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'A matter of concern, — not protection'

14 December 2012

PA

Parliamentary matter: Lord Harries (centre) with Dr Jeffrey John and the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, at a meeting of political and religious leaders about same-sex marriage, in July PA

Parliamentary matter: Lord Harries (centre) with Dr Jeffrey John and the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, at a meeting of political and religio...

THE Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, asserted on Tuesday that "marriage is a union of one man and one woman".

Bishop Stevens' comments, made in the House of Lords, were published by Church House on Tuesday afternoon, after the Government published details of its forthcoming same-sex marriage legislation.

Bishop Stevens said that the Church's interest was not "primarily for religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England's position, but rather a more fundamental concern for stable communities".

He sought reassurances from the Government that, if the same-sex-marriage legislation was passed, teachers would "not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings", and that "proper time . . . will be given for adequate consultation with the Church of England's canon lawyers on the legislative drafting" of the Bill.

The Government and Opposition, in proceeding with plans to introduce same-sex marriage, had caused division in the country at large, he said, and among "the vast majority of practising religious people. What plans does the Government have for working towards a degree of consensus on this matter?"

The former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Lord Harries, told the Lords, however, that, "notwithstanding the official position of the Church of England on this, a good number of its members warmly welcome the Government's position on gay marriage. . .

"Privately, a fair number of individual bishops in the Church of England also support it, but are not able to say so publicly at the moment because of the political situation in which the Church of England now finds itself."

Church House, Westminster issued a state­ment last Friday, after the Prime Minister indicated that legislation was forth­coming, under the heading "the Church of En­­gland". No details were given about who had com­posed the statement.

It reiterated the earlier response to the Government's consultation on same-sex marriage ( News, 15 June), saying that "the uniqueness of mar­riage is that it embodies the underl­ying, objective, distinctive­ness of men and women."

It continued: "To remove from the definition of marriage this essen­tial complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly ac­­know­ledged. . . 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."

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, told BBC Radio Wales on Tuesday that it was "a great pity" that the Church in Wales would "not even have the pos­sibility" to conduct same-sex mar­riages.

"There are those of us who think it ought to be a free choice, and this increases the hurdles for people to pass," Dr Morgan said. "It will have to get the legislation changed in Parliament, and change its canon law - and it might be harder to change the law of the land than canon law."

The director of Changing Atti­tude, the Revd Colin Coward, told the BBC News Channel on Tuesday: "I really don't understand why the Church of England, as the national Church of this country, is not being given at least the opportunity to say 'yes' or 'no' to the proposals. . . People are so angry about this in our network; they really were hop­ing for something that was going to begin to transform the place of LGBT people in the C of E."

The general secretary of the Methodist Church, the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, said that protec­tions in the proposed legislation for churches that did not want to marry same-sex couples were "important"; but, while the Methodist Church "may or may not choose to affirm same-sex marriage" in the future, "it would be unwarranted inter­ference for the state to make that decision for us."

The director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, Dr David Lan­drum, described the Govern­ment's assurances about legal protections for religious groups as "illusory". He said that "mainstream religions" would be "subject to manifold legal challenges if they dissent from a new social orthodoxy", and called for "a national refer­endum".

The Quakers were one of the few religious groups to welcome the Government's announcement with­out reservation. Paul Parker, the recording clerk for the Quakers, said: "Quakers greet the news we can 'opt in' to equal marriage with enthusi­asm, but await details of how this will work in practice."

Peter Tatchell, the human-rights activist, said that the Government's proposal to exclude the C of E and the Church in Wales, was "a disap­pointing fudge that per­petuates inequality. . . There is no reason why these Churches should be treated differ­ently from other faiths."

Mr Tatchell said that "faith-based discrimination could be open to legal challenge. The Government is treat­ing two Churches differently from all other religions. Discrim­inating be­­tween faith groups is probably illegal under the Human Rights Act and the European Con­ven­­tion on Human Rights."

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