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Equal Marriage

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

1. What discussions she had with the Church of England prior to her oral statement of 11 December 2012 on the equal marriage consultation. (136066)

Full discussions have been held with the Church of England over the past year, first by my predecessor as part of the public consultations, and by officials, in confidence, as the proposals were being finalised, before my statement to the House. We continue to work with a range of religious bodies, including the Church of England, as the legislation is finalised.

Will the Minister consider what opportunities an examination of civil marriage and partnerships might bring to those who are not in such a relationship but who share their lives, such as siblings who live together or widows who share a home?

I understand the importance of the question that my hon. Friend asks, but I would say that the legislation that we are working on is about how we can ensure that marriage is broadened, in terms of the number of people who can participate in it, rather than about broadening civil partnerships.

In those discussions, will the Minister be able to raise the issue of the vote in Synod on not allowing women bishops? I am sure that she would like to assist the Church in making progress on that issue.

We have already had debates in the House on the role of women in the Church, and I note that there are now more women than men being ordained in the Church, which is very important. It is a matter for the Church of England to put forward proposals in this area, to ensure that its role is as relevant to our society today as it always has been.

In the course of her discussions on equal marriage, did the Minister discuss with the Church of England the fact that it would continue to bless marriages, whether of same-sex or opposite-sex couples, that have taken place elsewhere?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that many churches already offer the opportunity for couples who are in same-sex relationships to have their marriages blessed in church. These are matters for the Church to deal with, whether they relate to the performance of marriages in church or to blessings. The Church must deal with these issues itself.

Is it not unfortunate that the Minister has said that same-sex marriage will be “illegal” in the Church of England and the Church in Wales, when the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he will carefully consider his stance on the issue and the archbishop of the Church in Wales has said that there is no single Christian opinion on the matter? Will she ensure that, should those Churches wish to marry same-sex couples at some time in the future, she will have legislation prepared to enable them to do so without the need for further primary legislation?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of the role of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Our stance throughout has been to protect those organisations to enable them to make their own decisions. We are talking to them on an ongoing basis about the best way to do that. As to her question about whether they would be able to undertake these duties in the future if they decide to do so, the answer is absolutely yes.