Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill – Bishop of Oxford responds to amendment on same-sex marriage

On 1st March 2019 the House of Lords considered the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill at its Report Stage. Lord Faulkner of Worcester tabled an amendment to the Bill similar to that which he had tabled in Committee on the process by which the Church of England and Church in Wales might opt-in to conduct same-sex marriages. The Bishop of Oxford responded to the amendment, explaining that it was not necessary as there were already legal mechanisms in place for both Churches to opt-in should they choose to. The Minister also emphasised these points in her response and the amendment was not put to a vote. The Bishop’s speech is below, and the whole debate on the amendment is reproduced underneath.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, those were extremely moving speeches. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the contributions they have made in the Chamber today and the moving way in which they have spoken. I thank them for sharing their personal experiences so movingly, and for the important and necessary articulation of the views they have heard within the broader Church of England in favour of movement and inclusion. I deeply regret the language used in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others; it has no place in the contemporary Church.

The Church is committed to listening carefully to the wisdom of the nation, to the wisdom in our continued debate in this Chamber and to the voices of LGBTI people at all levels in the life of the church. We are committed in our public statements to the inclusion and welcome of all.

I and the Church collectively remain deeply conscious of our imperfections and the journey that we still have to travel. We recognise that discrimination is still experienced; I accept the validity of the Stonewall research just cited, and it distresses me beyond words.

As noble Lords are aware, together with other Churches and faith communities across the world, the Church of England is exploring these issues in depth—and, I accept, at length. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle chairs our pastoral advisory group, and last week brought a helpful series of pastoral guidelines to the General Synod.

My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry chairs a process of exploration under the title Living in Love and Faith, which was referred to by noble Lords. Both processes are due to report to the General Synod in 2020. It is true that these proposals will contain resources for reflection. They may not contain recommendations for action but they will be followed by further work, debate and proposals to be tested by the General Synod in due course—as soon as possible, I hope.

Recently, I issued a pastoral letter with my fellow bishops to our own diocese of Oxford under the title, Clothed with Love. We are taking pastoral steps in the diocese to encourage greater inclusion and support within the Church’s existing guidelines. That letter has been warmly welcomed by many LGBTI clergy and laity, and more widely across the Church by those who want to see further change. It has led to many fruitful conversations. However, it is also a sign of where the Church is, and of the deep views held in good conscience on the issue, that the same letter has dismayed and unsettled some others who fear that the Church will change what is regarded as essential and core doctrine. The correspondence illustrates the need for further deep and respectful dialogue within the Church, and I remain committed to that.

My response to the amendment is that, as a Church, we need more time for deeper reflection and prayer; for listening, recognising the urgency of the situation; for listening to those outside and within the Church; and for developing our responses. I am grateful for the intention behind this amendment and the opportunity to air these issues in this Chamber. Nevertheless, I need to resist the amendment on two grounds, both of which have been referred to.

First, the legal powers already exist to enable the Church of England and the Church in Wales to begin to solemnise same-sex marriages should they choose to do so. That change will be registered through a change in the doctrine of marriage and therefore in canon law. It is important for the overall process that the Church is seen to make its own decisions first, and only then for those decisions to be taken through Parliament.

Secondly, the Church itself must continue its conversation and debate, and reach conclusions through the careful process of listening, exploration and discernment about the right way forward and the right time for such a move. While I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment and deeply grateful for the speeches that have been made, and will gladly commit to passing on to my colleagues all the views expressed here, I hope the Government and the House will resist the amendment, as on previous occasions in this Chamber.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I ask for some clarification. Has he heard from those who have spoken that there is no intention or desire to ask the Church of England to proceed in a secondary place in response to this debate? We recognise the hoops you have to go through and the legal difficulties that are encountered. I just heard him say that the Church must make its mind up first; I think everybody here would agree with that. But why take so long? If the Church of England has admitted openly gay people to its ranks as priests, has the ground not already been covered? Are the essential issues not already clear? Has the agonising not already taken place? The next step is not a difficult one.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: I thank the noble Lord for the question and the invitation to respond. During the time of my ministry, the Church of England has grappled with two other issues: the remarriage of divorcees and the admission of women to different orders of Christian ministry. In both cases, it has taken the Church in its processes a very long time to come to judicious conclusions. That is the way we are. Our decision-making processes are naturally set up to be conservative and to take time to implement serious change after careful thought.

To change canon law, there will need to be significant majorities in favour of such change in the General Synod of the Church of England. Therefore, I anticipate that this debate will continue into the lifetime of the next synod, which begins in 2020. The debate this morning has accurately highlighted the diversity of views across the Church and the significantly shifting diversity of view in favour of change—that is a subjective view. One of the things which impedes that change of view in the life of the Church is a fear lest it be seen to be in any way compelled to make up its mind by external forces, even if that is not the intention of the amendment—I recognise it is not, very clearly. However, that external pressure would itself be a rallying call to those opposed to change.

via Parliament.uk


The full transcript of the debate on the amendment follows:
Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill

Report

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Faulkner of Worcester

1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Removal of exemption for clergy under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument make such provision as is necessary to amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to enable the Church of England and the Church in Wales to opt in to the provisions of that Act allowing the solemnization of the marriage of a same sex couple.(2) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.(3) Subject to subsection (2), regulations under this section must be in force by the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may not amend—(a) section 1(3) of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013,(b) section 1(4) of that Act, or(c) section 2(5) or (6) of that Act.”

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab): My Lords, Amendment 1 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury. This amendment is similar, but not identical, to the amendment I moved in Committee. The changes I have made to it reflect the concerns expressed in that debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the briefing note I subsequently received from Church House.

Your Lordships will be aware that under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 the Church of England and the Church in Wales are subject to what is called the “quadruple lock”. The first three elements of that lock apply to all religions, but the fourth states that the common law duty of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners does not apply and that the canon law of the Church of England does not conflict with, and is not overridden by, civil law. So those churches are exempted from the general ability of a religious organisation to opt in to perform same-sex marriages. The Church of England can change those provisions through measures, and the Lord Chancellor can make similar changes in respect of the Church in Wales with its approval. My amendment gives the Secretary of State a duty to make the sort of changes that the Church might otherwise make through measures—or the Lord Chancellor, in the case of Wales—while maintaining the quadruple lock as far as possible.

This amendment differs from the amendment I moved in Committee by virtue of proposed new subsection (4). Paragraph (a) preserves the position of canon law; paragraph (b) preserves the exemption for same-sex marriages from the common law duty of members of the clergy to solemnise the marriages of their parishioners; and paragraph (c) reserves the carve-out from the Equality Act that allows religious organisations or ministers to refuse to conduct a same-sex marriage.

I hope that your Lordships, and in particular my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, will agree that this is a modest amendment. It simply says to the Church of England and the Church in Wales that Parliament will not stand in their way when they eventually get round to extending the right to marry in church to same-sex couples.

I also hope that this debate will have another consequence: to send to gay people everywhere the message that our society is loving and inclusive and that there is room for everyone in it. I must tell your Lordships that the main reason I persevered with this amendment was the numerous messages of support I received from the clergy. For example, I received this email from the vicar of St Peter’s Church, Hammersmith, the reverend Charles Clapham:

I am writing as a Vicar in the Church of England to express my thanks to you for your interventions … in the House of Lords debate, and your support for the amendment to remove (in part) legal restrictions on the ability of Anglican clergy to solemnise same-sex marriages.

You will know this is an extremely contentious issue in the Church of England at present. But I hope you will also be aware that there are very large numbers of clergy and lay people who are supportive of equal marriage, and would like to be able to conduct such marriages in our churches. As things stand, these views are not being represented by our current House of Bishops.

The response to the amendment by the Bishop of Chelmsford in the chamber … was, to my mind, disappointing, and (to some extent) misleading. The Bishop made reference, for example, to the current ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project being undertaken by House of Bishops which is exploring issues of sexuality and gender. But he did not make clear that the parameters of this project are quite restrictive: it is an educational process only, and will not pronounce on the rights or wrongs of gay marriage (as the chair, the Bishop of Coventry has made clear). So this project will not result in the bishops recommending a change in current church practice regarding equal marriage.

My own parish in west London is hardly radical: we are a very ordinary suburban ‘middle-of-the-road’ Anglican church. But we have a number of LGBT people, some of whom are in civil partnerships or marriages, amongst our most valued parishioners and worshippers. It is a matter of embarrassment (to say the very least) that we are not able to celebrate their relationships formally in church, and a frustration that our bishops are unwilling to represent our views.

