As the UK government began a consultation on marriage law yesterday, several religious groups expressed support for same-sex marriage. Some emphasised that church leaders who oppose marriage equality do not speak for all Christians.
The UK government is committed to introducing same-sex civil marriage in England and Wales by 2015. They have ruled out giving legal recognition to same-sex marriages carried out by religious groups.
A separate process is underway in Scotland.
Three faith groups that support same-sex marriage – Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews – issued a joint statement yesterday to welcome the consultation. They said they are committed to same-sex marriage because of “deeply held beliefs in equality and justice”.
Reform Jews last week became the biggest faith group in Britain to back same-sex marriage. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia and the Catholic group Quest are among the Christian groups that support marriage equality.
Vincent Nicholls, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, last week wrote to Catholic Congregations to ask them to speak out against same-sex marriage. He said that marriage is based on “the complementarity of male and female”.
His letter followed less measured comments from Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who compared the legalisation of same-sex marriage to the reintroduction of slavery. The Anglican Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, accused David Cameron of acting “like a dictator” by seeking to “redefine” marriage.
On the other side of the fence, the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, and the newly appointed Dean of St Paul’s, David Ison, are among the senior Church of England clergy to have endorsed same-sex marriage.
“Our stance refutes the simplistic argument that people of faith and rights for LGBT people are necessarily in conflict,” said Derek McAuley of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.
Paul Parker, on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) said that “marriage is a celebration of the committed union of two people who have found love for each other”.
Several religious groups are disappointed that the government is not considering allowing religious groups to carry out legally recognised same-sex marriages. This point of view was backed by the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper.
The government also proposes allowing a couple to stay married if one of them transitions gender. At present, a transition automatically triggers dissolution of the marriage. Transgender activists have welcomed the proposal.
But ministers have disappointed the Equal Love campaign by saying that they do not want to allow mixed-sex couples to enter civil partnerships.
Symon Hill, associate director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, welcomed the government’s commitment to same-sex marriage.
“Same-sex civil marriage would a significant step forward,” he said, “But religious same-sex couples will continue to face discrimination. Meanwhile, different religious groups have different rights with regard to performing marriages."
He added, “We need a thorough overhaul of marriage law to reflect the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society. This would allow people to enjoy a personal, social and – if important to them – religious ceremony, with legal registration being a separate process.”