civil partnership of same sex, bigotry, hatred, etc. etc. World recognizes gay man and lesbian woman are different from straight man and woman, why should there not be a different term that expresses long term relationship between same sex? Forceful imposition of state law against faith of believers, violets principle of separation of state and church.

  9. John David Spangler says:

    All the more reason for not adopting the Anglican Covenant!

  10. Vally Sharpe says:

    It is not the “position” of the bishops with respect to marriage that bothers me. Everyone has his or her opinion on the subject that is unlikely to change. It’s the rationalization, the justification for the belief, which reveals the increasing narcissism found in the church at large. There is no way that any human law, any human oppression, any human-declared justification will ever change anything that is “intrinsic.” The glaring lack of understanding for the human psyche and the overstatement of one human’s ability to state the value of another in God’s eyes is not only frightening, but flies in the face of the “inherent” uniqueness of every human’s relationship with God. Enough pontification about your authority over the authenticity or “rightness” of another’s relationship! If you hate same-sex marriage, don’t marry someone of the same gender and leave others alone.

  11. Judith Wood says:

    The only thing that is going to interfere with the “intrinsic state of marriage as a union between a man and a woman” is the man and the woman. They are the worst offenders with their extra curricular activities and living together before taking their vows, not to mention bringing children into the world. A relationship of commitment between two people does not require sexual orientation but, rather, it is a commitment of love, trust, friendship, devotion and fidelity. Sound familiar? If God brings two people together to share their lives and grow old together, so be it. Civil marriages, by the way, also apply to a man and a woman. Since marriage is a God given entity and if He is not invited to share in the ceremony then all you have is a civil union, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The church should bless the union and be done with it, with proper counselling of course .

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