Frequently Asked Questions - Marrriage and Relationships

Information on the marriage of opposite sex couples (a man and a woman), can be found on the Weddings page of this website.

Here is a link to " A Methodist Statement on a Christian understanding of Family Life, the Single Person and Marriage " which contains a Methodist understanding of Christian marriage.

The Law

1.  Can people of the same sex now marry each other?

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 amended the law so that people of the same sex may marry each other in England and Wales.  The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 amended the law so that people of the same sex may marry each ther in Scotland.  Information about how to marry is available from local authority
Registration Services.

There is no current legislation in other parts of this Connexion (The Isle of Man, Channel Isles, Gibraltar and Malta) permitting same sex marriage.

Here is a summary of same sex marriage and civil partnership legislation around the Connexion:

2.  Will same sex couples be able to marry each other in churches?

The law allows but does not require churches to hold same sex marriages.  Same sex couples may marry in the same way as opposite sex couples. However for a couple to get married in a church, the decision-making body for that church (this would be the Methodist Conference for the Methodist Church) would have to decide to "opt in" to marrying same sex couples. If at a later stage the Conference decided to opt in, then the Church Council of the local Methodist Church (as managing trustees) would need to decide whether to apply to register their building for same sex marriages. Finally a minister would have to be happy to conduct a same sex marriage at that church. All three stages would be needed before a same sex marriage could take place in a local Methodist Church.

Also see question 11

3.  Why does the Act ban the Church of England from conducting same sex marriages? Does this give them more protection from legal challenge than other churches?

The church law of the Church of England, as the established church, is part of the law of the land, and at present church law precludes same sex marriage. It is also important to note that Church of England clergy are under a common law duty to marry parishioners (as are those of the Church in Wales). The Act therefore had to state that the Church of England and the Church in Wales may not solemnize same sex marriages to avoid clergy being obliged under common law to marry same sex couples in their parish. Both denominations may, if they choose, change their laws and opt
in at a later date.

4.  If the Methodist Conference were to resolve that same sex marriages could be carried out on Methodist premises, would all local Methodist churches be obliged to register their buildings?

Should the Methodist Conference resolve in the future to allow same sex marriages on Methodist church premises there would be no obligation on local Methodist churches to register their building. Local church premises would not automatically be registered for same sex marriages. The "proprietor or trustee" of a church building i.e. the church council would still have to decide whether to apply to register the premises for same sex marriages.

5.  Can someone already in a civil partnership convert it into a marriage?

Yes. A couple who were already in a civil partnership before the relevant same sex marriage legislation came into being may convert this to a marriage. Information on how this is done is available from local authority Registration Services.

[These are the relevant legislation: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2014, for England and Wales; and the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014, for Scotland]

6.  A member of the Church has told the Church Council that they are breaching the Equality Act 2010 by not allowing the building to be registered for same sex marriages, is this true?

Refusing to allow same sex marriages on church premises is not contrary to the Equality Act nor any other legislation. The law makes it clear that individuals and religious organisations may not be compelled to consent to, to participate in or to conduct religious marriage ceremonies of same sex couples.

7.  The Church Council are keen to have an open debate on the issue of same sex marriage but some people are concerned that if they speak out against same sex marriage in a public arena they will be committing a crime. Are people able to speak in favour of and against same sex marriage in public?

Yes. Having and expressing an opinion about same sex marriage is not against the law. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 amended the Public Order Act 1986 to ensure that any discussion or criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to the marriage is not to be takenof itselfto be threatening or intended to stir up hatred contrary to the Public Order Act.

It is hoped that no-one participating in a church debate would use words that made someone feel alarmed or threatened and that any debate would need to be carried out with an awareness of pastoral needs and sensitivities.

The Methodist Church

8.  Will Methodist churches have to permit and ministers have to conduct same sex marriages?

No. Even if the Methodist Conference chose to opt in to marrying people of the same sex, individual churches and ministers would not have to do so unless they chose to. The Equality Act 2010 has been amended to state that people will not be breaking the law if they refuse to conduct, participate in or attend a same sex marriage.

9.  Will Methodist churches be able to permit same sex marriages on their premises if  they choose?

Unless the Methodist Conference chooses to opt in to marrying people of the same sex, local Methodist churches will not be able to choose to marry same sex couples. For an individual church to be registered they will have to demonstrate that their denominational decision-making body has chosen formally to opt in.

