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Government’s gay-marriage legislation and the quadruple lock

21 December 2012


From Mr David Lamming
Sir, - In reaffirming to the House of Commons the Government's plans to introduce same-sex marriage, the Equalities Minister, Maria Miller, rightly acknowledged the concern of many MPs (and others who responded to or commented on the consultation paper) that European courts would force religious organisations to conduct such marriages against their beliefs.

While expressing confidence that the "quadruple lock of measures" that she announced would provide "iron-clad protection in law", she also said: "The Government's legal position has confirmed that, with appropriate legislative drafting, the chances of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible."

Negligible is not the same as nil. When, during later exchanges, Mrs Miller was asked by one MP to tell the House what the risk of challenge was in percentage terms, she failed to give a straight answer.

Another MP, Andrew Brigden, expressing his scepticism on the "legal robustness" of Mrs Miller's remarks, asked why she had not made public the Attorney- General's specific advice. Her answer was that "any advice the Government receives is privileged information."

This answer is not only unsatisfactory, but it reveals a misunderstanding of legal privilege. The privilege is that of the client, in this case the Government, not the Attorney-General. Thus, if the Government wished, it could publish the advice. That Mrs Miller is unwilling to do so will only enhance the concerns of those who fear that the Prime Minister's assurance, that no church, synagogue, or mosque that does not want to conduct a gay marriage will be forced to do so, cannot be guaranteed.

20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU

From Canon Paul Oestreicher
Sir, - You have excellently explained (News, 14 December) a highly complex legal situation with regard to same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, those Anglicans in England and Wales who believe that our clergy should be free to conduct such weddings need not feel totally frustrated by the unwise Downing Street-Church House edict.

There is a way out that is both legal and respectable. It is to learn from much of the rest of Europe. In Germany, for example, every Roman Catholic and every Lutheran couple are required to go through the legalities in a state register office. They then proceed to church, if that is their wish, for a nuptial mass or its Lutheran equivalent.

There is nothing to stop a gay or lesbian couple in England or Wales going to their state registrar and then proceeding to a parish church for a blessing ceremony, provided, of course, that the parish priest agrees. A church wedding, spiritually and theologically, is just that. Two people marry each other: they are the celebrants. The priest in the liturgy publicly declares God's blessing on their intention to be a wedded couple.

Given the conscientious division on this issue in the Church, and given the nature of Anglican pluralism, I cannot imagine that any priest who conducted such a ceremony would have canon law invoked against her or him. This decently side-steps a situation created by the complexity of an establishment that looks like continuing well past its sell-by date.

97 Furze Croft, Furze Hill
Brighton BN3 1PE

From Canon John Foskett
Sir, - According to the Bishop of Leicester and a representative of the Church of England (News, 14 December), the Bishops were taken by surprise to hear that same-sex marriages are not to be allowed in the Churches of England and Wales. The Archbishop of Wales called it a "great pity", while the former Bishop of Oxford said that there were many Anglicans, including some bishops, who supported the Government's decision on gay marriage, but could not say so publicly.

How can we be taken seriously, either about our attitude to same-sex relationships or women bishops, when we are so divided, confused, and silenced? The Government and many in the country have lost patience with us and taken the decision into their own hands without the consultation we expected.

Surely, this is a time to repent our sins of exclusivity, in the hope that the decline and death of our Church, reflected in the 2011 Census, is indeed the herald of its resurrection?

Victoria Cottage
8 Cornwall Road
Dorchester DT1 1RT

From Mr Trevor Cooper

Sir, - When the General Synod failed to pass the recent proposal regarding women bishops, there was criticism that the voting pattern of the House of Laity was not representative of lay men and women, and that the members of the House had not made their voting intentions clear at the time they were elected.

When the House of Commons passes the forthcoming gay marriage legislation, will it be similarly criticised?

38 Rosebery Avenue
New Malden, Surrey KT3 4JS

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