PROPOSALS to convert the House of Commons chapel, St Mary
Undercroft, into a multifaith centre (News, 15 March 2013) so that
MPs and peers could use it to solemnise same-sex marriages, have
Black Rod, Lt. Gen. David Leakey, confirmed that the original
suggestion that the chapel be converted into a multifaith centre
had been modified "so that the chapel would be a
multi-denominational chapel; in other words, still a Christian
place of worship rather than multifaith. None the less, there are
no plans to take the proposal forward."
The chapel is a Royal Peculiar, under the care of Westminster
Abbey, and one of the few remaining areas of the Palace of
Westminster still under royal control. Chris Bryant, the MP who
first put forward the idea, suggested that the proposal was
personally blocked by the Queen, who visited the chapel in
December. "She is a very conservative woman," he said.
As a Church of England chapel, St Mary Undercroft could be used
to conduct same-sex marriages only if the General Synod gave its
consent to same-sex marriage in the C of E.
The Government has published draft regulations concerning the
use of military chapels for same-sex marriages. The regulations,
which are due to come into force in June, re-quire the Secretary of
State for Defence to "consult with the relevant governing authority
of any relevant religious organisation which in his opinion makes
significant regular use of the chapel", before applying for it to
be registered as a venue for same-sex marriages.
The regulations specifically exclude C of E chapels, however,
which would require the Secretary of State to certify that the
chapel "is not consecrated according to the rites of the Church of
The Government has also introduced regulations detailing how
"informally shared" church buildings can be registered for same-sex
marriages. The rules, which cover arrangements that have not been
made under the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969, require all
qualifying shared churches to give consent before a building can be
A qualifying shared church is one that has used the building
"for public religious worship on two or more occasions in each
calendar month" in each of the preceding six months, or nine of the
preceding 12 months, the Equalities Minister Helen Grant told a
Commons committee last month.
The registration of a shared building will specify which of the
sharing churches will be able to conduct same-sex marriages in it,
Ms Grant said. "If a religious organisation gives its consent to
the building being used to conduct marriages of same-sex couples by
another sharing organisation, this consent will not enable it to
solemnise marriages of same-sex couples. Any sharing organisation
wishing to conduct such marriages will need to provide separate
explicit consent from their own governing authority."
In a formal response to its consultation on the subject, the
Government explained that this was required so that the regulations
did not "undermine the religious protections set out in the 2013
Act" by providing "a route through which some members of a
religious organisation could solemnise a marriage of a same-sex
couple without the consent of their governing authority".
The first official notices of intention to marry, or
preliminaries, were made yesterday, in preparation for the first
same-sex marriages on Saturday 29 March.
The Evangelical Group on General Synod, has questioned the House
of Bishops' guidance on same-sex marriage, saying that it ignores
"the position of lay people holding a bishop's licence or
In a letter to its members last weekend, the Revd John Dunnett,
who chairs the Group, said: "We believe that such lay ministers,
who, along with ordained ministers, should offer an exemplary
lifestyle, should be expected not to enter into same-sex marriages,
and those who have contracted same-sex marriages should not be
licensed or commissioned."
The letter said that "while affirming that everyone should be
welcomed in our churches, we continue to believe that appropriate
sacramental discipline should apply to those who choose to enter
into any sexual relationship other than within marriage between a
man and a woman."
Mr Dunnett also questioned the Bishops' guidance that prayers
rather than a blessing might be offered to same-sex couples. The
distinction between the two was "without reasoned theological
difference, and likely to lead to confusion".
On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard
Chartres, spoke in St Paul's Cathedral about several weeks in which
"my mail box and daily delivery has been full of indignation.
"From the various angles of the debate on human sexuality, the
vitriol has flowed in, denouncing the errors and shortcomings of
others seemingly blind to the lack of charity which rage against
the others betrays. . . There is a word for all of us in today's
Gospel: 'If there is any one among you who is without sin, let him
cast the first stone.'"