A first vote on Britain’s “Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill” could occur as early as today. In recent weeks, the nation’s Catholic bishops, who oppose the bill, have also been raising questions about what a successful vote extending civil marriage rights would mean for the Catholic Church.
As part of their opposition strategy, the British Catholic hierarchy distributed a million postcards at Masses last weekend in hopes that parishioners would express their anti-equality opposition to Members of Parliament. The Telegraph reports Catholic bishops are hopeful they can inspire opposition because each of Britain’s three main political parties promised a “free vote”, meaning members are able to vote outside of the party line.
The bishops also also released a document to Parliament condemning marriage equality and detailing the, by now, usual list of threats that equal rights are supposed to pose to society. Pink News reports the inclusion of more positive language on the part of the bishops, hinting as well that progress by the hierarchy is possible given changes in their past positions:
“The Catholic Church in England and Wales has made a surprising acknowledgement that same-sex couples make good parents…
“The document says: ‘We recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes…’
“The Catholic Church opposed the introduction of same-sex civil partnerships but it seems now to support the maintenance of a separate relationships system for same-sex couples.”
On the other hand, the bishops’ more positive message has been weakened by their predictions for the future. If the marriage equality bill is successful, the Catholic hierarchy promises devastating consequences for the rights of same-gender couples. A recent booklet affirms that educators and administrators not adhering to the hierarchy’s teaching on marriage could suffer consequences for continued employment in church institutions. Pink News reports on the booklet’s details:
“The guidance, sanctioned by the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, says that teachers in Catholic schools should not marry divorcees, marry in registry offices or in other civil ceremonies (such as civil partnerships) that do not meet the Catholic Church’s approval.
“[The booklet] says that senior teachers in “a partnership of intimacy with another person, outside a form of marriage approved by the church…can be removed from office.”
The relationship between Catholic education and the British government is a point of contention for both sides. While British law protects employees from discrimination based upon sexual orientation, which has stopped previous diocesan firings of gay employees, religious exemptions also exist.
If marriage equality becomes legalized, England will experience an interesting tension between the rights of religions and the rights of individuals. Relevant organizations are not waiting for the results of this marriage battle to express their criticisms. In addition to the bishops arguing from the political right, some on the political left question how the new law would fit with existing British law:
“The European Commission is already considering whether British laws governing faith schools breach European education directives.
“Commenting on the [bishops'] booklet, the Department for Education said: ‘This is a matter for schools and their governors. Faith schools can consider whether a person’s conduct is in line with their religious values when dismissing teachers. However schools must also comply with employment law.’”
Bondings 2.0 will continue to update our readers as the British bill proceeds.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry