Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 5th February 2013.

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Labour, Exeter 2:27 pm, 5th February 2013

May I say what a privilege it is to follow that excellent speech.

Given the time constraints, I will focus my comments on my perspective as a member of both the Anglican Church and the Ecclesiastical Committee of this and the other place. I entirely support the Government’s decision to make this a permissive law, allowing those religions and denominations that wish to celebrate the loving same-sex relationships of their members to do so. As the right hon. Member for Arundel and South

Downs (Nick Herbert) said, it would have been completely perverse to say to Quakers, the United Reformed Church or progressive synagogues, which wish to value and support their gay and lesbian members fully, that they would not be allowed to do so.

Indeed, there are many Anglicans and Roman Catholics who wish that their Churches were as open and welcoming as those that support the Bill entirely. In fact, all the opinion polls show that a majority not just of the public, but of Anglicans and Roman Catholics in this country support equal marriage. However, in their wisdom, the leaderships of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are not yet prepared to take such a step. That is their prerogative. It is perfectly possible to make the argument that, as a particular religion understands it, marriage can only be between a man and a woman. However the Churches’ credibility in arguing that would be a lot greater if they welcomed and celebrated civil partnerships. The fact that they do not do so leads me to conclude only that their objection to the Bill is not about the institution of marriage or even the word, but about a residual prejudice against same-sex relationships.

The Church of England has claimed, and repeated in the briefing provided for today’s debate, that because of its established status and the need for state law and canon law to be compatible, it requires an extra safeguard in the Bill that specifically does not allow same-sex weddings in the Church of England and Church in Wales—the so-called quadruple lock. When, however, in the presence of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Members of this House and the other place asked the Bishop of Leicester, who speaks for the bishops in the other place, why the Church wanted that quadruple lock, he said

“we didn’t want it, hadn’t asked for it, and hadn’t been consulted.”

When the Minister responds to the debate, I would be grateful if she could clear up the confusion in Anglican circles on the issue of the quadruple lock. Were the Church of England to embrace same-sex marriage at some stage—as I and many in the Church hope it will—will the Minister confirm that there will be no need for more primary legislation or an amendment to primary legislation in this House, as has been stated?

I am not a constitutional expert, but having been in this House for 15-odd years I am not aware of any precedent whereby an outside institution can unilaterally decide to change primary legislation passed in this House. I therefore question the Church of England’s claim that were it to change its mind in future, it could do so just like that—easy, the Synod could get on and vote for it and we would not have to do anything. My fear is that it would be another long and convoluted process and that we would have to amend primary legislation. Will the Minister check once again whether the quadruple lock is necessary in law, and whether the Church is being completely upfront with its members about the hurdles in front of it?

I would also be grateful if the Minister would explain what would happen in the case of a Church of England priest who wanted to marry members of their congregation in another church—a Quakers meeting house, for example, or a United Reform Church. Would that priest be banned from doing so under the proposed law?