Shirin Aguiar-Holloway finds out how the Church has responded to government plans to re-define marriage and allow same-sex couples to legally wed
Churches in Britain must wake up and realise that they will not be protected by government safeguards when it comes to refusing to perform same-sex marriages, and that pastors could still be taken to court to justify their stand, a Christian campaign group is warning.
Last month, the Government unveiled plans to permit same-sex couples to marry. Outrage over this attempt to redefine marriage has led another outraged church leader to call for a national referendum on marriage.
Although the Government says it will not force religious bodies to perform services, there’s widespread concern that government assurances about legal protections for faith groups ‘hold no water’, and that mainstream religions could face various legal challenges if they refuse to marry gays.
In spite of broad public opposition, a cross-party majority among MPs in the House of Commons means that only opposition in the House of Lords now stands in the way of the plans becoming legislation this year.
The Coalition for Marriage (C4M), a joint initiative by Christian Concern, the Evangelical Alliance, CARE, and the Christian Institute, is battling these plans, and almost 650,000 have signed its petition to support the legal definition of marriage.
C4M is also campaigning among MPs to demonstrate popular resistance to their plans. C4M spokesman, Reverend Ade Omooba, told Keep the Faith: “The Government say they support love, commitment and sacrifice, but that’s a way of deflecting from their real purpose. The real issue is that you are redefining marriage by law. That is what we are challenging.
“Some of my own grandchildren will be born into a society that has redefined marriage by law, not by God, and that’s what we’re fighting against.”
Rev Omooba, who is also founder and director of Christian Concern, says the safeguards being offered by the Government to churches are not worth the paper they are written on. This is because members of the gay lobby are already announcing they will fight against the Government making it illegal to have same-sex marriage in the Church of England.
Rev Omooba said, “They are already trying to contest it. That’s why the safeguards are not safeguards. People can still take pastors to court on this issue, and we will have to justify it. So this is why we are seriously calling on the Church to wake up and take a stand. We have gone to sleep.”
He urged Christians to visit the C4M website, where they will find all the tools they need to fight the Government’s plans.
Meanwhile, Rev Yemi Adedeji, the recently-appointed Director of the One People Commission at the Evangelical Alliance, wants a national referendum on the redefinition of marriage.
He said, “We must continue to petition the Government and then what we need, as a last resort if all doesn’t work, is a referendum on the redefinition of marriage. People must have a say, not the politicians at Westminster. It’s nothing to do with gay marriage. It’s the redefinition of marriage that we are against.
“There is overwhelming support from the ethnic minorities, ethnic migrants and ethnic churches, who are saying they are going to be affected in future, because this is absolutely alien not only to their religious stand, but also to their social belief and their philosophical standing.
“It is not about whatever the politicians want to do. The politicians should leave alone the God-enabled institution of marriage between man and woman. Don’t teach our children to accept what is not fundamental about our upbringing.”
Keep the Faith asked the PM’s office for a comment on a national referendum, and was directed to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. A spokesperson said, “Marriage is hugely important, and we believe that allowing all couples to marry is the right thing to do. We recognise that there are many different views on our proposals, and that is why we held a public consultation to gather all views on this issue, and to understand how we could best do this.
“We understand this is an emotive issue, and our proposals will be thoroughly discussed in both Houses of Parliament.”
What churches can do
- Visit c4m.org.uk and sign the petition
- Write to your MP
The Government’s consultation on marriage
- It was launched on 15 March 2012, and received more than 228,000 individual responses, the largest ever response to a government consultation
- 53% of individual respondents to the consultation supported the proposal to allow same-sex couples to get married; 46% were against
- The Government received petitions with over 500,000 signatures opposed to the proposals
- Dr David Landrum, Evangelical Alliance’s Director of Advocacy, said the consultation was run like an “election in a tinpot state.”
Reactions from other faith leaders
The Pope used his New Year’s Day message to publicly warn David Cameron that his plans for same-sex marriage will undermine the family: “Such moves by politicians are ‘an offence against the truth of the human person’.”
Angry Muslims are demanding the same exemption on gay marriage as the Church of England. The Muslim Council of Britain, which represents 500 mosques and community organisations, claimed the law was ‘utterly discriminatory’, and said they were ‘appalled’ by it.