Gay marriage controversy:

Gay marriage is one of worst threats in 500 years, says Church of England

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

The Government’s plan to introduce same-sex marriage is one of the most serious threats to the Church of England in its 500-year history, senior clergy claim.

The Church today outlines its opposition to the Government’s proposals in scathing terms. Anxiety among Church leaders is so acute that they raise the spectre of disestablishment, warning that any attempt to alter the definition of marriage could fatally undermine the Church’s privileged position.

Ever since the reign of Henry VIII the Church of England has been the country’s official religion, facing down threats to its establishment as severe and varied as the Spanish Armada and the English Civil War. That senior clergy have raised concerns about same-sex marriage in a similar context indicates how seriously they view the Government's attempt to redefine marriage – as a potential attack on the role of the Church itself.

Critics have dismissed the Church’s stance as overly dramatic and called on bishops to follow the lead of established religious bodies in Iceland, Sweden and Denmark who largely embraced gay marriage.

The Church’s position, which was drawn up by senior bishops and lawyers, is confirmation that despite supporting civil partnerships eight years ago, the Church believes extending marriage rights to same sex couples is simply a step too far. The clerics say that the plans for same-sex marriage “have not been thought-through properly and are not legally sound”.

Downing Street has insisted that its plans to bring in equal marriage laws will go ahead. In March the Government launched a three-month consultation process calling on supporters and opponents to put forward their views with the deadline for submissions closing later this week.

The Church of England’s response lists a number of key reasons why they cannot support same sex marriages both theological and practical. At the heart of the debate is whether the definition of marriage can be changed from the lifelong union of a man and woman to that of any couple.

The government insists the change is a simple one which would allow “all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.” No religious organisation would be compelled to conduct a wedding ceremony as they would not take place in religious buildings.

But the Church counters that the proposals changes the very meaning of marriage, which is defined by both canon and parliamentary law.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday the Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, criticised the speed with which the consultation on same sex marriage was being pushed through and added that “unintended consequences” could threaten the church’s historical role.

“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,” he said.

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

Lawyers acting for the Church have advised that the current proposals could leave it vulnerable to legal attacks precisely because it is the established religion that is tasked with officiating marriages to everyone in their parishes. There is particular concern that the European Court of Human Rights might force them to conduct gay wedding ceremonies if the meaning of marriage under British law was changed to include a couple regardless of their gender.

“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,” predicted 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.”

The Church’s stance will please its traditionalist and social conservative wings but will cause dismay among more liberal congregations who have campaigned to see it embrace equal marriage rights.

Symon Hill, from the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, commented: "The Church of England has missed an opportunity to move on from the defensiveness which has characterised many debates over same-sex marriage. This is particularly disappointing given that many of the Church of England's own members are far more positive about same-sex marriage than this official statement suggests.”

He added: “Marriage has been redefined many times throughout history. When married women were given the right to own property in 1882, there were those who argued that the new law undermined marriage. Similar claims were made when laws were passed to protect women from domestic violence and rape. Marriage has meant many things in many cultures.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, added: “It's an important issue of religious freedom that any denomination should be free to decline to celebrate long-term same-sex partnerships. Conversely, that means that a Church should not be entitled to prevent other institutions or the state from recognising them either.”

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin