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English bishops respond to passage of same-sex marriage, raise religious-liberty concerns

July 18, 2013

The advent of same-sex marriage in England and Wales “marks a watershed in English law and heralds a profound social change,” the president and vice president of the bishops’ conference said in a statement.

“The new act breaks the existing legal links between the institution of marriage and sexual complementarity,” Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith continued. “With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central. That is why we were opposed to this legislation on principle.”

The prelates expressed gratitude for the passage of an amendment protecting opponents of same-sex marriage from criminal penalties:

Amendments made in the House of Lords though have significantly strengthened the legal protections in the Act for the Churches. We also welcome the Government’s amendment to the Public Order Act which makes it clear beyond doubt that “discussion or criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to the marriage shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred”. Individuals are therefore protected from criminal sanction under the Public Order Act when discussing or expressing disagreement with same sex marriage.

At the same time, the archbishops expressed concern about threats to religious liberty in Catholic schools:

We were concerned to provide legislative clarity for schools with a religious character. This was in order to ensure that these schools will be able to continue to teach in accordance with their religious tenets. Given the potential risk that future guidance given by a Secretary of State for education regarding sex and relationships education could now conflict with Church teaching on marriage, we were disappointed that an amendment to provide this clarity was not accepted … We were disappointed that a number of other amendments to safeguard freedom of speech and the rights of civil registrars to conscientious objection were not passed.


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  • Posted by: - Jul. 18, 2013 11:40 PM ET USA

    I haven't been to either England or Wales, so I will take instruction from the good bishops on the state of marriages there. But from one Catholic's view of America, many spouses are decidedly not open to God blessing them with children as the fruit of their married love as proven by their practice of contraception. As far as the responsibility of the spouses to stay together to care for their children goes, the growing number of single mothers sounds a loud, lonely cry of dissent.