The official Church of England response to gay marriage: Well what did you expect?

Seeing that it looks like almost every blogger who has an interest in the Church of England has written about today’s official C of E response to the Government Equalities Office Consultation on the introduction of same-sex marriage, I feel that I ought to as well even though I feel I have very little to say that I’ve not talked about already.

The amount of tweets on it this morning has been overwhelming with those on both sides of the argument once again frantically picking holes in the other’s analysis of the C of E’s thirteen page statement, which you can read in full here.  If you’re short on time, the much briefer official summary is here.

Given that ever since the Government first decided that it was going to introduce same-sex marriage, the Church of England has been officially opposed to it, it’s no great surprise that their statement continues in this vein.  For once we’re left in no doubt as to which side of the fence the C of E is on, which makes a change from the indecisiveness that often plagues it.  They are sticking to the orthodox church view of marriage completely and are not backing down in any area, which will have upset plenty of liberals, but will have pleased many from a wide range of church backgrounds too.

The report is surprisingly easy to read and it’s easy to see where the concerns lie.  Whatever reassurances the Government is giving to churches that they won’t be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, if it all goes through it will cause some major headaches and potentially more legal problems further down the line.  You can’t just change a fundamental institution and expect everything to fall in line without much in the way of fuss or difficulty.

Here are three thoughts to leave you with:

  • The statement quite rightly identifies that the government consultation paper wrongly implies that there are two categories of marriage, “civil” and “religious”.  As it stands marriage is marriage irrespective of where you get married.  The Government wants to homogenise marriage to cover both heterosexuals and homosexuals whilst at the same time introducing two classes of marriage.  So we go from marriage and civil partnerships to religious marriage and civil marriage.  If this happens we’re no better off.  There is still a division, just along different lines.
  • The “Greatest threat to the church in 500 years” headline that is being used to accuse the Church of England of ridiculous over-reaction is, as far as I can see, not mentioned in the C of E statement, but rather has been created by today’s Independent headline writer giving their interpretation of the consequences of introducing same-sex marriage.  We need to make sure we check our facts before we make accusations.
  • When I found out last night what the headlines were going to be I predicted on Twitter that Jesus wouldn’t get a mention.  I almost got it right.  Giles Fraser in his Guardian article today does refer to him.  I can’t say I agree with much that Giles Fraser says on this subject, but at least he’s mentioned that Jesus said an awful lot more on other issues and once again church and sex make the papers despite there being so much more that the Church is doing that deserves to get media exposure.

If you want to read more on this, here are a few blog and online articles that I’ve found today:

Opinionated Vicar (David Keen) – CofE Response to Marriage Consultation

Vic the Vicar – CofE and marriage – loadsa responses

Cranmer – Is David Cameron about to force the Queen to break her Coronation Oath?

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

Telegraph – Gay marriage raises prospect of disestablishment, says Church of England

Guardian – Church of England accused of scaremongering over gay marriage

Categories: Church, Homosexuality, Marriage

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7 replies

  1. Civil marriages already exist and are already different to religious marriages (see, for example). I really don’t understand how so many people have failed to realise this, particularly since this has been the state of affairs since 1836.

    • Certainly there is a difference between civil marriage services and religious ones, but once the ceremony is over, there is only one type of marriage. In the eyes of the law and religion there is no difference.

      In the official government document it clearly describes religious and civil marriage as two separate identities. Either they are trying to define two forms of marriage or their use of language is very poor. I would give you the quote but the site isn’t functioning at the moment, but it seems to have been removed for now:

      • I can’t find the consultation paper, now, either. I seriously doubt they are planning what you suggest (there is no need to) – note that the site I linked to also describes civil and religious marriage as though they are separate institutions.

        Could you also elaborate on the legal headaches you expect? The only suggestions I have heard are about adultery and consummation. Adultery isn’t really an issue as it falls under the ‘unreasonable behaviour’ catch-all anyway (for example, my understanding is that if a married person has an affair with somebody of the same gender, it isn’t considered adultery for the purposes of divorce, but is treated as unreasonable behaviour with exactly the same effect). Consummation isn’t relevant to the modern world and should be removed from the law anyway (it’s not as if anybody has witnesses to consummation nowadays). If we are talking about the ECHR angle, then according to the analysis at, it is conceivable that the intended ban on same-sex religious marriages could be overturned (as several religious groups want, as well as the Lib Dems and Labour, of course), but unthinkable that the C of E could be forced to conduct them (and the C of E doesn’t provide any reasoning to explain why they think they could be forced to). It’s hard to imagine any other potential legal difficulties with civil same-sex marriage that wouldn’t also apply to civil partnership – they are very nearly the same thing, after all.

        • The site when it mentions civila nd religious marriage is still ferering to the actual ceremonies as far as I can see.
          I guess part of the problem that so many people are having is that the government is not toally clear as to what they are proposing although we have to bear in mind that we are techniocally in the consultation stage so nothing should be fixed yet.
          I’m not so worried about the issues of consummation and adultery as divorce is so easy now that they have lost almost all value in law now anyway. If same-sex marriage does go through, there’s going to be a whole lot of details to sort out such as what happens to civil partnerships. If gay people can get marriaed then surely civil partnerships become redundant and yet the government wants to keep them available still.

          I’m also not convinced that potentially there won’t be any challenges to churches being exempted from holding gay weddings. Given the history of some atheist lobby groups, I expect them to take a few shots at turning this around sometime in the future if they think that they’ve got a chance. Also with equality laws will being opposed to same-sex marriage be acceptable as a viewpoint in time. We’re already beginning to see some problems with this.

          ONe thing we can be sure of. Whatever the outcome, there’s going to be a whole lot of mess that will take a lot of time and effort to clear up and I’m not looking forward to that at all.

  2. I find the suggestion that non-consummation maybe an issue as deeply deeply ironic…

  3. And also- surely marriage has already been irrevocably redefined? Till death us do part…as long as ye both shall live…marriage is no longer a life long commitment. Redefinition of marriage has happened lots in history, and even in the Bible. Redefining marriage seems to me to be a non-problem. There may be many problems. I can’t see redefinition as one of them.

    • Tracy, you’re right about the changes that have happened to marriage, but during the actual ceremony aren’t you confirming the ideals of marriage. If the vows were “Till we get bored of each other us do part” we’d be degrading the marriage commitment even though we know that so many marriages end in divorce.

      I suppose that in many ways I’m an idealist. Marriage is a very simple concept and over the course of history we’ve been pretty good at messing it up and complicating it. I don’t think that complicating it further is going to help things. I don’t have a problem with having civil partnetships and marriage alongside each other. That way they can hold on to their distinctiveness. Lumping things together that don’t need to be isn’t always the best option.

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