A day after the Church of England published its response to the government consultation on equal marriage in England and Wales, the Church in Wales has submitted its own response, seeking exemptions from being forced to conduct wedding ceremonies for gay couples.
The consultation, which ends tomorrow, proposes to bring forth equal civil marriage for gay couples by 2015.
Yesterday, the Church of England expressed concerns that the exemptions for religious ceremonies provided in the consultation may not survive a legal challenge. Today, in submitting their response, Bishops in Wales have said that they are in a legal position that is “almost identical.”
The response also makes clear their concern that the consultation document does not refer to them at all, and expresses an anxiety as to their inclusion alongside the Church of England for exemptions.
Furthermore, the response claims that civil partnerships were ‘sufficient’ for gay couples, and that going further would only cause ‘significant confusion and debate. The document says:
It is not at all clear in what ways same-sex marriage will be different in substance from existing arrangements for civil partnerships.
They already appear to be in all respects the same, in the rights and responsibilities conferred on the parties; and with only very minor distinctions in the methods of registration, or the reasons for dissolving the relationship.
Nor is it clear what will be the purpose of retaining the category of civil partnership alongside same-sex marriage, especially since it is not proposed that heterosexual couples be allowed to enter into a civil partnership.
In the context of equality of access to registered relationships, this appears to create a new inequality.
Speaking to the BBC, Andrew White, director of Stonewall Cymru, expressed disappointment, and hoped that the Church in Wales would reconsider its response. “It’s an important issue of religious freedom that any denomination should be free to decline to celebrate long-term same-sex partnerships,” he said, adding: “Conversely, that means that a church should not be entitled to prevent other institutions or the state from recognising them either.”