FOURTEEN diocesan bishops were present at the vote on a wrecking
amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on Tuesday night,
the largest number to attend a vote in recent times.
Of the 14, nine voted for Lord Dear's wrecking amendment to deny
the Bill a second reading. Five abstained. The nine were: the
Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Bristol, Birmingham,
Chester, Coventry, Exeter, Hereford, London, and Winchester. The
Bishops of Derby, Guildford, Leicester, Norwich, and St Edmundsbury
& Ipswich abstained.
The amendment was rejected in the House of Lords by 390 votes to
148. Several Christian Peers spoke in favour of the Bill. Lord
Black of Brentwood, a Christian in a civil partnership, said: "I
support it because I am a Christian and I believe we are all equal
in the eyes of God, and should be so under man's laws."
On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Marriage
(Same Sex Couples) Bill would see marriage "abolished, redefined
Speaking on the first day of the Second Reading of the Bill in
the House of Lords, Archbishop Welby warned: "The concept of
marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of
a marriage as covenant is diminshed. The family in its normal
sense, predating the state and as our base community of society . .
. is weakened."
He expressed "sadness and sorrow" for the Church's "considerable
failure" to serve the LGBT communities "in the way it should". He
suggested that Bill could have introduced, alongside traditional
marriage, "a new and valued institution . . . for same gender
relationships, which I would personally strongly support to
strengthen us all". Instead it "weakens what exists and replaces it
with less good option that is neither equal nor effective".
Archbishop Welby concluded: "This is not, at heart, a faith
issue; it is about the general social good. And so with much regret
but entire conviction, I cannot support the Bill as it stands".
The Bishops of Chester, Leicester and Exeter also spoke during
the debate, as did Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury
and Lord Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford.
Ealier in his speech, Archbishop Welby described comments made
by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam
(below), last week in support of gay marriage as a "strong
and welcome contribution".
Bishop Holtam, who does not yet qualify for the House of Lords,
sent a letter last Wednesday in response to a request from Lord
Alli of Norbury, a Muslim who was the first peer to be open about
his homosexuality. It sets out why he is "sympathetic to the
possibility of equal marriage" and has a different view from that
stated in the Church of England's response to the Government's
consultation on the matter (
News, 15 June 2012).
He writes: "The theological debate is properly located in the
Biblical accounts of marriage, which is why so many Christians see
marriage as essentially heterosexual.
"However, Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible,
Christian tradition and our reasoned experience. Sometimes
Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the gospel in the
light of experience. For example, before Wilberforce, Christians
saw slavery as biblical and part of the God-given ordering of
"Similarly in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church supported
Apartheid because it was biblical and part of the God-given order
of creation. No one now supports either slavery or Apartheid. The
biblical texts have not changed; our interpretation has."
Bishop Holtam first voiced his support for same-sex marriage
last year (
News, 10 February). After a meeting with the Bishop of
Sherborne, Dr Graham Kings, he issued a statement noting that he
and Dr Kings "disagree about the appropriateness of using the word
'marriage' for same-sex relationships" and reaffirming his
commitment to "supporting marriage as it is currently understood"
and "upholding the current discipline and practice of the Church of
In his letter to peers, Bishop Holtam writes: "I used to think
that it was helpful to distinguish between same-sex civil
partnerships and heterosexual marriage. . . However, the
relationships I know in civil partnerships seem to be either of the
same nature as some marriages or so similar as to be
indistinguishable. . . Open recognition and public support have
increased in civil partnerships those very qualities of life for
which marriage itself is so highly celebrated. It is not surprising
this now needs recognition in law."
He argues: "The possibility of 'gay marriage' does not detract
from heterosexual marriage unless we think that homosexuality is a
choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people.
Indeed the development of marriage for same sex couples is a very
strong endorsement of the institution of marriage."
In an interview published in The
Independent on Monday, Lord Alli said that he had
recently met the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin
Welby, and asked for his "blessing" to approach Bishop Holtham to
write the piece. Archbishop Welby had said: "Absolutely. And that
goes for any bishop," Lord Alli said.
On Sunday, the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, said on BBC
Radio 4's Sunday programme that the Bill "won't
cut the relationship between Church and state, but it will
introduce a dislocation which is almost unprecendented".
He referred to a suggestion by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a
Conservative Peer, that signing the Bill might compromise the
Queen's ability to uphold her Coronation Oath. Dr Forster said:
"Now that you can have canon law and statute law, for the very
first time in our history, diametrically opposed, and that is what
is unique and unprecedented about this Bill, puts the Queen in a
Lord Harries, who intends to vote in favour of the Bill, cited
the discussion of issues of contraception, the decriminalisation of
homosexuality, and divorce reform as times when the Church of
England had been "reasonably near the cutting edge of reform. Now
the Church of England, in opposing gay marriage, is suddenly
putting itself out of step with what is the mainstream view of the
country at the moment."
On Saturday, a letter opposing the Bill, signed by 53 religious
leaders including the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, was
published in the Daily Telegraph. It accuses the
Government of having "failed to engage in meaningful debate with
the many different faith communities in Britain.
"It has wrongly assumed that opposition to the redefintion of
marriage is confined to a small number of Christians. In particular
during the committee stage of the Bill, faith leaders from other
religions, races and creeds were not consulted."
The signatories are "unimpressed" by the safeguards offered by
the Government, and the Bill "devalues the meaning of marriage
Signatories include prominent Conservative Evangelicals such as
the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, director of Church Society, the Ven.
Michael Lawson, chairman of the Church of England Evangelical
Council and a former Archdeacon of Hampstead, the Revd Paul Perkin,
chairman of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, Canon Dr Chris
Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, Prebendary Rod
Thomas, chairman of Reform and the Revd Dr Simon Vibert of Wycliffe
This morning, more than 30 non-Anglican church leaders delivered
a letter to Lambeth Palace urging Archbishop Welby to "whip" the
Bishops in the House of Lords to attend the vote and oppose the
Signatories include a number of leaders of Black Majority
Archbishop Welby's full speech can be read here.