Senior Anglican bishops want gay weddings in churches

A ban on gay couples being allowed to marry in church could soon be lifted in Britain. The change has the backing of Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords and many Anglican priests.

A group including Bishop of Salisbury the Right Reverend David Stancliffe, Dean of Southwark the Very Reverend Colin Slee, and five former Bishops wrote in a letter to The Times of London:

"Sir, The Civil Partnership Act 2004 prohibits civil partnerships from being registered in any religious premises in Great Britain. Three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians — have considered this restriction prayerfully and decided in conscience that they wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. An amendment to the Equality Bill, to allow this, was debated in the House of Lords on January 25. It was opposed by the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester on the grounds that, if passed, it would put unacceptable pressure on the Church of England. The former said that “churches of all sorts really should not reduce or fudge, let alone deny, the distinction” between marriage and civil partnership.

In the same debate, the bishops were crucial in defeating government proposals to limit the space within which religious bodies are exempt from anti-discrimination law. They see that as a fundamental matter of conscience. But it is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the Church of England and simultaneously to deny the spiritual independence of the three small communities who seek this change for themselves (and not for anybody else).

The bishops’ “slippery slope” argument is invalid. Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice. To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory. In the US it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . of religion.

The amendment will be re-presented by Lord Alli on March 2. We urge every peer who believes in spiritual independence, or in non-discrimination, to support it.

Iain McLean
Professor of Politics, Oxford

Diarmaid MacCulloch
Professor of the History of the Church, Oxford

The Right Rev David Stancliffe
Bishop of Salisbury

The Right Rev John Gladwin
Former Bishop of Chelmsford

Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Former Bishop of Oxford

The Right Rev Bill Ind
Former Bishop of Truro

The Right Rev Peter Selby
Former Bishop of Worcester

The Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson
Former Bishop of Portsmouth

The Very Rev Nick Bury
Dean of Gloucester

The Rev Jeremy Caddick
Dean, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

The Very Rev Jeffrey John
Dean of St Albans

The Very Rev Colin Slee
Dean of Southwark

Canon Dr Judith Maltby
Chaplain, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Canon Brian Mountford
Vicar of the University Church, Oxford

Canon Jane Shaw
Dean of Divinity, New College, Oxford

The Rev Sarah Coakley
Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Cambridge

Sarah Foot
Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History

Alec Ryrie
Professor of the History of Christianity, Durham

Stuart White
Director of the Public Policy Unit, Oxford

Jill Green

The proposed changes to the Equality Bill, which were first debated in the House of Lords in January, are expected to be reintroduced to the House of Lords in early March.

Photo: CarbonNYC


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