SWINDON’S MPs are split ahead of a Commons vote today on Government proposals to allow gay marriage in England and Wales.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill would enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies, where a religious institution had formally consented, in England and Wales.
The Church of England and Church in Wales would be banned from offering same-sex marriages as they had ‘explicitly stated’ strong opposition to offering same-sex ceremonies, but other religious organisations would be able to opt in.
MPs will have a free vote on the issue, meaning they will not be issued orders by party whips, and the debate has opened up significant differences within the Conservative Party, with about 150 Tory MPs expected to defy David Cameron’s plan.
Robert Buckland, Swindon South MP, who is a member of the Church of England, said society was not yet ready for the change and the bill was ‘in danger of stretching the concept of marriage to breaking point’.
He said: “I’m not going to be supporting the bill. I’m sure I would have voted for all other measures relating to equalisation but I think that this bill is stretching what I regard as the definition of marriage too far.
“I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. Whilst I believe in stable relationships recognised by the state, I think the best way to go about it is to enhance the civil partnerships route.
“At the moment, civil partnerships are only available to same-sex couples. We should make them available to everyone and we should make the rights of people who are entering into civil partnerships the same as the rights of those who have civil marriages. Particular rights in divorce procedures at the moment don’t exist.”
But Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson, said: “My view is it’s absolutely right that politicians are removed from the decision-making process and it should be left to individual churches on how they interpret the Bible, and therefore I will be voting in favour.
“I’m personally relaxed, but I do respect that individual churches should be free to make their own choices.”
The bill is also supported by the Rev Mark Paris-Haines, 33, of central Swindon, a priest of the United Old Catholic Church, who was joined with his partner Christopher Haines, 26, in a civil partnership at the Mailcoach pub, in Fleet Street, in 2011.
“As long as I have been a priest, I have believed it has always been needed. This is what the gay community has been seeking,” said Mr Paris-Haines, who also conducted three civil partnership blessings last year and is chaplain of Swindon’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) group.
“They ought to be treated the same.
“They don’t want to have a church – they don’t want to have a gay church and a straight church – they want to be part of society, they want to be included. So they should basically have the same rights as everyone else.”
The Rev Canon John Cunningham, the parish priest at Holy Rood Church, said: “The Catholic Church’s position on it is fairly clear: that marriage is between a man and a woman, certainly in sacramental marriage in churches anyway.”
Bishop of Swindon The Rt Rev Dr Lee Rayfield was concerned the legislation was being pushed through by the Prime Minister and was polarising opinion.
He said: “Marriage is something that Christians believe is fundamentally about the union between a man and a woman. A lifelong union between a man and another man, or between two women may be valued, respected and given proper legal recognition in society but that does not make it a marriage.”