Quaker view on same sex marriages - updated July 2013
Quaker view on marriage
Updated July 2013
Quakers in Britain welcome the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. The legislation received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013. The first Quaker marriages in England and Wales under the new law may be in 2014.
Quakers see God in everyone and that leads us to say that all committed loving relationships are of equal worth and so Quakers in Britain wish to celebrate them in the same way.
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain says: “It's wonderful to see same-sex marriage achieve legal recognition. Quakers see the light of God in everyone and so we respect the inherent worth of each individual and each loving relationship.
"Quakers have been celebrating same-sex relationships as marriages within our faith community since 2009 and are delighted to see the law catch up."
He explains: “The new regulations (from December 2011) allowed civil partnerships in Quaker meeting houses in England and Wales, but that is not a marriage; it is a legal contract, not a spiritual one. That is why we have been seeking a further change in the law so that same-sex marriages can be celebrated within a couple’s worshipping community. Quakerism is a contemporary and radical faith, which is open to new light, and we strive to discern what the world needs of us. For us, this means seeking legal recognition for the practice we already recognise. We don’t seek to impose this on anyone else. For Quakers this is an issue of religious freedom.”
Background: Quaker decision on same-sex relationships
At their Yearly Meeting in York in 2009, Quakers in Britain sought a change in the law so that same-sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite-sex marriages are celebrated in Quaker meetings. Quakers consider that they should be able to follow the insights of their membership in celebrating life-long committed relationships between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, in exactly the same way as they currently recognise the marriage of opposite-sex couples.
Quaker understanding of marriage
Marriage is not a mere civil contract, but a religious act. (Yearly Meeting in London 1848).
For the right joining in marriage is the work of the Lord only, and not the priests’ or magistrates’; for it is God’s ordinance and not man’s; and therefore Friends cannot consent that they should join them together: for we marry none; it is the Lord’s work, and we are but witnesses. (George Fox 1669) See http://www.quaker.org.uk/we-are-but-witnesses
Who can have their civil partnership or marriage solemnised in a Quaker meeting house?
Quaker marriage is not open to all, but is for members and those who, while not in formal membership, are in unity with its religious nature and witness.
Does a registering officer need to be present?
Each Quaker area meeting appoints suitable members as registering officers who are normally present at the solemnisation of a marriage at a meeting for worship. They ensure that marriages are prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and legally valid. Quaker meetings do not have clergy. Since December 2011 same-sex couples may have their civil partnership registered in a registered Quaker meeting house, in the presence of a visiting local authority registrar.
What is the current legal position?
The Civil Partnership Act of December 2005 said that in England and Wales and Scotland same-sex partnerships could be registered as civil partnerships in law, but that such registrations could not take place in the context of religious worship. Civil partnership is not recognised as marriage, although registered civil partners share almost the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.
The Equality Act 2010, section 202, removed the ban on civil partnership registrations being held on religious premises in England and Wales, if a faith body wishes. In December 2012 the government published its response to the consultation on equal marriage, outlining draft legislation to allow same-sex marriages on religious premises in England and Wales, if a faith body opts in.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in January 2013 and gained Royal Assent on 17 July 2013.
- The Council of Trent (1545-63) agreed that a priest had to be present at a marriage, rather than just lay witnesses. It was the consent of the partners which made the sacrament and not the presence of the priest.
- In the sixteenth century marriage was understood to be a public event, with marriages listed in parish registers and a Catholic priest present for a blessing.
- Archbishop Cranmer’s Prayer Book of 1549 recognised three purposes, according to Scripture, for which marriage was ordained: the procreation and nurture of children; as a remedy against sin (i.e. a framework for fidelity and a proper non promiscuous context for loving sexual relations); and for the mutual society, help and comfort of man and wife.
- In 1653, under the Barebones Parliament, the civil registration of marriages in the presence of a Justice of the Peace had become compulsory. The Marriage Act of 1656 confirmed that. Quakers refused to be married before a clergyman or to use the Book of Common Prayer for worship.
- In 1661 “Judge Arthur stated in a ruling that ‘Quakers . . . did not go together like brute beasts (as has been stated) but as Christians’. . . The 1662 Act of Uniformity was passed to ensure conformity with the Church of England . . . marriages should be solemnized in the presence of clergy . . . potentially the Quakers’ crime with the most serious ramifications was their marriage in their own meeting”. (from Trevett: Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century, 1991)
- In 1753 Quakers were given the right to conduct marriages in England and Wales, but case law before that recognised the validity of Quaker marriages.
- Quakers began to call for a sexual morality based on the worth of relationships in 1963 with the publication of 'Towards a Quaker view of Sex'. It was probably the most influential document published by Quakers in Britain in the twentieth century. This collection of essays was not an official Quaker statement on sexuality but was published by the Literature committee of the Friends Home Service Committee as a contribution to thought on an important subject. The booklet insisted on the basic similarity of homosexual and heterosexual emotional and moral experience and said: “Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters: one must not judge by its outward appearance but by its inner worth… We see no reason why the physical nature of a sexual act should be the criterion by which the question whether or not it is moral should be decided. An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual.”
- Since then, Quakers have developed through tolerance to widespread acceptance of same sex partnerships, particularly since the formation of the now Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship in 1973.
- There was no formal stage of 'recognising' same-sex partnerships nationally as Quaker procedures allowed it to happen: there was nothing against it. The first meetings for commitment were in 1996. Since then, around twenty local meetings have celebrated same-sex relationships through an official meeting for commitment.
