Fury at same-sex exemption

21 December 2012

PA

Double blessing: Barrie (left) and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, with their twin sons, after the babies' christening at St John the Baptist, Danbury

Double blessing: Barrie (left) and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, with their twin sons, after the babies' christening at St John the Baptist, Danbury

THE Government has insisted that it did consult church representatives about protections for the Church of England to be contained within the Government's same-sex-marriage legislation.

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, announced on Tuesday of last week, that the Bill, to be published next year, would include a "quadruple lock" of measures that would "protect religious freedom" ( News, 14 December). These would specify that it would be illegal for any Church of England minister to conduct a same-sex marriage.

At a meeting with parliamentarians on Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, said that this level of protection had not been mentioned in meetings with the Government. He regretted that no prior consultation had been sought.

But a blog post by Mrs Miller, published on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website last Friday, said that it was "simply not correct" to suggest "that the Church of England didn't know in advance about the legal protections we were proposing. . . We sat down and had detailed, private discussions with them prior to my statement in Parliament."

A letter was published in The Sunday Telegraph this week, expressing "dismay" about the fourth "lock" in the legislation, which specifies that it would be illegal for C of E churches to marry same-sex couples. The letter's signatories included the former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Lord Harries, and the director of Changing Attitude, the Revd Colin Coward.

The letter called on the C of E "to relinquish its exemption" from the same-sex marriage legislation, "and address the expectation of the majority in every parish that it will continue to offer pastoral care to every citizen, including gay married couples, and their children".

Two gay Christians indicated this week that they would sue the Government for discrimination, because they would not be able to marry in their parish church. Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, who are in a civil partnership, told the gay news website, Pink News: "Like many couples, we look forward to being married in our local church . . . where our children were baptised. Now we are to be banned in law because we are gay, even if the vicar wanted to marry us."

A letter published in The Daily Telegraph on Monday, signed by 58 MPs and peers - the majority Conservative - indicated that the protections for religious groups in the Government's same-sex marriage legislation had not reassured Conservative backbenchers. It said: "The proposed redefinition of marriage is unnecessary, given the legal rights established through civil partnerships."

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