Doing the State’s Bidding: The Church of England, Parliament, Women Bishops and Same Sex Civil Marriage

Andrew Goddard, once more with feeling, points out the obvious about Parliament’s governance over the Church of England:

The Church of England, wrestling with internal differences over provision for opponents of women bishops and over responses to same-sex relationships, could soon find a further contentious topic being added to the mix: the question of establishment, the church’s relationship with the state. This has been highlighted by two recent developments in which government ministers or Members of Parliament have pressed for a certain conception of equality in English law and society.

More than 50 MPs recently signed an Early Day Motion which not only supports women bishops but also “calls on Her Majesty’s Government to remove any exemptions pertaining to gender under existing equality legislation” if that legislation “fails through a technicality to receive final approval in General Synod.” The most likely “technicality” is the requirement of two-thirds support in all three houses of General Synod, which may not be achieved if some supporters of women bishops believe provision for opponents is insufficient…

It is difficult to see how the Church of England could maintain its distinctive position in marriage law — being authorized by statute to marry according to its own rites — if marriage became legally gender-blind but those rites upheld marriage as between a man and a woman and so directly discriminated against same-sex couples. The problem will be even greater if, in contrast, opposite-sex couples retain (with a few exceptions) the legal right to use of their parish church for their weddings.

Obvious?  It was to this blogger at least.  From last year:

The CoE’s position as an established church has always made it vulnerable to state interference and control of the kind that Cameron is implicitly threatening (over same sex marriage).  That’s why North American Anglicans’ endless desire to find validation by the CoE (along with getting into an Anglican Covenant, with the CoE as the natural centre) is misguided and will end in disaster.

And earlier, in 2006, re women becoming bishops:

It just gets crazier and crazier out there…

In our Island Chronicles fiction series, we document the successive edicts of an autocratic Island monarchy which by decree imposes first women ministers and then women bishops on its reluctant Anglican state church. They do this because the first woman to hold each is a favourite of the kingdom’s strong-willed queen and crown princess.

Now we see that certain members of Parliament in London are considering doing basically the same thing to the Church of England to force it to have women bishops. While some have described it as a “constitutional crisis,” the blunt fact is that, as long as the Church of England is basically a creature of the state, the state can pretty much tell it what to do when push comes to shove.

On this side of the Atlantic, we’ve forgotten what it means to have a state church. Some worry about the consequences of religious influences on the state. The rest of us worry about the reverse. This is a reminder of that simple fact.

The only amazing thing is that it’s taken so long.

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