One of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken’
Catholic MPs explain how they voted after Tuesday’s gay marriage debate
8 February 2013, 9:00
A majority of Catholic MPs voted in favour of allowing gay marriage this week,The Tablet reports in this week’s issue. But the one institution that came well out of the parliamentary debate was Parliament itself as successive speeches in the Commons showed MPs wrestling with their consciences. Here two Catholic MPs explain why they voted as they did: the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, who described the decision as ‘one of the most difficult I have ever taken’. Read Sarah Teather’s statement here.
Iain Duncan Smith’s statement is below:
Since the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – something which I voted against – there are many same sex couples who now think of themselves, and indeed openly refer to themselves, as married. Many have worried that this would lead to the strong possibility that society could drift to a place where civil partnership became civil marriage . This would have happened without any proper protections in law for faith and other groups and individuals who did not agree, leading to challenges in the courts .
The Coalition Government are dealing with this in the Same Sex couples legislation. I am satisfied that religious freedom will be secured within the proposed legislation. The Bill will enable religious organisations to act in line with their doctrines and beliefs.
There are a number of explicit legal ‘locks’ within the Bill that mean no religious organisation or minister can be compelled to conduct a same sex marriage ceremony, whilst at the same time allowing those who wish to conduct same sex services the freedom to do so.
The Bill contains within it what is being referred to as a ‘quadruple lock’ which is essentially four different checks that protect the Church.
The ‘lock’ makes clear that a religious marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple will only be possible if the governing body of the religious organisation has opted in by giving explicit consent to same-sex marriages; if the individual minister is willing to conduct the marriage; and if it takes place in a place of worship that those premises have been registered for marriages of same-sex couples. It explicitly states that no religious organisation can be compelled to opt in to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises; and no religious organisation or minister can be compelled to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. It amends the Equality Act 2010 to make clear it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or individual minister to refuse to marry a same-sex couple and it ensures that the common law legal duty on the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners will not extend to same-sex couples. It also protects the Church of England’s Canon law which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, so that it does not conflict with civil law.
I am content that, as with every other religious organisation, this Bill means that the Church of England and the Church in Wales will be able to decide for themselves whether and when to allow marriages of same-sex couples according to their rites.
Both the Church of England and the Church in Wales have been very clear that they do not currently wish to conduct same-sex marriages. Unlike any other religious body in this country, their clergy have a specific legal duty to marry parishioners and the Bill contains specific measures to deal with this unique legal position. The Bill also ensures that Anglican Canon law, which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, does not conflict with civil law.
The Government has discussed these protections with the Church of England and the Church in Wales extensively and I have been assured by the Secretary of State that these protections address the very particular circumstances of both Churches.
I am also reassured that there is protection within the Bill for school teachers. Teachers will continue to have the right to express their own beliefs, or that of their faith’s in a professional way, such as that marriage should be between a man and a woman. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse a view which go against their beliefs. Equally, parents will continue to have the right, to withdraw their children from sex education lesson that they do not consider appropriate.
Let me be very clear I am a passionate supporter of marriage as an institution my record in fighting for marriage as an institution is testament to this.I firmly believe that the stability which marriage brings to a relationship can only be a good thing for family and for society as a whole. The principles of long term commitment and responsibility which underpin marriage bind society together and make it stronger as a result.
I feel that this legislation will add protections in law for those who disagree with this legislation and will not damage the institution of marriage. I and the government remain committed to strengthening support for marriage in the tax and welfare systems. The huge problem we as a nation face is in the level of family break up of cohabiting couples particularly where children are involved, too often with serious consequences for those children. I believe we need a system that encourages such couples to create stable families, the most stable of these being marriage.It is this which I am determined to pursue as a priority for this Government.
I would do nothing to damage the institution of marriage. I do not believe this legislation does so.
This statement by British Roman Catholic M.P., Iain Duncan Smith, published in this week’s edition of the ‘Tablet’, explains why he felt he had to vote FOR the Same-Sex Marriage Bill in the House of Commons during its Second Reading.
Interestingly, although Mr Smith regrets having to vote against the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church on this particular issue, he feels duty-bound, as a member of parliament, not to be party to the defeat of the legislation. He quotes these grounds:
1. That there are sufficient guarantees to protect those religious bodies, that do not agree with the proposed legislation, from being prosecuted for failing to take part in promoting or legally celebrating Same-Sex Marriages.
2. The need of a system that encourages faithful couples to marry and sustain family life
3. That Same-Sex Marriage will do nothing to break down the present structure of Heterosexual Marriage; but could encourage cohabiting couples to strengthen the life of stable families by a legal form of commitment in Marriage.
There is not much to argue with here, and a great deal to agree with. If the legislation is allowed – in order to strengthen the commitment of monogamous couples, of whatever gender composition, to the stability of a formally recognised Marriage bond – then it ought to be encouraged rather than rejected.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand