FOURTEEN diocesan bishops were present at the vote on a wrecking
amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of
Lords on Tuesday night, the most to attend a vote in recent
Of the 14, nine voted for Lord Dear's 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 &
The amendment was rejected by 390 votes to 148.
Several Christian peers spoke in favour of the Bill. Lord Jenkin
of Roding said: "The character of love which marriage reflects -
that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish, and
unconditional - is the same character that most Christians see
in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is
ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important
central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us."
On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury had warned that the Bill
would see marriage "abolished, redefined, and recreated". "The
concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost.
The idea of a marriage as covenant is diminished. 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 LGBT communities "in the way it should". He
suggested that the 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".
The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Timothy Stevens, who spoke
as "one whose respect for and appreciation of gay clergy is deep
and who recognises in them sacrificial lives and fruitful
ministries", warned that same-sex marriage would "bring to an end
the one major social institution that enshrines that
complementarity". Nevertheless, concluding that it was not
"appropriate to frustrate the clear will of the Commons", he
abstained from the vote.
On Wednesday, Bishop Stevens said that he could not in
conscience vote for the amendment, as it was the "responsibility of
the Lords to consider the legislation sent from the Commons. That
is our job. If we do not like it, we can discuss and amend it, and
if necessary, we can reject it. But the Dear amendment was to avoid
any such amendment or discussion process."
He said that reports in the press that bishops had been advised
by officials from Church House to stay away from the debate were
On Monday, the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, called for a
"more radical reconstruction of the law": "We should consider going
some way towards the Continental version, which has a legal,
contractual relationship that is the same for everyone, absolutely
without question. Then we could develop different religious
understandings on top of that."
The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, argued that
"a Bill predicated on the claim that marriage should be equal and
gender is irrelevant has to recognise that this logic breaks down
when confronted by the reality of marriage as hitherto universally
understood." He quoted Lady Thatcher: "Equity is a very much better
principle than equality."
Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, warned that the
Bill would leave marriage "weakened and diminished".
Several Christian peers spoke in favour of the Bill. Lord
Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford, said: "I believe, with the
Jewish rabbi of old, that in the love of a couple there dwells the
shekinah - the divine presence; or, to put it in Christian
terms, that which reflects the mutual love of Christ and his
Church. I believe in the institution of marriage, and I want it to
be available to same-sex couples as well as to males and
Lord Blair of Boughton said: "I hope that one day, before I die,
I will see the Anglican Church unlock that quadruple lock from the
Lord Black of Brentwood, who is in a civil partnership, said of
the Bill: "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
During his speech, Archbishop Welby welcomed comments made by
the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam.
Bishop Holtam, who does not yet qualify to sit in the House of
Lords, wrote 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. The Bishop set out why he has a different view from
that stated in the Church of England's response to the Government's
consultation on the subject (
News, 15 June 2012).
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."
On Monday, Bishop Holtam said that he was able to square his
letter with a statement he issued last year reaffirming his
commitment to "supporting marriage as it is currently understood",
"because I do not see same-sex marriage as a threat to heterosexual
On Saturday, a letter opposing the Bill, signed by 53 leaders
from various faiths, including the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd
Mike Hill, and several prominent conservative Evangelicals, was
published in The Daily Telegraph. It accused the
Government of having "failed to engage in meaningful debate with
the many different faith communities in Britain".
The Bill will now pass to Committee Stage in the House of Lords.
On Wednesday, Bishop Stevens said that there was a "lot of work to
do to ensure that it is good and improved".
The Bishops would seek to ensure that church schools were able
to teach traditional views of marriage, and that freedom of speech
was protected. They "may want to put down amendments about the
question of fidelity in marriage, how that is understood in equal
marriage", he said.
Question of the Week: Should the Bishops have voted for the