Marriage has been stripped of its meaning, say churches
Originally published in The Telegraph
Gay rights activists are celebrating an “historic” moment after same-sex marriage was officially legalised – but churches claimed marriage has been “stripped” of its meaning.
MPs cheered in the House of Commons as it was announced that royal assent had been given to the new Bill, paving the way for the first same-sex weddings next spring.
The Queen, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, gave her formal approval to the Bill – one of the most radical pieces of social legislation of her reign – this afternoon.
But it marks the end of the centuries-old understanding of marriage as being solely between a man and a woman in the UK.
The Roman Catholic Church described it as a “watershed” in English law and said that it marked a “profound social change”.
Ben Summerskill chief executive of Stonewall, said the move would “bring joy to tens of thousands of gay couples and their friends and families.”
But the Evangelical Alliance, which represents thousands of churches and Christian charities claimed it had turned marriage into a “fluid, gender-neutral institution” defined by “consumer demands and political expediency”.
Many MPs posted messages on Twitter to say they were “delighted” with the news.
Mike Weatherley, Tory MP for Hove and Portslade, said it had been “completely at odds with an open and democratic society to exclude gay couples from the important institution of marriage”.
Baroness Thornton, shadow equalities minister in the House of Lords, said there was a “huge ‘hear, hear’ when the Lord Speaker announced royal assent”, followed by “lots of smiles and cheerfulness”.
It follows debates in both houses of Parliament earlier this week to finalise approval for the Bill.
Maria Miller, the equalities minister, said marriage would remain the “bedrock” of society but would now be open to same-sex couples as well as heterosexuals.
“It demonstrates the importance we attach to being able to live freely,” she said.
“It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.”
But speaking on behalf of Catholic bishops, the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols and the Most Rev Peter Smith, said an institution which had underpinned stability in society for centuries had now been changed permanently.
“The new Act breaks the existing legal links between the institution of marriage and sexual complementarity,” he said.
“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 Archbishop welcomed amendments the Government had made to protect free speech for those continuing to voice opposition to same-sex marriage but voiced disappointment that other protections had not been written into law.
“The legal and political traditions of this country are founded on a firm conviction concerning the rights of people to hold and express their beliefs and views, at the same time as respecting those who differ from them,” eh said.
“It is important, at this moment in which deeply held and irreconcilable views of marriage have been contested, to affirm and strengthen this tradition.”
Mr Summerskill said: “The Bill’s progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public’s support for equality – though it’s also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents.
Scotland is next objective
“Stonewall’s volunteers, supporters and staff have worked flat-out for equal marriage in England and Wales, and Stonewall Scotland’s campaign continues north of the Border. “We’ll redouble our efforts in Scotland so that every single gay person in Britain will soon enjoy full legislative equality.”
Benjamin Cohen, founder of the Out4Marriage campaign, said: “Giving gay couples the right to marry will make our nation a more tolerant, open and welcoming place to live in and significantly increase the life prospects of so many people.
“It is absolutely fantastic that this change in the law, almost uniquely in the world, was proposed by a Conservative prime minister and his Liberal Democrat Deputy with the support of the Labour party leader.
“Sometimes politicians can work together for the common good and this is a stunning example of this.”
Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, which represents around forty synagogues across the UK, said: “MPs and Peers are to be congratulated for putting equality before prejudice and recognising that the whole of society benefits when we value stable, loving relationships.
“The real risk, were this legislation to have failed, was that religious institutions and rituals would have been terminally associated with upholding outdated models of society making faith less and less relevant to modern lives.
“This week’s decision has ensured that this will not be the case, and Liberal Jewish synagogues look forward to hosting our first full same-sex marriage under the law, in due course.”
Meanwhile Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: “Marriage has not been extended; it has been redefined and effectively privatised to privilege adult choice.
“The changes have stripped husband and wife of their obvious meaning and marginalised adultery and consummation. Marriage has been made into a fluid, gender-neutral institution defined by consumer demands and political expediency.
“The state has created a form of marriage that is no longer the lifelong union between a man and a woman for the procreation of children and the foundation of family life.
“They have decided that it should be something other than what it has been throughout history and different from its natural and biblical meaning.
“It is now the task of the Church to model marriage to a society which has forgotten what it is.
“In the light of pressures that Christians and others will no doubt face in coming years, this new legal fiction provides a chance to model and preach what marriage really is.”