So I thank you for your advocacy and support, and do hope you will keep pushing the issue”.

Writing on Facebook on 8 February, the Dean of Leicester, the very reverend David Monteith, who entered into a same-sex civil partnership in 2008, said:

“I’ve had one of those weeks where the reality of being gay in the Church of England came home. I spend a lot of time with many sceptical folks encouraging them to hang in there. I find myself often encouraging others not to be daunted and to believe that one day God’s grace might actually be seen abundantly and more consistently in God’s church. But there are some weeks when it is difficult to know that deeply realised hope in practice as well as in theory. It gets no easier as a ‘senior priest’”.

That comment from David Monteith attracted more than 100 supportive messages, such as:

“With much love and prayer David Monteith. Many people are inspired by the fact that you and others in senior posts are willing to be courageous and prophetic at such personal sacrificial cost”.

Somebody else said:

“Sorry to read this David. I have found The Scottish Episcopal Church to be a kinder place”.

Unfortunately, there are still many examples of negativity in the Church. The Lambeth Conference of bishops is to be held in 2020. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited “every active bishop” in the Anglican Communion, and the conference planning group is to run a joint programme for bishops and their spouses. The Lambeth 2020 website says that this is,

“in recognition of the vital role spouses play across the Anglican Communion and a desire to support them in their ministry”—

but not if they are same-sex spouses. I understand that there are three in the Episcopal Church in North America who have effectively been disinvited.

The reverend canon Simon Butler, who is the vicar of St Mary’s, Battersea, and a member of the Church of England’s General Synod since 2005, asked an important question in the debate on the Pilling report on human sexuality at the February 2014 synod:

“My question requires a little context and a large amount of honesty. I’m gay; I don’t have a vocation to celibacy and at the same time I’ve always taken my baptismal and ordination vows with serious intent and with a sincere desire to model my life on the example of Christ simul justus et peccator. Those who have selected me, ordained me and licensed me know all this. My parish know it too.

My question is this: at the end of the process of facilitated conversations will the College of Bishops tell me whether there is a place for people like me as priests, deacons and bishops in the Church, rather than persisting in the existing policy that encourages a massive dishonesty so corrosive to the gospel? For my spiritual health, for the flourishing of people like me as ministers of the gospel and for the health of the wider Church I think we will all need to have an answer to that question”.

I suspect that we will not get the answer to Simon Butler’s question any time soon. However, I hope that, by debating this amendment today, this House will send a message to the Church of England and the Church in Wales—and to the Anglican Communion worldwide—that we in this House, at any rate, think it is time that they moved forward at rather more than the glacial speed we have seen so far. This amendment is intended to help them. I beg to move.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and very much welcome the introduction by my noble friend, who has set out the issues extremely well. As we heard in Committee, this is about a journey that the Church of England in particular has been on, and there has been some movement. I certainly recall opposition in this House when I was hoping for agreement to civil partnerships going through. That opposition came from the Church of England too, and it delayed my civil partnership by a year, as it happens. However, when we came to the same-sex marriage debate, I welcomed the fact that the most reverend Primate spoke up in favour of civil partnerships. Therefore, there has been movement on the journey and I very much welcome that.

It is not for me to dictate what the Church of England should or should not do. I firmly believe in the right of religious institutions to have religious freedom. It is not my job as a politician to impose restrictions on the Church. Certainly, since the Committee stage of this Bill, I have received emails, some coming from the opposite camp in the Church of England. I did not realise that what I had been through was an abomination but apparently that is what it was, and no doubt that forms part of the debate in the Church of England.

However, that debate in Committee showed me that there is strong support in the Church of England for what we are attempting to do: it is not one-sided. I am aware—and my noble friend has highlighted—that many people are torn between their faith and their identity, and their ability to choose whom they love and care for. In fact, my own husband would have desired a religious ceremony. We have gone through a civil partnership and a same-sex marriage. We have actually done it three times, and I have no doubt that, if the Church of England changes its mind, he will strongly advocate a fourth—any excuse for a party, as they say. I sincerely hope that the Church will move on this issue.

I too have read the Church of England briefing about canon law and about the 1919 Act and the quadruple lock. I remember the debate on the quadruple lock but I do not recall the Church saying, “We can decide ourselves eventually”. However, that is another issue. I accept the briefing and I accept the facts—that, if it so wishes, the Church of England can do this. As my noble friend said, this is a facilitating amendment. It says that we should have no part in this decision and that it should be a decision for the Church of England. However, it also says to the world out there that this House has changed—that we are in favour of allowing people to honour and be true to their faith, and also to be true to who they are. That is why this amendment is very important.

