Parliament must not rip up promises to protect churches

Mar 18, 2023

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has tabled a ‘ten minute rule motion’ aimed at forcing the Church of England to conduct same-sex marriages. The House of Commons votes on Tuesday (21 March).

This is a shocking assault on a religious denomination, more akin to the way China controls churches than any self-respecting democracy.

It’s a blatant violation of the assurances given by politicians when marriage was redefined and the ‘quad lock’ protecting churches was created.

At the time the Government’s factsheet was clear: “no religious organisation or representative will be forced to conduct or participate in same sex marriage ceremonies”. On the Church of England, it said: “the Act contains specific measures to ensure that, as for other religious organisations, it is their decision whether to marry same sex couples according to their rites, and there is no compulsion on them to do so”. The minister said the safeguards were “iron clad”.

Labour shadow minister Yvette Cooper also said: “Religious organisations should not be required to hold same-sex weddings”. Even Ben Bradshaw himself said it was the “prerogative” of the Church of England’s leadership to decide not to allow gay weddings.

But now the Bradshaw motion asks: “That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable clergy of the Church of England to conduct same sex marriages on Church of England premises”.

These are weasel words. Under the terms of the motion the Church of England would be coerced by an Act of Parliament into holding same-sex weddings. This would override the General Synod, the Church’s governing body, which hasn’t agreed it. Who knows where it would end? Ben Bradshaw’s Bill might allow individual vicars to opt out, but no doubt even this freedom would be swept away at a later date.

The motion itself does not change the law. But if the Commons approves such a totalitarian measure it will be a scandalous betrayal of the promises made in 2013. Supporters of same-sex marriage have now broken cover to say what they really think: the CofE must be compelled to agree with them. If the ‘quad lock’ can be ditched for the CofE, what is to stop it being abolished for everyone else?

How the quad lock protections would be wrecked by a Bradshaw Bill

  1. Church of England canon law will be protected – ENDED
  2. No religious organisation or individual religious leader will be compelled – SMASHED for the CofE as a denomination, which will be compelled to conduct same-sex weddings (although individual clergy probably protected for the time being)
  3. Before same-sex marriages can take place, the governing body as well as individual ministers need to opt in and the premises specifically registered – OVERRIDDEN for the CofE
  4. Religious bodies and their representatives exempted from the Equality Act 2010 over same-sex marriages – UNCLEAR whether this protection would remain for the CofE