Church of England Gets Special Exemption in New Gay Marriage Law

Yesterday, the British Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, unveiled plans to introduce a law allowing consenting churches to hold gay marriage ceremonies. This has been a long time coming and enjoyed a ground swell of popular support over the last couple of years.

Of course there have been the hard liners shouting from upon high about the moral decay of society, but generally, this new law is widely supported. What has raised eyebrows is the explicit exemption from the new law for the Church of England and the Church of Wales.

The reason for this, apparently, is that they both stated strong opposition to the law and have therefore been given their own little legal exemption. It’s now illegal for the Church of England and Church in Wales to conduct gay marriage ceremonies. For all other religious groups, the law is an opt-in system. This means a religious group must explicitly state it wishes to perform gay marriage ceremonies before the government will allow it to do so.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller (via the BBC)

Even with this exemption, the churches — along with their Roman Catholic and Protestant allies — are still opposed to the law and are expected to campaign heavily against it when it comes up for vote in the House of Commons sometime before the next election in 2015. Some religious groups, however, are in favor of the new law. Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Jews have all voiced support for the measure as they wish to be able to conduct gay marriages in their churches and will opt-in to being able to do so.

In order to protect religious freedom in all of this mess, the Culture Secretary has promised to include a “quadruple lock” system:

  • No religious organization or individual minister will be compelled to marry same-sex couples or permit the marriages to happen on their premises
  • It would be illegal for religious organizations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their governing bodies have expressly opted in to provisions for doing so
  • The 2010 Equality Act will be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organizations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple
  • The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply

Introducing the measure, Miller added:

The Church of England and Church in Wales had explicitly stated their opposition to offering same-sex ceremonies, so the government will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples. I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which would allow that. European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional ‘quadruple legal lock’. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.

A number of ministers who oppose the introduction of same-sex marriage questioned both the government’s right to interfere with their duties and the possible effects this law will have on society. Most of the opposition has come from the government’s own party. Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Bone asked, “How dare the secretary of state try to redefine marriage?” Another Conservative MP, Richard Drax, said: “I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?” Sir Tony Baldry, who speaks for the Church of England in Parliament, said: “For the Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it does embody the distinctiveness of men and women. So removing from the definition of marriage this complementarity is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.”

I’m not really sure where I stand on this in a practical sense. On a purely moral level, it’s easy — same-sex marriage should be legal in all places and open to all people. Of course, this law won’t go anywhere near that far with all its protections for religious freedom, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. In a practical sense, I think the longer the churches hold out against same-sex marriage, the more their congregations will simply walk out in disgust, especially among the younger members of society. So, in that regard, I think some of these exemptions are a few more nails in the coffin for state-sponsored religion in this country.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.

@markdturner

  • Sindigo

    It’s disgusting that Cameron et al have allowed this to happen. They were doing so well on this issue too. I get your point that this makes the CofE look even more out of touch than it already does and will probably lead to their congregations continuing to dwindle but the CofE I grew up in was always more tolerant than their competitors. I hope this helps to kick them even more into the long grass. Disetablishment now!

    Speaking of being out of touch, Richard Drax (full name: Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax) can take a flying leap as well. That prick is my mother’s MP and lives here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charborough_House

    Also, central justified. Ouchie.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Ya, missing a closing </center> tag after the image.

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        Ah, so that’s why the formatting is messed up! Everything is centered, even the comments.

      • http://twitter.com/markdturner Mark Turner

        Fixed!

  • http://twitter.com/gdeichen Gavin Deichen

    This isn’t just an exemption, it’s an explicit ban. Which is very weird, because 1) the government don’t generally make rules explicitly for the Church and 2) because it means that the CofE is explicitly denied a right that other religions will have. It’s bizarre that it’s considered necessary to legally prevent the CofE from performing gay marriages as though that’s necessary to stop them. This is worth a look for a brief rundown of how stupid these “locks” are: http://itsjustahobby.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/we-need-a-locksmith/

    • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

      Exactly.  I think it’s the current CofE trying to make sure a future CofE has a much harder time allowing gay marriage, since they can no longer just opt-in, they would have to get the law changed, too.