I shall do something that I have already done, at Second Reading and in Committee, which is to quote the most reverend Primate. I thought that his words in his book were absolutely right when he talked about the importance of marriage. He went on to say:

“If fluidity of relationships is the reality of our society, then this should be our starting point for building values, because all values must connect with where people are and not where other people might like them to be”.

What are those values that the most reverend Primate talked about? They are the values that we talk about in terms of same-sex marriage. It is the Christian understanding of the core concepts of household and family, including holiness, fidelity, hospitality and love above all, because God is holy, faithful, welcoming and overflowing in love, and any human institution that reflects those virtues also in some way reflects God. When two people have entered into a same-sex marriage, they are reflecting those values.

I hope the Church of England will change its mind.

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, I want to make a brief contribution. I absolutely support the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Collins. I speak as a heterosexual pew member of the Church of England. I echo the comments made in the letters read out by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner: many of us look forward to the day when same-sex marriage can be solemnised in the Church of England. I am reminded of two friends of mine and my noble friend Lady Barker’s who chose to leave the Church of England and have their marriage solemnised in the Unitarian Church. It was a very moving event where God recognised their sincere and solemn relationship.

I completely understand the problems inside the Church of England. I am appalled that there are members of the Church who would write to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in those terms, describing him and his relationship as an abomination. That is certainly not where the Church comes from at all.

I support the amendment as a facilitator for the moment at which the Church of England and the Church in Wales want to say, “Yes, we will move it”. We will be removing one hurdle here in Parliament to make that journey faster and smoother.

Lord Cashman (Lab): My Lords, I am in favour of this amendment. I commend and congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on the passionate way in which he introduced it, referring to the personal experiences of people who have written to him. I equally commend the contribution of my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury.

I was very fortunate to have a civil partnership with the wonderful Paul Cottingham. Before he died, on one of those chemotherapy afternoons where the head cannot quite come up from the sofa, I was stood behind him doing the ironing—this is an insight into my domestic life—because I find that it clears the mind. I looked at this man who I had spent 31 years of my life with, and who I knew did not really have much longer to live. I said to him, “Paul, will you marry me?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he looked up and said, “Today’s not a good day, sorry. No”. But what if the answer had been different? Does it matter to people like me, who are not of religious persuasion or religious belief? It matters because one has to think, “What if that were me?” What if my faith and the roots of my relationships were absolutely within my faith community? What if I were not allowed to participate with the love and support of that community? Would it matter? The answer is yes. And if I would not want to experience that in the celebration of the person I love, how dare I allow another to experience it?

I welcome the changes that have happened in this country. They actually happened in advance of public opinion, which took courage and leadership. It is interesting that all the other religions and faiths do not need the legal protection that the Church of England has been given. As my noble friend referred to, that sends a worrying signal to the worldwide Anglican Communion. It reinforces the concept that it is okay and legitimate to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation. We have witnessed enough atrocities across the globe to have evidence of that.

The amendment is simple. It takes on board the concerns of the Church of England and it forces the Church to do nothing. It allows what I would call a free sprint, once it gets over the internal obstacles that it needs to dismount. What would it achieve? As I have said, it would send a signal that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and difference is coming to an end, as is alienation within faith communities.

Research carried out by Stonewall—I refer to my entry in the register of interests as its founding chair—should, if nothing else, accelerate the desire of the Church of England to bring forward change. One-third of lesbian, gay and bisexual people of faith are not open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation. One in four trans people of faith are not open about their gender identity in their faith community. Only two in five LGBT people of faith think that their faith community is welcoming of lesbian, gay and bi people. Lastly, just one in four LGBT people of faith think that their faith community is welcoming of trans people. For no other reason than that, I hope noble Lords will give support to this amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, those were extremely moving speeches. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the contributions they have made in the Chamber today and the moving way in which they have spoken. I thank them for sharing their personal experiences so movingly, and for the important and necessary articulation of the views they have heard within the broader Church of England in favour of movement and inclusion. I deeply regret the language used in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others; it has no place in the contemporary Church.

