Lynne Featherstone takes on church leaders on equal marriage

Lynne honeycombLiberal Democrat hero of everything to do with equalities, Lynne Featherstone, has used her blog to take a coach and horses through the arguments that various church leaders have been using this Christmas to attack the Coalition’s plans to introduce equal marriage.

Sometimes MPs’ and Government Ministers’ blogs can become quite bland. This is not the case with Ms Featherstone’s. It’s good that she is quite comfortable with the idea of talking directly. It’s important that someone does. Willie Rennie did exactly the same up here in Scotland where the Catholic Church in particular (although not exclusively) used all the same arguments – and a few which were even more inaccurate and offensive. It’s so important that the churches are challenged when they say things that simply do not stack up.

The most favoured argument of the Churches is that they will be forced to conduct same sex marriage ceremonies, something still being used even when it has been completely discredited. Lynne called this shameful:

The Government’s intention to make it possible for those religions that wish to conduct such services to have the freedom to so do –  and the Government is bending over backwards (some would say too far) to ensure any fears of religions being forced to conduct such marriages are unwarranted.

She then tackled the idea that there is no mandate for equal marriage:

It is even more shameful when that argument is lost to simply shift to the next argument as being the most important – that there is no mandate (The Rt Rev Mark Davies’ Christmas message). Good grief! Not only did all three leaders at the time of the election and since make clear that they all supported equal marriage; not only is it in the Conservative Equality commitment document; not only is it Liberal Democrat Party policy; not only do all polls show the majority in favour of equal marriage; not only did the largest response to a consultation by government in all history also show a majority in favour – but since when did any government do only that which was in a manifesto? A manifesto is a prospectus of what a government will do – not a prospectus of all it will do. The Coalition agreement is a compromise of the two manifestos. That does not preclude – and never has – the bringing forward of further proposals which are then democratically decided by a vote in the Houses of Parliament.

Her comments have been picked up by the BBC and you can read her blog post in full here.

The photo illustrating this article comes from May when Ben & Jerry’s sent a Lynne Honeycomb branded ice cream tub to her office (sadly without ice cream) to show their support for equal marriage.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • Peter Watson 26th Dec '12 - 5:24pm

    All the usual caveats about polling apply of course, but an interesting article at the Guardian ( indicates that the proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered voters supporting the Lib Dems has plummeted in line with the rest of the electorate, but support for the conservatives from that group has risen significantly.

  • lynne featherstone 27th Dec '12 - 11:20am

    And for those who still don’t realise – race was not in my remit as Equalities Minister, nor were disabilities, age etc. My remit was gender and LGBT as a minister. Hope that helps explain my focus!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • lynne featherstone 27th Dec '12 - 11:23am

    Before the reshuffle disabilities was Maria Miller and inclusion (race, religion, etc) Andrew Stunnell. I did have responsiblity for equalities legislation however. Minister for Equalities was a bit of a misnomer – as people always (not surprisingly) thought my portfolio included everything to do with eualities – which was not the case

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Dec '12 - 12:16pm

    “Not only did all three leaders at the time of the election and since make clear that they all supported equal marriage”

    This being the case, a “mandate” as you call it was all but inevitable, and hence meaningless.

    And once again, only Christian leaders are attacked for their stance on gay marriage. Leaders of other religious groups, who are even more vehemently opposed, are not even mentioned. I wonder why? The government’s position is a shambles. The Christian churches are being forced to receive legal protections which they say they do not want and did not ask for, and are being attacked as a result; meanwhile the Muslim groups, who did ask for and do want those protections, are not being given them. It’s a farce.

  • lynne featherstone 27th Dec '12 - 12:40pm

    I was simply responding to those Christmas messages quoted in the Independent (which were by Christian leaders) – thus defending not attacking.

    It is up to each religion to decide for itself. If the Christian churches want to conduct equal marriages – then all they have to do is come to the Government and the Government will make changes necessary to deliver that. The extra measures were probably only put in because of the Churches continuing to say that they didn’t believe the normal protections provided (by permissive legislation which allowed those who wanted to conduct religious same sex marriages to do so – at the same time protecting those who did not) would be adequate.

