Britain’s Bishops Oppose Redefining Marriage

by Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) – Catholic bishops in England and Wales said they strongly oppose a bill to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark – the president and vice-president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – criticized moves to legalize gay marriage as “shambolic” and urged lawmakers to vote against a forthcoming bill.

“It is not too late to stop this bill,” they said in a statement issued Dec. 11, hours after Culture Secretary Maria Miller revealed the contents of the proposed legislation in the House of Commons.

“The meaning of marriage matters,” the archbishops 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.

“We strongly oppose such a bill,” they said. “Furthermore, the process by which this has happened can only be described as shambolic.”

The archbishops argued that the government had circumvented all the normal legislative pathways. These include, they said, a failure to insert such controversial proposals in election manifestos, to announce them in the latest legislative program, and to hold up the legislation to public scrutiny through “Green” and “White” Papers.

The archbishops said there had been “a constant shifting of policy” right up to the present moment.

“We urge everyone who cares about upholding the meaning of marriage in civil law to make their views known to their Members of Parliament clearly, calmly and forcefully, and without impugning the motives of others,” the archbishops said, adding that all the political parties should allow their members to vote with their consciences.

In remarks to the House of Commons, Miller confirmed Prime Minister David Cameron’s reported intentions to allow churches to “opt in” to same-sex marriage legislation, but she said that this would not include either the Church of England or the Church of Wales, national Anglican churches that fiercely objected to the proposals.

She said the government was treating them differently because it “recognizes and protects the unique and established nature of these churches.”

Miller promised a “quadruple lock” to guarantee religious freedom for all the churches. This includes four steps, including a pledge on the face of the bill that no religious organization or minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples.

Religious organizations other than the Anglican churches will be able to “opt in,” however, if their hierarchy or governing body permits it, she said.

Miller also promised to amend the 2010 Equality Act to protect churches. Brushing aside concerns that the legislation could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, she said: “With appropriate legislative drafting the chance of a legislative challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible.”

Legislation to legalize same-sex marriage will be formally presented to Parliament in the New Year with the aim of becoming law by 2014.