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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex civil partnerships & marriages in the UK

2012: Reactions to the government
consultation by various religious groups.
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This is a continuation from an earlier essay.

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In this web site, the term "SSM" means "same-sex marriage,
We prefer this term to "gay marriage" because it is more inclusive.
Most loving committed same-sex couples consist of two lesbians or two gays.
However, a minority consist of a gay or lesbian plus a bisexual, or even two bisexuals.

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Early 2012: Reactions to the consultation by various religious groups:

  • 2012-FEB-28: Church of England: Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed a meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on the topic of human rights and religious faith.

    He stated that it is acceptable for governments to pass laws that reduce discrimination against the LGBT community and other minorities, but only when such change has been demanded by the people. However, legislation should not be created to actively promote change in a culture. He expressed concern at the anxiety that is generated when law is used proactively to cause change in the culture:

    "... laws change as societies become more conscious of what they are and claim to be; as I have said, it may take time for a society to realize that its practice is inconsistent -- with respect to women and to ethnic, religious or sexual minorities.  Law may indeed turn out to be ahead of majority opinion in recognizing this, but it has a clear argument to advance – that the failure to guarantee protection and access is simply incompatible with the very idea of a lawful society.  But this falls short of a legal charter to promote change in institutions, even in language.  Law must prohibit publicly abusive and demeaning language, it must secure institutions that do not systematically disadvantage any category of the community.  But these tasks remain ‘negative’ in force.  If it is said, for example, that a failure to legalize assisted suicide -- or indeed same-sex marriage -- perpetuates stigma or marginalization for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalization have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law, the gradual evolving of fresh attitudes in a spirit of what has been called ‘strategic patience’ by some legal thinkers." 1

    What he didn't mention was the criteria that governments should use to determine the "tipping point." In this case, what is the level of community support of same-sex marriage needed before a government should be free to implement marriage equality for the LGBT community? A specific percentage of support would have been very helpful. Alternately, perhaps the tipping point should be defined as a certain ratio of percentage support to percentage opposition. Apparently the latest results from a Populus Poll is insufficient for the Archbishop of Canterbury to recommend government action at this time. On 2012-MAR-11, they found:

    • 65% of the adult population support SSMs, while
    • 27% are opposed to SSM, for
    • A ratio of 2.4 to 1 in support. 

Perhaps the Archbishop feels that a 3 to 1, 4 to 1 or even 5 to 1 ratio would provide the tipping point. He is not saying.

An analogous situation occurred in the U.S. over interracial marriage. In 1967, about 72% of American adults were opposed to legalizing such marriages. This is the year that the U.S. Supreme Court declared interracial marriages legal from sea onto sea. It took until 1991 before a slim majority of adults favored allowing interracial marriages. It would seem as if Archbishop Williams would have preferred the court to wait well into the 21st century before acting.

  • Roman Catholic Church: Extremely hostile reactions by the Church are described elsewhere in this section.

  • Islam: The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has 500 affiliated organizations. They have concluded that marriage equality is contraindicated.

    Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the MCB, said:

    "Whilst we remain opposed to all forms of discrimination -– including homophobia -– redefining the meaning of marriage is in our opinion unnecessary and unhelpful."

    "With the advent of civil partnerships, both homosexual and heterosexual couples now have equal rights in the eyes of the law. Therefore, in our view the case to change the definition of marriage, as accepted throughout time and across cultures, is strikingly weak."

    "Like other Abrahamic faiths, marriage in Islam is defined as a union between a man and a woman. So while, the state has accommodated for gay couples, such unions will not be blessed as marriage by the Islamic institutions." 2

    His statement seems to contain two errors:

    • Civil partnerships do not give equal rights to same-sex couples. One right that they do not receive is perhaps the most important: the right to call their loving, committed relationship a marriage.

    • In Islam, marriage is not defined as between one man and one woman; it is between one man and one, two, three or four women subject to the husband's ability to support multiple wives and to threat them equally. It is amazing that an official within the MCB is unaware of this well-known fact.

  • Sikhism: Lord Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations told Radio 4's Today program that marriage equality was an:

    "... attempt by a vocal, secular minority to attack religion. We have total respect for gays and lesbians and we are delighted that there is a Civil Partnership Act. We believe that this gives gays and lesbians everything they need." 2

    He appears to be unaware of the importance that many loving, committed same-sex couples assign to marriage. Lord Singh's comment suggests the question: what percentage of married Sikhs in England and Wales would be willing to tear up their marriage certificate and accept a civil partnership document in its place?

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2012-JUN-12: The Church of England (CoE) attacks the government's plan to allow marriage equality:

The government's public consultation in England and Wales closes on JUN-14.

The Church of England which is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is the established, official church of England and Wales, with the Queen as head of both.

The government's proposals to legalize SSM before 2015 have occurred at an awkward time for the Church. They are suffering intense internal dissention over whether to treat women as full members of the Church by allowing qualified female priests to be consecrated as bishops. In addition, the current Archbishop of Canterbury leaves office in 2013 and a replacement must be found from either the liberal or conservative warring factions. This will not be a simple task, because the two sides are so polarized.

There exists no win-win situation regarding same-sex marriage. The religious liberty and freedom of various faith groups are in conflict:

  • The current law bans same-sex marriage, both civil and religious. This is considered an unjust restriction by liberal and progressive religious groups who want to be able to marry both opposite-sex and same-sex couples in their religious ceremonies. They feel that their freedom to act on their deeply held religious beliefs are severely restricted. The new legislation proposed by the government would allow same-sex civil marriages but would still not allow religious groups to conduct same-sex religious marriages.

  • To allow same-sex marriage would deeply offend conservative religious groups. They generally believe that marriage must be limited to one woman and one man, freely consenting to the union. This is in spite of the Bible's references to many polygamous marriages between one man and up to 700 women, and many forced marriages implemented without the consent of the woman. It is of great importance to many such groups that no same-sex couple be able to marry anywhere in the country. The concept of both civil and religious same-sex ceremonies are seriously disturbing to most religious and social conservatives.

Currently, about 65% of married couples in England have married in secular, civil ceremonies. About 25% marry in the Church of England, and the rest in other religious ceremonies or sacraments. It is interesting to note that the Church of England does not currently have the freedom to decide which opposite-sex couples that they will marry or not marry. They are obligated to marry any person resident in their parish who asks to marry a person of the opposite gender and who has a valid marriage license.

However, the CoE's formal reply to the governments proposal and public consultation, states that the government's proposals are in error because they imply that there are two categories of marriage: civil and religious. They wrote: This is to mistake the wedding ceremony for the institution of marriage." 3

The CoE also expressed concern that the proposed law would change the:

"... intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. ... Several major elements of the government's proposals have not been thought through properly and are not legally sound. ... The consultation overlooks the implication of what is proposed for the position of the established Church."... We also believe that imposing for essentially ideological reasons a new meaning on a term as familiar and fundamental as marriage would be deeply unwise."

The "ideological reasons" cited by the church appear to be the democratic concept of justice and liberty for all, which implies equal treatment of all individuals.

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Discussion on this topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Archbishop of Canterbury lecture on Human Rights and Religious Faith," World Council of Churches, 2012-FEB-28, at:
  2. Stephen Gray, "Muslim Council of Britain: Marriage equality for gays 'unnecessary and unhelpful'," Pink News, 2012-MAR-20, at:
  3. "Church of England warns against gay marriage plan," AFP, 2012-JUN-12, at:

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM > UK > here

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-MAR-20
Latest update: 2012-JUN-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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