THE Government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage will now be subject to a public consultation lasting 12 weeks, after a launch yesterday by the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone.
It is understood that a document (which had not been published as the Church Times went to press) will ask for comments on the principle of legalising same-sex marriage. It had originally been expected to ask about how rather than whether the change should be introduced.
A poll published in The Sunday Telegraph this week suggests that the country may be split over the Government’s plans. Of the 2001 people who responded to the survey, which was conducted last week, 45 per cent supported the plan to legalise gay marriage, while 36 per cent opposed it, and 19 per cent replied that they “don’t know”.
Opposition among Conservative voters rose to 50 per cent, putting them at odds with the Prime Minster, who has made the legislation a personal priority. More than three-quarters (78 per cent) said that the Government should not prioritise the legislation before the next election, and 49 per cent said that schools should not teach that same-sex marriage was the same as marriage between a man and a woman.
A poll of 1707 adults, commissioned by The Sunday Times and also published this week, found that 43 per cent of those questioned supported gay marriage, while 32 per cent opposed it but supported civil partnership. Fifteen per cent were opposed to both. Almost half (47 per cent) said that the Church of England was right to defend marriage as being only for heterosexuals.
In the United States, the legalisation of same-sex marriage has been achieved by court rulings and legislative action in individual states, and not through voter referendums. The latest polling on the issue by the Pew Research Centre for People & the Press, conducted in October 2011, found that 46 per cent of those questioned favoured allowing gays and lesbians to marry, while 44 per cent were opposed.
On Saturday, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price, reminded his diocesan synod that civil partnerships were established only seven years ago, and said that adapting to such a change “takes time. . . We don’t all go at the same pace.” Time was needed for “a deeper debate than we’re having at the moment”.
On Sunday, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, suggested that the Government would not be able to redefine marriage without the approval of the General Synod. He told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that the definition of marriage was in the 1662 Prayer Book and Article XXX (sic) of the Church of England, which were both Acts of Parliament.
The Pope has also lent his support to the opposition to gay marriage. Benedict XVI called for “a reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution consisting of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation”. He also raised concerns about cohabitation as “gravely sinful” and “damaging to the stability of society”.
Some senior Church of England clerics have spoken out in support of same-sex marriage (News, 9 March). In an interview with The Times last Thursday, the next Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, said he had presided over ceremonies for gay couples in civil partnerships in his current post as Dean of Bradford.
“You can regard two Christian gay people as wanting to have the virtues of Christian marriage,” he said. “I’m encouraged that a good number of gay people want to take on the virtues of marriage.”
A petition opposing the change, organised by the Coalition for Marriage, has now collected more than 170,000 signatures.
On 24 February, the Church Times asked readers: “Is it right to use the word ‘marriage’ for same-sex unions?” The results were: yes 30 per cent; no 69 per cent. The number of votes received was 699.
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News: Sexuality debate exposes divisions
C of E responds to same-sex marriage consultation
by Ed Thornton
THE Archbishops’ Council’s “initial response” to the Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage, published yesterday, said that the “proposed redefinition” of marriage would affect religious as well as civil marriage, and that it would consequently resist such a move.
It said: “The issue of whether marriage should be redefined to include those of the same-sex is a more complicated picture than has been painted. Arguments that suggest ‘religious marriage’ is separate and different from ‘civil marriage’, and will not be affected by the proposed redefinition [of marriage], misunderstand the legal nature of marriage in this country. They mistake the form of the ceremony for the institution itself.
“Currently, the legal institution of marriage into which people enter is the same whether they marry using a civil or a religious form of ceremony. Arguments that seek to treat ‘religious marriage’ as being a different institution fail to recognise the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition. The Church of England will continue to argue against changing the definition of marriage, which has supported society for so long.”
The response said that the Church supports civil partnerships but “is committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.” Allowing same-sex couples to marry “would confer few if any new legal rights on” on those already in civil partnerships, “yet would require multiple changes to law, with the definition of marriage having to change for everyone”.
Writing in The Times yesterday, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that the Government’s proposals on same-sex marriage “do not propose to touch religious marriage in any way. We are talking about marriage ceremonies — the sort currently conducted in register offices, country houses and hotels. Civil marriages can’t happen inside a church now and won’t under the proposals. . . Religious marriage between a gay couple will remain illegal.”