The Church is committed to listening carefully to the wisdom of the nation, to the wisdom in our continued debate in this Chamber and to the voices of LGBTI people at all levels in the life of the church. We are committed in our public statements to the inclusion and welcome of all. I and the Church collectively remain deeply conscious of our imperfections and the journey that we still have to travel. We recognise that discrimination is still experienced; I accept the validity of the Stonewall research just cited, and it distresses me beyond words.

As noble Lords are aware, together with other Churches and faith communities across the world, the Church of England is exploring these issues in depth—and, I accept, at length. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle chairs our pastoral advisory group, and last week brought a helpful series of pastoral guidelines to the General Synod. My colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry chairs a process of exploration under the title Living in Love and Faith, which was referred to by noble Lords. Both processes are due to report to the General Synod in 2020. It is true that these proposals will contain resources for reflection. They may not contain recommendations for action but they will be followed by further work, debate and proposals to be tested by the General Synod in due course—as soon as possible, I hope.

Recently, I issued a pastoral letter with my fellow bishops to our own diocese of Oxford under the title, Clothed with Love. We are taking pastoral steps in the diocese to encourage greater inclusion and support within the Church’s existing guidelines. That letter has been warmly welcomed by many LGBTI clergy and laity, and more widely across the Church by those who want to see further change. It has led to many fruitful conversations. However, it is also a sign of where the Church is, and of the deep views held in good conscience on the issue, that the same letter has dismayed and unsettled some others who fear that the Church will change what is regarded as essential and core doctrine. The correspondence illustrates the need for further deep and respectful dialogue within the Church, and I remain committed to that.

My response to the amendment is that, as a Church, we need more time for deeper reflection and prayer; for listening, recognising the urgency of the situation; for listening to those outside and within the Church; and for developing our responses. I am grateful for the intention behind this amendment and the opportunity to air these issues in this Chamber. Nevertheless, I need to resist the amendment on two grounds, both of which have been referred to.

First, the legal powers already exist to enable the Church of England and the Church in Wales to begin to solemnise same-sex marriages should they choose to do so. That change will be registered through a change in the doctrine of marriage and therefore in canon law. It is important for the overall process that the Church is seen to make its own decisions first, and only then for those decisions to be taken through Parliament.

Secondly, the Church itself must continue its conversation and debate, and reach conclusions through the careful process of listening, exploration and discernment about the right way forward and the right time for such a move. While I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment and deeply grateful for the speeches that have been made, and will gladly commit to passing on to my colleagues all the views expressed here, I hope the Government and the House will resist the amendment, as on previous occasions in this Chamber.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I ask for some clarification. Has he heard from those who have spoken that there is no intention or desire to ask the Church of England to proceed in a secondary place in response to this debate? We recognise the hoops you have to go through and the legal difficulties that are encountered. I just heard him say that the Church must make its mind up first; I think everybody here would agree with that. But why take so long? If the Church of England has admitted openly gay people to its ranks as priests, has the ground not already been covered? Are the essential issues not already clear? Has the agonising not already taken place? The next step is not a difficult one.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: I thank the noble Lord for the question and the invitation to respond. During the time of my ministry, the Church of England has grappled with two other issues: the remarriage of divorcees and the admission of women to different orders of Christian ministry. In both cases, it has taken the Church in its processes a very long time to come to judicious conclusions. That is the way we are. Our decision-making processes are naturally set up to be conservative and to take time to implement serious change after careful thought.

To change canon law, there will need to be significant majorities in favour of such change in the General Synod of the Church of England. Therefore, I anticipate that this debate will continue into the lifetime of the next synod, which begins in 2020. The debate this morning has accurately highlighted the diversity of views across the Church and the significantly shifting diversity of view in favour of change—that is a subjective view. One of the things which impedes that change of view in the life of the Church is a fear lest it be seen to be in any way compelled to make up its mind by external forces, even if that is not the intention of the amendment—I recognise it is not, very clearly. However, that external pressure would itself be a rallying call to those opposed to change.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, I interpose briefly on the mechanisms of the Church of England. I hope that when Anglicans read this debate, they will remember that they have a duty to be in contact with their representative on the General Synod. There seems to be a discontinuity between the pew and the synod. That can be remedied only by the Church becoming aware of its own mechanisms of government. That is a complicated process and it has to be slow. If we hasten it, and push the barrow too fast, it will fall apart. The great thing about the Church of England is the width of those it includes. That means that when change is necessary, it percolates; it does not sweep. The Holy Spirit does not suddenly work through all the limbs of the Church at the same time. I hope noble Lords opposite will take in good faith the wishes of those on this side who wish to progress, but to do so in community with their fellows who have not yet changed their minds.

