- The Guardian reported on Friday (14 December 2012) that the Church of England and Church of Wales have expressed their “complete shock” at proposals to ban them from conducting marriages for same sex couples. The piece ends with Ben Bradshaw MP quoting the Bishop of Leicester as saying the CoE was very upset about this "because it gave the impression that the Church of England were unfriendly towards gays."
But is the Church of England really unhappy with the proposed ban?
To be clear, the proposal is that all churches and religions will be able to opt in to same sex marriage as and when they want to, except the Church of England and the Church of Wales will be excluded from the opt-in, so that they will not be able to opt in without further primary legislation.
On a careful reading of the Guardian report, the only church actually expressing opposition to the proposal is the Church of Wales. “We will be pushing to have it amended, I would imagine” said a spokeswoman for the Archbishop of Wales. That is consistent with the Archbishop’s immediate response on Tuesday as soon as the proposal was announced: “This is a step too far” he told BBC Radio Wales.
The only on-the-record statement from the Church of England in the Guardian report is from “a spokesman” claiming that the CoE was not consulted on the proposed “quadruple lock”. The spokesman does not confirm that the CoE does not want a ban – all he or she confirms is that the CoE claims it was not consulted.
Personally I find it difficult to believe the CoE was not consulted.
Firstly, because when the government's proposals were outlined, on Tuesday 11 December, the Church of Wales immediately stated it did not agree, whereas the Church of England neither objected to the proposals nor made any claim that it had not been consulted. Here is the statement the CoE put out on Wednesday 12 December:
Far from suggesting the CoE has not been consulted, the statement asserts that it has been listened to:
“This is not a question of the Government and Parliament imposing a prohibition or ‘ban’ on what the Church of England can do. It is instead the Government responding to the Church's wish to see the status quo for the Church of England preserved.” [Emphasis added]
The statement clearly approves of the proposal that the CoE not be given a right to opt in:
“For Parliament to give the Church of England an opt-in to conduct same sex marriages that it hasn't sought would be unnecessary, of doubtful constitutional propriety and introduce wholly avoidable confusion.”
If that doesn’t say “we don’t want an opt-in, thank you” I am not sure what would.
This statement was presumably approved at a high level. It has not been retracted. At no point has the Church of England stated on the record that it does not want the additional bar.
And secondly, I don't believe the CoE was not consulted because the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has now put out a statement expressly denying that the CoE was not consulted [Source: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20723593]:
- "It is just not true to say that we have not properly discussed our proposals with the Church of England. As part of our consultation process, and before we finalised our proposals, Government officials met the Church of England at a very senior level. The Church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages could continue.
While it is inappropriate to share the exact nature of legislative proposals before announcing them to Parliament, discussions with the Church were quite specific about the quad lock." [emphasis added]
So I cannot understand why anyone is taking the CoE’s word for it on this. Like Ben Bradshaw MP for example. He tweeted on Friday 14 December:
"Force?" I see no evidence of any force here. "Doesn't want"? Surely if the CoE doesn’t want this ban, the starting point would be to say so, clearly and on the record, and retract the current statement which welcomes the ban?
Until it does that, I find it difficult to believe that anyone in the CoE was shocked to find they got exactly what they lobbied for.
- Why does it matter?
Despite the very clear denial from the DCMS, it seems to have passed into common acceptance that the government is giving the CoE an exemption it has not asked for and does not want. It's not just Ben Bradshaw. Here's the Guardian again: