After a bill allowing same-sex “marriage” passed in the U.K.'s House of Commons, local Catholic bishops have warned that the legislation will have profoundly negative effects on society.
“Marriage is rooted in the complementarity of man and woman. For these
reasons the Church opposes the Government’s Bill to re-define marriage,”
said Archbishop Peter D. Smith of Southwark Feb. 5.
“Despite claims by supporters of the Bill that the central issue is one
of equality, the Bill actually seeks to re-define marriage and will
have consequences for society at large.”
Late in the day Feb. 5, the lower house of the British Parliament voted
in favor of the Marriage Bill, allowing marriage for same-sex couples.
It passed by 400 to 175, and was backed by prime minister David Cameron.
The issue split the ruling Conservative Party: 127 voted in favor, 136
opposed the bill, and 35 abstained from voting on the bill. The other
major British parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, were more
uniformly in favor of the bill.
Archbishop Smith, who serves as vice president of the England and Wales
bishops' conference, noted that “the Catholic Church continues to
support marriage understood by society for centuries as the significant
and unique lifelong commitment between a man and a woman for their
mutual well-being and open to the procreation and education of
He said the vote showed “the government has not thought through a
number of profound problems in the Bill” and that concerns over the bill
need to be “fully and carefully considered” as the bill continues
The bill has yet to be considered by the upper house, the House of
Lords. It also faces a third vote in the House of Commons before it can
become law. Stronger opposition is expected in the House of Lords.
Bishop Philip A. Egan of the Portsmouth diocese echoed his brother
bishop, telling Vatican Radio that “I am very disappointed that
Parliament wishes, in an Orwellian manner, to redefine the concept of
“The proposed change will have catastrophic consequences for marriage
as an institution, for family life in Britain, and for all human
relationships, not least among our young.”
He said the bill might lead the Church to remove itself from civil
marriage: “One possible consequence of this is that the Church will be
forced to withdraw from the civil registration of marriages, as in some
European countries, where couples fulfill the civil requirements in the
Town Hall before heading to church for Matrimony.”
The legislation was debated for six hours ahead of the vote. Edward
Leigh is a Conservative Member of Parliament, and a Catholic, who made a
reasoned argument against the bill. He pointed out that marriage is not
primarily about the wedded couple, but their resulting children.
“If marriage were solely about the relationship between two people, we
would not bother to enshrine it in law, and nor would every culture,
society and religion for thousands of years have invested it with so
much importance. Marriage is about protecting the future,” he said.
“Marriage is not about 'me, me, me', nor about legally validating 'my
rights' and 'my relationships'; it is about a secure environment for
creating and raising children, based on lifelong commitment and
The bill allows for churches to conduct weddings for same-sex couples,
raising concerns over religious liberty. Less than a month ago, the UK
government assured that “no religious organization could conduct a
religious marriage ceremony on religious premises for same-sex couples.”
Steve Baker, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Christian, wrote
that he opposed the bill out of concerns for religious freedom and
pluralism. He suggest the Marriage Bill is not a way to provide for
“tolerance of diverse views.”
“I am not relaxed about muddled law, democratic consent or freedom of
religion – whose protection is by no means certain – and I believe
strongly that defining marriage is no business of the legislature.”
The Church of England, the U.K.'s established church, has opposed the
bill. The Marriage Bill will not allow the Church of England to conduct
marriages for same-sex couples, and its passage may lead to the church's
The Catholic Church and the Church of England have been joined in the
opposition to the bill by British Muslims, Sikhs, and some Jews.
The Marriage Bill would only affect England and Wales. Scotland has a similar proposal, but there is none in Northern Ireland.