The public want the Government to go further on gay marriage by allowing Church of England vicars to conduct same-sex weddings, a poll for The Independent reveals today. As some religious leaders used their Christmas sermons to attack David Cameron's plans, the ComRes survey suggests that the Church of England is out of touch with the public by opposing gay marriage. It defines marriage "as being between a man and a woman".
By a margin of 2-1, people oppose the Government's proposal to make it illegal for the Church of England to conduct gay marriages. Asked whether its vicars should be allowed to perform such ceremonies if they wanted to, 62 per cent of people said they should and 31 per cent disagreed, with seven per cent replying "don't know".
Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, warned that the Government's plans would create a "sham" version of marriage. Urging all Catholics to join the political struggle against gay marriage, the Archbishop of Westminster used a midnight Mass to criticise governments which "mistakenly promote such patterns of sexual intimacy [outside marriage] as objectively to be approved and even encouraged among the young".
In his strongest attack on the proposal, Archbishop Nichols told the BBC yesterday: "There was no announcement in any party manifesto, no Green Paper, no statement in the Queen's Speech. And yet here we are on the verge of primary legislation. From a democratic point of view, it's a shambles."
Accusing the Government of ignoring the result of its consultation exercise, he said: "George Orwell would be proud of that manoeuvre. I think the process is shambolic." He claimed that those who responded were "7-1 against same-sex marriage".
The Rt Rev Mark Davies, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, also told a midnight Mass at Shrewsbury Cathedral: "This Christmas we are also conscious of new shadows cast by a Government that pledged at its election to support the institution of marriage … the Prime Minister has decided without mandate, without any serious consultation to redefine the identity of marriage itself, the foundation of the family for all generations to come. This is again done in the name of progress … The British people have reason to ask on this night: 'Where is such progress leading?'"
The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also highlighted the issue of gay marriage in his Christmas Day sermon at Durham Cathedral. Saying that some felt the Church was in a period of "division" and "betrayal", he continued: "There are profound differences of opinion about the nature of Christian truth and its place in society, about the right of an ancient tradition to dictate or even to advocate ethical values around the end of life, around marriage, around the nature of human relationships, inequality, our duty to each other."
According to the ComRes survey of 1,000 people, women are more likely than men to oppose the plan to outlaw gay marriage by the Church of England. By a margin of 64 to 27 per cent, women think that its vicars should be allowed to perform them. Among men, 60 per cent agree that gay weddings should be held when vicars want to conduct them, but 35 per cent oppose this.
There is much stronger support for the Church to conduct gay marriages among younger than older people. Almost three in four people between the ages of 18 and 44 support the move, compared to 55 per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds. Those aged 65 and over are the only age group opposed to the idea, by a margin of 50 to 38 per cent.
Under proposals announced by the Government earlier this month, the Church of England would be the only religious organisation specifically banned from conducting gay marriages. The aim was to reassure its critics by bolstering the Coalition's pledge that Churches would not be bounced into holding such ceremonies against their will. It was also intended to balance the decision to allow other churches to "opt in" to same-sex marriage if they wish.
Christmas messages: Bishops' interventions
"Basically the Prime Minister has said: 'Where there is love and commitment, then that's all that you need for marriage' … But I think that's very shallow thinking, and it's a shame that these matters have not been given much, much more thought."
Archbishop Vincent Nichols
"This Christmas we are also conscious of new shadows cast by a Government that pledged at its election to support the institution of marriage … the Prime Minister has decided without mandate, without any serious consultation to redefine the identity of marriage itself, the foundation of the family for all generations to come."
The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury
"There are profound differences of opinion about the nature of Christian truth and its place in society, about the right of an ancient tradition to dictate or even to advocate ethical values around the end of life, around marriage, around the nature of human relationships, inequality, our duty to each other."
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham