Baroness Warsi: ‘do churches need legal support’ in case of equal marriage ‘challenges’?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

In a letter voicing her concerns with recently announced plans to bring forward legislation to allow marriage equality, Sayeeda Warsi has warned of potential “unintended consequences” if the law were to change.

Baroness Warsi said that she is concerned about the move towards marriage equality, questioning whether churches and religious institutions should be given legal support in case of any “challenge” around same-sex weddings.

Same-sex couples in England and Wales are set to be allowed to marry, under plans announced by Culture Secretary Maria Miller in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

The government has been seen to have attempted to avoid critics by making it illegal for the Church of England and Church in Wales to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, reported

“What legal support will be afforded to churches and other places of worship if they’re challenged individually or as an organisation?” she asked.

“What consideration has been given to the teaching of equal marriage in schools, both faith schools and non-faith schools?”

Critics have suggested that The Tory peer’s choice of questions signalled that she was concerned about the Education Act 1996, which states the nature of marriage must be taught in schools, and therefore that equal marriage could also be taught, possibly as part of the sex education curriculum.

Baroness Warsi came under heavy criticism in 2010, when she suggested that schools were being made to “promote homosexuality,” by the Labour Government which reduced the age of consent from 18 to 16.

She had been accused by Stonewall of using homophobic language in past campaign literature, and later conceded that she regretted using such language.

As well as promising that no religious institution would be forced to perform same-sex weddings, it has insisted that teachers will have the option to refuse to teach anything they find inappropriate to their students, if it clashes with their religious background.

Speaking in favour of equal marriage last Friday, David Cameron said he did not want gay couples to be excluded from a “great institution”.

It is thought that the Baroness’s call to “protect religious freedom” would spur on the 100, or so, Tories who have said they will vote against the measure.

Some Tory backbenchers have also spoken out against the government’s plans to allow marriage equality in 2013, suggesting a link between the legislation, and declining numbers of people getting married before having children, and have called it an “outrage”, and a “disgrace”.

The results of this year’s government consultation show 53% are in favour of the introduction of equal marriage, however critics have suggested that because of the divide, the plans will see a difficult transition through the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Although the Catholic Church and Church of England are opposed to equal marriage, faith groups such as the Quakers, and Liberal Judaism support marriage rights for gay couples and have also stated they would like to provide the ceremonies.

The Church of England has now said it is reassured by the government’s marriage reforms – and a former bishop has even suggested that it may one day sanction marriages for gay couples.