Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act – Frequently Asked Questions

This page is now out of date, but remains published as it forms a record of the situation at the time of the Same Sex Marriage and Civil Partnerships Working Group.

 
For answers to frequently asked questions about same sex marriage, and and the Connexion-wide conversations on Marriage and Relationships, please follow the link to Marriage and Relationships - Frequently Asked Questions
 
  

Below are the previous FAQs on The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. (as at 2013-2014).

 

The Law (2013-2014)

1

Can people of the same sex now marry each other?

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 amends the law so that people of the same sex will be able to marry each other in England and Wales (consultation on similar legislation is underway in Scotland). The Government has announced that the first same sex marriages will take place on 29 March 2014.

 

2

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

Same sex couples will be able to hold civil marriages 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 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.

 

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 are already in a civil partnership will be able to convert this to a marriage.  The Secretary of State will be issuing guidance on how this can be done.

 

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 (2013-2014)

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.

 

10

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

The Methodist Conference has not yet made a statement on same sex marriage.  Within our Church there is a spectrum of views on human sexuality. Methodist Standing Orders 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 for nearly twenty years 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.

 

11

Will the Methodist Church choose to "opt in"?

Our existing Standing Orders mean the Methodist Conference would not be in a position to opt in to consenting to same sex marriages in the near future.  The Methodist Conference has appointed a working group to reflect on the impact of the legislation and no decision has been taken as yet on whether or not the Conference will choose to opt in. 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, and under the legislation such civil partnership ceremonies cannot therefore take place in Methodist churches.

 

13

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

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."

 

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.  Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 transsexual people who transition gender are fully and legally recognised in their new gender, have a new birth certificate, and are allowed to marry a person of the opposite gender under current marriage law.

 

Shared Buildings (2013-2014)

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 the future, 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? (2013-2014)

18

What is the Methodist Church doing about this now?

The Methodist Conference in July 2013 set up a working group

"to consider whether the Methodist Church's position on marriage needs revising in light of changes in society, undertaking this consideration with reference to scripture, tradition, reason and experience. The terms of reference would be:

a. To consider the implications for the Methodist Church of a change in legislation covering same-sex marriage;

b. To consider whether the Methodist Church's position on marriage needs revising in the light of changes in society;

c. To undertake the work directed by the reply to Memorial 29(2012) [a Memorial from the Birmingham Synod seeking for a review of the Conference's ruling that blessing of civil partnerships should not take place on Methodist premises]

d. To make recommendations for any changes in practice or polity."

The working party is mindful of what was said to the Conference about the relatively limited ambit of the working group's remit at this stage: "to consider whether the Methodist Church's position needed reviewing in light of changes in society rather than to make substantive proposal for change. If a revision is thought potentially necessary, it is expected that a further working party would be appointed to examine the substantive issues."

The working group has therefore identified a range of possible areas for consideration and is currently conducting a consultation whether these are indeed the issues about which it should make recommendations to the 2014 Conference that they be explored more fully.  The consultation can be found at www.methodist.org.uk/ssmcpworkinggroup It closed on 10 February 2014.

 

 

 

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you