This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
The Bishop of Leicester expresses concerns about same-sex marriage
The Bishop of Leicester has expressed concern about proposals to allow same-sex marriage.
The Government has suggested changes to the law which would allow gay people to get married – something currently prohibited – in a civil ceremony.
The Rt Rev Tim Stevens said the Church of England wanted to see gay people further included in society but did not think this should mean redefining marriage.
The bishop also said he thought the Government's three-month consultation on the move was far too short.
He said: "The Government is seeking to meet what it perceives to be the needs of the gay community.
"I would say that the Church of England is sympathetic to those needs.
"We want to see a society in which gay people are fully included and their needs are fully provided for.
"But this does not amount to a basis for introducing a complete redefinition of the concept of marriage based on a consultation process which is at the very least rapid."
Under the Government's proposal same-sex couples would not be allowed to be married in a religious service.
However, some in the Church of England said they expected a challenge to the ban could succeed at the European Court of Human Rights.
This, they fear, could lead to clergy being forced to conduct same-sex marriages.
If that happened, they warned, there would be an unprecedented clash between the Church's canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and the state.
The outcome of this could be that it was impossible for the Church to continue as the official religious establishment of the state.
Canon Barry Naylor, the bishop's adviser on urban issues, said: "I think the fear comes from the idea that a Church of England minister could be approached by a same-sex couple asking to be married, that minister may object because it goes against their conscience and then legal action could ensue."
Canon Naylor said he was in favour of gay marriage in principle.He said: "I think the most important thing is that it is about two people who want to live in a committed relationship to each other."
Bernard Greaves, a representative of Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre, said he thought the Church of England was "overreacting".
He said the adoption of gay marriage would not lead to the disestablishment of the Church, nor "undermine the notion of marriage itself".
"The traditional view of Christian view of marriage is that it is a lifelong union between one man and one woman for the procreation of children," said Mr Greaves.
"In society that view of marriage has already substantially changed."We accept divorce, we accept remarriage and we accept that people get married with no intention of having children.
"None of that has undermined marriage at all.
"Allowing a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman is a change to the law that does not impinge on the Christian view of marriage."
He said he was not in favour of religious organisations such as the Church of England being forced to conduct same-sex marriages against their will.
"It would be absolutely wrong that any religious organisation should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages," he said.
"What is important is that people are given the maximum choice and equality."