Speaker John Bercow: Gay couples should have right to Church of England weddings
Speaker John Bercow has criticised same-sex marriage legislation for allowing churches to refuse gay couples.
Bercow, who was recently elected Speaker for the third time, made the comments at a reception to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.
Criticising the law, he called the legal ban on same-sex marriages by the Church of England “a pity” and said it meant gay couples do not yet have “full legal equality”.
The comments come despite strict rules requiring the Speaker to be politically neutral.
Addressing a gathering of LGBT activists at Speaker’s House, Mr Bercow said: “In half a century we have gone from a situation in which a type of love is criminalised, to a position of almost complete legal equality.
“I think there are probably things that one can point to that still need to be sorted.
“And I suppose in marriage terms there will only really be complete legal equality when it is permissible for a gay couple to marry as a matter of right in a church.”
Referring to the Church of England’s clause, he added: “I always felt it was a pity when the same-sex marriage legislation went through that as a way of accommodating some of the church interests there was that compromise which detracted a little bit from the concept of complete equality.
“But nevertheless, far more has been achieved than has not been achieved.”
The 2013 Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, which was approved while Mr Bercow was Speaker, contains a clause which explicitly bans the Church of England and Church in Wales from performing same-sex marriages.
The Speaker’s comments are likely to prove controversial within the Church of England, which lobbied extensively to stop gay weddings being introduced.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu recently said the Church is in no way moving away from its traditional stance on the issue.
A spokesperson for the Church of England told PinkNews: “The Church of England is unable by law to marry couples of the same sex – Parliament understood that it was an important aspect of religious freedom to allow Christian churches and other faiths to decide whether or not they could embrace same-sex marriage.
“Nevertheless it is open to clergy in the Church of England to exercise pastoral discretion in providing informal prayer for a couple at their request.
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“We also recognise that there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality.
“We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God.
“The General Synod, which meets in York next week, is due to hear further discussion on the next steps, including the preparation of a major new teaching document on marriage and sexuality.”
Speaker Bercow has consistently spoken out for LGBT rights in the Commonwealth and around the world, including serving as President of the Kaleidoscope Trust, which seeks to uphold LGBT human rights abroad.
Prior to his appointment as Speaker, Mr Bercow was a consistent rebel within the Conservatives on gay rights issues – resigning from Iain Duncan Smith’s frontbench team in 2002 to vote in favour of gay adoption.
As a Conservative MP he condemned Margaret Thatcher for introducing Section 28, one of few Tory MPs to give a speech against the proposal.