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John: lock on gay marriage ‘regrettable’

22 February 2013


MEASURES in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which would bar Church of England clergy from marrying same-sex couples, were "highly regrettable", the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, said last week.

The Bill, which passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons, earlier this month ( News, 8 February), contains a "quadruple lock" of measures intended to "protect religious freedom". These specify that it would be illegal for any Church of England cleric to conduct a same-sex marriage.

Giving evidence to MPs during the Committee Stage of the Bill, on Thursday of last week, Dr John said that it was "highly regrettable that the Church feels the need to have these triple or quadruple locks.

"My main worry about it, frankly, is the image of the Church that it puts to ordinary people. . . I can understand why that lock has been demanded, but I am very fearful that the Church is forgetting its own gospel in making that demand."

Dr John, who has publicly endorsed same-sex marriage ( Comment, 31 August), went on to say that he "would not want to amend the Bill to force it [same-sex marriage] on the Church. . . It is up to people like me, within the Church, to argue with the Church and to try to help it move along to a more Christian position."

Dr John said that he thought it would be "more genuinely Anglican" if individual parishes were allowed to decide whether to marry same-sex couples.

The Secretary General to the General Synod, William Fittall, and the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, gave evidence to the committee on Tuesday of last week ( News, 15 February). Mr Fittall said that he did "not detect a strong debate among our bishops around moving to same-sex marriage".

Christians for Equal Marriage UK, a lobby group set up last year, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, this week, calling for the C of E's exemptions to be reconsidered.

Nathan Hartley, the group's founder, said: "Many Anglican churches have the freedom to set their own church policy with regard to whether they marry divorcees or not. I think they should also have the freedom to set policy around marrying two people of the same sex in their churches."

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission issued a briefing earlier this month on the legislation. It argued that, were the Bill to be passed, "a legal challenge by a couple who wanted to be married by a religious organisation which did not wish to solemnise same-sex marriages is very likely to fail."

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