Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech in the Lords

On 3rd June 2013 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at its Second Reading. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby, spoke in the debate and his remarks are below, with extracts from speeches made by Peers where reference is made.

Archbishop of CanterburyThe Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, the initial proposals 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. I am deeply grateful to the DCMS 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 have reached today.

We all know, and it has 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 that have written to me remain very hesitant. There have been useful discussions about the position of schools with a religious character and the issues of freedom of conscience. I have noted the undertaking of the Minister on those subjects and am grateful for what she has said. The Minister has put forward all her views today with great courtesy and persuasive effect. I join in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in appreciation of that. 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, Lady Royall, and agree with the proud record that was established in this area by the previous Government during the years in which they held office. If I may, I will pass on her comments with gratitude to my colleague the most reverend Primate 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 Partnership 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 express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor, the late 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 retain considerable hesitations about the Bill. My predecessor, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, showed clearly last summer in evidence to the consultation that it contains a series of category errors. It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality, to which I have referred supportively, must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. As a result, it does not do what it sets out to do. 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 a covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society, as we have already heard, is weakened. I am sure that these points will be expanded on by others in the debate, 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 this Bill in many cases hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a cornerstone 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, the 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 deeply grateful for the attention that the Government and the other place have paid to issues of religious freedom. However, it is not at heart a faith issue. It is about the general social good. Therefore, with much regret—but entire conviction—I cannot support the Bill as it stands.


Lord Fowler: [extract] My Lords, I will be brief. First, I congratulate the most reverend Primate on his speech. It was, as we might have guessed, impressive, well argued and, above all, compassionate. I thank him for that, but fear that I disagree with his conclusion…

Baroness Brinton: [extract] The core of marriage to me as a Christian—and, by the by, as a member of the Church of England—is that the commitment made by two people of their undying love to each other, through good times and bad, through sickness and health, stable and faithful, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop mentioned, is a building block of our society. I respect those for whom the theological arguments are core to their beliefs and practice but, frankly, I struggle to find those arguments expressed by Jesus himself in the New Testament…

Lord Jenkin of Roding: [extract] I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and that, indeed, it will be a positive good not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to put right at the centre of marriage the concept of a stable, loving relationship. As a practising Christian, perhaps I may make the point to the Bishops’ Benches, including to the most reverend Primate, that there is every reason why, in time, the Anglican Church should come to accept that, although I recognise that it may take some time. The character of love which marriage reflects—that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish and unconditional—is the same character that most Christians see in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: [extract]..On the general social good side, to which the most reverend Primate referred, research shows that marriage encourages and strengthens lifelong relationships and makes for a better society—it is particularly important for this. It is better for families and for individuals. If we accept that, surely we should do everything that we can to encourage more marriage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, argued, rather than oppose this extension of marriage, and possibly create different groupings within it, which may bring difficulties….The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, listed what he believed were the ingredients for a successful marriage. I boiled down the items he listed to two major ones. Love and tolerance are the essence, as I see it, of a successful marriage—to which, from my own experience, I would add faith. I was interested to hear the most reverend Primate say at the beginning that this is not a faith issue but concerns general social good. I would argue that that is not so and that the principal churches in the country are holding back in an area where they should be moving forward. I trust that in due course they will move forward to embrace the totality of the population who come under God’s guidance and leadership….

Lord Cormack: [extract] ..I find myself very much in sympathy with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Anderson, said and, above all, with much of what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said…

…I was much taken by the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, who said that you cannot, without changing marriage beyond recognition, have marriage between same-sex partners, but you surely can have an institution that is the equivalent in every sense. I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Black that civil partnerships perhaps do not quite reach that point at the moment. As a Christian who was at one stage opposed, I would welcome the blessing of a union in the church—in my church, the Anglican Church. The most reverend Primate did not go quite so far in his speech as to specifically advocate that, but its logical conclusion was that that is something to which we could and, I believe, should aspire….

… The most reverend Primate said, just before he sat down and with much regret, that this was not a Bill that he could support. Nor can I.

Baroness Morgan of Ely: [extract] …God calls men and women to the married state, and that call, if it is between two men or two women, is equally sacred, is equally a marriage and deserves to be recognised in law.

I share with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury his experience of gay families when he says:

“You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship”.

However, the failure of his and my church to recognise the vocation of these “stunning” couples as marriage is deeply troubling to many faithful Anglicans here in the United Kingdom. The response of the church to this issue reminds us of a shameful time, only recently passed, when women with stunning vocations to the priesthood were told they could not have this vocation….

Lord Flight: [extract] …The knock-on effects of the Bill have also not been adequately considered. If the Bill proceeds, the legal status of gay marriage will be different from that of heterosexual marriage, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter have pointed out….

Lord Alli: [extract] ..If the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and others on the Benches Spiritual support civil partnerships, then I, like many gay people, wait with bated breath for the liturgy to allow civil partnerships to be blessed in churches. They have talked the talk; it is now time to walk the walk…

Baroness O’Loan: [extract] …I was much impressed by the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury when he suggested yesterday that the better way would be to create a new and valued institution alongside marriage to strengthen us all. We have a duty to legislate in a way that gives certainty. Despite the Government’s intention, the Bill cannot, as drafted, provide equality. It also appears to have been the subject of hasty drafting that does not deal comprehensively with far too many issues…

Baroness Thornton: [extract] …The most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelates who have spoken have woven brilliant theology and arguments against the principle of same-sex marriage, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and others have said, the state’s concept of marriage has been ever-evolving. It has long since diverged from religious teaching. They have not managed to unpick the locks, so to speak…

Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Minister): [extract] …Moving on from process, some noble Lords queried the robustness of the religious protections, including the quadruple lock, whereby no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to conduct a same-sex marriage; all will be free to refuse to do so. I say, first, that I am very grateful to the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for their acknowledgement of the work that the Government have done to ensure that the religious protections in the Bill are effective.

Lord Dear: [extract] ..We cannot escape the fact that the Bill will completely alter the concept of marriage as we know it. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Leicester, the Bishop of Chester and the Bishop of Exeter, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, and the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, all explained their opposition to the Bill and the detailed practical and theological reasons that underpin their stance.

Division on Lord Dear’s amendment (not to give the Bill a Second Reading).

Contents 148; Not-Contents 390.

Lord Dear’s amendment disagreed.

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