Church of England: We weren’t consulted over the government’s same-sex marriage ban

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The Church of England says it only learnt of the government’s plan to ban it from performing same-sex marriages when Culture Secretary Maria Miller took to the Commons despatch box on Tuesday.

The Guardian reports that the Right Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and the Church of England’s lead spokesman in the Lords, told a private meeting of church and political figures there had been a lack of dialogue, with the government not consulting the church on the proposal.

He also reportedly said the COE had not sought the quadruple lock.

A church spokesman said there had only been preliminary low-level discussions between it and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) prior to the announcement.

Mrs Miller told the Commons on Tuesday she was putting in place a “quadruple lock” of measures to guarantee religious organisations would not have to marry gay couples against their wishes.

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.

Meanwhile, the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, even suggested that the COE may one day sanction marriages for gay couples – making the current ban undesirable.

The DCMS said it would have been “inappropriate” to discuss the fine print of its plans before telling parliament.

“As part of our consultation process, and as we finalised our proposals, government officials met with a number of stakeholders, including the COE,” a spokesman said.

“Clearly, it would have been inappropriate to discuss the fine detail of our proposals prior to them being announced in parliament.

“But the church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages would continue.”

Under the government’s plans, four legal locks will be included in the proposed equal marriage bill.

No religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry gay couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

It will be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry gay couples unless their organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so.

The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or an individual minister for refusing to marry gay couples (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose).

And the bill will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry gay couples, or to opt-in to do so.