The Church of England has now issued its formal response to the British government’s plans to legislate for gay “marriage” and in doing so throws down yet another gauntlet to David Cameron who still insists on pursuing the Coalition’s policy on this issue. The Daily Telegraph reports on the Church’s response this morning, which dismisses the Coalition’s same-sex marriage plans as “divisive”, “legally flawed” and “essentially ideological”.
The Church’s legal analysts suggest that priests could be forced to marry homosexual couples in churches by the European Court of Human Rights despite assurances that they will be exempt. The redefinition of marriage would create a clash between the laws of Church and state thought to be unprecedented since the onset of the reformation in the 1530s, they say. John Bingham, writing in the Telegraph, reports that
Senior figures believe the plans could allow Strasbourg to strip the Church of England of its unique power to act as an ‘agent of the state’ by conducting marriages for anyone living within a parish, regardless of religious beliefs. This would, in effect, be a step towards splitting the Church from the State.
Commenting on the situation which is now unfolding, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt. Revd. Tim Stevens, said:
“If the civil law of the state redefines [marriage] you have got a situation in which civil law and canon law are at odds.
“That would need to be resolved – presumably in due course by changing the law of the Church because there are statutory provisions which provide that the canon law of the state cannot be contradictory to the statutes of the realm.”
Another Church figure, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt. Revd. Steven Croft, said the Government proposals represented a “fundamental change” to a “very, very important” social institution.
“Whilst this is being presented as a kind of minor extension to what marriage means, actually, from the point of view of the Church and of society, it is a really, really fundamental change to an institution which has been at the core of our society for hundreds of years and which for the Church is not a matter of social convention but of Christian doctrine and teaching.”