Although Prime Minister David Cameron has tried to assure British churches that any new same-sex marriage legislation will apply only to civil law, lawyers from the Church of England are arguing that the new legislation would force them to perform same-sex ceremonies in spite of their beliefs.
"If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same-sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory," said the General Synod of the Church of England in a recent paper.
The proposed legislation is expected to allow civil same-sex marriage ceremonies that could be held in state register offices or other "approved premises," such as large homes.
Although members of Parliament have tried to craft legislation that would leave churches out of the same-sex marriage process, the Church of England is concerned that the pre-existing 2010 Equality Act will force them to either perform same-sex ceremonies or be subject to prosecution.
According to the church's paper on same-sex marriage legislation, "A key relevant section is section 29 of the Equality Act which makes it unlawful for a person concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public to discriminate on various grounds, including sexual orientation."
Should the same-sex marriage legislation be passed in its current form, both same-sex and heterosexual marriages could be considered the same "service to the public," thus requiring churches to provide the service without regard for sexual orientation.
Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu has urged Cameron to not move forward with the legislation, calling it "an unjustified change."
The archbishop also believes that the government may not be able to pass the legislation without the Church of England's approval.
"It is not simply saying we have got to allow a civil partnership to happen," he said. "They have got a problem because the definition of marriage is in the 1662 prayer book and Article 30 of the Church of England, which are both Acts of Parliament."