UK Religious Leaders Claim Marriage Troubles, But Catholics in the Pews Disagree

House of Lords

As equal marriage progresses in the UK, religious officials increasingly warn of the consequences that passage of this bill could bring if further religious freedom protections are not implemented. The Catholic bishops are now warning the Church may exit civil marriage licensing altogether if the bill is passed as is, but many people of faith who affirm equality are pushing right back

The Telegraph reports on unprecedented movement by religious organizations to add amendments, or just end the legislation for marriage equality altogether as the House of Lords considers it:

“Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to abandon the legislation. . . .

“Allowing couples of the same sex to marry will cause ‘injustice and unfairness’, the signatories said, accusing Mr Cameron of rushing the legislation through Parliament to prevent proper scrutiny…

“The bill is expected to face stiff resistance from members of the House of Lords. . .and could even be rejected there. That would raise the prospect of a constitutional struggle between ministers in the Commons and the upper house.”

In April, the Catholic hierarchy began calling for greater religious protections when the House of Commons was voting on equal marriage. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, as in other areas, Catholic priests act as agents of the state in recognizing civil licenses. This caused the bishops to worry that it leaves priests performing marriages open to lawsuits for discrimination and expensive litigation. The end result might be Catholic churches refusing to perform marriages for the government.

However, English people of faith are objecting to these religious arguments against equal marriage. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church questions these “terrible consequences” arguments, noting the lack of any negative outcomes against religion in jurisdictions with existing equal marriage rights:

“The most important consequence of extending marriage is (surprise!) people getting married…

“The core problem with Catholic bishops’ pronouncements on gay marriage, and on human sexuality more generally, is that they are usually based entirely on speculation and supposition, made with little or no recourse to evidence – and none at all to the real–life experience of loving, committed sexual relationships, of which they have none themselves.”

He also addresses the religious liberty claims as false because everywhere that marriage equality exists, and in the pending UK legislation, ample protections are in place for religions to pursue their beliefs unhindered. Weldon unearths the rub in this most recent UK religious leadership’s push:

“What [the law] does not do, and the bishops appear to want, is to allow people of faith to discriminate in their secular lives, against people who do not share their views, or to prevent those denominations that believe with the Gospels in the importance of full equality and inclusion for all, from exercising their own freedom of religion.”

A Conservative MP, Damian Collins, wrote in The Huffington Post that religious liberty arguments cut both ways, and churches wishing to recognize same-gender couples in marriage should be allowed to do so.

Writing against disingenuous Anglican and Catholic opposition, Stephen Hough of The Telegraph envisions a future focused less on protecting the rights of those who would discriminate, and more on one guided by evangelizing as Christians in support of true equality. He attributes this most recent advancement in human rights to Christianity itself and advocates equal marriage as a way of uplifting Christian faith today:

“It is precisely because gradual moral development over the centuries led us to see human relationships as more than mere procreation that gay people want to get married…the theological insights which have explored marriage as a covenant, a sacrament, an imitation of the inner life of the Trinity could greatly enrich the same-sex relationships of so many…pastoral concern may well be one of the best ways to ensure a future of ‘the general social good’ and even the survival of a national Church of England.

“Overturning the biblical approval of slavery raised Christianity to a new height of moral dignity in the 19th century; overturning prejudice against gay people should become the church’s triumph of the 21st.”

The ongoing debate on equal marriage in the UK is bringing up old arguments for and against, but also new considerations about a more LGBT-positive religious community and the relations between Church and State. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating our readers as the bill progresses.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    Thanks, Bob. Far from creating trouble for the institution of marriage, equality could in facthelp to improve what is currently a deeply flawed, patriarchal institution, far removed from the lofty platitudes promoted by the defenders of allegedly “traditional” marriage. Stephen Hough is right – it could promote more realistic equality and genuine partnership within marriage – and contribute to a fundamental rethink of the real, intrinsic nature and value of marriage, beyond the commercial and social trappings of the wedding day.

    There could however be trouble in the developing redefinition of marriage – not for the institution, which will develop and strengthen, but for religious ideologues. As real couples engage in serious thought about what their relationships mean, and how best to publicly celebrate them, the shallowness and unreality of Vatican notions will be exposed – further undermining what will respect still remains for the teaching authority of the Church, on sexual matters. It is not marriage that is being threatened, but episcopal power and control.

  2. Paul Halsall
    Paul Halsall says:

    Aidan O’Neill, a Scottish Lawyer writing defenses for the Scots bishops (who have gone silent after O’Brien) was my conversion sponsor. Aidan lives with his gay civil partner, so I have no idea what is going on in his mind.

    • Terence
      Terence says:

      Aidan is personally very supportive of the cause of gay Catholics, and other people of faith. I have heard him deliver a very useful Alan Bray memorial lecture for the RC Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Then at a London conference last year, on combating religious – based homophobia, I heard him deliver a finely nuanced keynote address on the tension between religious freedom and lgbt rights.

      What is “going on in his head” is that he is a professional lawyer, who has Scottish bishops among his clients. The extent of his personal sympathy may be gauged by the fact that he was one of the people invited last year to sign the letter to The Tablet. He declined, because to do so would represent a conflict of interest.

  3. Anton
    Anton says:

    Three cheers for Stephen Hough!!! Especially for his reference to “the inner life of the Trinity.” Even though the Spirit could be seen as “feminine” all Three Persons are generally referred to as “masculine”: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, gender-ing the Trinity is a misCONCEPTION. Is this another case of THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES ON????

  4. Chris Nunez
    Chris Nunez says:

    Well, I’m not a citizen of the United Kingdom, an American, but I’m certainly in support of the Church getting out of the business of civil marriage! Darned good idea.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] one London school did, are contrasted with hyperbolic statements from the Catholic bishops who previously threatened to stop performing marriages if the nation legalized equal marriage rights. Now that the law is in effect, the example of Ben […]

  2. […] marriage equality which captured most  headlines.   Archbishop Welby has spoken out against the marriage equality bill in the United Kingdom which is still being considered by legislators […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *