Committee says UK Government did not consult adequately with the Church in Wales on equal marriage bill
A Welsh Assembly committee report says the UK Government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales would have effectively banned the Church in Wales from carrying out marriages for same-sex couples in its original drafting – because of the Church’s “incompletely disestablished” status.
The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee suggests that the UK Government should consider fully disestablishing the Church to solve the issue.
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “We’ll consider the report and respond in due course.”
The committee also criticised the UK Government’s lack of consultation with the Church in Wales or recognition of its disestablished status in its drafting of the bill.
Committee chair David Melding said: “It is of concern to the committee that the equal marriage proposal was drawn up without consultation with the Church in Wales but we are satisfied that the UK Government has taken steps to rectify that since.”
A spokesman for the UK Department of Culture (DCMS) said: “The Church in Wales have been very clear that they do not currently wish to conduct same-sex marriages. They have also been clear that they are broadly content with the bill as it stands.
“The bill does not give them preferential or worse treatment than other religious organisations. Instead, it ensures they end up in the same place as every other religious organisation – they cannot marry same-sex couples unless or until they wish to; and there is no compulsion to do so.
“But to get them to the same point as other religious organisations, the bill has to take account of their particular legal situation. Unlike any other religious body in this country, the clergy of the Church in Wales have a duty to marry parishioners. The bill ensures that this duty will not extend to same-sex couples.”
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The spokesman added: “Should the Church in Wales decide to allow same-sex marriages according to its rites, the bill sets out a procedure for its Governing Body to ask the Lord Chancellor to make secondary legislation enabling it to do so.
“The government has tabled an amendment that was requested during the Public Bill Committee to ensure that when requested the Lord Chancellor must make an order.”
The Anglican leader said in April that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill provided “protection for clergy in not having to conduct same-sex marriages” along with “a mechanism whereby the Church in Wales could conduct same-sex marriages if, in the future, it decided to do so.”
Dr Morgan also suggested that if marriage is ever devolved to the Welsh Government the Church in Wales could lose its special status in law which obliges it to marry parishioners “regardless of their religious affinity”.
The House of Lords will resume scrutiny and debate of the same-sex marriage bill as part of its committee stage on Monday.
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