Westminster chapel could host equal marriage ceremonies

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A chapel within the Palace of Westminster may be changed in order to allow equal marriage ceremonies, as part of a proposal by Labour MP Chris Bryant.

Mr Bryant, who sat on the Committee for the equal marriage bill and is openly gay, submitted a proposal to convert the chapel of St Mary Undercroft to a multi-faith prayer room, which could potentially allow equal marriage ceremonies to take place there.

Under current plans for marriage equality, the Church of England, and therefore the chapel, which lies in a crypt below parliament, is exempt from providing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

The plans could allow religious denominations such as the Quakers and Liberal Judaism access, both of which have said they will perform the ceremonies.

Mr Bryant said it had already been used to hold Catholic masses, and said he thought it was strange that it was not open to worshippers from other religions.

He said: “St Mary Undercroft has been many things in its time. It was the Speaker’s dining room and before that Cromwell used it to stable his horses.

“It is a bit odd that we have no place for people of other faiths to worship. If we have got over this hurdle with Catholic masses being celebrated there it seems odd not to allow services of other denominations to be held there.”

The plans are being considered by Helen Grant, the equalities minister, and senior parliamentary officials. Mrs Grant said she would see if the government could “assist”, and has asked the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to investigate the proposal.

Mr Bryant, the MP for Rhondda, also wrote seperately to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, asking him to assist in lifting the current restrictions on the chapel, to allow same-sex weddings to be held there.

He said he had received a response from Mr Bercow, who supported the plans, reports the Telegraph.

Mr Bercow asked Liutenant General David Leakey, to look into the issue, who will consult “relevant bodies” about the query, which includes the Church of England, and officials within the equalities office.

As the chapel is a “royal peculiar, the Queen, as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, would need to give permission to change, to allow non-Anglican services to be held there.

Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the chaplain for the House of Commons, has been involved in talks over the future of the chapel, and questioned the proposals from Mr Bryant.

She said: “The query that Mr Bryant has put through is complex and we can’t just send out a response to say this is what it is going to be. Although it is a royal peculiar it still comes under the banner of the Church of England, so there are a number of issues to be considered.”

She continued: “There is a space on the Parliamentary estate where people of other faiths have access. The chapel is the chapel.”

The multi-faith prayer room to which she referred, was recently installed in Westminster, in an office nearby, run by the House of Lords, rather than within the Palace of Westminster.

She continued: “When I go to a country of another religion I don’t say to them ‘you have got to fit that to my requests because I am in your country’. I simply would not expect them to say, ‘well this is a mosque but let’s make it into something else.’ We respect other faiths and we make provisions and that is what we have done.”

The chapel was completed over 700 years ago, under King Edward I in 1297, and has been a popular marriage venue for MPs, including William Hague, Charles Kennedy, and John Bercow.