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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Church churlish over gay marriage rumpus


I’ve always wanted to write a headline like that! Has a real tabloid ring to it. Hopefully, it is still obvious what this blog is about. It’s the ongoing issue of legalising gay marriage and, in particular, the Church of England’s unusually strong opposition to it.

Now the Church of England is perhaps less well known for its strong views than it is for its welcoming cups of tea after a service which these days is as likely to involve PowerPoint slides, guitars and arms raised to the heavens, as it is pomp, revered silence and Jerusalem. I am not poking fun, merely pointing out that we have come to expect a forward thinking and decidedly non-confrontational approach from the CoE.

Perhaps that is why it came as such a surprise – to me anyway – that they were so vehemently opposed to measures announced by the Government to allow gay couples to marry in the same way as heterosexual couples. Currently, they can join in a civil partnership, often referred to as gay marriage but not quite the same.

The change to the rules would allow gay couples to actually marry, though a legal ban would be maintained on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service. On paper, this sounds sympathetic to the Church. However, the CoE has suggested if we went down that road, it could be open to a European Court challenge and possibly forced to perform the ceremonies, which would undermine its status. The Church made its views clear while responding to a consultation on the Government proposals. The Government maintains its proposals bring equality to unions in the eyes of the law, whether a couple of straight or homosexual.

I, for one, wholeheartedly back the proposals to legalise gay marriage. While we could get into a debate about whether it really matters as civil partnerships are pretty much the same anyway, the fact is that for the couples involved it does matter and that is where the amendment will bring equality. Legally speaking, there is little difference but emotionally it could be a huge change for some and a sign of a final acceptance of equality whatever your sexual orientation.

The proposals appear to have been thoughtfully put together with consideration for the Church’s position, hence the exemption. For the Church to therefore come out as opposed to the new rules in case of a future legal challenge which has no guarantee of success anyway, I see it as a little strong. If I had been drawing up the plan, I may have gone further and said that same-sex couples have the right to marry in a church, provided the individual church allows it.

We will have to wait until later in the year to hear the outcome of the consultation but I just hope that after all this debate, the right outcome is taken up and we can all move on because, essentially, it makes little difference to family law practice anyway, and the Church is probably better off staying out of politics.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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