The Church in England and Wales has criticised Government plans to push ahead with same-sex marriage next year, after the Culture Secretary announced a timetable for the historic change.
In a statement released on Tuesday Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark said: “The Government has chosen to ignore the views of over 600,000 people who signed a petition calling for the current definition of marriage to stay, and we are told legislation to change the definition of marriage will now come to Parliament.”
The bishops were responding after Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced Government proposals for the Bill, which allows same-sex civil and religious marriages for religious groups that choose to conduct them, which is expected to be introduced in January, with the first gay weddings likely in early 2014. The Methodist Church of Great Britain, as well as Quakers and Unitarians, are expected to conduct gay weddings, although the Church of England would be banned from holding such weddings, with Catholic churches, synagogues and mosques having “watertight” protections, according to Miss Miller.
The archbishops said: “We strongly oppose such a Bill. Furthermore, the process by which this has happened can only be described as shambolic. There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White Paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the Government response to the consultation was published today.
“We urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their MPs clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others. It is not too late to stop this Bill.”
Speaking ahead of the publication of the proposals, Prime Minister David Cameron said churches would not be coerced into holding weddings for homosexuals.
He said: “I’m in favour of gay marriage because I’m a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution.
“But let me be absolutely, 100 per cent clear – if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage, it will not – it absolutely must not – be forced to hold it. That is absolutely clear in the legislation,” Mr Cameron added.