AN ATTEMPT to remove the exemption of the Church of England from same-sex marriage in churches was made in the House of Lords last week.
Lord Faulkner, a Labour peer, attempted last Friday to remove the exemption for members of the clergy to solemnise the marriage of a same-sex couple, but withdrew his amendment after the Government said that it could not support it.
He said that there was a flaw in the Act that allowed same-sex marriage: “It included what in today’s parlance would be called a backstop, but I remember that at the time it was called a “triple lock”. This effectively ruled the Church of England out of the Bill’s provisions. It continued the ban on same-sex couples’ marrying in Church of England churches.”
Lord Faulkner argued that he was proposing his amendment so that “at some point in the future . . . there will be an opportunity to say that, because the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has been such an unqualified success and is already allowing thousands of same-sex couples to enjoy the opportunity to be married and live together, it should be possible for the Church of England to follow the lead set by the Anglican Churches in Scotland, the United States, Canada, and other countries and permit same-sex couples to marry in church.”
Another Labour peer, Lord Cashman, also supported this. He said: “It is vital to remember that this change will not compel the Church of England to solemnise same-sex marriage. Instead, it simply means that if the Church were to change its position at any time, as some of us hope it will, and decide to authorise its clergy to solemnise same-sex marriage, it would not have to appeal to Parliament to change the law to allow it to do so. It rightly places this decision in the hands of the religious institution rather than Parliament.”
He went on: “I have to ask myself and imagine what would have happened if, instead of my wonderful civil partnership with the late Paul Cottingham, we had wanted to marry in the Church of England.
“I would have faced discrimination, as people of faith in the so-called LGBT lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans community often do, because the views of religious people are used to deny that group and other groups equality. . . But what about when those people of faith and of belief are discriminated against and denied their place within their own faith and belief community? It makes no sense to me whatever.”
Lord Cashman concluded: “Therefore, without wishing to preach — dare an atheist do that? — I look to those progressives within religious institutions, not only in this country but across the world, and the incredible work that they are undertaking within their institutions and within those religious bodies, to move forward. We need to do everything to support them. I believe that this amendment goes along that route.”
In response, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said: “My Lords, I will first make it clear, lest it be misunderstood, that the Church of England seeks to welcome all people, including LGBTI+ people, including those in civil partnerships and same-sex marriages.
“The reason we are having this discussion is that there are questions about how this welcome can be expressed, but I deeply regret a situation where anyone, because of their sexuality, feels excluded, alienated, or hurt in the way that I know some are. . . The Church of England is at the moment in the middle of a process which is examining how we give expression to this welcome.”
Bishop Cottrell continued: “I accept — of course I do — that many noble Lords deeply regret the Church of England’s current position on the marriage of same-sex couples. However, that position is based on the doctrine of the Church of England set out in canon law — which in turn forms part of the law of England — and in the Book of Common Prayer.
“However, the Church of England is currently engaged in what is called the Living in Love and Faith project, which is driven by a desire to learn how relationships, marriage, and sexuality fit within the bigger picture of humanity, made in the image of God and redeemed by Christ. It is no secret that there are differing, strongly held views within the Church of England on these questions — I am putting it mildly. . . We are in the middle of this process and we are waiting to see what will emerge.”
Responding for the Government, Baroness Williams of Trafford said that it was “not for the Government to mandate this through regulations”.
She went on to say that a wider debate about the nature of marriage was going on right across society, and particularly in the Church of England, the Church in Wales, and in other Churches, and it would continue.