Also see question 11.

10.  What is the attitude of the Methodist Church to same sex marriage?

Within our Church there is a spectrum of views on human sexuality. The Methodist Conference 2014 reaffirmed the current Methodist Standing Orders which state our belief, "that marriage is a gift of God and that it is God's intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman." At the same time we have since 1993 explicitly recognised, affirmed and celebrated the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men, and been committed to a pilgrimage of faith to combat discrimination and give dignity and worth to people whatever their sexuality.  The Conference in 2014 confirmed that there was no reason why Methodists may not enter legally formed same sex marriage (e.g. civil marriage or marriage in another denomination) or form a civil partnership.

This does not change the definition that the Methodist Church uses to define the intention of marriage, nor does it commit the Church to changing its definition of marriage, as interpreted in Standing Orders, and set out in the 1992 Statement on a Methodist Understanding of Family Life, the Single person and Marriage, which define our liturgical practice.

For context, the Church already lives with situations where opposite sex couples are married under different jurisdictions and/or understandings of marriage (e.g. there are differences between Civil, Anglican, Baptist, Quaker and Roman Catholic definitions, as well as between the different legal jurisdictions of the UK and abroad, which are themselves different to the current Methodist definition of Marriage.)  Being married under a different definition or jurisdiction to the current Methodist definition of marriage does not preclude a Methodist from membership or ministry (the 1994 Conference decision is consistent with this, and with the 1993 Resolutions on Human Sexuality).  But that fact cannot alter the current Methodist understanding of Christian marriage which is used to define our liturgical practice, worship resources etc.  Therefore, no Methodist premises may register to conduct same sex marriages, and no Presbyter may solemnize a same sex marriage in their capacity as a Methodist Minister.

11.  Will the Methodist Church choose to "opt in"?

The Conference in 2014 considered a report from the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Working group. Amongst a number of resolutions, the Conference in 2014 stated that there was no reason why a Methodist could not enter a legally formed same-sex marriage (be that civil marriage or a marriage in another denomination) but that further work was needed before considering whether or not the Methodist definition of marriage should be reviewed.  It is not known at this stage whether the Methodist Church would wish to revisit its definition of marriage, or, if it did revisit the definition, what aspects of marriage would be reconsidered.

Currently (2014-2016) there is a conversation across the whole Connexion about whether or not the Church should revisit our definition of marriage.  This could include considering maters such as same-sex marriage but also broader aspects of human relationships in the modern world. The Methodist Conference in 2014 set up a Task Group to guide and support these conversations.  More information can be found at:

www.methodist.org.uk/talkingofmarriageandrelationships

Any future decision would be based on an extended period of prayer, reflection, discussion and consultation.

12.  What about civil partnerships? Can they take place in Methodist Churches?

The Methodist Conference has not consented to civil partnerships taking place on Methodist Church premises.

Also see question 13

13.  What about blessing of same sex relationships? Can Methodist ministers conduct services of blessing?

The Conference in 2014 considered a report from the Marriage and Civil Partnerships Working group. Amongst a number of resolutions, the Conference in 2014 stated that there was no reason why a Methodist could not enter a legally formed same-sex marriage (be that civil marriage or a marriage in another denomination) but that further work was needed before considering whether or not the Methodist definition of marriage should be reviewed.

As part of this, the Conference clarified that, whilst there is no formal Methodist liturgy or Methodist resources for the blessing of civil partnerships or same-sex marriage, appropriate pastoral responses may be given to same-sex couples who are entering civil partnership or legal same sex-marriages.

Methodist Standing Orders on blessing same sex relationships can be found in Book VII Part 10 of the Constitutional Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church. In brief, it says that if a request is received to conduct prayers for a same sex couple the person approached should respond pastorally and sensitively and with due regard to established good practice. No minister is required to act contrary to his or her own conscience. "The Conference trusts and respects the integrity of those responsible for responding to couples requesting prayers or a 'service of blessing' ... however nothing should be said or done which misrepresents the Church's beliefs or discipline, and for this reason Methodist premises may not be used for the blessing of same-sex relationships."

In other words, prayers of thanksgiving or celebration may be said, and there may be informal services of thanksgiving or celebration.  However, the church council needs to agree in advance what the local church's policy should be on that (i.e. to consider whether such prayers, thanksgivings etc may be said on the premises).  "Blessings", would
be a formal liturgy, and are not permitted on Methodist premises.

14.  I am a minister of a local Church and have been asked to officiate at a marriage between a couple who are now opposite sex but where the man was born a woman. Can I marry this couple on Methodist premises?

Yes. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 is clear that transgender people who transition gender must be fully, socially, medically and legally recognised in their 'new' gender, have a new birth certificate, and are permitted to marry a person of the opposite gender under
current marriage law.  Gender identity is a complex area of medical and social science.  It will often not be known whether or not a person is transgender.

There is no clear theological or Scriptural position on matters of gender reassignment.

Shared Buildings

15.  A Methodist building is subject to a sharing agreement with another denomination and the sharing church has indicated that they will want to marry same sex couples on the premises. Are we obliged to allow them to register the building?

Any denomination who is a party to a Sharing Agreement under the Shared Building Act 1969 has a power to veto a registration of the building for same sex marriage. There is no obligation to register the building even if one denomination wishes to. All denominations who are a party to the Sharing Agreement would need to consent (both the governing authority and trustees) to the registration for same sex marriage.


16.  The local Methodist church are a party to a sharing agreement with another denomination who want to carry out same sex marriage ceremonies on the premises. It is not a Methodist building. What should we do?

As above.

17.  Our local Church has granted a license/lease to another denomination who use the  building a couple of times a week for their Sunday service and bible studies. The license/lease has been for a 12 month term but they have been sharing the building for years. The other denomination want to be able to carry out same sex marriages and have asked whether the Church Council would register the building. If not, they want to apply themselves. What should we do?

The other denomination could not force the Church Council to register the building even if the Conference chooses, in a future date, to opt in and allow same sex marriage on Methodist premises. Nor could the other denomination register the premises themselves.

Regulations are in the process of being drafted for shared premises which are not subject to a Sharing Agreement. The regulations will clarify the process for registering shared premises for same sex marriage and who has to consent to the registration.

 

What next?

18.  What is the Methodist Church doing now? (2014-2016)

The Methodist Conference in July 2014 set up a task group to oversee a conversation across the Connexion on Marriage and Relationships.  Further information about the task group can be found by following this link:

www.methodist.org.uk/talkingofmarriageandrelationships

 

19. What is the Methodist Connexion being asked to discuss?

The discussions are about Marriage and Relationships.  The Methodist Conference in 2014 "urged the Methodist people to engage with each other honestly, prayerfully and graciously in a process of deep reflection and discernment about matters relating to marriage and human relationships".  The questions that need to be answered (by the Marriage and Relationships Task Group) are:

  • whether the Methodist understanding of Christian marriage should be revisited; and
  • whether 1992 Conference Statement A Christian Understanding of Family Life, the Single Person and Marriage should be updated.

To do that the Task Group needs to have a clearer understanding of the range of views in the Connexion.  One of the underlying purposes of the discussion is to enable people to understand that, as a Church, we have a range of views on these matters, and that some of these views, whilst genuinely based on people's understanding of scripture/theological reflection, remain diverse and sometimes contradictory.  The conversations need to be grounded in Methodist scriptiral and theoligical reflection.

Districts have been asked to provide feedback on the conversations: giving an indication of the breadth and inclusiveness of the conversations (because everyone's voice is important); summarising the range of reasons people have expressed for revisiting, or not
revisiting the Methodist definition of Christian Marriage; and summarising the missional and pastoral opportunities and challenges that the Church might have if it chose to revisit, or not to revist, the definition.

20. Can I submit an individual response outside of the conversation?

The Conference in 2014, asked the whole Connexion to engage in deep reflection on matters of Marriage and Relationships.  One of the ways of supporting that reflection was to establish local conversations, and provide resources for reflection and engagement.  This is an exercise of discussion and listening - a conversation, not a consultation.

Districts have been asked to provide feedback to the Marriage and Relationships Task Group on the breadth and range of matters discussed in the conversations.  Since the purpose is to hold conversations, there is not a mechanism for receiving individual responses.  However, if any member of the Methodist Church is unable to attend any of the events organised within their District, they are encouraged to speak with their Superintendent Minister about ensuring that conversations take place within their circuit (this should be happening anyway).


Any further questions?

For any questions not covered in these FAQs or the 'Talking of Marriage and Relationships' page, you may write to Alister McClure, support officer to the Marriage and Relationships Task Group: mcclurea@methodistchurch.org.uk

 

 

 

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