LONDON, June 12, 2012 ( – In its submission to the government consultation on same-sex “marriage,” the Church of England stated it cannot support the proposal.

The submission, sent to Home Secretary, Theresa May, with a letter signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, called the same-sex “marriage” proposal “divisive”, “essentially ideological” and “deeply unwise.”

“To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships,” wrote the prelates of the Church of England. “We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise.”

The Church’s document pointed out that the government’s consultation paper, titled “Equal Civil Marriage,” wrongly implies that there are two categories of marriage, “civil” and “religious”.


“This is to mistake the wedding ceremony for the institution of marriage,” the bishops explained. “The assertion that ‘religious marriage’ will be unaffected by the proposals is therefore untrue, since fundamentally changing the state‘s understanding of marriage means that the nature of marriages solemnized in churches and other places of worship would also be changed.”

“The consultation document draws a distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘civil’ marriage in a way which assumes that such a distinction is a matter of fact,” section 17 of the CofE submission states. “There is no such distinction in law. This use of language is therefore disingenuous and tends to obscure the fact that changing the law to embrace same-sex marriages, on the terms set out in the consultation, would necessitate introducing such a distinction for the first time – something which the consultation goes on to say (at paragraph 2.7) that it does not intend to do.”

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Section 18 states, “In law, there is one social institution called marriage, which can be entered into through either a religious or a civil ceremony. To suggest that this involves two kinds of marriage is to make the category error of mistaking the ceremony for the institution itself.”

Furthermore, “Changing the State’s understanding of marriage will, therefore, change the way marriage is defined for everybody and, despite the government’s assurances to the contrary, will change the nature of marriages solemnized in churches and other places of worship.”

The bishops questioned the justification offered that changing the marriage law is necessary to provide for the “emotional need” of homosexuals, observing that changing “the definition of a fundamental and historic social institution for everybody in order to meet the emotional need of some members of one part of the community, where no substantive inequality of rights will be rectified, seems a doubtful use of the law. We also note that by no means all LGBT people are in favour of redefining marriage in this way.”

The bishops also expressed concern that the law would inevitably encroach on the freedom of religion. “There have to be serious doubts whether the proffered legal protection for churches and faiths from discrimination claims would prove durable,” they said.

In fact, the proposed redefinition of marriage could therefore leave the Church of Elgnad open to litigation by homosexual couples who could claim discrimination if clergy refuse to “marry” them. As the official state church in England, this could result in the canons, or laws, of the Church being at odds with the laws of the land, resulting in the possibility of the CofE being disestablished.

“If a category of marriage is created which separates the Church’s understanding of marriage from that of the state, it is bound to have some effect on the relationship of the church and its locality,” commented the Bishop of Leicester, Timothy Stevens, to The Independent.

“It seems to me to be on the face of it at least possible, and perhaps more likely probable, that a challenge would be brought before the courts,” said Bishop Stevens. “And that it could be argued that for the established church not to make its premises available to people purely on the grounds of their sexuality could be regarded as discriminatory. The lawyers are arguing that it’s very likely that there’s a serious prospect that a successful challenge could be mounted in the courts.”

“That begins to raise questions about the nature of establishment as we’ve understood it,” Bishop Stevens concluded.

The full text of Church of England’s response to the Government Equalities Office Consultation is available here.


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