[Episcopal News Service] Legislation due to be proposed next year will allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales, but will make it illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, according to a British government press release.
Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller said in the Dec. 11 release that the legislation is designed to create “watertight protections for religious organizations” that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages, but will allow them to “opt in” if they so choose. However, the legislation will make it illegal for the two Anglican churches to opt in.
“Canon law – which bans the marriage of same-sex couples – will continue to apply,” the release said. “That means that it would require a change in both primary and canon law before Church of England and Church in Wales would be able to opt in to conduct same – sex marriages.”
The release said that its conclusion was based in part on an “equal civil marriage consultation” that was launched on March 15 and closed June 14. It received more than 228,000 individual responses, which is the largest ever response to a government consultation, according to the release. Fifty-three percent of individual respondents favored the government’s proposal to allow same-sex couples to get married. The government also received a number of petitions, totaling more than 500,000 signatures, all opposed to the proposals. A copy of the consultation document and the government’s response are here.
Two days before the consultation closed, the Church of England said that it could not support the government’s proposal to allow same-sex marriage.
“We have supported various legal changes in recent years to remove unjustified discrimination and create greater legal rights for same sex couples and we welcome that fact that previous legal and material inequities between heterosexual and same-sex partnerships have now been satisfactorily addressed,” the statement said. “To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships. We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.”
Then on Dec. 7, four days before the government revealed its proposed legislation, British media reported that Prime Minister David Cameron said while he did not want same-sex couples to be excluded from the “great institution” of marriage, no religious institution would be forced to conduct marriage services for them.
“We welcome the fact that in his statement the Prime Minister has signaled he is abandoning the Government’s earlier intention to distinguish between civil and religious marriage,” the Church of England said in response, reiterating its contention that civil partnerships were sufficient for same-sex couples.
The church has not yet responded to the Dec. 11 announcement.