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, at earlier stages of this Bill, I informed the House that I was brought up in a religious household. It was a nonconformist household, so in this debate I find myself very firmly on the temporal side of the House, rather than the spiritual side. As the person who spoke in the same-sex marriage debate immediately before the right reverend Prelate, I have long watched the agonies of the spiritual Benches on this issue with some interest.

I thank noble Lords on this side of the House who spoke on this matter. As I said at the previous stage of our debate, the importance of the teachings and statements of the Church go far beyond its own confines. It is true that the stance of the Church causes the greatest hurt to its members and to people of faith, but the harm it does is general and more widespread. I have to say to the right reverend Prelate that statements to the effect that the Church welcomes and includes all ring very hollow when we debate these matters.

That said, I understand that we have to defer to the Church as a body which sits within canon law and exercises its right to proceed in ways which are not subject to the other laws of the land. I watched this debate and I talk to members of the Church of England—to members of very different strands of thought in the Church—and, as an outside observer, I think there are certain elements and traditions of faith in the Church of England that will take considerably longer than others to move forward and progress to join the rest of society in its appreciation and support of gay people.

With that in mind, I wish to ask a technical question of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner; the right reverend Prelate may also want to comment. When the same-sex marriage legislation went through, I distinctly remember that the provisions made for religions were that the governing body of any religion had to agree, in order for it to recognise and solemnise same-sex marriage. It was then up to individual clerics, congregations and parishes to agree that they would do so. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, whether his proposed new clause falls underneath that scheme. In effect, I am asking whether, were his amendment to go on the statute book, it would enable individual churches and parishioners to maintain or change their stance on the subject, as they have done in relation to the ordination of women. Frankly, if we wait for every single member of or church in the Church of England to afford to the rest of us the dignity that we enjoy in the secular world, we will wait far too long. The harm that will be done to our society by people who profess these views will be incalculable.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op): My Lords, Amendment 1, moved by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and supported by my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury, seeks to provide the Church of England and the Church in Wales with the ability, if they choose to do so, to opt in to the Bill’s provisions when it becomes an Act of Parliament. Nothing in the amendment seeks to compel either Church to do anything if they decide they do not want to or they decide they want to take this step at some point in the future. That is the right thing to do, with the state making it possible if the two Churches want to do something. We should not stand in the way of the Church and any decisions it might make in the future.

My noble friends Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Collins of Highbury set out clearly why this amendment should be supported. I fully endorse all their remarks. It is a facilitating amendment and we should put no obstacle in the way so that this change can happen in future.

I have many friends who are gay and I have attended many civil partnerships and marriages. People who love each other wanting to make commitments to each other is something we should all support. The first ever civil partnership I attended was that of my noble friend Lord Cashman when he joined together with Paul. Of course, we were not noble then: it was just Paul and Michael, and Alicia and Roy. It was a lovely, wonderful day. I will never forget it and nor will Alicia. It was a wonderful time and Paul was a wonderful man.

I was brought up a Catholic in a Catholic household. I must admit that I am not a regular churchgoer, but I regard myself as a Catholic. My parents are from the Republic of Ireland, so I come from an Irish Catholic background. I have been hugely impressed with the Church of England in this House. I was always impressed by the Church and the work it did when I was a local councillor in Southwark. I always remember Reverend Shaw who ran St Paul’s, but I never met a Church of England bishop until I came into the House of Lords. I knew a few Catholic bishops but I had never met a Church of England bishop. I am hugely impressed by the work that the Bishops do in this House. They bring a breadth of experience and understanding that really helps our work.

I very much hear the right reverend Prelate’s comments. I am also impressed at how the Church of England has gone on a journey on a number of issues. In the end, things have moved remarkably quickly. I hope that discussions will take place in the Church at some point and that it can make these decisions, but I accept that that is a matter for the Church. I fully support the amendment and the intent behind it.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Collins of Highbury, who outlined the various challenges here. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, articulated, this amendment is in a way a message for the Church. He outlined the progress that the Church of England has made, while the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, articulated some of its lack of progress. If we were to sum it up, the message is one of leadership and determination. This will be a matter for the Church, but I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for his thoughtful explanation of the current situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also talked about the support the Church has given to this agenda to try to move it forward. My noble friend Lord Elton talked about the message we of the pew can send to the synod in making progress in this area. But clearly, the Government have to resist the amendment. It is probably best for me to go through the Government’s position regarding what we can do.

