England and Wales Legalize Marriage Equality… and Churches Are Upset for No Good Reason

Marriage equality officially became law this week in England and Wales, after the British House of Commons passed landmark legislation Tuesday and Queen Elizabeth subsequently granted her royal assent. The bill has had British Prime Minister David Cameron‘s full support since 2011, when he famously called on the Conservative Party to reevaluate its priorities:

Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.

Churches in the United Kingdom are less enthusiastic about Cameron’s Conservative analogy, and they’ve been vocal about it for some time. The Catholic Church in England and Wales acknowledged that the state is on the cusp of “profound social change,” but refuses to take part in it:

“With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central. That is why we were opposed to this legislation on principle,” a statement said.

The Church of England likewise has a long and convoluted relationship with this issue. After a hard-fought campaign against marriage equality, the Church announced in June that it would no longer actively try to derail the bill, but that it remained opposed to same-sex marriage and would continue to support measures safeguarding “religious freedom” in light of the imminent law.

Perhaps most upset with the law is the Evangelical Alliance, an organization of thousands of churches and Christian charities. According to David Landrum, the organization’s director of advocacy:

“Marriage has not been extended; it has been redefined and effectively privatised to privilege adult choice. The changes have stripped husband and wife of their obvious meaning and marginalised adultery and consummation. Marriage has been made into a fluid, gender-neutral institution defined by consumer demands and political expediency.”

Landrum is also the first of what will undoubtedly be many to claim marriage equality in the U.K. constitutes foul play against Christians:

“It is now the task of the Church to model marriage to a society which has forgotten what it is. In the light of pressures that Christians and others will no doubt face in coming years, this new legal fiction provides a chance to model and preach what marriage really is.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim, because churches are virtually exempt from the U.K.’s marriage equality agreement. Activist Peter Tatchell writes for PinkNews that the Church of England and the Church in Wales are “explicitly banned” from performing religious same-sex marriages. He elaborates:

The special requirements and costs of registering premises for the conduct of religious same-sex marriages are much harsher than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. In the case of shared premises, all other sharing faith organisations have to give their permission for the conduct of marriages involving LGBT people. In effect, they have a veto.

CNN’s report of the new law clarifies this claim a bit, but it’s still pretty clear that this bill was not designed with religious folks in mind:

The new law will allow same-sex couples to marry in civil or religious ceremonies. However, religious organizations must explicitly “opt in” if they want to perform such ceremonies, and the religious minister conducting the ceremony must also agree. The law also protects religious organizations and their representatives who don’t wish to conduct marriages of same-sex couples from being challenged in the courts.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that the U.K.’s marriage equality law took every measure possible to appease religious folks and allow them to continue shunning same-sex relationships if they so choose. If that’s what it takes to finally extend equal marriage rights to non-religious same-sex couples, fine. But the excessive religious fine print that accompanied this law shows that it’s anything but an imposition on anti-gay churches. If anything, it alienates LGBT Christians who do want a religious element to their marriages… but you’ll never hear the Church of England acknowledging those couples.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

  • the moother

    Of course they have a good reason to be upset: they just couldn’t stand losing their status as bigots and homophobes.

    • sane37

      Its the other way around. Now they’ve gained the title, by law they are now officially bigots.

      • Michael

        Not so. By law they have to register whether they are bigots or not. What they’re angry about is that if they register as not bigoted then they have to act it.

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    Since this is on the whole a victory for civil rights and the church is just calling sour grapes, there’s not a whole lot I can say, except that whole bit about marriage no longer being centralized on openness to children is utter bullshit.

    The only consideration for children that the Catholic Church (and Christianity at large) has EVER had is as tools of war – losing the marriage equality fight here only means that there’s one less arena in which children can be held up as human shields in the Church’s sick fetish for emotional and physical blackmail. Oh, and as walking fleshlights for the order of priests who don’t know the first thing about sexuality anyway. If their obsession with world domination wasn’t so blatantly obvious, I’d be more confused as to why they think non-Scriptural families are a bigger threat to children than the Church’s constantly-demonstrated regard for them only as commodities.