      • Bad_homonym

        Hopefully by the time the church realizes that they are losing numbers in a big way it’ll be too late. Hopefully the government won’t repeal the law in time for a complete collapse of the CofE

    • curtcameron

      I’m in the US so I may not understand England as well as I should, but isn’t the Church of England basically an official part of the government?

      • http://twitter.com/markdturner Mark Turner

        Kind of. It’s a bit of a one way street, the church governs itself and is not held accountable to anyone other than its own senior leaders. Its entanglement with government basically rests on it being the official religion, and as such is funded by the tax payer. Most of its funds come not from its members but from the tax payer. If this were to stop it would almost die overnight because it simply couldn’t maintain the salaries of it’s officials or the upkeep of its various estates.

        • http://twitter.com/gdeichen Gavin Deichen

          I believe that the CofE has a massive property portfolio – and not just churches etc, but business properties and housing. If the taxpayer cash in its various forms were to cease it would have to sell some stuff, but would still be a very wealthy organisation.

      • http://twitter.com/gdeichen Gavin Deichen

        The Queen is the official head of the Church, but has little real influence on it, just as she is really just a figurehead for the government. The Church has 26 Bishops in the House of Lords and representatives in the House of Commons, but the level of influence they have over day to day decisions is in practice no more than any other lobby or industry group.

        Until recently the prime minster played a part in appointing bishops, but this role was recently given up. There are still a lot of ties and conversations that go back and forth, but the CofE is definitely an organisation in its own right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001736525906 Hamid Afra

    How about if it was part of their canon law not to marry blacks?

    • Helanna

      I always have to wonder that. I mean, really, it’s almost exactly the same thing in terms of ideas, but a church lobbying to deny marriage to black or interracial couples wouldn’t be given a second thought.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dharmaworks David Benjamin Patton

    Fuck them and fuck that. I’m beyond sick and tired of these fucks bleating about what they will – and will not – allow or legalize or recognize about gay people. Piss off the lot of you! I’m tired of being talked about like I’m a bloody sub-human or second class citizen. Fuck you!

  • Ryan Jean

    I’ve found it supremely ironic to see the Church of England, of all groups, expressing moral outrage over the redefinition of ‘marriage.’ Redefining marriage was the sine qua non of the CoE’s entire raison d’etre!

    Anyway, I have to agree with some other commenters in pointing out that this is not an exemption for CoE but a ban; it’s a codification of the current church leadership trying to tie the hands of the future leadership that may not feel the need to prohibit the practice.

    It’s further problematic that the system is opt-in rather than opt-out. Making Government permission to do something opt-in means that each group will still have to seek explicit allowance from the government when they decide to do it, while opt-out would have been the government truly allowing religious freedom by saying (in essence) “It’s up to you; it’s on your terms if/how/when you permit this within your congregation.” I think it would be interesting (and perhaps the likely result of CoE lobbying) if a church did decide to allow it, only to have the government refuse to grant the permission on some flimsy, BS pretext.

    • G Cowel

      You are not English so stfu. Your country was imagined to be based on law. we english know that there should be  a complete separation between state (ie law) and religion. The sooner you US Aetheists work out that  there should be no special case for religious beliefs or lack of them in the eye of the law or state, the sooner you can grow up as a country and stop being childish morons.

      • Ryan Jean

         What. The. Hell???

        Being English or not does not make one incapable of having an informed opinion on English matters, so no, I and other commenters will not be quiet just because your delicate sensibilities were offended.

        I’m not even sure what to make of your second sentence. It’s just an infantile attempt at an insult, from what I can tell…

        “You English” are not the sole arbiters of opinion on separation between state and religion, and that’s rich for someone to speak on behalf of a whole country who can’t even figure out that law is but one part of the state (either that or you don’t know how to properly employ “ie”) and whose country has an *official state church*.

        While I’m sure there are a small number of U.S. atheists (and can’t you at least spell it correctly?) who want non-religion wedded to the state apparatus (or, like the bizarre S.E. Cupp still want *religion* in government), the near-totality of U.S. atheists are secularists, meaning we explicitly desire complete neutrality on the part of the government on matters of religion.

