The Coalition welcomes the government proposals published on 11 December, and in particular the following points:
• religious bodies are allowed to opt in voluntarily,
• no religious body or individual is compelled to act against conscience, and
• transgendered married people who apply for full gender recognition will no longer have to dissolve their marriages.
However, as Anglican Christians, laity and clergy, we are disappointed that the proposals to exclude both the Church of England and the Church in Wales appear to impose an additional barrier should these churches decide in future that they wish to marry same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. If this were the case, it would reduce religious freedom.
As a Coalition we have repeatedly pointed out that the Church of England’s official submission did not reflect the views of the many members of the Church of England who are in favour of equal marriage, and we are also aware that there is support among many in the Church in Wales. These churches should be as free to opt in as any others.
The Archbishop of Wales has made it clear that any additional obstacle would be unwelcome. The Church of England’s leadership is reportedly shocked at such an outcome, though it appears to reflect precisely what the Church requested in its submission, published in June. Church reactions to the Government’s proposals do confirm that the Church of England’s official position is out of touch, not only with a significant number of its own members, but with the majority body of public opinion.
We will be advising the organisations in our coalition to invite all of their members to write to their MPs calling for a review of the implications of the so-called quadruple locks in the proposed legislation, especially the fourth, which relates to the Church of England and the Church in Wales. In our view this fourth lock would inhibit the religious freedom of the people we represent, and who are in favour of equal marriage in these churches.