British Prime Minister David Cameron, seen with Pope Benedict XVI during the Pope’s 2010 visit to Britain. CNS photo/Reuters

Britain to propose allowing same-sex weddings in churches

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • December 13, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - The British government has expanded its push to legalize same-sex marriage to include allowing same-sex couples to marry in churches.

Speaking ahead of the mid- December publication of the proposals, Prime Minister David Cameron said churches would not be coerced into holding weddings for homosexuals.

“I’m in favour of gay marriage because I’m a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. in a TV interview Dec. 7. “But let me be absolutely, 100 per cent clear — if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage, it will not — it absolutely must not — be forced to hold it.

“That is absolutely clear in the legislation,” Cameron added.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage will be presented to Parliament in the New Year with the aim of becoming law by 2014. The government has been saying it would push for same-sex marriage in civil offices and hotels, but including churches widens the scope of the legislation.

The proposals to redefine marriage have been opposed by the Catholic, Anglican and the Evangelical Churches and by Jewish, Sikh and Muslim leaders.

The Catholic Church has consistently argued that the government is not able to offer guarantees of religious freedom because such legislation is susceptible both to amendments in Parliament and to challenges under equality laws in the European Court of Human Rights.

Catholic lawyer Neil Addison, director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, which specializes in religious discrimination law, told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 10 telephone interview that such a law might force churches to give up their civil function of registering marriages on behalf of the state.

“The government isn’t creating a new institution,” he explained. “It is changing the definition of marriage.”

He said he did not think Catholic churches that register legal marriage “will be able to pick and choose which types of marriage they register,” forcing churches to move out of the “legal marriage” business.

“This means that couples will have to go to a registry office for their legal ceremony and a church for their religious one,” he said.

The proposal to allow same-sex couples to marry in churches also has met with dismay from some Catholic bishops. Despite Cameron’s assurances about the unpublished proposal, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said in a statement posted Dec. 10 on his diocesan web site that the prime minister was “luring the people of England away from their common Christian values and Christian patrimony, and forcing upon us a brave new world, artificially engineered.”

“If the prime minister proceeds with these intentions, he will pervert authentic family values, with catastrophic consequences for the well-being and behaviour of future generations,” he said. “He will smother the traditional Christian ethos of our society and strangle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church in Britain to conduct its mission.”

Addressing remarks to Cameron, he said: “Will you exempt the Church, its preachers, resources and premises, from having to support your harmful ideology? Will Catholic schools, societies and institutions be free (and legally safeguarded) to teach the full truth of Christ and the real meaning of life and love?”

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said that Christians were approaching a time when they had to give “clear and courageous witness to the truth about marriage.”

“It is a tragic moment for British society with serious implications for religious freedom,” he said in a Dec. 10 text message to Catholic News Service.

“However, as Christians we must see the moment to give our witness for the common good of society and for the sake of generations to come.”

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