A Manchester reverend whose chapel became the first in the country to hold a license for civil partnership ceremonies has blasted government plans to ban same-sex marriages in some churches.
Proposals revealed by Culture Secretary Maria Miller after a government consultation could see the Church of England and the Church of Wales banned in law from offering gay marriages by 2015.
While other religious organisations can ‘opt in’ to holding weddings, Reverend Jane Barraclough of Manchester Cross Street Unitarian Chapel said she is angered and frustrated by this blanket exemption of some groups.
“Of course I am disappointed,” she told MM.
“I am angered by the attempt to prevent other religious groups from holding gay weddings.
“I feel sad for my liberal Anglican friends and concerned about the future direction of the Anglican Church – the opposition to women bishops is just another example.”
Reverend Barraclough’s chapel was granted a license to hold religious ceremonies for same-sex partnerships at the start of this year – and she is hoping to see marriages follow soon.
But she admitted religious organisations should not be made to offer the weddings as long as they have the opportunity to do so.
“We of course want to able to offer full equality in our church but have no interest in forcing any other religious groups to take part,” she said.
“We enjoy religious freedom in this country and it is one thing to decide not to host these themselves but it is altogether another thing to try to prevent us from doing so.
“All the country needs to do is to be the diverse and free culture we claim to be.
“Living with difference is the most important skill the people of this country need to learn if we are to have a peaceful future together.”
The government consultation on same-sex civil marriages ended in June and was one of the biggest ever to date, receiving 228,000 responses.
It aims to create protection for religious organisations that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages, but will allow them to conduct the weddings if they chose to.
In response to the plans, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation has launched a ‘Love Equal Marriage’ campaign to raise support for same-sex marriages.
Paul Martin, OBE, Chief Executive of The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, said: “Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or straight, or if you plan to get married or not it’s incredibly important that you make your voice heard in support of this important issue.
“We urge those in support of same-sex marriage to contact their MP as there is still work to be done to rectify this inequality in the law.
“Everyone should have access to the institution of marriage. This is not about gay rights, it’s about equal rights. Take action now! Visit www.lgf.org.uk/equal.”
The plans to legislate on gay marriage have received strong opposition from the Church of England, as well as many MPs.
Prime Minister David Cameron told a Westminster lunch the time has come for change but insisted there will be no pressure when it goes to a vote in the House of Commons.
“Civil partnerships were a great step forward, but I think marriage is a great institution, so why close it off to people who happen to be gay?” he said.
“I have always said it is going to be a free vote and that free vote applies to everybody, so I won’t be whipping people or pressurising people.”