Church Warns Of Clash Over Gay Marriage Plans

Church Warns Of Clash Over Gay Marriage Plans

The Church of England has said it could be forced to stop conducting weddings on behalf of the state if gay marriage is legalised.

It said Government plans to introduce same-sex marriage would lead to a clash between its law - that marriage is between a man and a woman - and that of Parliament.

It also claimed several "major elements" of the proposals had not been thought through properly and were not legally "sound".

The Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said the Church of England had been supportive of civil partnerships when the legislation was introduced eight years ago.

"We continue to be supportive of the gay community and want to see that inclusion in our society increased and developed," he said.

"I think the difficulty we have here is the substitution of equality for uniformity, that is to say that there can be no distinction at all between men and women."

Under the current law, anyone who is resident in England has a legal right to marry in his or her Church of England parish church irrespective of religious affiliation and the minister of the parish is under a legal duty to conduct the marriage.

The Government's consultation on gay marriage closes on Thursday.

The Church of England's highly critical response will add to pressure on David Cameron, who has spoken out in support of gay marriage.

Mr Cameron has come under fire from supporters of the proposals for allowing a free vote amongst Tory MPs to avoid a rebellion over the issue.

But other Tory critics have said they view the proposal as a Liberal Democrat policy distracting the Government from bigger challenges.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, which campaigns for gay rights, said: "There's manifestly no evidence that the recognition of long-term same-sex relationships has any impact on the institution of marriage for heterosexuals.

"It seems odd that the Church of England should be obsessing about a few thousand gay couples once again when there are currently three million children in Britain living in single-parent households."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The purpose of the equal civil marriage consultation is to enable us to listen to all views, including those of all religions.

"We welcome the Church of England's response and we will be carefully considering all points of view before publishing the outcome of the consultation later in the year."