- Quakers responded to the government consultation ahead of the Civil Partnership Act 2005. Quaker Life Central Committee and its committee on Eldership and Oversight wrote: “Quaker Life welcomes your proposals offering same-sex couples equal treatment with opposite-sex couples. We support the balance of equal rights with equal responsibility. We hope these registrations may be mutually recognised within the United Kingdom and outside it. Quaker Meetings in some parts of Britain have already celebrated same-sex commitments in meetings for worship, and more will do so.”
- Following the Civil Partnership Act of December 2005, same-sex couples in England, Wales and Scotland, who share Quaker beliefs may opt for a blessing or commitment ceremony after entering a civil partnership.
- The Civil Partnership Act allows same-sex partnerships to be registered as civil partnerships in law, but such registrations cannot take place in the context of religious worship. Civil partnership is not recognised as marriage, although registered civil partners share almost the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples.
- The total number of civil partnerships formed in the UK since the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005, up to the end of 2011, is 53,417. (Office for National Statistics)
The Equality Act 2010
What did Waheed Alli’s amendment to the Equality Bill propose?
- The amendment lifted the ban on religious buildings being used in civil partnerships in England and Wales. The restrictions on civil partnerships had been introduced by the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. The amendment provided for an order-making power for registering religious premises for the conduct of civil partnerships. It made clear that nothing in the amendment could compel religious organisations to conduct civil partnerships against their conscience.
Key stages of this amendment to the Equality Bill
- 25 January 2010 Amendment 119 to the Bill proposed by Lord Alli with the support of Julia Neuberger proposed to end the current ban on the use of religious premises for and religious language in the celebration of civil partnerships. During debate many speakers gave warm support for the Quakers’ stance on same-sex marriage. The amendment was withdrawn.
- 03 March 2010 Waheed Alli (Labour), Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (Cross Bencher) and Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton (Cross Bencher) tabled amendment 53 to the Equality Bill at Report Stage. There were 95 votes for the amendment and 21 against.
- 23 March 2010 Third Reading of the Equality Bill. Lord Alli’s amendment proposing civil partnerships be permitted in religious premises will be clause 202. It will require consultation and further subsidiary legislation (after the general election May 2010).
- 8 April 2010 The Equality Bill received Royal Assent. Further consultation with the faith communities will determine how the provisions of the Equality Act (section 202) on civil partnerships on religious premises are carried out.
- 17 February 2011 the Government announced that religious buildings will be allowed to host civil partnership registrations. The change will be entirely voluntary and will not force any religious group to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so. Ministers also identified a desire to move towards civil marriage and civil partnerships, and will be consulting further how legislation can develop.
- December 2011 The Equality Act 2010 included a section that allowed civil partnerships to be held on religious premises in England and Wales, if a faith group wishes. On 5 December regulations came into effect. On 15 December the House of Lords debated Baroness O’Cathain’s attempt to revoke the regulations to allow civil partnerships registration. This attempt was withdrawn and the regulations came into effect. Quaker meeting houses began to apply to register to hold civil partnerships ceremonies.
- July 2012 Scottish Government announced its intention to legislate to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland, by way of both civil ceremonies and religious ceremonies and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. The Scottish Government intends to work with the UK Government to secure agreement to such an amendment to equality law before formally introducing a Bill to parliament, with the intention of having it enacted before a change of the law comes into force. Quakers were invited to take part in a focused consultation with stakeholders to inform the drafting of legislation and guidance.
- March 2012 A public consultation to consider how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples in England and Wales began in March 2012.
- September 2012 The first civil partnership was celebrated in Friends House, central offices of Quakers in Britain.
- December 2012 the government published its response to the consultation on equal marriage outlining draft legislation to allow same-sex marriages on religious premises in England and Wales, if a faith body opts in. Quakers broadly welcome proposals. The Scottish Government follows by launching a consultation into the draft Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill (Scotland) which will introduce same-sex marriage and the religious and belief registration of civil partnership. The Scottish consultation closes in March 2013.
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill
- The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in January 2013.
- Quakers write to MPs and peers to encourage support for Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
- 5 February 2013 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the government's legislation for same-sex marriage in England and Wales, by 400 to 175, a majority of 225.
- 21 May 2013 Quakers in Britain welcomed the step towards equal marriage as the Bill passed its Third Reading with 366 votes for and 161 votes against.
- 4 June 2013 House of Lords defeated a wrecking amendment by 390 votes to 148 and the Bill went on to committee stage.
- According to Hansard, during the two-day debate, Baroness Brinton said: “The Quakers, as ever, set the pace on this. In 1963, in their paper, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, they said: ‘Surely it is the nature and quality of a relationship that matters; one must not judge by its outward appearance but by its inner worth … We see no reason why the physical nature of a sexual act should be the criterion by which the question whether or not it is moral should be decided. An act which expresses true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both, does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual.’
- She continued, “Quakers see God in everyone, and all commitments to relationships as of equal worth. So I am pleased that the Quakers have said publicly that they will opt into the registration arrangements and carry out equal marriage with enthusiasm.”
- The Bill passed through the Commons in a free vote with a 205 majority after 366 MPs voted in favour, with 161 MPs voting against.
- July 2013 Quakers in Britain welcome the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. The legislation received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013.
- The first Quaker marriages in England and Wales under the new law may be in 2014.