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Church of England given fast-track option for same-sex marriage

Maria Miller MPBy Andrew Grice, Independent

The Church of England would be allowed a fast-track opt-in to the law allowing gay marriage if it decides to drop its opposition to the idea, it emerged yesterday.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will make it illegal for the Church to conduct gay marriages because its canon law prohibits them. That means that an individual Church of England vicar would not be able to hold gay weddings – even though the Bill will allow other churches to do so if they wish. The Government has been criticised by equality campaigners for specifically outlawing same-sex marriage in the Church in its legislation. But in a response to critics, the Bill, published yesterday, would allow the Church to opt in to the law without fresh legislation being pushed through Parliament, a process that could take many months. Once canon law was changed, all that would be required would be a vote in the Commons and Lords.

Maria Miller, the Equalities Minister, said clergy in the Churches of England and Wales were subject to a legal duty to marry parishioners. To protect them from legal challenge, the Bill made clear this would not extend to same-sex couples. “I think it’s important to recognise that churches may decide not to opt in and some will decide to opt in,” Ms Miller said. “If you look at the way that issues such as divorce have been dealt with in the Church of England, and the way the state deals with them, over time the Church of England has looked at these matters and decided to deal with them differently and now, for instance, with divorce, vicars are able to have some discretion on these matters.”

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