Gay marriage ‘a threat to role of Church in weddings’

Gay marriage threatens the establishment of the Church of England and could lead to it being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, it has been claimed.

The Church of England said introducing same-sex marriage would lead to an unprecedented clash between its own canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and that of Parliament.

It also said in spite of Ministerial assurances churches would not have to conduct gay marriages, it would be “very doubtful” whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious ceremonies would withstand a challenge at the European Court of Human Rights.

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This could make it impossible for the Church of England to continue its role conducting marriages on behalf of the state, it warned in its official submission to the Government’s consultation on gay marriage, which closes on Thursday.

It was sent to the Home Secretary under a short letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and said “major elements” of the proposals had not been thought through properly and were not legally “sound”.

The Church added that introducing gay marriage could also lead to challenges to civil partnership law, as removing the concept of gender from marriage while leaving it in place for civil partnerships would be unlikely to be “legally sustainable”.

Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken out in support of gay marriage. But he has come under fire from supporters of the proposals for allowing a free vote among Conservative MPs to avoid a rebellion over the issue, while also being criticised by some in the Tory ranks.

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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused the Church of England of “scaremongering” and “advocating legal discrimination”.

Mr Tatchell, co-ordinator of the Equal Love campaign to legalise same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships, added: “The Government’s proposals concern only civil marriages in register offices. They will have no impact on faith organisations or places of worship.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We have been clear that no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages as a result of our proposals.

“We welcome the Church of England’s response and we will be carefully considering all points of view.”