Labour MP tables bill allowing Church of England to perform same-sex marriages

Stock image of two brides on their wedding day

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has published a draft bill that would allow the Church of England to conduct same-sex marriages.

Ben Bradshaw introduced a 10 Minute Rule bill in March this year that would “allow, in certain circumstances, priests and parishes that wish to conduct same-sex weddings to do so”. 

Under UK law, the Church of England is not permitted to conduct same-sex wedding. While the church remains opposed to marriage equality, Bradshaw’s bill would remove one of the hurdles facing LGBTQ+ Christians.

On Thursday (6 July), he published the full Same Sex Marriage (Church of England) Bill.

Bradshaw explained that while opponents of the bill said it “amounts to an attack on religious freedom”, it would simply permit same-sex marriage within the church under “certain circumstances”, and that no person “may be compelled by any means” to conduct or attend a same-sex wedding.

“Given the Church of England has broken its promise to finalise same-sex blessings and new rules for gay clergy at this month’s synod, and the high level of concern in parliament about this, I thought it would be helpful to publish the full draft of my bill, which, if these unacceptable delays continue, parliament might wish to pick up in the next session,” Bradshaw said.

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The MP for Exeter, a seat he’s held since 1997, said the bill would be similar to “the one governing the remarriage of divorcees or whether a parish should be forced to have a woman priest”. 

The bill is co-sponsored by a cross-party group of MPs: Hilary Benn, Peter Bottomley, Caroline Nokes, Iain Stewart, Robert Buckland, Caroline Lucas, Daisy Cooper, Harriet Harman, Diana Johnson, Margaret Beckett and Chris Bryant.

Jayne Ozanne, the director of the Ozanne Foundation, an organisation which works with religious organisations to tackle homophobia, said: “I am very grateful to the growing number of parliamentarians who are showing their concern about the way the Church of England treats LGBT+ people as second-class citizens.  

“Our recent symposium in parliament shows that there is an increasing appetite to act, and this draft bill is one of many ways that we discussed in enabling the church to move forward.”

The church doubled down on its ban on same-sex marriage in January and instead voted to offer blessings to same-sex married couples.

According to Reuters, the church’s governing body will discuss how priests could carry out same-sex blessings when it gathers for a meeting in York from Friday (July 7) to Tuesday (July 11). It will also reportedly decide how to protect vicars who choose not to perform blessings for same-sex couples.

A Church of England spokesperson told PinkNews: “In February, the General Synod welcomed proposals which would enable same-sex couples to come to church after a civil marriage or civil partnership, to give thanks, dedicate their relationship to God and receive God’s blessing, and good progress has been made since the vote.

“The General Synod has never set a target date for the prayers of blessing to come into use in churches but has said that this will be done once other key elements, including new pastoral guidance, are in place. That work is progressing well.”

YouGov poll from March 2022 found that despite the ban, a majority of Church of England members believe same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.

The survey, commissioned by the Ozanne Foundation, saw 55 per cent of people agree that same-sex marriage should be allowed in the church, and only nine per cent say that same-sex marriage is “wrong”.

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