Same-Sex Marriage and Disestablishmentarianism

politics religion

The Government has announced its plans for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

I think it’s a good thing, in principle; the distinction between “marriage” and “civil partnership” is entirely arbitrary, in my opinion, and seems like nothing more than spite: “we have to give you some rights but you still can’t get married, so there”. However, the “quadruple lock” proposed as a “defence” for religious organisations seems like paranoia to me.

• Ensure that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

Religous organisation, sure, fine. Individual minister? Meh. If a religious organisation agrees to marry same-sex couples, it seems odd to me for individuals still to refuse.

• Provide an opt-in system for religious organisation who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.

Obviously that’s necessary given the first clause, although I think an opt-out system would be preferable.

• Amend the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

Well, that’s just great; equality, unless you’re religious. Then again, it would surprise me if many same-sex couples wanted to associate with homophobic organisations anyway. I assume this is an attempt to make sure that the poor gay-hating priests don’t wind up in court like those poor persecuted bed-and-breakfast owners.

• Ensure that legislation will not affect the canon law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either church wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law.

Oh, good grief. Are they actually kidding here? They’re actually creating an opt-in system, and then making it illegal for some religious groups to opt in? What happens in the future when one of the affected churches decides within itself to conduct same-sex marriages? Unlike any other group, they’d have to petition the Government to have the law changed. So much for religious freedom, then!

In fact, the Archbishop of Wales has already spoken out against the proposal, saying that although the Church in Wales is not currently planning to conduct same-sex marriages, it should have the choice to do so in future. Given that the Church in Wales has been disestablished since 1920, I’m not sure why the Government feels it has the right to make this decision on the Church’s behalf.

For a party that claims to support the idea of “small government”, this is oddly nanny-state-ish; making legislation to enforce a decision that the Churches are perfectly capable of making for themselves.

This all comes in the same week that the results of the 2011 census were published – among other things, showing that barely 50% of people in the UK call themselves Christian. Since this includes all denominations (Church of England, Roman Catholic, and others), and given the status of the Church of England as a “default” answer for many people who aren’t actually religious, it seems vanishingly unlikely that the Church of England should be a majority. In light of this, it seems unreasonable that the Church of England should have reserved seats in the House of Lords, and unreasonable that it should be made a special case in legislation.

Update: the Church of England was also not consulted on the “quadruple lock”.