Graphic: four exemptions on equal marriages


by Sunny Hundal    
2:26 pm - December 11th 2012

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The DCMS is circulating this graphic today, that summarises the exemptions on equal marriages afforded to religious groups, especially the Church of England.

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It is utterly bizarre, and still discriminatory, that religious groups are being exempted from same sex marriages.

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I don’t see why you call these rules bizarre. They sound to me like sensible and practical conditions designed to ease the introduction of marriage equality.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t religious establishments already hold discriminatory powers over who they may or may not marry anyhow? A relative of mine couldn’t get remarried in a C of E church because she was divorced, but the church gave a blessing after a civil ceremony. And if I marched into St Paul’s Cathedral and demanded to hold a wedding there I think they’d tell me to go elsewhere.

Presumably the CofE is exempted for constitutional reasons? Of all the major faiths, I’d have thought they’d be the ones most likely to be on board with gay marriages in church.

I don’t think it’s bizarre, incidentally, to make it clear that religious institutions won’t be compelled to conduct gay marriage ceremonies. It’s been a major sticking point in the sane opposition to gay marriage and if, as John B thinks, it’s perfectly clear and obvious that compulsion won’t happen then I don’t think there’s any harm in spelling that out.

I think it might be a bit more bizarre if mosques were forced by threat of litigation to conduct gay marriage ceremonies…

> I don’t think it’s bizarre, incidentally, to make it clear that religious institutions won’t be compelled to conduct gay marriage ceremonies.

I don’t think that’s bizarre, personally, but the lengths to which they’re going do seem bizarre. Unlawful for a minister to conduct a same-sex marriage without the permission of their church/religious group? Why is that not a matter between the minister, the couple, and the church/religious group in question? And why is it unlawful for the Church of England to opt in? Surely that’s up to them to decide; creating a special case for them in the law just makes it more difficult for them to change their position in the future.

I think it might be a bit more bizarre if mosques were forced by threat of litigation to conduct gay marriage ceremonies…

People allways come out with stuff like this. Muslims, along with many other non-European religions don’t generally hold weddings in a place of worship.

6. Man on Clapham Omnibus

Contrary to the opinions of the secular this just highlights the fact that most gods don’t like homosexuals as a general rule.

Muslims, along with many other non-European religions don’t generally hold weddings in a place of worship.

Strike through “mosques”, replace with “imams”. Does this really change the meaning of the message? As the exemptions above make clear, it’s not just where the marriage takes place, it’s who conducts the service.

@ Sunny

It is utterly bizarre, and still discriminatory, that religious groups are being exempted from same sex marriages.

Ah, yes.

The opening salvo in the battle to compel religious groups to conduct gay marriages, because not to do so would be discriminatory.

As I’ve said on the other thread, I have no views whatever against gay marriages however I strongly object to coercion being involved in facilitating them.

“It is utterly bizarre, and still discriminatory, that religious groups are being exempted from same sex marriages.”

I don’t see what’s bizarre about it. The state doesn’t currently presume to tell religious groups that they must agree to marry divorcees, must not exclude women from leadership positions, etc. That’s how secularism is supposed to work: the state keeping its nose out of church affairs and vice versa.

You couldn’t have the state requiring religious groups to adhere to certain state-sanctioned interpretations of their holy scriptures, or to administer state-recognised sacraments, because it’s not the state’s business to interpret scripture or recognise sacraments. Who’s going to write the text for a Catholic priest to deliver during a same-sex marriage ceremony?

By the same token, of course, it is none of any religious group’s business if the state wants to recognise civil same-sex marriages, or if other religious groups want to conduct such marriages.

I don’t see how the question of religious groups being required to conduct same-sex weddings even arises, to be honest. As I understand it, religious groups are perfectly entitled to refuse to marry any couple that doesn’t meet whatever requirements they see fit to dream up (e.g. concerning baptism, previous marriages, living arrangements etc.), regardless of what the state has to say about the right of that couple to enter into a civil marriage. I don’t see why a one man-one woman requirement should be any different.

Progression is baby steps. Previously even institutions that wanted to perform same sex marriages could not. Now they can.

Sure, it’d be great if same sex marriages were universally accepted, but it’s also impractical. If a group of people don’t want to accept an activity that is purely within their social sphere (but which individuals can legally partake in via another means, thus aren’t disadvantaged) then that really is their right.

Those who find themselves in religions that don’t now use these new freedoms to allow same sex marriages need to ask themselves whether the religion is right for them…and if it is, how arbitrary decisions, made group of people dictating what that religion means, stopping them from fulfilling what they believe their religion would allow actually matters at all with regards to their faith.

But ultimately these are social circles. If I go to a restaurant that won’t do vegetarian food, then we just don’t go to that restaurant. It’s not the restaurants problem, there is other vegetarian food out there.