        Perhaps you’re thinking of the evangelicals, trying to permanently weld their beliefs into official state doctrine, that are keeping the country from “growing up,” but it would seem to me that pretty much any atheist here, picked entirely at random, is likely to be less a “childish moron” than you were as you penned your absolutely bizarre comment.

      • curtcameron

        Yet in England, the CoE is the official church sanctioned by the government. And here in the US, the very first one of our Bill of Rights ensures a separation between state and religion.

        Seems like you have things backwards.

        I’m not meaning to knock England – the official church thing was done a long time ago and the good people there have done an admirable job of making it irrelevant.

        • Anon

          What I actually find funny is that we’ve managed to be LESS Christian than a country with seperation of church and state.
          And we have an official church.

      • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

        Your Happy Place, Cowel.  Go to it!  Breathe deeply!  Try to Be Yonce if you can.

      • The Other Weirdo

         Can’t tell if Poe or serious.

      • JWH

        I knew there was a reason we dumped  your tea in Boston Harbor.

        • Pseudonym

          You do know that the actual reason was that the East India Company was undercutting smugglers like John Hancock, right?

          • JWH

            Bzzzt. Wrong. It’s because English tea was not freedom tea.

            • http://twitter.com/markdturner Mark Turner

              Not sure what freedom tea tastes like but clearly I should try it. I can’t imagine it would beat Yorkshire Tea though.

              • WoodyTanaka

                It takes like… victory.

            • Pseudonym

              So close! You would have won if it wasn’t for the anachronism. “Liberty tea” would be more correct.

  • jdm8

    That’s very bizarre.

  • 7Footpiper

    Oh for fuck sake, if people start holding guns to the heads of CoE or RCC clergy and forcing them to marry teh gays, only then will we have the discussion about how their religious rights are being infringed.  It’s also pretty brave to stand up in parliament and accuse the government of arrogance and intolerance in defense of the CoE and their arrogance and intolerance.

  • greenpalm

    I agree on your last point.  Christian churches shouldn’t perform same-sex marriages.  The bible expressly forbids it.  I always support churches attempts to live up to the written word and stop being secularly influenced hypocrites.  I think they should be calling for the stoning of adulterers and should be supporting slavery.  That would be more honest.  In other words, keep them in the dark ages where they belong and maybe they’ll die out and we can get on with civilization.  So kudos to the CoE and CoW for standing up for their beliefs! 

    • John Small Berries

       Christian churches shouldn’t perform same-sex marriages.  The bible expressly forbids it.

      Does it? Can you provide book, chapter and verse? Because I’ve read the Bible straight through twice, and don’t recall any mention of same-sex marriages, let alone an explicit commandment against them.

      • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

        Just because the words aren’t in there doesn’t mean that it’s not expressly forbidden . . . .
        . . . wait . . . 
        No, that’s precisely what it means.  I stand corrected.

    • Pseudonym

      In turn, kudos to the Unitarian, Quaker and Liberal Jewish communities for standing up for their beliefs. And on the third hand, shame on CoE and CoW denying individual clergy their beliefs.

  • ortcutt

    That’s what you get when you’re a state church.  If the CoE wants to make their own policy, they should seek disestablishment.

  • amycas

     “How dare the secretary of state try to redefine marriage?”

    “How dare religious people try to enforce their definition of marriage using the government?” –See how that works?

  • Plot Happens

    I’m at a few different places on these exemptions. The more I read the muddier the water gets, which is really no surprise. On one hand I am glad that more of these laws allowing same sex marriages are being passed. On the other hand I think it’s rather hilarious that the CofE and the CofW protested so loudly that Parliament went ahead and made it illegal for them to conduct same sex marriages. (Yes that’s an extremely simplified statement, but I’m tired and it’s all you’re getting.) It’s hard to tell if Parliament is offering the churches a way to get around the law or if it’s Parliament’s way of snubbing them with that dry British humor they’re so famous for

  • Agrajag

    “No religious organization or individual minister will be compelled to
    marry same-sex couples or permit the marriages to happen on their
    premises”

    This is the only one of the 4 rules that isn’t entirely batshit crazy.  Even so, it’s still problematic. If you offer a public service to the general public (or atleast all your members), then refusing that service over sexual orientation is blatant discrimination.

