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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 15, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 24
British government defends marriage equality plans
Church of England opposed
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British government defends marriage equality plans
Church of England opposed

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The British government and the Church of England traded political jabs over marriage equality only three days before an official 'consultation' period on the matter was due to close.

The consultation, which ended June 14, was the government's idea to prepare public opinion for the introduction of a marriage equality bill in Parliament.

Although Prime Minister David Cameron said that for his Conservative Party members the vote on marriage would be a 'free vote' - with each member allowed to vote his or her conscience instead of the party line - the bill is expected to pass.

Once passed, the law would apply only to England and Wales, because Scotland and Northern Ireland are internally self-governing.

On June 11, the Church of England issued a statement warning that allowing same-sex marriage would 'alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history.'

It said marriage acknowledged 'an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation,' and therefore excludes same-sex couples.

The Prime Minister's office said it welcomed the submission by the Church of England and would carefully consider it. But Cameron's spokesperson confirmed that the government still intended to legislate on same-sex marriage by the end of the current Parliament in 2015.

British Home Secretary Theresa May said on June 12 that the new marriage law would include language preserving the church's freedom of conscience.

'The government is not going to ask anybody to do anything that is against their conscience,' she said.

'We want to ensure that we can put into place a framework that makes sure that those people who don't want to host same-sex marriages are not required to do so.'

In its June 11 statement, the Church of England said the religious exemption included in the government bill would be unlikely to survive legal challenges in domestic and European courts.

Any such challenge would be likely to end up before the European Court of Human Rights and could nullify the government's promise to make same-sex marriages civil rather than religious ones, the church said.

However, many observers believe the European court would not compel religious institutions to carry out same-sex marriages. It would be more likely to allow religious institutions to choose whether to marry Gay couples, and even allow individuals within those institutions to choose whether to conduct religious ceremonies.

That would lead to a patchwork landscape for those seeking a same-sex religious marriage, with couples having to shop around.

It could also lead to disputes within religious denominations, particularly where the governing body remains against same-sex marriage, but individual clergy members decide they are willing to perform such ceremonies.

The Prime Minister's office said the government had sought legal advice on the likelihood of a challenge in the European court before drawing up its proposals.

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