Consider a gay copuple who want to get married. They go to their local Catholic church which says, “we won’t marry you, we don’t marry gays.” So far, so legal. The next day the pastor of the church goes to the cake shop owned by the gay couple. They say to him, “we won’t sell yuo a cake, we don’t serve Catholics.” That’s illegal, and IMO wrong.

If it’s legal for religions to discriminate, it should also be legal for religions to be discriminated against.

@9 GO: As I understand it, religious groups are perfectly entitled to refuse to marry any couple that doesn’t meet whatever requirements they see fit to dream up

And that would be fine with me, provided secular people had the same right to discriminate against religion.

It have no problems with religious people having rights, I just don’t want them to have special rights over and above everyone else’s.

@ Phil Hunt

“It have no problems with religious people having rights, I just don’t want them to have special rights over and above everyone else’s.”

That’s a sound principle, but I question whether the right to withhold the sort of service in question from certain groups *is* a special right over and above everyone else’s.

A cake shop isn’t allowed to refuse to serve Catholics for the same reason that a B&B isn’t allowed to refuse to serve gay people: they’re offering services to the general public that have nothing to do with religious affiliation or sexuality. The Catholic Church offers marriage services not to the general public, but to baptized Catholics who are prepared to make a formal commitment to live by the teachings of the Church – which is fair enough *given the religious nature of the service being offered*. Similarly, if the gay couple were running not a cake shop, but an organisation offering sexual health advice to gay people (say), I think they *would* be entitled to refuse (say) to hire a Catholic who was not prepared to toe their line on sexual morality.

@ Phil Hunt again

…conversely, if the Church were to run a cake stall at the local fete, they ought not to be allowed to refuse to serve gay people.

Look at it this way: it makes sense for a gay couple to walk into a B&B and ask for a room for a night. It makes sense for a Catholic priest to walk into a cake shop and ask for a Victoria sponge. But there is something deeply peculiar about a gay couple, or an atheist couple, or a Hindu-Muslim couple, walking into a Catholic church and asking to be allowed to make a solemn commitment to live by the teachings of that Church. The Church ought not to be obliged to adapt its teachings to something those couples *are* prepared to live by, any more than the Socialist Campaign for Gay Rights ought to be obliged to adapt its mission statement to accommodate requests from capitalist homophobes to swear an oath of allegiance.

Why is the CofE the only group not simply being exempted but actually forbidden from opting in (should it at some point wish to do so)?

15. Apparently because of their relationship with the state, they have to adhere to what is legal, and with same-sex marriage being made legal they need the protection from law not to be forced in to it despite their own policies.

@ 16 Lee

I thought it must be something like that. Do you have a link you could share? I’m struggling to find any further info on the thinking behind this.

Presumably the CofE is exempted for constitutional reasons?

It’s not being exempted, it’s being banned.

15. Apparently because of their relationship with the state, they have to adhere to what is legal, and with same-sex marriage being made legal they need the protection from law not to be forced in to it despite their own policies.

The obvious solution being disestablishment.

Of course, none of this would be an issue if people didn’t think a relationship between consenting adults wasn’t entirely valid without the blessing of a sky pixie.

19. Chaise Guevara

@ Phil Hunt

It’s like GO says: the only service they’re providing is religious. If there were an Official Order of Gay People, and being inducted into said order meant nothing except that you were a member of the order, I’d be fine with them refusing to induct Catholics*.

What happens otherwise? Do members of some faiths stop publicly providing marriages, but sneak round to people’s houses in the dead of night to marry them? Do we want a situation where it’s a punishable offense to, in effect, stand in front of a man and woman and say “As far as I’m concerned, you’re married?” The outcomes are ridiculous.

*Well, not fine, but I wouldn’t want to legally force them to do otherwise.

“Consider a gay copuple who want to get married. They go to their local Catholic church which says, “we won’t marry you, we don’t marry gays.” So far, so legal. The next day the pastor of the church goes to the cake shop owned by the gay couple. They say to him, “we won’t sell yuo a cake, we don’t serve Catholics.” That’s illegal, and IMO wrong.”

Invalid analogy. The church is providing a range of services, currently only “heterosexual marriage”, you don’t walk in to a cake shop and ask for a hamburger, if you do they’ll tell you they won’t make you a hamburger. This isn’t the cake shop’s problem, you walked in to the wrong shop.

Invalid analogy. The church is providing a range of services, currently only “heterosexual marriage”, you don’t walk in to a cake shop and ask for a hamburger, if you do they’ll tell you they won’t make you a hamburger. This isn’t the cake shop’s problem, you walked in to the wrong shop.

And if a churcg said ‘We don’t marry black people here – there’s a black church just down the street?’

21. Yep, same deal. It’s too easy to conflate the legal act of marriage with the religious one. The religious act of marriage is a product, the legal one is a right.

