Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Despite Church of England scaremongering, there are important legal implications caused by marriage equality

The Church of England is up to it's usual game of playing up being an established church yet undermining Her Majesty's Government whenever they can. Seriously, if you are going to be a state church then you have to toe the line. If you want, quite reasonably, to be able to criticise the Government then perhaps disestablishment isn't a risk but an opportunity?

Regardless of their less than sensitive or subtle way of making their case, we must accept there are important implications, to them and others, from the legalisation of equal marriage. Right now, as the current plans stand, legislation shall be written undermining religious freedom (not that the big churches care as it only undermines other people's religious freedom) by denying religious organisations the right to hold legally valid same-sex marriage ceremonies. However, it is unclear how the Government plans to work around the fact that we have an established church who currently has a duty to marry any Anglican (and often anyone in general) within a parish who wants it.

I've expressed before my concerns that the way the Government is pursuing marriage equality risks not only leaving both sides of the debate unhappy but creating a legal fudge that may leave religious organisations open to being forced to marry people the organisation doesn't want to.

As disestablishment, my preferred option that would make the task of introducing marriage equality far easier, is unlikely in the extreme it is clear we need to look at other examples of how to move forward.

The consensus on Twitter seems to be a rather radical (for our conservative isles) move of removing the function of civil marriages from all religious bodies. Akin to France, or some American states, the civil component would be performed in a registry office and then any religious element would be up to the couple and religious organisations as a completely private matter.Whilst I think this would be a huge step in the right direction I still don't think it addresses the fact that we have a state church.

The other option is to follow what Denmark has very recently done. Denmark, like us, has an established church (one in full communion with the Church of England!). There no priest will be forced to marry a same-sex couple. However, as it is a state church and one that actually appears to understand it's place, same-sex couples have the right to a marriage in their local church but a supportive priest would need to be found (with the help of the unwilling one!) to carry out the service. This seems more in keeping with the Church of England's position in our society, and whilst it's not one I like I think it's the way forward. If the Church of England really wants to remain as an established church then it needs to start acting like one. They won't like this idea, of course, as the Church of England is far too independently minded to really remain as our state church any longer. But perhaps this idea might make them reconsider their role once and for all.

Then other churches will be free to decide whether or not they want to perform such ceremonies, which would be a huge win for religious freedom in our country.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"However, it is unclear how the Government plans to work around the fact that we have an established church who currently has a duty to marry any Anglican (and often anyone in general) within a parish who wants it."

But it doesn't. There is no legal duty to marry divorced people, or people related in certain degrees, or people the minister "reasonably believes" to have changed their gender.

This idea that churches are going to be forced into same-sex marriages is completely spurious. The fact that it's been raised by the Church of England only illustrates the difficulty of finding valid arguments against same-sex marriage.