Church of England: We can live with the government’s marriage reforms

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

On Tuesday, Culture Secretary Maria Miller outlined the government’s plans to allow gay couples to marry in England and Wales from 2013, and confirmed religious groups, who want to provide same-sex marriages, such as the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews, will be able to do so, providing their governing bodies agree.

Mrs Miller said the proposals were designed to create watertight protections for religious organisations that are against same-sex marriages.

However, she also announced that the Church of England and the Church in Wales would specifically be banned from opting into the legislation.

The move was designed to appease the concerns of senior Anglican opponents such as the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

But campaigners and liberal clergy, including the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, warned that religious freedom was being curtailed.

The gay playwright Simon Callow described the ban as “medieval”.

The Telegraph now reports church officials have acknowledged that they could potentially “live with” the government’s proposals and its specific legal safeguards.

An official spokesman said: “the Church of England has survived various other changes in the past but our concern remains about the redefinition of marriage not about the rights and responsibilities of gay couples.”

The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, remains opposed to equal marriage, although he has already signalled that he is willing to engage on LGBT issues.

Meanwhile, the House of Lords heard claims that several bishops secretly support the principle of equal marriage but are afraid to speak out because it would contradict the official policy of the church.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, said that many bishops not only accept the protections the government proposes but would actively support equal marriage.

He said many church members “warmly welcome” the government’s plans, adding: “A fair number of individual bishops in the Church of England also support it, but are not able to say so publicly at the moment because of the political situation in which the Church of England now finds itself.”

The Bishop of Salisbury and the Bishop of Buckingham have so far openly supported marriage rights for gay couples.