THE Government's same-sex marriage legislation, published today,
was brought forward too hastily and without a "clear mandate", the
Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, has said.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was presented to Parliament
yesterday, and is due to have its Second Reading on 5 February,
when it will be debated by MPs.
Part of the Bill reads: "Any duty of a member of the clergy to
solemnize marriages (and any corresponding right of persons to have
their marriages solemnized by members of the clergy) is not
extended by this Act to marriages of same sex couples." It defines
a member of the clergy as "a clerk in Holy Orders in the Church of
England, or . . . of the Church in Wales."
The Bill contains a "quadruple lock" of measures designed to
protect religious freedom, including no religious organisation
being compelled to marry same-sex couples (
News, 7 December).
Bishop Stevens said in a statement from Church House this
morning 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
Bishop Stevens said that "the Church of England. . . continues
to hold the view, set out in doctrine and canon law, that marriage
is a union between one man and one woman". The Church would, as the
legislative process continued, 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."
Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and
Equalities, said today that the Bill "protects and promotes
religious freedom, so that all religious organisations can act
according to their doctrines and beliefs.
"Crucially, the Bill recognises the unique legal situation of
the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Unlike any other
religious organisation in this country, their clergy are subject to
a legal duty to marry parishioners.
"To protect them from legal challenge, therefore, the Bill makes
clear that this duty does not extend to same-sex couples. Both
Churches have been clear that they do not currently wish to conduct
marriages for same-sex couples. If they choose to do so at a later
date, they will of course be able to."
A statement from the Church in Wales said: "As a disestablished
church with a legal duty to marry, the Church in Wales is uniquely
placed. The Bill provides protection for the Church whilst still
enabling it to make its own decision on same-sex marriage.
"Under the Bill, the duty of Church in Wales ministers to marry
will not be extended to same-sex couples. However, should the
Church's Governing Body decide in the future that the Church wishes
to conduct such marriages, there is provision in the Bill for the
law to be altered without the need for further primary legislation
by Parliament. Instead, a resolution from the Church's Governing
Body would trigger an order by the Lord Chancellor for the
necessary legal changes to be made."
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, as well as of Scottish Nationalists. It is likely to
encounter serious opposition on the Conservative back benches. MPs
such as David Burrowes, the chairman of the Conservative Christian
Fellowship, and Edward Leigh, the Roman Catholic MP, are among
those who have spoken out against the legislation in recent
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, told
MPs yesterday 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 weeks. There had also been meetings
between Church representatives and Mrs Miller, he said.
Campaigners against the Bill, including the Christian Institute
and CARE, have urged churches to hold a "national day of prayer for
marriage" on Sunday 3 February, two days before the Bill is
expected to be debated in Parliament.
A message to supporters, sent on Wednesday, said that they
should not worry if the Bill passes its second reading, "but it is
important that as many MPs as possible vote 'no'. A healthy 'no'
vote, even if it's not an outright majority, will put added
pressure on the Government to drop its plans to redefine
Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, has urged its
supporters to lobby their MPs to support the Bill's second reading.
Stonewall's chief executive, Ben Summerskill, said: "Supporters of
this modest measure mustn't let a vocal minority block equality. .
. We need straight people with lesbian or gay friends or relatives
to stand up for their rights too. Equality benefits everyone, which
is why we need every supporter to press MPs to vote for it."
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, said that the Bill
was "welcome and commendable", but criticised the Government for
retaining "the inequality of the current legal ban on heterosexual
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill can be read here. Bishop Stevens's statement can be read
in full here.