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MPs suggest possible Parliament intervention to allow same-sex marriage in Church of England

by Kelly Valencia

Former Second Church Estates Commissioner Sir Tony Baldry and Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, have shared their views on the possible ways Parliament could intervene to require the Church of England to allow same-sex marriages.

Speaking at a fringe event in London this week, the pair told General Synod members a Private Member’s Bill might be the most effective way to align the Church of England’s stance on same-sex marriage with that of its sister churches in Wales and Scotland.

Sir Tony mentioned as an example the legislation brought forward by Parliament in 2015 to fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords, which was during his time as Second Church Estates Commissioner, the role which represents the Church in Parliament.

“No one suggested that by Parliament introducing such primary legislation that Parliament is involved in some way, interfering with the workings of the Church of England. Parliament was simply ensuring that women bishops were equally and fairly represented amongst the diocesan bishops in the House of Lords.”

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, an Anglican himself, echoed Baldry's point and suggested that there might be support in “the sort of initiative that Sir Tony is suggesting” from Parliament.

Bradshaw said there was no appetite for the “nuclear option”, the disestablishment of the Church, but wanted to reassure members of Synod that “Parliament is worried” about this issue.

Following the backlash from both sides of the Church on the issue of same-sex marriage, questions have emerged about whether the Church of England should lose its status as the established church.

Tensions were further heightened by reports of the Archbishop of Canterbury allegedly telling MPs he would rather the Church of England be disestablished that risk splitting the Anglican Communion.

Bradshaw continued: “Parliament values the role of the Church of England as an established Church, and it wants to nurture that relationship; but it’s not prepared to do so at all costs, and particularly not at the cost of continuing to discriminate against people because they happen to be gay.”

Alternatively, a parliamentary intervention which removes the current exemption for religious groups from the Equality Act of 2013 could also be used to achieve the equivalent result.

The meeting gave the opportunity for Synod members to ask questions, with some raising concerns about the fallout from the same-sex marriage proposals for priests given the current “social-media atmosphere”.

Sir Tony said that it was important to ensure that all those views were respected.

“I think one of the things that we’ve all got to be grown up and recognise is that, as I said, there are various tribes in the churches and various different groups,” he added.

“I think we should not be frightened of doing what we consider to be right on the basis that it may offend some. I think we just have to encourage people to be a lot more tolerant to each other,” he said.”

Bradshaw thought it was an “unfounded fear” that LGBT campaigners would “come and picket or demonstrate outside your church” if you oppose same-sex marriage.

“I suspect they’ve got better things to do with their time, as long as they feel that there’s a church, maybe in the same town or in the next town, where they can go and feel welcomed and affirmed.”

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