Peer leads attack on Divorce Bill

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The Independent Online
Baroness Young, the Anglican peer leading the struggle against the Government's Divorce Bill in the House of Lords, brought her campaign to the Church of England's General Synod yesterday, when she told a generally sympathetic fringe meeting she was "very concerned at the attitude taken by some of the bishops" who broadly support the Bill.

She quoted Hillary Clinton as a supporter of the view that divorce always damages children and ought to be made more difficult.

"If you remove considerations of fault or conduct, what are you saying to people who get married?" she asked.

"The Church has a terribly important role to play. It needs to say very firmly that it actually supports marriage."

Lady Young's campaign against the Bill has split Christian opinion.

The Bill is promoted by Lord MacKay, a devout Presbyterian, and had the support of all mainstream churches. But recently Cardinal Basil Hume and the Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, have come out in support of her amendments for a longer waiting period before divorce is granted.

The Divorce Bill, she said, was part of a wider process where "we are being pushed into a state where there is no distinction between marriage and cohabitation.

"We all know that young people cohabit quite happily all over the place ... [but] we, as Christians, should stand up for marriage. Cohabitation is not the best for children, because it is not a commitment."

Her views were challenged by Prebendary Kenneth Bowler of London who said: "The purpose of Lord MacKay's Bill is to stop children being used as a football for two years or more. You cannot turn divorce into a crime. I don't understand why there has to be more pain and shame and blame when the situation is already always full of pain."

Dr Peter May, a GP from Southampton, said talk of "no-fault divorce" confused the concepts of legal and moral fault. Lady Young replied that although all married couples were "silly and sinful and selfish" sometimes, certain break-ups were one party's fault.

After the meeting, Prebendary Bowler, whose wife Sarah is chief executive of Relate, the marriage guidance charity, remarked that the two prelates who have come out against the Bill, Cardinal Hume and Dr Hope, are celibate, whereas the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, who is in favour, is married with four children.