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Law Society confirms churches will not be forced to marry gay couples

Solicitors from the Law Society have said the Church of England and Wales will not face a legal backlash
President of the Law Society John Wotton has supported marriage equality, and said religious organisations should not fear a legal backlash

The Law Society has confirmed no British religious organisation will be forced to marry gay couples.

The comments made by the Law Society come after the Church of England and Church of Wales have said they will be forced to solemnise marriages between same-sex couples.

Despite the UK government reassuring religious organisations, the churches have continued to fear legal backlash.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has said they support the government consultation on marriage equality.

President John Wotton said: ‘So far as the position of the church is concerned, many faiths hold the view that marriage can be between a man and a woman only. This should be respected – to do otherwise would infringe religious freedom under Article 9 of the Human Rights Act. For the same reason, religious groups who wish to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies on their premises should be free to do so.’

John Wotton added: ‘The European Court of Human Rights has already indicated that it sees same-sex marriage as a matter for national authorities, and that it is not going to force religious groups to conduct same-sex marriages.

‘On the basis of equality before the law, we also support civil partnerships being opened up to heterosexual couples who wish to formalize their relationship without getting married.’

In a statement released yesterday (13 June), the Church of Wales say they will be forced to conduct gay marriages if the change fails a legal challenge.

The statement says: ‘We note that at no point in the consultation document is the Church in Wales mentioned: paragraph 2.10, for example, refers exclusively to the Church of England.’

Paragraph 2.10 does not refer to the Church of England at all. In that part, the consultation says: ‘The Government is committed to building a fairer society and ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunities for all, including people of all religions.’

The paragraph continues to say ‘no religious organisation, premises or leader would face a successful legal challenge for failing to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple’.

The Church of Wales is also referred to in paragraph 2.4, when the document defines the current position of marriage in the UK.

The Welsh bishops also said the current laws relating to civil partnerships, which were legalised in 2005, are satisfactory, and extending rights to gay couples would only create ‘significant confusion’.

Father Stubbs, the priest who said he would walk 20 miles for gay marriage, said ‘Jesus taught us to be loving and inclusive’.

He said: ‘My congregation are accepting and compassionate people. My fear is that as the Church digs in its heels over progressive issues like this, it will become less relevant to ordinary people. I have spent 40 years working to engage people with the Christian faith, I will be furious if the refusal to let loving couples marry undermines that work.’

The UK consultation on marriage equality ends today (14 June) at 11:59pm GMT. You can take part in the consultation here.

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