The amendment’s aim is to require the Secretary of State, by regulations, to make changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act to allow the Church of England and the Church in Wales to opt in to the provisions of that Act, which allow them to solemnise the marriage of a same-sex couple, as noble Lords have said. It requires these regulations to be made through the affirmative procedure and to come into effect within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent.

I acknowledge that the noble Lords’ intention in trying to ensure that everyone is able to marry in a way and place of their choosing, regardless of their sexual orientation, is an honourable one; being gay does not mean that you do not have any faith. But we have been clear that no religious organisation should be forced to host civil partnerships, unless they choose to. Noble Lords made that quite clear. A number of religious organisations have chosen to opt in or to provide blessings. We hope that more will choose to do so, but it is right that, at this stage, it remains a decision for them.

However, my primary reason for objecting to the noble Lords’ amendment is quite simply, as I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford mentioned, that it is unnecessary. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act provides an opt-in system so that same-sex marriages can occur only on religious premises or under religious rites where the governing religious body has expressly consented. There is no requirement for these bodies to give such consent.

The Act does not include a specific mechanism for the Church of England to opt in in the same way, which I know has caused some to believe that the Government are unnecessarily tying the hands of the Church through this. However, the actual reason, as the right reverend Prelate outlined, is primarily that the Church of England already has the ability to opt in using its own devolved legislative powers. It would be inappropriate for the Secretary of State to legislate on a devolved matter.

I am pleased to hear from the right reverend Prelate that the Church of England is continuing to hold conversations on this important matter. It is absolutely vital, albeit that the pace of change is slow. It is clear that the Church, along with other faith groups, has a vital leadership role to play in influencing society and culture in communities around the world, including the way LGBT people are treated. I have had separate debates on that, as noble Lords will know. I hope the Church will consider the needs and experiences of LGBT people in its communities seriously and with the gravity and sensitivity they deserve. With those words, I hope that the noble Lord, albeit reluctantly, will withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con): My Lords, I think we all recognise that this is a very sensitive issue. One cannot fail to be moved by some of the speeches we have heard, but I am grateful to the Minister and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for clarifying the matter at hand. I hope noble Lords feel reassured by the words spoken in the debate and that these matters are being considered carefully by the Church of England and the Church in Wales as part of the ongoing debate about the nature of marriage. I hope the noble Lord feels he can withdraw the amendment so that we do not hamper the excellent progress the Bill is making on some very significant matters.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I think I can answer the noble Baroness with a reply to that very last point. I gave her my word during the week that I did not intend to divide the House at the end of the debate for the very reason she said. I would not wish to do anything that made it more difficult for the Bill to get through the House of Commons and become law. It is a very good Bill. I congratulate her on the way she has presented it. She sat patiently through a debate that was not directly on the main subject of the Bill, and I accept that. For that reason, I will not divide the House.

I would like to thank all my noble friends and other Members of the House who have spoken, so movingly and strongly, in favour of the principle contained in my amendment. I particularly thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, whose tone in this debate, I have to say, was different from that of his brother bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who accused me in Committee of being divisive. I do not think I have been divisive, either today or on that occasion. It is important that the House has the chance to say to the Church of England, as the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Cashman and Lord Elton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Barker, have all said, that we want to see more progress from the Church of England in coming to its own decision, not at some point 10 years hence. My noble friend Lord Griffiths pointed out that five years have already passed since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed.

If this is going to synod next year, I hope that will be the occasion when the House of Bishops takes a lead and wins over other members of the synod. I am not seeking to dictate or force the Church of England and the Church in Wales to do things that they do not want to; I want them to understand just how much support there is for a change of this sort. I particularly appreciate the words of the Minister, with whom I also had a discussion about this Bill during the week. Her message, that the Government support progress, is one I hope the Church will take on board very seriously. The support of my noble friend Lord Kennedy is also very important. I thank everybody who has taken part. The message from this House is clear: it is over to the Church of England to make some progress. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

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