Religious marriage of same-sex couples

One we should have carried earlier – Sero Sed Serio

Towards the end of 2017, researchers at the Universities of York and Leeds published the results of their recent work in the snappily-titled report Religious marriage of same-sex couples: A report on places of worship in England and Wales registered for the solemnization of same-sex marriage. They found that same-sex couples who wish to marry by way of a religious ceremony in England and Wales are at a significant disadvantage compared with different-sex couples since they have little opportunity to marry in a place of worship or by way of a religious ceremony.

The findings of the research are summarized in the Press Releases of the two institutions, here and here; the full report is published here.

Background

In the sections relating to venues, the Home Office page Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies states:

“You can have a civil ceremony or civil partnership at: a register office; any venue approved by the local council, eg a stately home or hotel; and a religious premises where permission has been given by the organisation and the premises approved by the local authority”

The Home Office has a list of all approved civil marriage and civil partnership venues”.

With regard to Religious Ceremonies:

“A religious wedding can take place at a church, chapel or other registered religious building. Religious blessing can take place after a civil ceremony in a register office.

You can’t get married in an Anglican Church as a same sex couple. You can get married in other religious buildings if: the religious organisation allows the marriage of same sex couples to take place; the premises has been registered for the marriage of same sex couples”.

[Note: For “Anglican” read “Church of England and Church in Wales”. It is possible for same-sex couples to be married in the Scottish Episcopal Church. See our post of 8 June 2017, SEC approval of same-sex marriage; reaction in Anglican churches]. 

When the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 made the marriage of same-sex couples lawful in England and Wales, section 2 introduced opt-in provisions designed to ensure that religious organizations and their representatives who do not wish to solemnize, participate or take part the marriage of same-sex couples could not be compelled to do so. It also acknowledged that under canon law, same-sex marriage is not permitted in the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Consequently, the options for a same-sex couple seeking a religious marriage ceremony are substantially restricted; this research gives an indication of the scope of the problem.

The research

The researchers, Professor Paul Johnson, of the Department of Sociology at the University of York, Professor Robert M Vanderbeck, Head of the School of Geography, University of Leeds, and Silvia Falcetta, Research Associate in the Department of Sociology, University of York, focused on religious organisations in England and Wales that are legally required, if they wish to solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples, to register a certified place of worship for that purpose, and have chosen to do so. The research is summarized in the Press Releases:

  • The research presented in the report focuses on those religious organisations in England and Wales that are legally required, if they wish to solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples, to register a certified place of worship for this purpose, and have chosen to do so.
  • To carry out the research, the researchers designed an online survey for distribution to places of worship that had opted in to solemnizing same-sex marriage between 2014 and 2016. These places of worship are affiliated to a number of religious groups, including Baptists, Buddhists, Christian Spiritualists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Protestant Dissenters, Reformed Church of the Netherlands, Spiritualists, Unitarians, the United Reformed Church, and other designated religions.
  • Of the 139 places of worship registered for the solemnization of same-sex marriage at the time of the research, the researchers were able to establish contact with and distribute the survey to 113 of these in early September 2017. By early November they had received responses from 71 places of worship, representing a response rate of 63%.

Dr Silvia Falcetta said: “This report shows that same-sex couples are at a significant disadvantage to different-sex couples, because same-sex couples are more likely to live in an area where there is no scope to be married in a place of worship according to a desired religious ceremony.”

The research team found that registering a place of worship for same-sex marriage can sometimes create tensions with the broader religious group of which it is a part, and can attract opposition and antagonism from other religious groups in their local areas. Furthermore, registering a place of worship can also produce conflict within a congregation and some members of a church may decide to leave. However, many places of worship, report that registering for same-sex marriage has produced positive benefits within a congregation. These include strengthening the solidarity of existing members, supporting existing LGBT members, and attracting new members. Professor Paul Johnson said: “Some places of worship regard their commitment to same-sex marriage as a positive way of advertising and marketing their faith and practice.”

With regard to the protection afforded by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 for individuals who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings, such as ministers or choristers, the research suggests that very few people refuse to participate and therefore these legal protections are not needed. Professor Robert Vanderbeck said, “Although many claims have been made about how the introduction of same-sex marriage would affect religious groups that offer it, these data provide the first systematic glimpse of what is actually happening on the ground in churches and other places of worship. “Despite worries to the contrary, in 90% of places of worship no person has refused to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony.” However, it would be unrealistic to extrapolate this finding to the Church of England and the Church in Wales, currently exempted from the 2013 Act, where there currently exists a common law duty of a priest to conduct a marriage; there also remains a reluctance to remarry divorcees, which is addressed by the conscience clause in s8(2) Matrimonial Causes Act 1965.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Religious marriage of same-sex couples" in Law & Religion UK, 3 January 2018, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2018/01/03/religious-marriage-of-same-sex-couples/

3 thoughts on “Religious marriage of same-sex couples

  1. While I don’t dispute the general findings of the report, I think that it fails to take enough account that the processes of denominations deciding if and they wish to opt in, and the the time it takes to process registrations, means that many churches were not able to offer marriages to same sex couples until after the survey. They also need to take account that it takes time for advertising of such registration to take effect. For instance, more United Reformed Churches have registered than the survey suggests. Also, the Methodist Church is still deciding if they wish to opt in, and if they do then that will be another significant change.

  2. “With regard to the protection afforded by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 for individuals who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings, such as ministers or choristers, the research suggests that very few people refuse to participate and therefore these legal protections are not needed.”

    Surely if there is the potential for the occasional person not wanting to participate they need the legal protection to do so?

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