On 17th July 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill obtained Royal Assent meaning that same-sex couples in England and Wales will be able to marry once the Act is brought into force, likely to be in mid-2014.
In a statement on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Conference President, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, and Vice-President, Archbishop Peter Smith, said that the Act ‘marks a watershed in English law and heralds a profound social change’.
The statement appeals to the traditional understanding of marriage: ‘Marriage has, over the centuries, been publicly recognised as a stable institution which establishes a legal framework for the committed relationship between a man and a woman and for the upbringing and care of their children. It has, for this reason, rightly been recognised as unique and worthy of legal protection.’
The statement explains that the Bishops’ Conference is ‘opposed to this legislation on principle’ as it ‘breaks the existing legal links between the institution of marriage and sexual complementarity’ and that ‘with this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central’.
The bishops also air their concerns about ‘the deficiencies in the process by which this legislation came to Parliament, and the speed with which it has been rushed through’, and expressed gratitude to those in Parliament who sought to get amendments added to provide ‘more effective protection for religious freedom’. However, ‘other amendments to safeguard freedom of speech and the rights of civil registrars to conscientious objection were not passed’.
The full text of the statement can be found here.