The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Justin Welby, has strongly opposed pending legislation, supported by the British Government, to redefine marriage. The Archbishop's address during the Lords' debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill follows:
My Lords, this Bill has arrived in your Lordship's House at great speed. The initial Proposals, when published at the end of the autumn, have needed much work to get them into today's form. Much of that work has been done through detailed legal effort and discussion, and I am deeply grateful to the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) teams – and especially to the Secretary of State for the thoughtful way in which she has listened and the degree to which she has been willing to make changes in order to arrive at the stage we’ve reached today.
We all know, and it’s been said, that this is a divisive issue. In general the majority of faith groups remain very strongly against the Bill, and have expressed that view in a large number of public statements. The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view – although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.
The so-called Quadruple Lock may have some chance of withstanding legal scrutiny in Europe, and we are grateful for it, although other faith groups and Christian denominations who’ve written to me remain very hesitant. There have been useful discussions about the position of schools with a religious character and issues of freedom of conscience. And I’ve noted the undertaking of the Noble Baroness the Minister on those subjects, and I’m grateful for what she has said. The Noble Baroness the Minister has also put forward all her views today with great courtesy and persuasive effect, and I join in the remarks of the Noble Baroness, Baroness Royall, in appreciation of that.
And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place.
I was particularly grateful to hear the speech of the Noble Baroness, Baroness Royall, and agreed with the proud record that was established by the last government during the years in which it held office in this area. I also, if I may, will pass on her comments with gratitude to my colleague the Most Revd Prelate the Archbishop of York.
It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage. Although the majority of Bishops who voted during the whole passage of the Civil Partnerships Act through your Lordships' House were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor Archbishop Ramsey who vigorously supported decriminalisation in the 1960s.
It is also necessary to express, as has been done already, total rejection of homophobic language, which is wrong – and more than that, sickening.
However, I and many of my colleagues remain with considerable hesitations about this Bill. My predecessor Lord Williams of Oystermouth showed clearly last summer, in evidence during the consultation period, that it has within it a series of category errors. 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, my Lords. Schedule 4 distinguishes clearly between same gender and opposite gender marriage, thus not achieving true equality.
The result is confusion. 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. These points will be expanded on by others in the debate, I’m sure, including those from these benches.
For these and many other reasons, those of us in the churches and faith groups who are extremely hesitant about the Bill in many cases hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a corner stone of society, and rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support to strengthen us all, this Bill weakens what exists and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective. This is not a faith issue, although we are grateful for the attention that government and the other place have paid to issues of religious freedom – deeply grateful. But it is not, at heart, a faith issue; it is about the general social good. And so with much regret but entire conviction, I cannot support the Bill as it stands.