Writing in The Times, the Home Secretary and cabinet Minister for Equality, Theresa May, argues that marriage should be for everyone regardless of their sexuality and strongly dismisses claims by the Church of England to determine who should be able to marry:
Society now sees the commitment in a civil partnership as no different to the commitment made by opposite-sex couples when they enter into a marriage. Indeed, many people already refer to a civil partnership as a “gay marriage” and to civil partners as “married”....
But the problem is that they’re not. Gay people can work where they want, go where they want, live where they want. They have equal rights — but they still can’t get married. I don’t believe the State should perpetuate discrimination and prejudice. I believe that in modern Britain we should seek to eliminate discrimination wherever we find it.
I don’t usually talk about my own faith. In British politics we tend to feel uncomfortable about that sort of thing. But as an Anglican who attends church each Sunday and whose father was a vicar, I understand the Church of England. That’s why I want to emphasise that this has nothing to do with telling the Church — or any religious group — what to do.
I want to be absolutely clear that we do not propose to touch religious marriage in any way. We are talking about civil marriage ceremonies — the sort currently conducted in register offices, country houses and hotels. Civil marriages can’t happen inside a church now and won’t under the proposals we are announcing today.
But the State clearly does have a role in defining what is and isn’t a legally recognised marriage. Polygamy is banned in this country by Act of Parliament, as is sibling marriage. Parliament first passed a law allowing civil marriage in 1837. So the State has defined what marriage is and who can be legally married for nearly 200 years. It is then for religious institutions to decide who should be allowed to marry in their buildings, following their ceremonies, in accordance with their beliefs and consistent with the law. These two roles are rightly separate, and they will continue to be.
Our proposals are motivated by the desire to strengthen our society by extending the right to marry. Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have. It binds us together, brings stability and makes us stronger. So I don’t believe that the State should stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons — and being gay isn’t one of them. If we believe that commitment, fidelity and marriage are good things then we should not restrict them, we should let them flourish.
The Church of England has responded to the consultation on marriage equality saying it is committed at "traditional definition" of marriage as one male and one female according to reports at Episcopal News Service and elsewhere:
The Church of England/Archbishops’ Council will study the Government’s consultation on whether to redefine marriage to accommodate those of the same sex and respond in detail in due course. The following summary of the Church of England’s position has been posted here. (see also below)
“The Church of England is committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
“The Church of England supports the way civil partnerships offer same-sex couples equal rights and responsibilities to married heterosexual couples. Opening marriage to same-sex couples would confer few if any new legal rights on the part of those already in a civil partnership, yet would require multiple changes to law, with the definition of marriage having to change for everyone.
More at the UK Human Rights blog.
15 March 2012
The Church of England/Archbishops' Council will study the Government's consultation on whether to redefine marriage to accommodate those of the same sex and respond in detail in due course. The following summary of the Church of England's position has been posted on the Church of England website:
"The Church of England is committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
"The Church of England supports the way civil partnerships offer same-sex couples equal rights and responsibilities to married heterosexual couples. Opening marriage to same-sex couples would confer few if any new legal rights on the part of those already in a civil partnership, yet would require multiple changes to law, with the definition of marriage having to change for everyone.
"The issue of whether marriage should be redefined to include those of the same-sex is a more complicated picture than has been painted. Arguments that suggest 'religious marriage' is separate and different from 'civil marriage', and will not be affected by the proposed redefinition, misunderstand the legal nature of marriage in this country. They mistake the form of the ceremony for the institution itself.
"Currently, the legal institution of marriage into which people enter is the same whether they marry using a civil or a religious form of ceremony. Arguments that seek to treat 'religious marriage' as being a different institution fail to recognise the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition. The Church of England will continue to argue against changing the definition of marriage, which has supported society for so long."