BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron faced a split in his coalition Government and the wrath of religious opponents of gay marriage after confirming that gay couples could marry in churches, mosques, synagogues or temples.
In a plan unveiled to be unveiled next week, religious institutions that want to carry out same-sex weddings would be allowed to “opt in”.
The plan represents a reversal of the position set out earlier this year which proposed a blanket ban on same-sex ceremonies on religious premises.
Cameron, according to this Daily Telegraph report, was accused of breaking promises to religious groups. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said the shift made a “mockery” of the consultation and said the move was “madness” which would “boomerang” on the Conservatives.
The National Secular Society has welcomed the announcement. But Keith Porteous Wood Executive Director of the NSS took the opportunity to blast both the Anglican and Catholic churches:
Church hierarchies are perfectly entitled to prohibit their followers from partaking in same-sex marriage, but it is an abuse of religious liberty and of the human rights of citizens to obstruct legislation permitting same-sex marriage in places of worship that wish to conduct it.
The Established Church further breached its covenant with the nation by even challenging Parliament’s right to make this legislation.
A church with such contempt for the human rights and religious liberty of citizens and for the sovereignty of Parliament should forfeit any right it ever had to the privileges of Establishment.
The Church of England is keen to claim that it operates on behalf of the whole country, yet its role in opposing same-sex marriage for denominations and religions is out of step with the views of the nation, and indeed even the majority of those in its pews.
The Catholic Church hierarchy’s resort to dehumanising language in this debate, such as equating same-sex marriage with bestiality and incest, further demonstrates its complete isolation from the views of public, and indeed those in its own pews. They use of such intemperate and inhumane language can only fan the continuing homophobia in the country.
Letters to constituents passed to the Telegraph suggested that at least 130 Tory MPs are preparing to vote against the plans.
It is understood that the change was triggered by Government legal advice that a complete prohibition would be vulnerable to legal challenge and open the way for further challenges against the Church of England and others.
But writing in the Telegraph, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the Government had also heard persuasive arguments from groups such as the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism which want to carry out same-sex weddings.
My own personal view is that we should not stand in the way of this, especially if it means that those that don’t want to will be even further protected. It is a fundamental point of religious freedom that religious bodies should be able to make their own decisions on this issue.
For me, far from being a radical departure, this is simply one more in a long line of reforms which have strengthened marriage, ensuring it remains a modern and vibrant institution.
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, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it.
The Coalition for Marriage, which gathered more than 600,000 signatures against same-sex unions, said it was “risible” that any legal safeguard would be able to protect churches from challenges at the European Court of Human Rights, forcing them to marry gay couples.
Colin Hart, its campaign director, said:
The PM is writing a cheque that he knows will bounce.
Although David Cameron has promised a free vote on the issue a large number of his own MPs voting against would represent a blow to his prestige.
There were also predictions that the bill could potentially be defeated in the Lords and warnings that the Government would be unable constitutionally to force it through under the Parliament Act because the Conservatives did not make gay marriage a firm electoral pledge.