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MPs back change for chapel

15 March 2013


In-house wedding: the then Leader of the Opposition, William Hague, with his wife, Ffion, in the Com­mons' chapel, in 1997

In-house wedding: the then Leader of the Opposition, William Hague, with his wife, Ffion, in the Com­mons' chapel, in 1997

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 happen."

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.

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