Britain Legalizes Same-Sex Marriages After Church of England Backs Down
Update (July 17): The British government officially has approved a bill that will legalize same-sex marriages in the United Kingdom beginning next summer. The bill cleared the Parliament yesterday and was granted royal assent from the Queen of England—approval that is largely a formality—today.
According to The Associated Press, "The law enables gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, provided that the religious institution consents. The Church of England, the country's official faith, is barred from performing such ceremonies."
The Evangelical Alliance of the U.K., which represents thousands of churches and Christian charities says the new law turns marriage into "a fluid, gender-neutral institution defined by consumer demands and political expediency."
The Church of England, which holds 26 seats in the House of Lords, previously backed down its opposition against the bill, prompting criticism of recently installed Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. According to George Conger, an analyst for the Church of England newspaper, African church leaders 'rebuked' Welby for "(compromising) the Christian faith in an attempt to curry favor with secular Britain and with the liberal Anglican Churches of North America."
It says that the clear, parliamentary majorities in favor of the same-sex marriage bill indicate support for the practice on principle. Although the Church of England does not support the proposed legislation, the church's bishops in the House of Lords now will turn their attention to improving the bill–rather than opposing it outright. The full text of the statement appears below.
According to The Telegraph, the statement from Rt Revd Tim Stevens, the lead bishop of the 26 who hold seats in the House of Lords, "represents a dramatic change of tack in the year since the Church insisted that gay marriage posed one of the biggest threats of disestablishment of the Church of England since the reign of Henry VIII."
The reversal of tactics came a day after the U.K. Parliament's House of Lords voted down an amendment that would have killed the bill. The resounding, 390-148 vote indicates widespread support for the bill, which already passed in the House of Commons.
Interestingly, though, the Church's change in approach follows Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's "warning that the reform 'weakened' the concept of the 'normal' family as the basis for a strong community and replaced traditional marriage with something 'less good.'"
Now the Church will focus its efforts on improving the bill, including "its approach to the question of fidelity in marriage and the rights of children."
The full text of the statement from the bishop is as follows:
Both Houses of Parliament have now expressed a clear view by large majorities on the principle that there should be legislation to enable same-sex marriages to take place in England and Wales. It is now the duty and responsibility of the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords to recognise the implications of this decision and to join with other Members in the task of considering how this legislation can be put into better shape. The concerns of many in the Church, and in the other denominations and faiths, about the wisdom of such a move have been expressed clearly and consistently in the Parliamentary debate. For the Bishops the issue now is not primarily one of protections and exemptions for people of faith, important though it is to get that right, not least where teaching in schools and freedom of speech are concerned. The Bill now requires improvement in a number of other key respects, including in its approach to the question of fidelity in marriage and the rights of children. If this Bill is to become law, it is crucial that marriage as newly defined is equipped to carry within it as many as possible of the virtues of the understanding of marriage it will replace. Our focus during Committee and Report stages in the coming weeks and months will be to address those points in a spirit of constructive engagement.
Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester
Convenor of the Lords Spiritual