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English bishops warn against same-sex marriage

Catholic World News - June 13, 2012

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales warned against the legalization of same-sex marriage in a lengthy response to the British government’s consultation on the matter.

“The consultation document makes clear that the Government is principally concerned to elicit views on how legislative change could best be achieved and not with whether or not such change should happen,” said Archbishop Peter Smith, vice president of the bishops’ conference. “It is of serious concern to us that this proposal, which has such immense social importance for the stability of our society and which has significant implications for the unique institution of marriage and of family life, should be proposed on this basis and with such limited argument.”

“The Catholic Church’s position is clear: it does not give recognition to any other partnerships or legal unions as having an ethical or legal equivalence with marriage,” the bishops’ response to the consultation states. “The Church opposes therefore any change in the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, or to extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples who can marry.”

While the bulk of the bishops’ response focused on a defense of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the bishops also raised the issue of religious freedom:

The government’s intention is to draft legal measures which would preclude same-sex marriages taking place on religious premises. This at least is to be welcomed. However, once the exclusion of same-sex marriage from taking place in religious premises is dependent on an Act of Parliament, it becomes immediately vulnerable to subsequent parliamentary Acts or amendments, as has happened in the eight short years between the introduction of civil partnerships and the proposals for same-sex marriage. As no Parliament can bind its successors, the Catholic Church and other religious bodies would be at risk indefinitely …

Because there is only one legal concept of marriage, wherever it is conducted, once marriage is legal for same-sex couples, there will be a permanent risk that any exemptions provided for religious bodies may be withdrawn at any point in the future (if they have not already been overturned as unlawfully discriminatory by domestic or European Courts).

“If implemented, the government’s proposed legislative changes to the meaning of marriage will permanently diminish the significance of marriage for the whole of society,” the bishops added. It will do so by abandoning the innately understood biological and sexual complementarity of the relationship between a man and a woman, and the children their union gives rise to, on which a strong and well-adjusted society is best built.”

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