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My Lords, Amendment 1 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury. This amendment is similar, but not identical, to the amendment I moved in Committee. The changes I have made to it reflect the concerns expressed in that debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the briefing note I subsequently received from Church House.
Your Lordships will be aware that under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 the Church of England and the Church in Wales are subject to what is called the “quadruple lock”. The first three elements of that lock apply to all religions, but the fourth states that the common law duty of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners does not apply and that the canon law of the Church of England does not conflict with, and is not overridden by, civil law. So those churches are exempted from the general ability of a religious organisation to opt in to perform same-sex marriages. The Church of England can change those provisions through measures, and the Lord Chancellor can make similar changes in respect of the Church in Wales with its approval. My amendment gives the Secretary of State a duty to make the sort of changes that the Church might otherwise make through measures—or the Lord Chancellor, in the case of Wales—while maintaining the quadruple lock as far as possible.
This amendment differs from the amendment I moved in Committee by virtue of proposed new subsection (4). Paragraph (a) preserves the position of canon law; paragraph (b) preserves the exemption for same-sex marriages from the common law duty of members of the clergy to solemnise the marriages of their parishioners; and paragraph (c) reserves the carve-out from the Equality Act that allows religious organisations or ministers to refuse to conduct a same-sex marriage.
I hope that your Lordships, and in particular my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, will agree that this is a modest amendment. It simply says to the Church of England and the Church in Wales that Parliament will not stand in their way when they eventually get round to extending the right to marry in church to same-sex couples.
I also hope that this debate will have another consequence: to send to gay people everywhere the message that our society is loving and inclusive and that there is room for everyone in it. I must tell your Lordships that the main reason I persevered with this amendment was the numerous messages of support I received from the clergy. For example, I received this email from the vicar of St Peter’s Church, Hammersmith, the reverend Charles Clapham:
“I am writing as a Vicar in the Church of England to express my thanks to you for your interventions … in the House of Lords debate, and your support for the amendment to remove (in part) legal restrictions on the ability of Anglican clergy to solemnise same-sex marriages.
You will know this is an extremely contentious issue in the Church of England at present. But I hope you will also be aware that there are very large numbers of clergy and lay people who are supportive of equal marriage, and would like to be able to conduct such marriages in our churches. As things stand, these views are not being represented by our current House of Bishops.
The response to the amendment by the Bishop of Chelmsford in the chamber … was, to my mind, disappointing, and (to some extent) misleading. The Bishop made reference, for example, to the current ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project being undertaken by House of Bishops which is exploring issues of sexuality and gender. But he did not make clear that the parameters of this project are quite restrictive: it is an educational process only, and will not pronounce on the rights or wrongs of gay marriage (as the chair, the Bishop of Coventry has made clear). So this project will not result in the bishops recommending a change in current church practice regarding equal marriage.
My own parish in west London is hardly radical: we are a very ordinary suburban ‘middle-of-the-road’ Anglican church. But we have a number of LGBT people, some of whom are in civil partnerships or marriages, amongst our most valued parishioners and worshippers. It is a matter of embarrassment (to say the very least) that we are not able to celebrate their relationships formally in church, and a frustration that our bishops are unwilling to represent our views.
So I thank you for your advocacy and support, and do hope you will keep pushing the issue”.
“I’ve had one of those weeks where the reality of being gay in the Church of England came home. I spend a lot of time with many sceptical folks encouraging them to hang in there. I find myself often encouraging others not to be daunted and to believe that one day God’s grace might actually be seen abundantly and more consistently in God’s church. But there are some weeks when it is difficult to know that deeply realised hope in practice as well as in theory. It gets no easier as a ‘senior priest’”.
That comment from David Monteith attracted more than 100 supportive messages, such as:
“With much love and prayer David Monteith. Many people are inspired by the fact that you and others in senior posts are willing to be courageous and prophetic at such personal sacrificial cost”.
Somebody else said:
“Sorry to read this David. I have found The Scottish Episcopal Church to be a kinder place”.
Unfortunately, there are still many examples of negativity in the Church. The Lambeth Conference of bishops is to be held in 2020. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited “every active bishop” in the Anglican Communion, and the conference planning group is to run a joint programme for bishops and their spouses. The Lambeth 2020 website says that this is,
“in recognition of the vital role spouses play across the Anglican Communion and a desire to support them in their ministry”— but not if they are same-sex spouses. I understand that there are three in the Episcopal Church in North America who have effectively been disinvited.
The reverend canon Simon Butler, who is the vicar of St Mary’s, Battersea, and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod since 2005, asked an important question in the debate on the Pilling report on human sexuality at the February 2014 synod:
“My question requires a little context and a large amount of honesty. I’m gay; I don’t have a vocation to celibacy and at the same time I’ve always taken my baptismal and ordination vows with serious intent and with a sincere desire to model my life on the example of Christ simul justus et peccator. Those who have selected me, ordained me and licensed me know all this. My parish know it too.
My question is this: at the end of the process of facilitated conversations will the College of Bishops tell me whether there is a place for people like me as priests, deacons and bishops in the Church, rather than persisting in the existing policy that encourages a massive dishonesty so corrosive to the gospel? For my spiritual health, for the flourishing of people like me as ministers of the gospel and for the health of the wider Church I think we will all need to have an answer to that question”.
I suspect that we will not get the answer to Simon Butler’s question any time soon. However, I hope that, by debating this amendment today, this House will send a message to the Church of England and the Church in Wales—and to the Anglican Communion worldwide—that we in this House, at any rate, think it is time that they moved forward at rather more than the glacial speed we have seen so far. This amendment is intended to help them. I beg to move.