Shadow home secretary meets with liberal faith groups on equal marriage

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The shadow home secretary hosted a roundtable discussion on equal marriage rights for gay couples in London today, inviting religious figures to discuss their support for religious recognition in the government’s plans.

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, hosted the discussion with representatives from the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jewish faiths along with the Church of England, including former Dean of St Pauls Giles Fraser.

Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans and one of the most senior gay figures in the Church attended, as did Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford.

Ms Cooper said this aftenroon: “It is clear from today’s meeting that many religious communities and people within different faiths support same sex marriage. And it is really important that their voices are heard.

“Too often the debate appears polarised between church and state, yet today we heard faith leaders from different backgrounds set out powerfully why they support equal marriage, why they want to be able to hold and celebrate same sex marriage within their own faiths too, and why they disagree with the response some senior church leaders have submitted.”

Ms Cooper acknowledged that no religious organisation should be forced to conduct gay weddings and said Parliament would “be able to reaffirm that when legislation is debated”.

She pointed out that the principle of religious freedom means it is “equally important” to allow faiths which do wish to conduct marriages between gay couples to do so.

She said: “At the moment the government is ruling out allowing any religious organisation from conducting same sex marriages. That is unfair on organisations such as the Quakers, the Unitarians and Reform and Liberal strands of Judaism who want the freedom to celebrate same sex marriage. It also makes it harder for other churches and religious organisations to change their minds in future without having to go back to Parliament. We are urging the government to change their plans.”

The shadow home secretary concluded: “David Cameron was right to support same sex marriage. He must not be deterred now by opposition within his own party and beyond.”

Derek McAuley of the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches said religious freedom should not be forgotten in the “media battleover civil marriage between some of the larger Churches and the State”.

Ahead of the meeting this morning he said: “We hope the outcome of the Consultation on equal marriage will be a widening the scope of the proposed legislation to include freedom for those religious groups who wish to do so to conduct same sex marriages.

“We value religious freedom. We do not believe any religious group should be forced to undertake same sex marriage, however, we would claim the right to do so in line with our own deeply held convictions about the inherent worth of all individuals and for public recognition of relationships.”

Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain Paul Parker said this morning: “Quakers see God in everyone and so we would say that all committed relationships are of equal worth. The new proposals allow civil partnerships in Quaker Meeting houses, but that is not a marriage; it is a legal contract, not a spiritual one. That is why we are seeking a change in the law so that same-sex marriages can be celebrated within a couple’s worshipping community.

“Quakerism is a contemporary and radical faith, which is open to new light, and we strive to discern what the world needs of us. For us, this means seeking legal recognition for the practice we already recognise. We don’t seek to impose this on anyone else. For Quakers this is an issue of religious freedom.”