Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby: I support equality but cannot vote for the equal marriage bill

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has spoken during the debate on the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill, to say that, despite personally supporting equality, and saying he regretted the church’s treatment of LGBT people, he would not support it.

He said that many faith groups, including the Church of England were “hesitant” about the bill, and that the bill would mean that marriage is “abolished, redefined and recreated”.

Justin Welby went on to say that he “regretted the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division, at this stage, on a Bill passed by a free vote, in the [House of Commons].

He then “expressed sadness and sorrow for the considerable failure,” that the church had “not served the LGBT communities, in the way it should.”

Despite saying he supported equality, and condemning the use of homophobic language as “shocking”, Justin Welby then went on to say that he would not support the bill, because, he said the bill “weakens what exists, and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective.”

He continued that marriage would be “abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories”, describing “the new marriage of the bill”, as an “awkward shape”, as it would contain same-sex and opposite sex couples.

The Right Reverend Tim Stevens, The Bishop of Leicester, has said that he will abstain if there is a vote on the second reading on Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill, as he cannot vote against it, yet cannot vote for it, in line with the church’s official line.

Justin Welby’s full speech is available to view below.

The initial proposals, when published at the end of the autumn, have needed much work to get them into today’s form.

We all know, and it’s been said that this is a divisive issue. In general, the majority of faith groups remain very strongly against the bill, and have expressed that view in a large number of public statements.

The house of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view, although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong, and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.

The so-called ‘quadruple lock’, may have some chance of withstanding legal scrutiny in Europe, and we are grateful for it. Although other faith groups, and Christian denominations who have written to me remain very hesitant.

There have been useful discussions about the position of schools with religious character, and the issues of freedom of conscience.

I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division, at this stage, on a Bill passed by a free vote, in the [House of Commons].

I was particularly grateful to hear the speech of the Noble Baroness, Baroness Royal, and agree with the proud record that was established by the last Government, during the years in which it held office in this area.

It is clearly essential that stable, and faithful, same-sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity, and the same legal effect as marriage.

Although th majority of bishops who voted during the whole passage of the civil partnerships act, though your Lordship’s House, were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has not served the LGBT communities, in the way it should.

I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure.

There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor Archbishop Ramsey, who vigorously supported decriminalization in the 1960s.

It is also necessary to express, as has been done already, total rejection of homophobic language which is wrong, and more than that, sickening.

However, I and many of my colleagues remain with considerable hesitations about this bill. My Precessor Lord Williams of Oystermouth showed clearly last summer, in evidence during the consultation period, that it has within it a series of category errors. It confuses ‘marriage’ and ‘weddings’, it assumes that the rightful desire for equality, to which I have referred supportively, must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things can be equal but different.

It does not do what it sets out to do. Scehduled four distinguishes clearly between same gender and opposite gender marriage. Thus not achieving true equality.

The result is confusion. Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape, with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well.

The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state, and as our base community of society, as we’ve already heard, is weakened.

For these, and many other reasons, those of us in the churches and faith groups, who are extremely hesitant about the bill in many cases, hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a cornerstone of this society, and rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same-gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support, to strengthen us all. This bill weakens what exists, and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective.

This is not a faith issue, although we are grateful for the attention that Government, and the other place have paid to issues of religious freedom.

It is about the general social good, and so with much regret, but entire conviction, I cannot support the bill as it stands.

93 peers have signed up to speak in the House of Lords, during the debate around the bill today and tomorrow, when a vote will be held. Follow developments on the PinkNews Live Blog.