    If they said they’d marry anyone, except black people, there’d (rightly!) be an uproar, and there’s no way they’d get away with it. (go back in time some and they might, but not today)

    Refusing to marry someone solely over their sexual orientation is exactly as wrong, and for exactly the same reasons. And it doesn’t matter at all if it says so in some book or other. Just because discrimination is prescribed in written form, it doesn’t make it any less discriminating.

  • G Cowell

    I see so many US comments on this, and none of them fully informed. I don’t comment on Aetheist/religious issues in USA,  please don’t add your childish yatterings to a country that is beyond your understanding

    • The Other Weirdo

       I’m from Canada.

      • Pseudonym

        I’m from Australia.  Who’s up for CHOGM?

    • The Other Weirdo

       And you’re posting on an American blog.

    • SphericalBunny

      The author of this particular post is English. I’m English. Other commentators here are English. Those that aren’t appear to be smarter than you. In short, sod off ya div. 

      Oh, and ‘Aetheist’? Please don’t add your childish spellings to words that are beyond your understanding…

  • G Cowell

    addendum: we’re grown ups here in Europe.  Watch children play, they argue endlessly over the rules, just like americans.

    • Ryan Jean

       “Watch children play, they argue endlessly over the rules, just like americans.”

      You obviously have been paying less attention to your own country (or European countries in general) than to the U.S. You should watch a meeting of the MPs and see how much they “argue endlessly over the rules.” Or the European delegates to the UN, or NATO, or the myriad of religious leaders throughout all those countries. Arguing is not always a meaningless game of one-upsmanship played by children (or as my family says, “Arranging deck chairs on the Titanic”), but can be part of an intellectual process by adults to hash through questions, concerns, and genuine disagreements. By your simplistic and hateful comments here and elsewhere in this thread, however, you remove any doubt as to which category you are when you come here to, well, argue…

    • Helanna

      “Most of the opposition has come from the government’s own party. Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Bone asked, “How dare the secretary of state try to redefine marriage?” Another Conservative MP, Richard Drax, said: “I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?” Sir Tony Baldry, who speaks for the Church of England in Parliament, said: “For the Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it does embody the distinctiveness of men and women. So removing from the definition of marriage this complementarity is to lose any social institution where sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.”

      Sooo, is this just blatantly untrue, or what? 

  • John Small Berries

    A number of ministers who oppose the introduction of same-sex marriage questioned both the government’s right to interfere with their
    duties

    Decreeing that “it is illegal for these churches to perform same-sex marriage” is definitely government interference – but these are ministers opposed to same-sex marriage saying it, apparently laboring under the delusion that permitting churches to perform same-sex marriages if they wish to do so is “interference”.

    and the possible effects this law will have on society.

    Leaving aside the fact that they could easily have studied the countries which have instituted marriage equality, and discovered for themselves that the sky has not fallen there, this is a coward’s excuse.

    Conservative
    Member of Parliament Peter Bone asked, “How dare the secretary of state try to redefine marriage?”

    He’s not. He’s saying that the government will uphold religions’ choice to define marriage as they wish.

    Another Conservative MP, Richard Drax,
    said: “I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government
    what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp
    their legislative boot on religious faith?”

    And so what about those religions which consider marriage equality to be perfectly acceptable? What right has Mr. Drax, other than arrogance and intolerance, to insist that those religions cannot be permitted to exercise their faith as they see fit?

    Sir Tony Baldry,
    who speaks for the Church of England in Parliament, said: “For the
    Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it does embody the
    distinctiveness of men and women.

    Again, the Church of England is not the only religious entity in the United Kingdom. And since his church is explicitly exempted from the law (nay, prohibited from choosing to take advantage of it), I’m not sure what he’s complaining about.

    So removing from the definition of
    marriage this complementarity is to lose any social institution where
    sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.”

    And? What’s so all-fired important about explicitly acknowledging sexual differences?

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

    An opt-in system covers both your concerns; it takes the law out of the way of gay marriage by making it clear that the process is legal, but allows the churches to decide not to take part.  Thus, they can “hold out,” as you put it–but they own their decision either way and can’t hide behind the excuse that the law ties their hands.

