UK bishops lament 'gay marriage' approval

Queen Elizabeth II has approved the British parliament's "gay marriage" bill, in what the Catholic bishops of England and Wales called a "profound social change" that neglects the centrality of children and puts religious freedom at risk.

"Marriage has, over the centuries, been publicly recognized 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," the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said July 17. "It has, for this reason, rightly been recognized as unique and worthy of legal protection."

The law would allow the contracting of same-sex "marriages" in England and Wales, but not Scotland or Northern Ireland, beginning next year.

The bishops said that the new law removes from marriage both the centrality of children and the responsibility for mothers and fathers to remain together to care for children.

"That is why we were opposed to this legislation on principle," they said.

Queen Elizabeth, who heads the Church of England, approved the bill on July 17. It had passed the House of Commons by a vote of 366 to 161 before passing the House of Lords, the BBC reports.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who had not campaigned on "gay marriage," pushed the legislation through over the objections of many in his party. The move could swing some traditional Tory supporters to the United Kingdom Independence Party, which supports existing law recognizing same-sex civil unions but does not back redefining marriage.

The Evangelical Alliance, which represents 79 Protestant denominations and 3,500 churches, said the bill turned civil marriage into "a fluid, gender-neutral institution defined by consumer demands and political expediency." They warned that the change will have "profound implications," including the normalization of same-sex unions and the enforcement of "a new social orthodoxy."

The group called on Christians to "model marriage to a society that has forgotten what it is" in response to the "new legal fiction" created by the bill.

Some religious groups backed the law.

Rabbi Danny Rich, the chief executive of Liberal Judaism, a group representing  about 40 synagogues, praised legislators for "putting equality before prejudice and recognizing that the whole of society benefits when we value stable, loving relationships," the British newspaper The Telegraph reports.

The Catholic bishops voiced gratitude to legislators who improved protections for churches that do not conduct same-sex "marriages." The government amended legislation to ensure that discussion or criticism of same-sex unions in itself does not violate laws against fomenting hatred.

However, the bishops lamented legislators' failure to ensure that religious schools can teach in accordance with their religious tenets. They are concerned that future rulings on education policy could require actions that conflict with Catholic teaching.

They also lamented that amendments protecting freedom of speech and conscientious objection rights for civil registrars did not pass. The bishops noted high-level "assurances" that employees would not face adverse treatment if they believe in marriage only between a man and a woman.

The Catholic bishops pled for tolerance for those who do not accept same-sex unions as marriages.

"The legal and political traditions of this country are founded on a firm conviction concerning the rights of people to hold and express their beliefs and views, at the same time as respecting those who differ from them," they said. "It is important, at this moment in which deeply held and irreconcilable views of marriage have been contested, to affirm and strengthen this tradition."

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