  • David White 27th Dec '12 - 1:17pm

    A wonderful blog item by Lynne Featherstone – plus a couple of excellent supporting comments by Chris McCormick. I recommend all liberal-minded folk to read Lynne’ piece.

    And, having read it, you may feel impelled to add your own comments. I did – a vitriol cocktail!

  • Ruth Bright 27th Dec '12 - 1:31pm

    It is very helpful for Lynne Featherstone to explain her focus and remit but if in the new year she becomes an accessory to the abolition of Disability Living Allowance it will sully her equalities’ record whether or not disability is her area of responsibility.

  • I think the Archbishop’s message was not intended for a domestic audience, but the Vatican. All of Vincent Nichols predecessors received a red hat, yet he was not elevated to the College of Cardinals at the Consistory in November this year.
    He may be in the Vatican‘s bad book, because in 2010, when asked if the Catholic Church might one day recognise equal marriage, Nichols replied: “I don’t know. Who knows what’s down the road?” Nichols has refused to stop or even criticise the ‘Pink Masses’ being held in the London parish of Soho, organised for people of a same-sex orientation. In July 2011, the Archdiocese of Westminster agreed to host a conference in its diocesan pastoral centre for Quest, which describes itself as aimed at gay people “seeking ways of reconciling the full practice of their Catholic faith with the full expression of their homosexual natures in loving Christian relationships”.
    So a bit of shouting about equal marriage won’t change the government’s mind, will outrage many, but will go down very well in Vatican.

  • Liberal Neil 27th Dec '12 - 6:42pm

    @Stuart Mitchell “The Christian churches are being forced to receive legal protections which they say they do not want and did not ask for, and are being attacked as a result”

    The Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Church leaders made it very clear that equal marriage was absolutely against their faith in their responses to the consultation on the draft proposals.

    The Government therefore brought forward changes which mean that a decision would have to be made by Parliament to allow same sex marriages in either church in the future.

    I would therefore expect them to be pleased.

    The only reason I can think of to cause them not to be pleased is if their opposition to same sex marriages is not as big a principle as they claim and believe there is a good chance same sex marriages will quickly be accepted and they will want to change their policy in response. If this happens they risk looking very silly when there has to be another debate in parliament about it.

    Why else would they be unhappy that the Government has heeded their concerns?

  • I think it’s worth highlighting the division between church leadership and church membership on the issue.

    Religious leaders should be concerned that they can’t whip followers on doctrinal matters – at least not in the same way as politicians do!

    I also think both politicans and religious leaders need to be more explicit in the debate about whether marriage is an ideological expression of committed love or a practical measure to gain tax advantages – if marriage is simply a matter of economic convenience then many of the restrictions on adoption look grossly offensive to civilised society.

  • Most of the arguments that Church leaders are using against gay marriage could have been used to argue for the continuation of slavery. Maybe these church leaders should explain how they are still relevant.

  • Richard Dean 28th Dec '12 - 5:39pm

    Quite a lot of different people seem to have responsibilities in the area of equality. It appears that Helen Grant is now a Minister for Women and Equalities,.She leads on

     Equal Civil Marriage
     Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
     Equality Legislation (including litigation and cases)
     Violence Against Women and Girls
     Civic Participation

    Jo Swinson is another Minister for Women and Equalities, and she leads on

     Women and growth
     Women on Boards
     LGB&T strategy
     Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)
     Body Confidence
     Think, Act, Report

    Don Foster leads on

     Integration and Race Equality
     Localism, Decentralisation and Community Rights
     Building Regulations
     Housing (supporting Mark Prisk)
     Climate Change and Sustainable Development

    It’s all rather confusing. I should think it would take quite a time to work out who really does what!

  • Is the next step marriage between two sisters, or a brother and sister, or a mother and son, or three people? And so on.

  • David Allen 28th Dec '12 - 7:37pm

    Nah, the next step on the famous slippery slope is marriage between a man and a sheep, a man and an inflatable doll, three aardvarks and a rhinoceros, and so on!

