The Roman Catholic Church will oppose in the “strongest terms” any attempt to fundamentally redefine marriage, the Archbishop of Southwark has warned.
Most Revd Peter Smith also said marriage doesn’t belong to the state or the church, but is a fundamental institution rooted in human nature.
The Archbishop also criticised the Government’s plans to allow civil partnerships to be registered in churches for the first time, warning that such a change was not “necessary or desirable”.
Last week the Equalities Office announced that it was going to “formally look” at redefining marriage so that homosexual couples could get the same certificate as married people.
But in a strongly worded statement Archbishop Smith has cautioned against any attempt to fundamentally redefine marriage and impose a new definition on society.
He said: “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 wellbeing and for the procreation and upbringing of children.”
The Equalities Office also revealed last week that it was going to consult on plans to allow civil partnerships to be registered in churches for the first time.
But Archbishop Smith said: “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.”
Media commentators have already expressed concern at the prospect of marriage being redefined.
Michael White, an assistant political editor at The Guardian, said: “Aside from all the theological, moral and cultural freight, there’s an important practical distinction here which goes to the root of any society – namely that heterosexual marriage is there to produce and raise children in a more or less stable environment.”
Mr White, writing on The Guardian’s politics blog, went on to warn that no amount of technology could “eliminate the need for a female egg and a male sperm to make a baby. On that fact rest all successful societies since the year dot.”
His comments were echoed by Melanie Philips, writing in the Daily Mail, who said: “Gay rights supporters contend that there can be no justifiable objection to extending the status of marriage to those who are not heterosexual. Gay or straight — what does it matter, as long as two people are committed to each other?
“But those who make this argument merely reveal they have no idea of the significance of marriage. They seem to think it’s just another contractual arrangement involving a binding (or not so binding) commitment — like buying a house or a car.
“But the truth is that marriage is a unique institution because it involves the process by which humanity reproduces itself — which is only through the union of male and female.”
Last week a senior Conservative MP slammed the coalition Government over an official consultation which will consider doing “away with traditional marriage”.
Edward Leigh MP questioned why the Government was trying to ‘mangle’ marriage, warning that it could have devastating consequences for those who adhere to the traditional definition.
Mr Leigh, a former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Once we have departed from the universally understood framework of marriage, there is no logical reason why the new alternative institution should be limited to two people. Why not three? Or thirty-three?
“Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?
“No doubt because it is an important symbol to them. But it is also an important symbol to many other people.
“Must the religious and cultural heritage of the whole nation be overturned to suit the demands of a minority even of the gay community itself?”
Earlier in the week a number of evangelical Christian organisations, including The Christian Institute, released a joint statement pledging to “firmly oppose” any change to the law.