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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex civil partnerships & marriages in the UK

2012-JUN: Religious opposition from the Church
of England (Cont'd) and Roman Catholic Church
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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 over "gay marriage" because of its inclusiveness and accuracy.
Some same-gender marriages involve one or two persons with a bisexual orientation.

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Additional comments on the Church of England (CoE) statement and the government's consultation process:

  • The Rt. Rev. Steven Croft, the Bishop of Sheffield, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper:

    "Whilst this is being presented as a kind of minor extension to what marriage means, actually, from the point of view of the Church and of society, it is a really, really fundamental change to an institution which has been at the core of our society for hundreds of years." 1

  • The Rt. Rev. Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said the Church was:

    "... trying to uphold a traditional of teachings and understandings about marriage ... [at a time when] many marriages are in difficulty. ... It's very unlikely that, in just a few weeks, a new, universally-acceptable definition of a fundamental social institution can emerge overnight like this." 2

It may be worth noting that same-sex marriage was first legalized in the Netherlands during 2001-APR and has been expanding across the world ever since. Further, it is a simple concept involving only two questions, each with a yes or no answer:

  • Should loving, committed same-sex couples be allowed to marry?

  • If the answer is yes, should they be allowed to be married by those faith groups who are willing to marry them, or should they be restricted to civil marriages only?
  • Robert Pigott, Religious affairs correspondent for the BBC News, gave his analysis of the CoE's attack on the government's consultation:

    "By highlighting the possible loss of its role as a principal provider of marriages, and hinting even at the potential unraveling of its established status, the Church of England hopes to alert the public to the magnitude of what it believes is being proposed in the gay marriage legislation.

    The Church says an institution of 'vast' benefit to society as a whole is being undermined to meet a political need, and is being deliberately presented as something far more consequential.

    The consultation is a 'very shallow piece of work on a very serious subject', according to Church officials.

    For the Church, a marriage -- with its focus on procreation and the need to be consummated -- is something that is simply not available to gay couples. By creating different understandings of marriage, it insists, the whole institution will be weakened - something the nation should not be allowed to sleep-walk towards." 2

More that 550,000 people have signed the online "Coalition for Marriage" petition against same-sex marriage. They were delivered to the Prime Minister's office on JUN-12, the same day that the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church issued their attacks.

The government is scheduled to close public comment on JUN-14 and will then begin drafting legislation for submission to parliament.

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2012-JUN-12: Roman Catholic bishops also attack the government's consultation:

Archbishop Peter Smith, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) wrote a covering letter to Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, the Home Secretary. It accompanied the full report of the Conference. He wrote:

"It is of serious concern to us that this proposal, which has such immense social importance for the stability of our society and which has significant implications for the unique institution of marriage and of family life, should be proposed on this basis and with such limited argument. These are issues of great magnitude with far reaching consequences for how our society sees itself well into the future.

As the consultation document has not set out many of the issues to which the Government’s proposals will give rise, we are taking the opportunity of our response to raise them as matters of public concern, and we have not confined ourselves to the specific questions set out in the consultation document.

In the interest of upholding the uniqueness of marriage as a civil institution for the common good of society, we strongly urge the Government not to proceed with legislative proposals which will 'enable all couples, regardless of their gender to have a civil marriage ceremony'." 3

Some of the main points that the bishops argued in their submission are discussed below:

  • Everyone, religious and not, agrees that marriage is defined as: "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."

    This is certainly incorrect. In Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, etc. the government has defined marriage as the union of two persons to the exclusion of all others, and this definition has been adopted by most people. Also, among fundamentalist Mormon sects, the preferred marriage is one man and many women. Among some secular polygamist groups, the definition includes multiple women and/or multiple men. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) listed many families composed of one man with multiple wives and concubines. So not only the Bible agrees with the Bishops' statement.

  • The Catholic definition of "family" focuses on procreation as the prime reason for marriage. This would seem to exclude not only same-sex couples, but also those married couples who are infertile by reason of age or medical condition. It would seem to exclude adopting couples, and those couples who have decided to not procreate because of genetic problems, a desire to pursue their separate careers, or for other reasons.

  • The bishops criticized the government of moving too quickly on the marriage equality issue. They wrote that the government's proposal is: "... based only on two very brief party conference announcements. This proposal, which has the potential to impact so immensely on the social stability of our society and which has significant implications for the unique institution of marriage and of family life, appears not to have been subject to such careful study and analysis." 3

    They overlook the fact that the government's proposals are not legislation. Crafting of a bill to establish marital equality only begins on JUN-14. It will be based on the months-long very extensive consultations with the people of the UK -- a step not taken by any other government of which we are aware. It is also important to realize that the proposal is only a partial step. It relates only to civil marriages, solemnized outside of a religious setting. The legislation would presumably not require religious groups to marry same-sex couples. In fact it would actually restrict their religious freedom by forbidding them from doing so.

  • The bishops state that: "Marriage joins husband and wife in a life-long bond that is ordered essentially, if not in every instance, to their roles as father and mother and recognizes their responsibilities related to procreation and generational care-giving." Again, they denigrate same-sex relationships through their emphasis on procreation. Two gay men obviously cannot procreate. But they can adopt. So can two lesbian couples. Also, a lesbian couple can give birth to a child through artificial insemination. By whatever means they add children to their families, same-sex couples also raise children and positively contribute "to their extended family, their local community and with the wider society in which they live."

  • The core of the bishops' argument is contained in section 17: "The relationship constituted by the institution of marriage is distinct from all other human relationships. Its unique distinguishing characteristics center on the biological complementarity of male and female and on the possibility of children."

    That is a good definition of opposite-sex marriage. But they make no allowance for marriages formed on the basis of biological similarity and the possibility of raising children via adoption, surrogacy and artificial insemination.

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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. Michael Holden, "Church of England attacks gay marriage plan," Reuters, 2012-JUN-12, at:
  2. "Church of England warning on gay marriage," BBC News, UK, 2012-JUN-12, at:
  3. "Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Responds to the Equal Civil Marriage Consultation," CBCEW, 2012-JUN-12, at:
  4. Robert Barr, "Church Of England Objects To Gay Marriage Plan," Huffington Post, 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 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-JUN-13
Latest update: 2013-FEB-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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