Church in UK may opt out of civil marriage role

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has given notice it may be forced to opt out of its civil marriage role if a same-sex marriage bill is passed.

The government bill has passed the House of Commons and is now being scrutinised by a joint human rights committee of MPs and peers before being voted on by the House of Lords.

The Church’s chief legal adviser on the bill has told the committee that there are serious questions over whether the legal basis on which Catholic weddings are performed can survive the passage of the bill.

Professor Christopher McCrudden said Catholic bishops may have to reconsider whether priests can carry on performing weddings, in effect, on behalf of the state.

The barrister said his advice to senior bishops is that proposed protections for churches against legal challenges under human rights or equalities laws for refusing to marry gay couples completely overlook the position of Catholics and other denominations.

This means that the entire legal basis for Catholic weddings, operating since the late 19th century, could be “unpicked” with “very uncertain consequences”, he warned.

One possible outcome could even be a complete separation of church and civil weddings, such as happens in France where couples are married in the town hall with a separate service in churches, he said.

“The stakes could not be higher,” he told the parliamentary committee.

“Immediately the bill is passed, the Catholic Church will have to consider how exposed to legal risk it is and whether it can continue to work the existing legal system based on that assessment.”

In January, a group of more than 1000 priests issued a public letter warning that the time of persecution of Catholics could be returning with the imposition of “gay marriage”. They said the bill, along with other “equalities laws”, could bring back state-sponsored attacks on clergy.


The Telegraph


Image: Merle Dress

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