  • Peter Watson 28th Dec '12 - 7:58pm

    That next step has already been taken: there are plenty of reports of “woman marries rollercoaster”, “man marries steam train”,”woman marries Berlin Wall”,etc. But maybe those marriages could be held in churches in the future.

  • Peter Watson 28th Dec '12 - 8:00pm

    Though obviously it would have to be a very big church 😉

  • Stuart Mitchell 29th Dec '12 - 10:41am

    @LIberal Neil
    Your response typifies the arrogance of the government’s approach – foisting “protections” on organisations that do not want them, and insisting that they should be pleased even if they are not.

    Do you not think it bizarre that religious groups that do not want these protections are being forced to “enjoy” them, while other religious groups which do want the protections are denied them?

    The way the government has gone about this is a textbook example of how NOT to bring about a desirable social change while taking as many people with you as possible.

  • Nigel Jones 30th Dec '12 - 4:32pm

    I would like to highlight an article written by Jonathan Chaplin of the KLICE (Kirby Laing Institute of Christian Ethics) recently. He had two ceremonies on the same day, when he was married in the Netherlands; one under civil law and the other in a Christian church, the latter adding a blessing to their marriage. He recommends this to us, so the religious side and the legal side are separate. This would free up the churches to do whatever they like. It would also free up everyone to choose whether they want a ceremony in church or not; it is my impression that everyone will find a church not far away that will be willing to give them their blessing whatever their sexuality.
    I am a Methodist and was pleased to here our general secretary say that we should be left to make our own decision as to whether we want our church to marry gay people or not.
    It is also worthy of note that (according to the same Jonathan referred to above) the Church Times ran a survey of Anglicans just after church leaders had voiced their opposition to gay marriage and found that 70% of respondents disagreed with their leaders.

  • andrew purches 31st Dec '12 - 2:29pm

    Nigel Jones succintly summerises what should be! Not only in the Netherlands is this the case, France also.
    Personally I cannot se why any couple,gay or otherwise, needs to have anything other than a civil marriage, followed by a Church,Chapel,Mosque or Temple ceremony if need be, but can someone please justify the banning of Gay Marriages within the Church of England? I suspect the lawyers here have decided that this will safeguard the State from being dragged into litigation because the C of E ‘s position as the Established or State religion. So what? Faith is a personal matter, and should stay that way.Furthermore,will this ban apply to the whole worldwide Church,within and without Canterbury? What the government should do is to take this opportunity to dis-establish the C.of E once and for all.

  • daft h'a'porth 1st Jan '13 - 2:41am

    @David Allen 28th Dec ’12 – 7:37pm

    “Nah, the next step on the famous slippery slope is marriage between a man and a sheep, a man and an inflatable doll, three aardvarks and a rhinoceros”

    If you can prove that the sheep, inflatable doll or aardvark is capable of giving informed consent…

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Jan '13 - 2:16am


    I think the Archbishop’s message was not intended for a domestic audience, but the Vatican. All of Vincent Nichols predecessors received a red hat, yet he was not elevated to the College of Cardinals at the Consistory in November this year.
    He may be in the Vatican‘s bad book

    No, it’s not that. It’s more to do with his predecessor still being alive, protocol is that there should not be two English cardinals. As you say, Nichols has been quietly supportive of gay rights, see O’Brien in Scotland for what he is not on these matters. What needs to be realised is that for people like Nichols who have been pushing the Church towards acceptance of gay partnership, the insistence that it has to be called “marriage” and nothing else is harmful, as it pushes the agenda in the Church back towards the anti-gay ultras who can say “told you so – for every concession you make, they’ll just demand more”. I felt the situation where we had “marriage” and “civil partnership”, with the latter being moved closer and closer to legal equivalence to the former was a workable compromise, and should have been left to work. The crude accusations from the pro-gay-marriage side that anyone who expresses any quibbles against it is driven purely by anti-gay bigotry might make them feel good, but are not winning over support from the other side, just as the more crude attacks on gay marriage is doing likewise on that side. The statements Nichols has been making in this subject seem to me to be carefully worded and trying to express a concern that is not about bigotry, I’m sorry that few in our party seem willing to return the courtesy in their response.