    • Randay

      France, where I live, has legalized “marriage for all”. The advantage in France is that only marriages performed by the mayor or his delegate are legally recognized. A couple can also have a religious ceremony, but that has no effect and is not accepted by the state. Only secular marriages are legal and allow those who so marry to benefit from various social laws.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        It was my understanding that in France you have to have a civil marriage anyway. I don’t remember the reading on this from my college French class, but it seemed like you had to go to a government office and sign the papers to be married and that a religious ceremony was separate and optional. Please correct any misunderstandings in my memory or education.

        • Stev84

          Correct. And it’s hardly unique to France. That was introduced with the Napoleonic Code and thus spread throughout much of continental Europe during the early 19th century. Other countries, like Germany, adopted it later. I think many South American countries have that as well, since they have a civil law system too.

          Britain has a bit of a hybrid between that and the American system. Churches can perform legally valid weddings, but it’s also possible to have a completely secular wedding officiated by a government employee. Which is becoming increasingly popular.

          • rufus_t

            In fact (speaking from personal experience) civil weddings in Britain are obliged to be completely secular, to the extent that the registrar has to vet the readings, the vows and the music choices.
            Another fascinating factoid about civil weddings in the UK is that as the register is a legal document, and as there is more than one certificate per page, they don’t like you taking pictures of the actual register. They will bring a dummy register (and a fake pen) for the signing-the-register photos…

        • Randay

          That is basically correct. The government office you go to is the mayor’s of your place of residence. You do sign the papers, but in addition the mayor performs a short ceremony to have each person confirm their intention. It is the only legally recognized marriage.

  • Rain

    it has been redefined and effectively privatised to privilege adult choice.

    Presumably that is some sort of horrible thing or something? Lol, what the hell is he talking about.

    • islandbrewer

      Obviously a privatized adult choice is much worse than a being dictated by a public vote by juvenile hooligans.

      • sane37

        I read it as disappointment over not being able to marry their alter boys.

  • Mick

    Christianity is all about control. It’s leaders want to give the orders and they want the population to jump when those orders are given. Anything less than that and they will throw a tantrum. It’s been like that for 2,000 years and it’s not going to change any time soon.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    As I’ve been saying for some time now. In 20 years people are going to wonder why it was such a big deal to begin with.

    • Anthony

      I’ve been wondering for so many years already. If someone wants to get married: not my business, let them get married. Done. Move on to actual real world challenging problems that need to be solved.

    • Edmond

      And we’ll all realize how the Church was supportive and facilitative of this all along.

  • # zbowman

    It still astonishes me that the Church of England, of all people, think they have a right to complain about changes in marriage law.

    • islandbrewer

      Well, if someone doesn’t like it, they can split, form their own nearly identical church with different marriage laws, and appoint themselves the head of said church.

      Beheading wives is optional

    • sane37

      Its irony.

  • islandbrewer

    For anyone interested, in Scotland, the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Bill will be coming up before the Scottish Parliament by the end of the year.

    Northern Ireland will likely prove a tougher battleground for same sex marriage, and has no pending bill, currently.

  • MD

    The clergy getting their panties in a bunch? Imagine that.

  • Erp

    Few points:

    1. The Unitarians, Quakers, and Reform Jews were very supportive of the Bill and opposed attempts to forbid any religious denomination from performing a legal marriage between people of the same sex even if the denomination was willing.

    2. This only applies to England and Wales not to Northern Ireland or Scotland so not to all of the United Kingdom. Scotlad will almost certainly allow equal marriage soon. Northern Ireland is still probably some time in the future.

    3. Marriage law is convoluted in England. Among other things the Church of England was legally _required_ to marry any couple resident England who want to and are legally eligible to marry (it still is if they are opposite sex though there are a few convolutions for divorcees and, I believe, men marrying their dead brother’s widow or dead wife’s sister). So a lot of the fine print was to prevent the CoE from having to perform weddings for same sex couples and to draw the fangs of the conservative part of the church (which includes almost all the sitting bishops [one retired bishop with a seat in the House of Lords was supportive]). It unfortunately means that none of the more liberal clergy can perform marriages (a fair number are in civil partnerships and unhappy about that aspect).

