Church in Britain Prepares for Marriage Battle

Faithful Will Hear Pastoral Letter at Masses This Weekend

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LONDON, MARCH 7, 2012 ( The issue of same-sex marriage has been in the headlines in recent days in Britain. Responding to Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to legalize same-sex marriage, Edinburgh’s archbishop, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, wrote an article in last Sunday’s edition of the Telegraph newspaper on the topic.

“Since all the legal rights of marriage are already available to homosexual couples, it is clear that this proposal is not about rights, but rather is an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists,” he said.

Re-defining marriage will have huge repercussions on society, the prelate warned.

“Can a word whose meaning has been clearly understood in every society throughout history suddenly be changed to mean something else?,” he asked.

The institution of marriage predates any state or government, he explained. “It was not created by governments and should not be changed by them.”

Profoundly radical

A number of press reports say that this Sunday a pastoral letter will be read out in all churches in England and Wales on the topic of same-sex marriage. It is reportedly authored by the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and the Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith.

Redefining marriage to include homosexuals would be a “profoundly radical step” stripping it of its “distinctive nature,” according to copies of the letter published by the press.

The definition of marriage is much more than a matter of public opinion, the letter affirms. “Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility,” the bishops say.

“This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself.”

The government has shown no signs of backing down from its commitment to legalizing same-sex marriage. “If a couple . . . want to commit to a life together, this Government believes they should have the option of a civil marriage irrespective of sexual orientation,” said a Home Office official according to a March 5 report in the Times newspaper.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government will, however, face determined opposition from the Catholic Church.


Scotland’s local government is also considering introducing same-sex marriage. In September last year it opened up a process of consultation on same-sex civil partnerships and marriage.

“The Government’s initial view is that marriage should be open to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples,” the consultation paper states.

Following this, Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Bishop Philip Tartaglia wrote to Scotland’s First Minister and the Deputy First Minister seeking clarification on the government’s consultation.

The letter expressed concern that the Scottish government was open to receiving submissions from persons and groups outside Scotland, a December 8 press release by the Scottish Catholic Media Office explained.

“Even to collate and separately identify non-Scottish responses would be to undermine the singular sovereignty of the Scottish people which you have so eloquently upheld,” the letter stated.

“What is the competence of government to take an ideology and reconstruct society on that ideology?” Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, Scotland, said recently. “At the heart of that ideology is the notion that gender is a social construct, and it is not,” he said in an article published February 18 in the Times newspaper.

As the opinion pages and editorials of the press in Britain fill with contrary views on same-sex marriage, the coming months promise to be a tense time indeed for the future of marriage and the family.

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