MORE than two dozen church leaders have united to oppose the Government’s proposals ‘to redefine the institution of marriage’.
In a joint statement released following Parliament’s backing for same sex weddings, 25 Burton spokesmen of faiths including Anglicanism, Catholicism and Pentecostalism reaffirmed their commitment that marriage should continue to apply solely to a commitment of two people of the opposite sex.
The leaders, including Reverend Michael Andreyev, of St Peter’s Church, Father Stephen Wright, of St Mary and St Modwen’s Roman Catholic Church, and Pastor Rob Styles, of the Elim Pentecostal Church, said they wanted to make a clear statement of their position in the wake of the coalition’s bid to broaden the scope of marriage to include same sex couples.
They said they affirmed ‘God’s open-hearted and indiscriminate love to people of all sexual orientations’ and their desire ‘to make everyone welcome in our congregations’.
The leaders also noted legal provision under civil partnerships for same sex couples to express ‘a legal and binding commitment’.
“However, the term ‘marriage’ has historically always been applied uniquely to the committed lifelong union of two people of the opposite sex,” they said.
“This understanding is rooted in the origins of time and predates Christianity.
“We believe it clearly reflects the teaching of the Bible about God’s purpose and intent for sexual practice, the procreation of children and the value of family life for people of all faiths or none.
“And we affirm our conviction that ‘marriage’ should continue to retain this historical meaning which distinguishes it from a commitment between people of the same sex.”
The statement was published after Parliament backed the same sex marriage bill despite opposition from 136 Conservative MPs, including Burton’s representative, Andrew Griffiths.
In a note accompanying the statement, Reverend Nigel Irons, of All Saints Church, Burton, said: “I think I can say with a high level of confidence that those making this statement will be disappointed but pleased to know our MP was among many Conservative MPs who chose to vote against.
“This was a courageous choice which clearly demonstrates his willingness to listen and to weigh the arguments which have been put to him.”
THREE of the four Tory MPs in the Burton and South Derbyshire area voted against the coalition’s bid to permit same sex marriage.
Andrew Griffiths, Heather Wheeler and Andrew Bridgen, who represent Burton, South Derbyshire and North West Leicestershire respectively, opposed the bill, with only former Government whip Michael Fabricant, who represents Lichfield, offering support.
Mr Griffiths said: “It was an incredibly difficult vote and a decision I came to after a great deal of thought and consideration.
“I very much support the objectives of equality and fairness and I’ve always been a strong supporter of civil partnerships.
“But I received hundreds and hundreds of letters from constituents with faith who were concerned about the implications it would have on them and their churches.
“They find this whole thing extremely worrying and I hope that as the bill passes into committee stage the Government will be able to do more to reassure people that churches will not be forced to conduct same sex marriages if they don’t wish to.”
Mr Griffiths and his colleagues were free to follow their consciences during the second reading of the bill after the Government permitted a free vote.
Mrs Wheeler’s opposition bore striking similarities to religious objections.
She said: “I do take the traditional view that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“I really do feel there are still problems with the issues over the law on fairness over civil partnerships.
“I think they should be available to heterosexual couples and the bill did nothing to deal with that.
“Finally, I felt it was redefining marriage in a way that was completely unnecessary and I just did not feel I could vote for it.”
Mr Bridgen was unavailable to comment.
However, the Mail understands he joined the 175 MPs who opposed the Government’s proposals on the basis of numerous representations received from religious organisations.
Mr Fabricant, however, was among the 400 MPs who backed the bill, principally on equality grounds.
“To my mind the issue is straightforward,” he said.
“If two people want to show a spiritual commitment to each other they should be allowed to do so, whether straight or gay, provided that there’s no compulsion on any religious organisation to conduct a ceremony if it does not wish to do so.”