    4. One of the unusual features is that Lord Alli, the leading proponent of the law in the House of Lords, is a gay Muslim.

    • Michael

      This bill never has forbidden any religious denomination from performing a legal marriage between people of the same sex if the denomination was willing. What it requires is that the denomination as a whole opt in.

      If they can’t do that, they can’t perform the ceremonies. I fully expect that Quakers, amongst others, have already opted in.

      Churches that are divided on the issue cannot perform ceremonies until they sort out their internal issues.

  • Robster

    Why aren’t those afflicted with the christian belief system angry at the apparent impotence of their deity, baby jesus and the holy spook. These silent and invisible “all powerful beings” have been no help at all. They made no effort to see their bigoted, hate filled view, as expounded by their self declared representatives happen, as opposed to marriage equality winning the day. If they must blame something or someone, perhaps the baby jesus, god and the holy spook should be given a good talking to and arrangement made for the future when other issues that erode stone age religious nonsense come up for discussion. They’ll keep on losing and eventually run out of support, that can’t be a bad thing really.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Why aren’t those afflicted with the christian belief system angry at the
      apparent impotence of their deity, baby jesus and the holy spook.

      Because God gave us Free Will, which when combined with the Hell thing is exactly like saying that parents should watch quietly from around the corner while their toddler climbs on the fridge, falls and cracks his head open, then come out and proclaim that it was his own damn fault.

      • sane37

        Then set them of fire while stating that they were asking for it.

      • Sterling Ericsson

        I still like how Christopher Hitchens put it. That if God is real and the whole original sin thing is real, then man was “Created sick, and then commanded to be well”.

  • John (not McCain)

    It’s good when Christians are upset. It means justice has been done.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    “and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central. ”

    Awesome, so they insult gay people and divorced people in the same article. Marriage is not about children and it can be very dangerous to expect people to stay with a spouse simply for the sake of the child. You can do it, but then are you going to pretend for how many years more that you like your spouse? Is the thought that if you pretend you like your spouse you will fall back in love? Divorces can be messy, but I’d rather they split up than force them to stick it out because otherwise the baby jesus cries.

    • Anna

      Not only is it insulting, if someone is against divorce, it doesn’t even make sense. Same-sex marriage laws strengthen the responsibility on mothers to stay together with mothers, and fathers to stay together with fathers. They do nothing to affect opposite-sex parents, who are already encouraged to stay together by both the church and the state.

      But I guess that doesn’t matter to the Catholic church, which is already upset about children being born or adopted into same-sex families. Perhaps they think gay and lesbian parents should divorce for the sake of their children?

  • Anon

    David Cameron legalising gay marriage is absolutely the worst thing ever.

    Because now I actually have to like him for it.

    • rufus_t

      I’m going with the position that I can respect him for that, and still think he’s an absolute tool about most of the rest of his policies.
      Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

      • D. A. Smith II

        Unless it’s one of those digital one’s that just shows all 8′s when it’s broke.

    • Michael

      I actually had used his argument before he did, that a properly conservative government wouldn’t quibble about who can and cannot get married because conservatism supports that kind of stable institution.

      Of course most political parties only vaguely agree with the political ethos they pay lip service to, but it’s nice when they do it in a way that aligns with your views.

  • Donna

    What do you expect from a church( Anglican) that didn’t accept divorce until the 1930′s and even the 50′s some refused to marry couples when one had a civil divorce.

  • pagansister


    • kaydenpat

      Yes, good for England and Wales.

  • Gus Snarp

    marginalised adultery and consummation

    Hmm, marriage equality did that? I guess he also believes that present events can alter the past, then. Does he really believe that adulter and consummation weren’t marginalized decades ago? Or that gay couples marrying somehow marginalize them further?

  • Guesta

    To be fair, the quakers, unitarian universalists, liberal and reform jews all campaigned for the bill and are happy that it’s passed.


    Not all religious groups were against it.
    It’s about time we disestablished the church of England. It was violently forced on the population to start with, only a minority of people actually go to anglican services and yet it has unelected bishops in the house of lords, and it’s ridicously backwardas on issues like gay marriage or woman’s rights.