The Government statement on 17 February makes it clear that they are now considering a fundamental change to the status of marriage. That is something which was never envisaged by the Equality Act or any other legislation passed by Parliament. Marriage does not belong to the State any more than it belongs to the Church. It is a fundamental human institution rooted in human nature itself. It is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to each other, publicly entered into, for their mutual well-being and for the procreation and upbringing of children. No authority – civil or religious – has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage. We will be opposing such a change in the strongest terms.
The Equality Act was amended to permit Civil Partnerships on religious premises, which unhelpfully blurs the distinction previously upheld by Parliament and the Courts between marriage and civil partnerships. A consenting Minister is perfectly free to hold a religious ceremony either before or after a Civil Partnership. That is a matter of religious freedom, but it requires no legislation by the State. We do not believe it is either necessary or desirable to allow the registration of civil partnerships on religious premises. These will not take place in Catholic churches.