Now that the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 has been passed by parliament it is vital that Christians are well informed about their rights and the limits of the law, and also that we speak the truth with grace and love.
The Evangelical Alliance (EA) has produced a set of FAQs for churches and individual Christians about the implications of the new law.
The Alliance stresses that the FAQs ‘represent advisory guidance and should not be regarded as legal advice’ and that ‘many aspects of the law relating to the redefinition of marriage are complex, fluid and open to interpretation’.
It adds that ‘government assumptions about the robustness of protections for third parties are likely to be challenged by case law’ meaning that the meaning of the law may evolve in practice as court cases are brought by aggrieved parties.
It also says that as the new legislation makes it illegal for the Church of England to conduct same-sex marriages, the guidance applies primarily to churches other than the Church of England.
The full guidance is available in pdf format on the EA website but I have listed the FAQs below and very briefly summarised the answers given. I would recommend that all pastors and Christians who think they may be affected should read the document in full.
1. Which churches have agreed to perform same-sex weddings and which haven’t? Only the Quakers, the Unitarians, the Metropolitan Community Church and Liberal Judaism have formally opted in.
2. What if a same-sex couple approach my church and ask to use our building for their wedding? You can refuse.
3. What if it’s a shared building? You can still refuse.
4. What if a same-sex couple specifically ask my church or me as the minister to conduct a same-sex wedding? You can refuse even if your church has opted in.
5. What should we be putting in place as a church to protect ourselves against problems? Know the law and make your position clear in your governing document.
6. If the media ask us about our policy, how should we reply? Say that you abide by EA’s position and are not authorised to conduct same-sex marriages.
7. Could I be sued for preaching that marriage is only between one man and one woman? No.
8. I am an Anglican vicar. Do I have to marry everyone in my parish who requests a wedding? You have no duty to perform same-sex marriages.
9. I am an independent nonconformist minister. Do I have to perform same-sex marriages? No.
10. What happens if a church member wants to have their same-sex marriage in what has been their church since childhood? You can’t do it unless your church opts in.
11. Do we need to re-write our wedding service? No but you might like to make a clear declaration during the service of your position on marriage as being exclusively between a man and woman.
12. Local authorities use church facilities. Other churches make use of local authority facilities. How will such authorities respond when they hear of the churches’ position on same-sex marriage? They should be completely impartial.
13. Could our church be refused registration of our place of worship to conduct weddings because of our opposition to same-sex marriage? No.
14. Can we decide not to continue our registrar function? Yes but you need to think through the reasons carefully.
15. If we continue to exercise a registrar function is there anything we can do to dissociate our church from the new state view of marriage? See 11 above.
16. If we continue our registrar function could we be sued if we refuse to marry someone?Possibly but you are not breaking the law.
17. What if I am authorised to act as a registrar of marriages and I do not wish to conduct same-sex ceremonies, but my church has opted in to conduct them. Can I refuse? Yes.
18. Has adultery been removed as a ground for divorce? Only for same-sex couples.
19. Has non-consummation been removed as a ground for annulment? Only for same-sex couples.
20. Our church offers marriage guidance and counselling. Will we have to offer this service to same-sex couples? Churches won’t but commercial organisations will.
21. Do the existing kinship rules regarding the marriage of close relatives apply to same-sex marriages?Yes.
22. Will membership of the Evangelical Alliance provide our church with any protections? EA offers guidance and solidarity but not legal protection.
Questions for Christians
1. In public or at work, can I express the view that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman? Yes.
2. As a teacher can I refuse to teach about same-sex marriage? You must not misrepresent the law but are still entitled to express your own views. But be sensitive and professional.
3. As a civil registrar will I have to perform same-sex weddings? Yes.
4. Can I exempt my children from lessons that teach same-sex marriage as a norm? Yes.
5. Are faith schools exempted from teaching same-sex marriage as a norm? Yes but they must not misrepresent the law.
6. Will chaplains be protected? Yes but this might be challenged in court.
7. I am an organist who usually plays at wedding services at a church but do not wish to play at a same-sex wedding. Can I refuse? Yes.
8. I am a flower arranger who usually volunteers to decorate a church for wedding services but I do not wish to do so for a same-sex wedding. Can I refuse? Yes.
9. I am a commercial flower arranger but do not approve of same-sex marriage. Can I refuse to decorate the wedding venue? No.
10. I am a commercial photographer but do not approve of same-sex marriage. Can I refuse to photograph a wedding of a same-sex couple? No.
11. Will we be able to adopt or foster children if we believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman? Yes.