Archdeacon of Tonbridge on gay marriage: 'Vote shows society is still divided'

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By kentsussex | Wednesday, February 06, 2013, 12:21

The Archdeacon of Tonbridge said last night's vote to allow gay marriage shows society is still divided.

The Venerable Clive Mansell said: "It was a very important debate yesterday but it reveals the lack of universal consent across the Commons and indeed across society.

"A change of this magnitude warrants universal consent and that is lacking at the moment."

A majority vote of 400 to 175 in support of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was achieved in the Commons last night but 136 Tory MPs voted against it.

Of Kent's 17 MPs nine voted against it and eight voted in favour. All of Kent's MPs are Conservatives.

Archdeacon Mansell said: "I'm grateful to those who spoke up for retaining marriage without any change. The reasons against redefining marriage are the same today as they were yesterday.

"Yesterday's vote was only the first step in the legislative process and as it moves on to the next stage they need to engage in a very careful and wise exploration of the bill."

The bill would allow same sex couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies where the religious setting had consented.

The Church argues that the bill challenges the Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and could lead to the redefinition of the institution.

Archdeacon Mansell said: "There is potential for big social change in our country. The idea of marriage being between a man and a woman is universally held, and part of the fabric of society.

"One expects in most cases for children to be raised within it and if you start changing the definition of one man and one woman you open up the possibility of redefining other words.

"For example the definition of 'husband' or 'wife' and also whether marriage is between one woman and one man. 

"The whole model of what marriage is could be open to redefinition.

"When the bill moves to the next stage of parliamentary procedure I believe that there will be a lot of problems when the bill is scrutinised in detail."

Though the Church of England is excluded from the bill, there are concerns it does not go far enough to protect it from legal action if it refuses to conduct gay ceremonies.

Archdeacon Mansell, whose Archdeaconry covers 100 churches across West Kent in the Diocese of Rochester, said: "A particular issue for the Church of England in the long term if this is not properly handled is that the church could face legal action.

"And if you are a chaplain in the health service or a teacher in a school required to teach that marriage can also be between people of the same gender you could be disciplined if you refuse to teach it on an issue of conscience.

"This would change the understanding of human relationships for Christians which has been received for hundreds if not thousands of years.

"The consequences of such a change cannot be foreseen at this time. It might be too difficult a change to make."

Gay rights groups and others pressing for the law to be changed say it is discriminatory not to allow marriage for same sex couples.

But Archdeacon Mansell said: "There seems to be very little demand for it. There is a minority who wish to move this forward and I suspect they will keep pushing for it.

"People use the word, 'homophobic' too readily. We are talking about marriage which has been an important part of society for centuries.

"Marriage is a divine good which I believe is for the benefit of the whole of society – to uphold that is not in any way homophobic. 

"Being for marriage is not being against anyone else."

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