As equal marriage progresses in the UK, religious officials increasingly warn of the consequences that passage of this bill could bring if further religious freedom protections are not implemented. The Catholic bishops are now warning the Church may exit civil marriage licensing altogether if the bill is passed as is, but many people of faith who affirm equality are pushing right back
The Telegraph reports on unprecedented movement by religious organizations to add amendments, or just end the legislation for marriage equality altogether as the House of Lords considers it:
“Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to abandon the legislation. . . .
“Allowing couples of the same sex to marry will cause ‘injustice and unfairness’, the signatories said, accusing Mr Cameron of rushing the legislation through Parliament to prevent proper scrutiny…
“The bill is expected to face stiff resistance from members of the House of Lords. . .and could even be rejected there. That would raise the prospect of a constitutional struggle between ministers in the Commons and the upper house.”
In April, the Catholic hierarchy began calling for greater religious protections when the House of Commons was voting on equal marriage. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, as in other areas, Catholic priests act as agents of the state in recognizing civil licenses. This caused the bishops to worry that it leaves priests performing marriages open to lawsuits for discrimination and expensive litigation. The end result might be Catholic churches refusing to perform marriages for the government.
However, English people of faith are objecting to these religious arguments against equal marriage. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church questions these “terrible consequences” arguments, noting the lack of any negative outcomes against religion in jurisdictions with existing equal marriage rights:
“The most important consequence of extending marriage is (surprise!) people getting married…
“The core problem with Catholic bishops’ pronouncements on gay marriage, and on human sexuality more generally, is that they are usually based entirely on speculation and supposition, made with little or no recourse to evidence – and none at all to the real–life experience of loving, committed sexual relationships, of which they have none themselves.”
He also addresses the religious liberty claims as false because everywhere that marriage equality exists, and in the pending UK legislation, ample protections are in place for religions to pursue their beliefs unhindered. Weldon unearths the rub in this most recent UK religious leadership’s push:
“What [the law] does not do, and the bishops appear to want, is to allow people of faith to discriminate in their secular lives, against people who do not share their views, or to prevent those denominations that believe with the Gospels in the importance of full equality and inclusion for all, from exercising their own freedom of religion.”
A Conservative MP, Damian Collins, wrote in The Huffington Post that religious liberty arguments cut both ways, and churches wishing to recognize same-gender couples in marriage should be allowed to do so.
Writing against disingenuous Anglican and Catholic opposition, Stephen Hough of The Telegraph envisions a future focused less on protecting the rights of those who would discriminate, and more on one guided by evangelizing as Christians in support of true equality. He attributes this most recent advancement in human rights to Christianity itself and advocates equal marriage as a way of uplifting Christian faith today:
“It is precisely because gradual moral development over the centuries led us to see human relationships as more than mere procreation that gay people want to get married…the theological insights which have explored marriage as a covenant, a sacrament, an imitation of the inner life of the Trinity could greatly enrich the same-sex relationships of so many…pastoral concern may well be one of the best ways to ensure a future of ‘the general social good’ and even the survival of a national Church of England.
“Overturning the biblical approval of slavery raised Christianity to a new height of moral dignity in the 19th century; overturning prejudice against gay people should become the church’s triumph of the 21st.”
The ongoing debate on equal marriage in the UK is bringing up old arguments for and against, but also new considerations about a more LGBT-positive religious community and the relations between Church and State. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating our readers as the bill progresses.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry