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Archbishop criticises Coalition over plan to redefine marriage

By on Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark: 'No authority has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage' (Photo: Mazur)

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark: 'No authority has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage' (Photo: Mazur)

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark has strongly criticised the Government’s intention to consider widening the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

The archbishop, chairman of the bishops’ Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, said the Church would oppose the plans “in the strongest terms”.

His statement came after the Government indicated that it would start consultations on reforming the law to allow same-sex marriage.

Until now the Government’s plans have been only to let civil partnership ceremonies be conducted in religious buildings, which was intended as part of last year’s Equality Act.

Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dem Minister for Equality, said the Government had identified “a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships”. She said: “We are going to be the first British Government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”

The change, which would apply to England and Wales only, would also allow heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships.

Archbishop Smith argued this week that marriage “did not belong to the state”. He said: “It is a fundamental human institution rooted in human nature itself. It is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to each other, publicly entered into, for their mutual well-being and for the procreation and upbringing of children. No authority – civil or religious – has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage.”

The archbishop also said the Church did not believe it was “necessary or desirable” to allow civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises.

He said: “A consenting minister is perfectly free to hold a religious ceremony either before or after a civil partnership. That is a matter of religious freedom, but it requires no legislation by the state.”

He said that lifting the religious premises ban “unhelpfully blurs” the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage.

The Government has announced a 12-week consultation on lifting the ban that will start in the spring. A separate consultation will be held on reforming the marriage laws to allow gay marriage.

Last week a Catholic barrister said the Government proposals could leave the Church open to lawsuits from same-sex couples.

Neil Addison, who runs the Thomas More Legal Centre, said: “In modern law, once something is allowed it becomes discrimination not to allow it.”

The change may also permit religious elements such as Bible readings and the singing of hymns to be included in a civil partnership ceremony for the first time.

At present civil partnerships must be secular in content and must not contain readings with words such as “God”, “heaven” and “angel”.


The Government statement on 17th February makes it clear that they are now considering a fundamental change to the status of marriage. That is something which was never envisaged by the Equality Act or any other legislation passed by Parliament. Marriage does not belong to the State any more than it belongs to the Church. It is a fundamental human institution rooted in human nature itself. It is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to each other, publicly entered into, for their mutual well-being and for the procreation and upbringing of children. No authority – civil or religious – has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage. We will be opposing such a change in the strongest terms.

The Equality Act was amended to permit Civil Partnerships on religious premises, which unhelpfully blurs the distinction previously upheld by Parliament and the Courts between marriage and civil partnerships. A consenting Minister is perfectly free to hold a religious ceremony either before or after a Civil Partnership. That is a matter of religious freedom, but it requires no legislation by the State. We do not believe it is either necessary or desirable to allow the registration of civil partnerships on religious premises. These will not take place in Catholic churches.

  • Anonymous

    Neil Addison, who runs the Thomas More Legal Centre, said: “In modern law, once something is allowed it becomes discrimination not to allow it.”


  • Chris Moore

    God bless Archbishop Peter for speaking out – we Catholics must support our Bishops and priests in opposition to such attempts to undermine marriage – which is the cornerstone of society – including moves to allow civil partnership ceremonies and so called ‘gay marriage’ to beperformed in Church. If changes to the law are introduced, we may have to take positive but peaceful action to prevent such from occurring and no doubt there will be people who will attempt such ceremonies just to prove a point.

  • Jhammer

    I doubt that the government has any idea how damaging its proposals are to he fundamental consensus of value that lay at the core of society. The government is clearly blind to how the proposal would impact on ‘social cohesion’. Damage the basis if consensus and value and you damage cohesion. Since the coalition has said it wants greater cohesion it is now clear it cannot join up its thinking here. I would also say that politicians must have forgotten already the undertaking they made to Pope Benedict about having a ‘conversation’ between faith and society. The proposals having a ‘consultation process’ doesn’t seem much of a ‘conversation’ to me.

  • Dio

    What in God´s name is a “heterosexual civil partnership”?? I CAN understand civil marriages, i.e. marriages in a registrar´s office… but what is a civil partnership and why does anybody need that?

  • Anonymous

    It is heartening that the bishops are standing up for the Faith at last.! Now let them oppose the evil sex education as well. It is sad that that they did not resist the adoption agency laws hard enough. I hope the bishops are prepared to go all the way this time . . to jail if necessary. I can’t see a British government putting a Catholic Bishop in jail over this silly gay nonsense.

  • Ficurate

    It is a shame and disgrace after all that the Roman Catholic has done against God’s Children and think now that they have a say on the definition of marriage. Please RC, fix and clean your back yards and then, reconcile first before saying things around.

  • Fernandamedeiros

    God bless you Archbishop Peter Smith for speaking out.

  • LeFloch

    Has it ever occurred to you that the abuse of teenage boys by homosexual priests was part of a plot to discredit the Church in the eyes of the World, so that Her moral teaching could be safely ignored? I agree that the Church should be cleansed of these perverts but the scandal should not inhibit clerics from speaking the Truth.

  • LeFloch

    Don’t be so easily impressed. When the leaders of the Church in England in Wales end scandals such as the Soho Masses we can take them seriously on the question of the homosexualist agenda.

  • Bbshort

    Intelligence in Government? Nay. Stupid, Buffoons, lower than: Monkey’s who govern countries.

    They believe the Lie that Darwin pushed and he was Baptized an Anglican. Thus, this is the result of Atheism, which is part of Modernists agenda. They simply do not beiieve man has a God who judges them and that man has a soul. They believe they are ‘Monkey’s’. The catch being ‘They Believe.’ They are monkey’s in thought.

    Peace be with you always Bishop!

  • Chjklnps

    This proposed change in the law is bad because it will increase resentment and aggression towards homophiles and result in more attcks on them.

  • Bonydiver

    What right minded person would disagree however we are dealing with enemies of god with bombs on there backs entering via the chruch’s back door.

  • Stephen Glasgow

    I believe that Archbishop Smith is mistaken. No-one is suggesting that the Catholic Church should or could ever be forced into conducting same-sex marriages. On the other hand, I don’t want to live in a theocratic state. Civil marriage legislation is a matter for Parliament, just as Church law is a matter that the state can never determine.

  • Anonymous

    Chris – did you actually read what Archbishop Smith said?
    Far from strongly opposing government moves – he has merely said this will not happen in Catholic Churches; nothing more.

    Knowing +Smiffy’s record – I’d be extremely worried.

  • Anonymous

    You think that the gay community wants to undermine marriage… in wanting to share in its status? Why exactly would they want to ‘undermine’ something they want to be part of? Think this through for just a second please; what you are saying makes no sense.

    Are you married? Do you know people that have become married? I would hope so. Did they marry to prove a point? or because they wanted to commit their lives to each other? Of course there are people out to make a point, but the point of the homosexual community is a perfectly legitimate one to make.

    Also, I would like to point out that calling gay marriage ‘so called’ and putting it in air-quotes, as if this was a new and radical idea is quite incorrect. Don’t forget that before there was gay marriage under the Ming dynasty in China, in Ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire.

    Historical records show that unlike in the 20th century this was not frowned upon, and how as a society we have moved on in the last 2000 years!…. Misinformation and bigotry obviously exists regardless of millennia.

  • steve

    I’m not sure what the legal position would be regarding a ‘discrimination law’ but it would be prudent to have the church’s position, in law, defined in advance. I wouldn’t have believed that an English court would rule that a Christian Nottingham coulple could no longer participate in the foster care of children because of their conviction that homosexual lifestyle is immoral. The judges said that ‘Christian morals we harmful to children and unacceptable to the State’. Also a couple were fined for refusing a booking for a double bed from two homosexual men in their bed & breakfast establishment.

  • Anonymous

    This has only become part of political correctness because people realize that those that are homosexual should be valued and should be allowed to formally show this.

    For the most part I find that ‘political-correctness’ is simply ahead of the curve in being right.

  • Anonymous

    With the gay population estimated at between 4-6% of the population I barely see that any change in the law could have an affect on how society works. To answer your point on social-cohesion, I would argue that the CURRENT situation does very little for social cohesion.
    To find out how about we take a look at the definition of the term shall we;

    ‘describes the bonds or “glue” that bring people together in a society’

    Now call me stupid; but how exactly does allowing gay couples to express their commitment and love for each other to the wider society in a way recognised as the way to do that – marriage, damage social cohesion. Surely it just adds more societal bonds? It adds more to the glue of society and brings two loving adults together. I cannot see a way in which the legalisation of gay marriage could not do any MORE for social cohesion – by the definition of the term. (Maybe you should change your terminology)

  • Anonymous

    I entirely agree. If the Church wants to discriminate according to its traditions then it should be able to do that. The state and other willing bodies should conduct gay marriages. The Church should not be forced to change its policy unless it affects the wider community, which in this case it does not.

    In the same token the Church should not force the wider community to bend to its religious ideas on marriage and homosexuality on a state level. To keep each apart is firmly in both organisations’ interests.

  • Anonymous

    what kind of comment is this? oh, the Muslims are coming help, help!!

  • Anonymous

    This is either a some beautiful insightful sarcasm, or… because I hope you’re not being serious…?

  • Bonydiver

    The horned God of equality, diversity and gender raises its ugly head once again.

  • Bonydiver

    The horned God of equality, diversity and gender raises its ugly head once again.

  • Bonydiver

    There is no doubt the homosexual community not only wish to destroy Christian doctrines but to rub our faces in its filth as well.

  • Anonymous

    If Eve supposedly came from a rib then I barely see the idea of having evolved from apes as that repulsive! Evolution was called a theory when Darwin proposed it, now we have sustantial dna, fossil and carbon-dating evidence to back it up. Evolution is fact, there is debate about the minutiae in the scientific community, the general principle stands however, and has become accepted science for the over the last century. The debate is over, and you have lost, sir.

    I was a Catholic for many years, as is the majority of my family – yet we, and the majority of Catholics find no contradiction accepting the science of evolution and our faith.
    To think otherwise would be to suspect a mass conspiracy amongst scientists, is that what you are saying, that the very people who are for objective thought and seeking of material truths – would purposely deceive the world?!

    I am sure that you would trust DNA evidence in a trial; trust in the Teflon on your pans to keep them non-stick; trust in gravity to keep them you floating away; they trust in Newton’s laws of motion and the laws of thermo-dyn­amics each time you board a plane… yet in the case of the age of the earth and human developmen­t there is suddenly now a great scientific conspiracy?

  • Anonymous

    …rub your face in the filth of Christian doctrines? Oh, sorry that’s just the way you wrote it.. my mistake.
    I barely see the destruction of doctrines if they are not members of the Church themselves, and only seek to change state law and not Catholic law or teaching.

    Also if you were a true Catholic you would find that in the catechism it says:

    ‘The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’

    Where is you respect and compassion? I find your hatred just as filthy as you might find homosexuality.

  • Observer

    I don’t know about this Archbishop. he is inconsistent. When the ordinariate was created he was not consulted and it was sprung on him as a surprise..a sort of roman ambush. When the Anglican bishops were welcomed into the faith he said he was happy and pleased. ??????? You draw your own conclusions. No wonder Rome does not think much of the English episcopate.

  • Jhammer

    Thank you for the reply! No, I don’t wish to change my terminology! Following your own logic: it is not marriage per se that has an effect on consensus or cohesion, but rather what that very consensus takes marriage to express. I do not want to insult gay feelings or sensibilities in any way, but if we take somewhat extreme examples that, admittedly do not relate to gay experience, but illustrate a point about marriage – the American west coast phenomenon of people ‘marrying’ their cars, or ‘themselves’ in a ‘mono-marriage’ produces an alteration in the fundamental consensus of what marriage expresses. If marriage and family are important to cohesion then so is the consensus of value on which it is built. It is not my place to judge gay relationships or living arrangements; I neither condone nor condemn them, but insisting on marriage in a sacramental erosion of the sense that marriage expresses.

  • Dave

    True that is in the Catechism. However I believe it is important to put that in the context of that which preceeds and follows the quote (CCC 2358) which you site.

    2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,[140] tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”[141] They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

    2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection

    [140] Cf. Gen 191-29; Rom 124-27; ⇒ 1 Cor 6:10; ⇒ 1 Tim 1:10.
    [141] CDF, Persona humana 8.

  • The Blue Warrior

    If what you say is true, i.e. that a commitment between two people of the same sex was given the exact same status as a marriage between a man and a woman in the Roman Empire, then please explain away the Roman law of connubium which stated that lawful matrimonium (marriage being a 12th century Old English word) could only take place between a man and woman who were both citizens of the Roman Empire.

    My claim continues to be that you are peddling a revisionist history that distorts the truth.