Marriage equality confusion for Anglicans in England and Wales

By Simon Barrow
December 13, 2012

There has been much comment over the confusion created by the government's surprise announcement this week that the established Church of England and the non-established Church in Wales will be legally barred from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies when the law is changed to allow civic and other religious bodies to do so in those countries.

As we noted in our news brief about this (, the Church in Wales seems in a particularly invidious situation, as its Archbishop forthrightly noted, but has at least partly brought this upon itself by a submission to the government in which it tied itself generically to the Church of England's legal concerns.

The government and its advisers should nevertheless have known better. If their subsequent move was designed to buy off opposition to equal marriage it looks politically as well as legally inept. Some are suggesting darker motives.

A solid, illuminating comment on the implications of all this has come on the ever-commendable Thinking Anglicans website ( from Alan T. Perry, a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, currently serving as Executive Archdeacon in the Diocese of Edmonton.

He starts by noting this remark in the official C of E 'explanatory note', Equal Marriage and the Church of England: "As the General Synod’s devolved legislative powers includes the ability to amend Westminster legislation it would not require separate, additional legislation on the part of Parliament to enact any change to the Church’s practice on marriage."

Of this, Perry observes: "Quite correct. If the General Synod were in future to adopt a Measure to allow it to solemnise marriages between people of the same sex, the Measure could include a provision to amend the law which is currently being proposed. The Church in Wales, however, has no such option and so would need to go to Westminster to ask for an amendment to the law were it to wish to change its canons."

He continues: "That part of the proposal needs to be rethought. The two churches in question don't need any other protection than that offered to other religious bodies, in my view. The Established position of the Church of England is a red herring here.

"If the decision whether to opt in to solemnisation of same-sex marriages rests with the religious body, and if the protection for religious bodies that choose not to opt in is sufficient for, say, the Roman Catholic or Methodist churches (or for mosques and synagogues for that matter) then the protection ought to be sufficient for the Church of England and the Church in Wales."

Indeed it ought. The president of the Law Society of England and Wales has described the prospect of courts seeking to force churches to marry same-sex couples as "inconceivable" overall. However, a one blogger has pointed out in some detail, there are features of the established C of E's relationship with the state which potentially raise tricky issues:

See also:

* 'Archbishop condemns ban on same-sex weddings for Church in Wales'.

* 'Wedding ban for Anglicans in Wales and England', by Simon Barrow.

* 'Should equal marriage be rejected or celebrated by Christians?', by Savitri Hensman.

* 'Equal marriage: churches sharing or burying good news?', by Savitri Hensman.

* 'Anglican exemptions violate the principle of marriage equality', by Peter Tatchell.

* 'Miller's marriage mess-up reveals ministers' ignorance and contempt', by Symon Hill.


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and lives and works in Edinburgh. He drafted the thinktank's submission to the Scottish Government consultation on marriage equality in 2011.

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