THE historic chapel of St
Mary Undercroft, in the Palace of Westminster, could be converted
into a multi-faith centre to circumvent the legal ban on same-sex
marriages that would continue to apply to the chapel after same-sex
marriages become lawful.
The proposal was made by
the Labour MP for Rhondda, Chris Bryant, a former clergyman, during
the Committee Stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill; and it
is being supported by the Justice Minister Helen Grant, the
Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald.
Ms Grant told MPs that
the chapel was a royal peculiar under the authority of the Queen.
"As she is head of the Church of England, it would be unlawful for
same-sex marriage to take place here unless the Church of England
changes its canons and puts forward an amending Measure."
Mr Bryant responded: "Her
Majesty could decide to allow it to be used as a space for
multi-faith purposes. . . Perhaps the Minister would like to write
to the Queen to ask her whether she would allow that to
Mr Bryant said on
Wednesday: "The chapel is now used for [Roman] Catholic masses,
even though the Thirty-Nine Articles expressly condemn
transubstantiation; so the Church could also allow other
denominations to use the chapel for same-sex marriages."
A government spokeswoman
confirmed that officials working for Ms Grant have written to the
Lord Great Chamberlain to ask about the possibility of the chapel's
becoming a multi-faith centre; and officials in the Palace of
Westminster have confirmed that the Speaker of the House of
Commons, John Bercow, has referred the suggestion to Lt. Gen. David
Leakey, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod and Secretary to the Lord
Great Chamberlain. Black Rod said that the proposal "raises complex
issues and is likely to involve lengthy consultation".
Responsibility for the
crypt chapel is shared between the two Houses and the Lord Great
Chamberlain. Spiritual oversight is provided by Westminster Abbey
and St Margaret's, Westminster.
The chapel of St Mary Undercroft was commissioned by King Edward
I in 1297, and was used by the court and royal household, while the
royal family worshipped in St Stephen's Chapel. It fell out of use
over the centuries, before being restored after the old Palace of
Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834.