Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Rev’d Canon Rosie Harper (MB 32)

Public Bill Committee Written Submission: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-3

1. I am Rev’d Canon Rosie Harper and I work as a priest in the Church of England. I am also the chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham, an Honorary Canon of Oxford Cathedral and a member of General Synod

2. I am frequently invited to contribute to discussions in the media, including recently on the panel of Any Questions on R4. I helped to lead a very successful National Church Project on marriage and believe that marriage is good for human flourishing

3. My reason for submitting this evidence is that the bill’s proposals deny my own freedom to follow my conscience. Equal marriage will become part of the law of the land and yet I will be legally restrained from acting in accordance with my religious beliefs. That which is lawful will be unlawful for me, even though the Church of England is the established by law.

4. The bill seems to be setting up two conflicting rights within one piece of legislation. The conscientious rights of those who refuse to marry same sex couples should of course be defended, but not by trampling on the conscientious rights of a sizable minority of their colleagues who wish to be free to follow their own convictions on this matter

5. I would also like to draw to your attention the plight of Anglican gay couples who long for a Christian marriage ceremony. A member of my own congregation told me recently that she has never felt so alienated from the church. She would never wish for any clergy person to marry her if they didn’t believe it were right, but is horrified at the legal locks put in place to prevent clergy who believe this is a Christian and moral good to be allowed to follow their consciences.

6. One or two people in my own parish have expressed dismay at my pro-equal marriage convictions, but once I began to explore the roots of their opposition with I was shocked by the unpleasantness of their responses which were motivated by disgust about homosexuality per se, rather than the concept of marriage.

7. The Church of England has not consulted within its own membership about the position they have presented to the government. They seem to be speaking mainly for themselves. The church has proved almost pathologically unable to have open and honest discussions about the subject and end up simply grandstanding. Along with many of my colleagues I wish to say: ‘not in my name’ After the latest statement issued by the church in December Newsnight was unable to find a single bishop willing to support the official line in public.

8. The proposed quadruple lock has placed the church in considerable disrepute in the public sphere. It widens the gulf between society and church considerably and it weakens the voice of the church about other moral issues.

9. An amendment which allowed the decision to marry a gay couple to be a genuine matter of conscience for the clergy person concerned would simply replicate the position we have regarding the remarriage of divorced persons, a device that works perfectly well. I have yet to hear of anyone unwilling to marry a divorcee having been forced to do so or taken to a human rights court.

February 2013

Prepared 27th February 2013