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Same-sex Marriage

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

5. What representations she has received from the Church of England on the proposed prohibition on that organisation offering same-sex marriages. (136071)

The views of the Church of England were considered during the finalising of the proposals on equal marriage. The Church has made it clear that it does not want to permit marriages of same-sex couples to take place according to its rites, but, should it change its mind, it will be able to make any amendments that are necessary to its canon law and to the relevant primary legislation in order for that to happen. We continue to engage in constructive dialogue as we prepare to introduce legislation to Parliament.

It seems that we are shortly to have gay bishops in the Church of England, but not women bishops. The gay bishops will be able to conduct marriages between opposite-sex couples, bisexuals and transsexuals, but will not be able to marry same-sex couples or, indeed, get married themselves. Is not our established Church in a bit of a mess on these issues?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I think that what is important when it comes to thinking about equal marriage, particularly as we proceed with our legislation, is that we show respect for all views in all our debates. It is for the Church of England to ensure that it has in place the proposals that are right for it.

Many of us can fully rationalise and justify voting for civil marriage between same-sex couples, and also for removing the legal impediment that prevents any Church that wishes to do so from marrying same-sex couples, but how can we also be asked to justify voting for a legal impediment in relation to one Church alone? Does that not invite all of us to add personal absurdity to all the anomalies and anachronisms to which the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert) just referred?

The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that not all Churches have the same governance structures in place. Therefore, the legislation we introduce needs to recognise the different position of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. I am sure that when he looks at the legislation he will see that we are amply dealing with the question of the important protections each of those individual religious organisations require.

This question of religious safeguards is an issue of conscience that will rightly be determined by free votes across the House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proper way to address such an issue of conscience is through a Committee of the whole House, as has happened in the past?

My hon. Friend is right to say that from the start our party has wanted to listen to all views on this issue. Questions to do with the proceedings of the House are matters for the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House, and I am sure they will have heard his comments.

I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). I do not think the Minister understands the policy in relation to the Church of England and the Church in Wales. It is ludicrous to introduce a complete prohibition in respect of these two Churches. Would it not make far more sense to do what the Matrimonial Causes Acts did? They just said that no minister of religion shall be required to marry a divorcee, and in this case we should say they shall not be required to conduct a same-sex marriage.

We have, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, spent a great deal of time talking to the different religious institutions, including the Church of England, and they have very clearly said that at this point in time they do not wish to be able to perform same-sex marriages. We are protecting the Church of England and its particular position with regard to common law and canon law, and making sure that it can opt in at a later time if it thinks that is right.