  • Robert Hamilton 18th Jan '13 - 5:22pm

    Law is a cumbersome method of making a cultural change, e.g. the understanding of marriage. Altering the age of consent, removing the husband’s possession of his wife, needed years to become part of our culture. Sex-sex marriage brings own its problems that will need addressing.
    Marriage in our society is an institution that has three purposes, all an expression of love. Marriage of a woman and a man is seen as the traditional and well understood way of having children and bringing them up, and marriage is seen as a privileged situation for sexual satisfaction. A third purpose is to provide mutual support physical, emotional, financial. There are exceptions. It is accepted, especially since the 1960’s, that the union of a heterosexual couple who choose not to have children is no less a marriage, and this is to be welcomed at a time when the planet needs fewer children, especially in affluent societies. The union of heterosexual couples who cannot procreate, e.g. older persons is also accepted as a marriage. In these two there is a need for consummation, and while the rules about the degree of consanguinity in theory need not apply, though they would in practice, for children could be born.
    However, Same-sex couples in a union expressing their love are unable have children on their own, so to define their union as marriage totally removes the link to procreating children. In consequence same-sex marriage need not be based on the same table of consanguinity as conjugal marriage,
    The Government consultation paper issued in March 2012, proposed that the concepts of non-consummation and adultery that do not apply to civil partnerships, would apply “equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples”. This is probably what is denoted in the phrase “equal marriage”. The Government then dodged the difficult issues by stating that “case law may need to develop, over time, a definition as to what constitutes same-sex consummation and same-sex adultery.” The Government was leaving it to the judges to fill in these gaps in the law.
    Later, in its response to the consultation, published in December 2012, the Government recognised that to leave the law in such a state of uncertainty would not be acceptable and proposed that same-sex couples will not be able to cite non-consummation as a ground for annulment. Thus the problem of deciding what should constitute consummation of a same-sex marriage is avoided. In consequence same-sex marriages are valid without sex. With the link to both procreation and sexual satisfaction removed, their only purpose of marriage is the third, i.e. mutual care. Hence the question of whether the concept of incest is relevant to same-sex marriage.
    For adultery, the proposal is to “maintain the current position with regard to adultery in marriage”. As the Government explains, this means that if one partner to a same-sex marriage has sexual intercourse as currently defined (i.e. with someone of the opposite sex), the other partner could cite adultery as grounds for divorce. But if they engaged in sexual conduct with a third person of the same sex, that would not be adultery but could be unreasonable behaviour.
    The Government needs to explain whether same-sex marriage on the same terms as conjugal marriage is possible, or if we are heading for two types of marriage.
    Other questions arise.
    When marriage not longer includes procreation, what word can a couple intending to have children use to denote their union? One suggestion is Matrimony. An interesting if idea and it would need an associated verb and a definition in law.
    When two men in a gay union have children can the woman involved in the pregnancy and birth claim any legal status in this family?
    Are the terms wife, husband, father, mother going to be removed from the law as in other countries.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPeter Watson 17th Oct - 7:33pm
    @Andrew McCaig "We have been doing surveys in a 3 way marginal target ward in Kirklees." It is important to ensure that there is no...
  • User AvatarPaul Walter 17th Oct - 7:04pm
    Thanks for making that point, Richard. One of the things I noticed on my trip is the intensity of focus on American history in the...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 17th Oct - 6:55pm
    @ Paul Barker "Paper Candidates are the first step". Sorry, Paul, no, they're not. As is frequently said about the stable crop in Wakefield, -...
  • User AvatarDave Orbison 17th Oct - 6:30pm
    Paul Barker - "To be fair to The Tories the biggest messes, in Merseyside & The North East are more the fault of unimaginative Labour...
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 17th Oct - 6:29pm
    We have been doing surveys in a 3 way marginal target ward in Kirklees. There is definitely a shift in opinion and a sample of...
  • User AvatarPeter Watson 17th Oct - 6:02pm
    @Katharine Pindar "the important polls are like the YouGov one of last week which began to show a majority shift of opinion in favour of...