Parliamentary intervention would "free up the vast majority of Anglican clergy" who want to see same-sex marriage in the Church of England, Christian MP Ben Bradshaw has said.
The Labour MP for Exeter, also a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, is due to present a motion in the House Commons next week, arguing for same-sex marriage in the Church of England.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, he said his Ten Minute Rule Bill would advocate for same-sex weddings to be allowed in parishes across the country in "certain circumstances" whilst protecting the right to conscious objection.
"What this bill does is enable those parishes, priests and cathedrals to conduct same-sex weddings if they wish to. There will be no compulsion, so it'd be rather similar in a way to the rules that govern the remarriage divorcees…or the same with women's ordination, parishes, as you know, some have an opt-out from having women priests," he said.
Ten Minute Rule Bills rarely become legislation and are often seen as an opportunity for an MP to campaign for a specific issue. For Bradshaw, the bill is "simply a means of Parliament expressing a view and sending a message to the Church of England leadership in the run-up to July's Synod".
While acknowledging that the bill is unlikely to have a "legislative impact," Bradshaw believes that its purpose is to try to "nudge the church in a positive direction," just as Parliament did with the Church's changes on issues such as divorce and the role of women in Church.
"In each of those cases, Parliament had a role in sort of nudging the Church in a positive direction. All this bill is trying to do, really, is to nudge the Church to say, 'look, we're on your side, this is where parliament is, we'd like you to move forward on this'," Bradshaw continued.
Although still possible, the Church of England has not been legislated by Acts of Parliament since 1919. There is a constitutional norm that Parliament will not intervene in the Church's internal affairs without its approval.
Asked whether he thought Parliament should decide matters of doctrine in the Church, Bradshaw said that while he would prefer for the Church of England to take action on its own, he believes Parliament has a duty to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.
"Being an established church gives it a special role and brings with it enormous privileges, but it also brings with it a duty to serve everyone in the nation. And it's difficult, I think, for many parliamentarians, to see how the Church of England can fulfil that function in the medium to long term, as long as it continues to discriminate against a significant group in society," he said.
Bradshaw said comparisons of this bill to state intervention on religion in countries that would receive overall disapproval are "ridiculous".
"I think people who perhaps don't understand the role of Parliament in the Church need to ask themselves well, do you want that established status to continue? Or would you rather the Church of England were disestablished and became a sort of Protestant sect? I'm not in favour of that.
"I think the Church of England's established status brings with it huge benefits to the country in that you have a servant church that's there for everyone. But if it is going to be a church that's there for everyone, it has to be there for everyone, including, of course, its own priests, [that] at the moment, are not only prevented from marrying if they're in same-sex loving relationships, but they expected to be celibate."
He concluded: This [bill] would free up the vast majority of Anglican parishes and clear majorities - all the polls show a majority of Anglicans are in favour of treating lesbian and gay people equally - who want to move forward to do so."