Church and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act – Lords questions

Red BenchesOn 30th July 2014, Conservative Peer Lord Fowler asked Her Majesty’s Government “whether they are satisfied with the enactment and operation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.”

In his follow up question, Lord Fowler raised the situation of clergy who are married to someone of the same sex. A number of other Peers also asked questions relating to the situation in the Church of England.

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, set out the Church of England’s position in his own supplementary question and the full transcript of all the exchanges is reproduced below:

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

Lord Fowler: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are satisfied with the enactment and operation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, the first marriages of same-sex couples took place on 29 March—sooner than we had originally thought possible. We intend to bring the remaining elements of the Act into force on 10 December, enabling couples in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage, and couples to stay married, if they wish to do so, when one or both of them changes legal gender.

Lord Fowler (Con): I congratulate the Government on their progress but perhaps I could raise one point. Canon Jeremy Pemberton married his partner in April, as a result of which he has had his permission to work as a priest in Nottinghamshire revoked and been banned from seeking a new post as a chaplain and bereavement manager. Given that there are other clergymen at similar risk, will the Minister, as a matter of goodwill, look at the position and see whether anything can be done to help reconcile the difficulties?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his thanks to the Government on this. I was a guest at a same-sex marriage very recently and found it extremely moving. The couple had had to overcome so many hurdles to get to a point that so many of us simply take for granted. My noble friend will know that the Bill sought to protect the position of religious organisations and that this is a matter for the Church of England. We hear what he says, and it is worth also bearing in mind that things can evolve. For example, it is good that we should soon see women bishops.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I know that the Minister is aware of the disappointment felt by many over the regulations tabled for debate yesterday. Although they made the administrative process easy, they failed to recognise that many in a civil partnership would wish to celebrate their marriage in the same way as all other same-sex couples have since March. I know that the noble Baroness understands the importance of setting the date. Will she therefore update the House on when the revised regulations will be published and tabled for debate? Perhaps on this occasion she could even offer to share a draft before they are tabled. Will she reassure us that they will still come into force on 10 December?

Baroness Northover: We are indeed determined that the regulations will be in place by 10 December so that civil partnerships can be converted to marriages. As the noble Lord will remember, in the consultation prior to the Act, the emphasis that came through from people feeding in their views on this was that they wanted to make sure that their civil partnership was properly marked and could be translated into an equal marriage. They wanted that to be as straightforward as possible with as few hurdles as possible. That was what was built into the Bill.

As the noble Lord will know, since then some people have felt that they want to mark that transition. He will also know that the Bill and regulations allow ceremonies to be associated, but they want to make that link closer. We are determined to try to make sure that everything that people want in this situation can be done within the complexity that he is familiar with within the Bill. Indeed, we are determined to deliver this by 10 December, and we are happy to discuss those draft regulations.

14.03.27 Bishop of SheffieldThe Lord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her affirmation that according to both the letter and the spirit of the legislation on same-sex marriage, it is for the Church of England and all faith communities to determine their doctrine and what is appropriate conduct for their clergy. Is the Minister aware that the recent guidelines of the House of Bishops state clearly that those who enter a same-sex marriage, together with children in their care, should be welcomed into the life of worshiping communities, and also that the Church of England is about to begin a two-year process of structured conversations to explore the changing attitudes to human sexuality and their implications for the life of the church and its disciplines?

 Baroness Northover: I welcome what the right reverend Prelate has said and his tolerant approach.

Baroness Barker (LD): Could the Minister tell the House whether there have been any instances of clergymen being asked to conduct same-sex marriages against their convictions?

Baroness Northover: Again, my noble friend will know that built into the Bill was protection for religions that did not want to conduct same-sex marriages, as well as for those within religions that decided that it should be allowed—so we have no evidence of that at all.

 Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, the Minister set out very clearly the Government’s intentions as far as the implementation of the Act is concerned. It was very reassuring to hear from the right reverend Prelate the current views of the church. However, I do not think that either she or—if I may say with respect—he addressed the question that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised about the loss of employment that followed this incident. Can the Minister say anything further about the application, for example, of the Equality Act or any employment Act in situations where people lose their job over their sexuality?

 Baroness Northover: As the noble Baroness may remember, the protections given to various religions in the equal marriage Act protect them in this regard from the operation of the Equality Act. It is up to the Church of England, but I note what the right reverend Prelate said.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, to clarify the position for Church of England clergy during the next two years, will my noble friend confirm that clergy in civil partnerships are able to carry out their ministry in the normal way?

 Baroness Northover: I think I need to write to the noble Lord to clarify exactly what the situation is at the moment within the Church of England—but again, it is a matter for the Church of England.

 Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab): On a lighter note, would the Minister join me in congratulating the organisers of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games which, with great humour and more than a touch of Glasgow gallusness, celebrated how liberal every part of the United Kingdom is nowadays?

Baroness Northover: I am extremely happy to endorse that.

Viscount Ullswater (Con): My Lords, when will the Government amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to include heterosexual civil partnerships? This would even up the playing field for those who do not wish to get married, especially those in later life who need financial security but do not want to upset their children.

 Baroness Northover: My Lords, as my noble friend no doubt knows, a review came out of that Act, and the conclusion was that there is no settled view on what should happen here. Probably one of the key things—one has seen this in other countries—is that when equal marriage is in place, changes occur. So there is something to be said for looking at what people want—whether they want civil partnerships to be open to heterosexuals, so that there is equality, or whether people will stop opting for civil partnerships if equal marriage is available.


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