@ 21 Shatterface

If there’s a church out there that genuinely believes their god or gods have forbidden black people to marry, then I’d have to say they’re entitled to direct black people inquiring about marriage to the less racist church down the street. No good can come of the state telling people what gods they’re allowed to believe in, or what opinions they’re allowed to attribute to those gods. So long as the only people required to live by their gods’ rules are people who have volunteered to do so (e.g. by marrying or being baptised into the church), it’s their business. (Which doesn’t mean we’re obliged to cut them any slack when they ask to be allowed to practice their racist beliefs in the course of their employment as registrars, teachers, etc.)

I had a bit of a discussion about this with a friend, that has helped to further clarify things in my mind.

When we’re talking about human rights we have to talk simply about people’s ability to do things without inteference, threat or danger from others. The whole reason the same sex marriage debate is about is because others have intefered in the ability for people to be on an equal standing in marriage regardless of their genders.

The issue of whether a particular religion you adhere to will marry you is not about people interfering with your rights, it’s you opting in to a specific group of people, with a set of aims and beliefs that you know will forbid you from doing what you wish. It is the equivalent of those people that move under a flight path and then complain about the noise, you just can’t have your cake and eat it.

Religion is international, maybe it’s better to regard it as it’s own “state”, with churches as embassies. Just as we disagree wholly with Saudi Arabia’s stance on women, we don’t expect any law we make here in the UK to force Saudi Arabia to stop being shit about it. We talk with them about it, we use diplomacy, sanctions even if necessary…it is in this context we need to view the issue of religious same sex marriages.

Finally: Think for a second about the travesty that is the law on “harmful” sexual practices, where you could in theory go to jail for having fully consensual, but somewhat violent, sex with one or more partners. This, in it’s own way, is comparable to religion. It’s a group of people that when they come together are all agreeing to their own terms of engagement.

They’re not saying everyone has to perform violence in their sexual acts, and no-one should have the right to tell them what they do when they’re consenting to it (ultimate human rights still intact). Yet the state stepped in here and said this self-associating group can’t have their own terms of engagement.

I wonder how many people that are angry about the liberty infringing state diktat on violent sex are finding themselves unwitting hypocrites in this discussion by asking the state to do the very same thing with religions and marriage?

25. Derek Hattons Tailor

Going back to the cake shop…..I’ve always had an issue with this idea that businesses are “offering services to the public” If I owned a business I would see myself as offering services to my customers, a self selecting and selected group. The Ritz is “offering services to the public” but could legitimately refuse me a room on the grounds that I can’t afford one. Business is not a branch of the state, and nor is the church. You have been able to get married without going anywhere near a church or a vicar for decades. Gay or straight, if you don’t agree with the central tenants of a religion then find one that you do agree with, or don’t get married in church, it’s not complicated.

26. Chaise Guevara

@ 24 Lee

“The issue of whether a particular religion you adhere to will marry you is not about people interfering with your rights, it’s you opting in to a specific group of people, with a set of aims and beliefs that you know will forbid you from doing what you wish. It is the equivalent of those people that move under a flight path and then complain about the noise, you just can’t have your cake and eat it.”

I agree with you as far as policy goes, but I think you’re being a bit unfair on gay people who want to be married by a religion that rejects them. It’s not like you go religion-browsing when you turn 18 and pick one you like. People are indoctrinated from childhood. So while I don’t think religious institutions (apart from maybe the CoE) should be forced to marry gay people, I do empathise with religious gay couples who wish their sexuality was more compatible with their faith.

27. Craig Nelson

Actally seems very straightforward to me and probably identical to what a Labour govt would do.

28. Richard Carey

This all seems very sensible. I don’t agree about the cake shop business, for obvious reasons (obvious to a libertarian). The thing is, regarding gay marriage, I’ve got a feeling that, whatever the government does, we won’t have heard the last of it. It’s like the anti-smokers. As soon as it was banned in pubs and places of work, they started on the next goal; banning it in cars. Somehow, I can see Peter Tatchell storming the pulpit for years to come.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Graphic: the four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage http://t.co/CkzOZbew

  2. Willie Mackenzie

    The four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage – http://t.co/As1WbByS

  3. Rikbut

    Graphic: the four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage http://t.co/Ftyugymw

  4. Ian Bailey

    CofE exemption bonkers. Not forcing religions to break their teachings not bizarre RT @sunny_hundal #equalmarriage http://t.co/KK5q8Agp

  5. Kate Sheill

    Meanwhile, in England & Wales… RT @sunny_hundal: The four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage – http://t.co/bAO2BYlB

  6. Alan

    The four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage – http://t.co/As1WbByS

  7. Laura P.

    The four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage – http://t.co/As1WbByS

  8. Jimmy Reade

    http://t.co/WL0Pqtkr @libcon @sunny_hundal May be bizarre but better than churches being prosecuted for holding an opinion based on a book.

  9. Jack Barker

    Graphic: the four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/KChWFgHD via @libcon

  10. Drew Downs

    Graphic: the four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/KChWFgHD via @libcon

  11. wendy bailey

    “@sunny_hundal: The four bizarre exemptions on #equalmarriage – http://t.co/5DOsYhpf”. @undercovermutha @gaydads





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