The British government is now closer to passing legislation to legalize same-sex marriages. After two days of debate this week, during which the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made a speech outlining the reasons he could not support the bill as it is written, peers in the House of Lords voted to approve the bill. Last month Members of Parliament voted to approve the bill.
The new law would not compel any religious organization to conduct such marriage ceremonies; they instead have to “opt in.” There is a provision, however, that the Church of England and the Church in Wales would be banned from offering same-sex marriages. According to a BBC report, the intent of that specific ban may be to protect the Church of England from legal claims that, as the Established Church, it is bound to marry anyone who requests it.
The BBC summary also noted that civil partnerships, a designation exclusively for same-sex couples, are already recognized in England and offer the same legal treatment as marriage in matters such as “inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration rights. Opposite-sex couples can opt for a religious or civil marriage ceremony, whereas a same-sex partnership is an exclusively civil procedure.”
Archbishop Welby’s speech acknowledged the government’s role in providing a legal framework for committed relationships. He also noted with sadness that the church has failed in its ministry to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in many ways. Nevertheless, the archbishop said he could not support the bill as it is currently written. He said it “confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality-to which I’ve referred supportively-must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. And as a result it does not do what it sets out to do…”
He went on to argue that with this bill, “marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society-as we’ve already heard-is weakened.”
The full text of his speech is available on the Anglican Communion’s website.