ONE of the ministers responsible for steering the
same-sex-marriage legislation through the House of Commons denied
this week that the Government was acting hastily or without a
Speaking on Monday, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
Justice, and Women and Equalities, Helen Grant (right),
said that she did not think that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples)
Bill had been "rushed".
"The consultation on this matter actually started in March 2012,
and the consultation itself was comprehensive. We received
something in the region of 228,000 responses to that consultation,
including 19 petitions. The consultation was open, fair, [and]
transparent. Every- thing was looked at very carefully indeed."
In response to the charge that the Bill lacked a democratic
mandate, Mrs Grant said that the Conservative Party had published
its intentions to legislate for same-sex marriage in the Contract
for Equalities, which was issued alongside its 2010 election
Mrs Grant, who is a solicitor and a practising Anglican, said
that there had been "ongoing consultation and talks" with
representatives of the Church of England, and other religious
organisations, about the Bill.
It makes provisions for religious organisations to opt in to
perform same-sex marriages. But Mrs Grant said that it provided
robust protection for individual ministers to refuse to perform
same-sex marriages, even if the religious body to which they
belonged decided to opt in.
"And it further goes on to say - and the mechanics for this are
through an amendment to the Equality Act - that no religious
organisation or minister can be effectively taken successfully to
court for discrimination, harassment, or victimisation for refusing
to perform a same-sex marriage."
Press reports this week suggested that a significant number of
Conservative MPs were likely to vote against the Bill, as well as
some government ministers. But Mrs Grant said that she believed
that the Bill would pass through the Commons and the Lords. "It's a
really important piece of legislation, and a lot of people care
deeply about it."
Mrs Grant objected to claims, made by some press commentators
and MPs, that the Bill would pre-vent teachers' expressing
traditional Christian beliefs about marriage.
"Teachers are, of course, allowed, and must express their own
religious beliefs, which may well be that marriage is between a man
and a woman. There will be no obligation on them as teachers to
promote same-sex marriage, but obviously we would not expect them
to be ex-pressing their views in a disrespectful or unpleasant or
THE Government's same-sex-marriage Bill,
published last Friday, was brought forward "at speed" and without a
"clear mandate", the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens,
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was
presented to Parliament on Thursday of last week. It is due to have
its Second Reading next Tuesday, when it will be debated by
On Friday, a briefing paper was published by the
Parliamentary Unit of the Mission and Public Affairs Division and
the Legal Office at Church House.
The Bill contains a "quadruple lock" of
measures that, the Government says, are designed to protect
religious freedom, including one that states that no religious
organisation should be compelled to marry same-sex couples (
News, 7 December).
The Culture Secretary and Minister for Women
and Equalities, Maria Miller, said that the Bill made clear that
the Church of England's and the Church in Wales's duty to marry
parishioners "does not extend to same-sex couples". This would
"protect them from legal challenge". But if the Churches' governing
bodies decided to marry same-sex couples in future, "they will of
course be able to."
Bishop Stevens said in a statement from Church
House that church officials had "continued to raise questions about
whether it is wise or appropriate to legislate at speed on a matter
of such fundamental importance to society, when the proposal was
not in any major party manifesto, the Coalition Agreement, or the
last Queen's Speech.
"The lack of a clear mandate and the absence
of an overwhelming public consensus for change ought at least to
give pause for thought."
Bishop Stevens reiterated the C of E "view,
set out in doctrine and canon law, that marriage is a union between
one man and one woman".
The Church would continue to seek "to press
serious questions about the implications for wider society, for the
significance of procreation and upbringing of children as part of
the purpose of marriage, the effect on teaching in schools, and the
work of chaplains and others with religious convictions who are
involved in public service delivery".
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir
Tony Baldry MP, told MPs last week that church officials and the
Government's Equalities Office had discussed the drafting of the
Bill during a series of conversations over the past few
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has
also met government ministers to express concerns that the Church
in Wales would be prevented from opting in to perform same-sex
marriages in the future. As a result, there was now "provision in
the Bill for the law to be altered without the need for further
primary legislation by Parliament", a statement from the Church in
The Bill, which will be subject to a free vote
by MPs, is expected to gain the support of a majority of Labour and
Liberal Democrat MPs. But it is likely to encounter opposition on
the Conservative back benches, and among some government ministers.
MPs such as David Burrowes, the chairman of the Conservative
Christian Fellowship, and Edward Leigh, who is a Roman Catholic,
are among those who have spoken out against the legislation in
The Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, is
another opponent of the Bill, although this week he rebutted press
reports that he had compared same-sex marriage to
A briefing by Roman Catholic bishops,
published on Tuesday, urged MPs "to oppose this
"It said that the Bill "fundamentally seeks to
break the existing legal link between the institution of marriage
and sexual exclusivity, loyalty, and responsibility for the
children of the marriage".
Stonewall, the gay-rights campaign group, has
urged its supporters to lobby their MPs to support the Bill.
Christian supporters of same-sex marriage have set up a Facebook
group, encouraging "churches to pray for marriage equality in their
Campaigners against the Bill, including the Christian
Institute and CARE, have also encouraged churches to hold a
"national day of prayer for marriage" on Sunday.