    That’s what drove the C of E to get itself exempted, yes?  I find it impossible to believe that they have some actual objection to being able to make their own choice, legally, about which weddings they will conduct.  The only thing that makes sense is that they want to be “forced” to make the decision they would have made anyway, because that’s the definition of having it both ways.

    It’s really just the logic of American Christians relying on Leviticus applied to UK law:  “Look, don’t blame me, I’ve got nothing against the gays, it’s God who’s got a problem with it. Can’t blame me!”

  • The Dread Pirate Rogers

    I think this is perfectly fine. Granted the whole CoE thing is stupid and shouldn’t be in there, but making it something churches have to opt-in to protects the “religious rights” of the specific churches, much like how Catholic churches won’t marry non-Catholic couples. Yes, it would be nice if they couldn’t discriminate against people wanting to be married because of their sexual orientation, but you’ve gotta take baby steps. And, so long as gay couples can get married at the end of the day, I don’t see why this is a major problem.

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    For the Church of England, the uniqueness of marriage is that it does embody the distinctiveness of men and women.

    They all talk like this, and it’s so frustrating because you can’t ever pin them down on what “distinctiveness” even means. It’s like they believe (and maybe they do) in some mystical thing that separates men from women, this elusive “essence” that none of them can define without resorting to a bunch of gender stereotypes.

  • R.G.Excell

    I may be missing a huge obvious point here but can someone yay or nay this: does this new law mean that even if a particular CoE church /wanted/ to perform a same-sex marriage, and the higher up’s gave the ok, they’d still not be allowed to do it?

    PS: I’m English, currently living in Wales, my circle of friends are almost entirely CoE and they are all heartbroken about this. In the end it’s just a very unhappy and unfair situation for those people who want to get married.

    • http://eudaimonaiaclaughter.wordpress.com/ Francis

      Any church under this legislation can only say it will perform gay marriages from the top down.  The Synod can change this just as the governing body of any other church can change that – so if the higher ups as in the Synod give the OK then it’s fine.

  • http://eudaimonaiaclaughter.wordpress.com/ Francis

    I’ve gone into detail about why the Church of England is singled out on my blog.  Short version: Established Churches are weird and the CofE is in practice being treated no differently from anyone else.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I’m fine with this. British same-sex couples can get married with or without an opt-in church, and the Churches of England and Wales can continue to die by their many self-inflicted wounds, hemorrhaging members every day. They are making themselves more and more irrelevant in people’s lives on ordinary days and on special days.

    This reminds me of how in the U.S. the Catholic Church is increasingly opting out of providing more and more social services, such as Catholic Charities ending their adoption services so they won’t have to serve LGBT people. Again, that’s fine with me. Same-sex couples can and are adopting through other agencies. The bigots are making themselves more and more irrelevant in people’s lives on ordinary days and on special days.

    Irrelevance precedes obsolescence, which precedes discontinuance.

    • Kaydenpat

      “The bigots are making themselves more and more irrelevant in people’s lives on ordinary days and on special days.”

      So true.  The problem is when the US Catholic Church and other activist churches try to push their religious beliefs on others.  I would think that British homosexuals wouldn’t want to force any religious organization to marry them anyway.  Who would want that?

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        That’s an excellent point, Kaydenpat, I’ll remember that the next time I hear  clerics whining fearfully about the prospect of being forced by law against their will to perform a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple. That is so silly it’s inane, and so inane it’s right next to insane.

        Imagine, two men or two women who have been a dedicated couple for several years, enduring the social penalties for loving each other, and now they can finally get married. So they decide to force a cleric, the star of the show, to do the honors, and inject his resentment, anger, and hatred into their otherwise joyful wedding ceremony. Right, like anyone would even want to do that, let alone be able to.  What utter nonsense, what utter rubbish.

        No, don’t worry, bigots, your right to bear hatred in your sick hearts is Constitutionally protected. You can always “opt out” of participating in a ceremony, participating in your community, or participating in life itself.

        You can’t die out soon enough, and you won’t be missed.


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