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A gay couple in Great Britain has announced plans to pursue legal action against the Church of England for refusing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, less than one month after the country officially legalized gay mariage, but explicitly excluded the Church from being forced to conduct the ceremonies as they go against biblical teachings.
Barrie Drewitt-Barlow and his partner, Tony, have been considered by many in Great Britain to be the "poster couple" for same-sex marriage legalization, as they became the first gay parents in 1999 through surrogacy, and have since had five other children through surrogacy. The couple had a civil partnership ceremony in 2006, and own a surrogate center in Chandlers Quay, Maldon.
The gay marriage legislation approved in Great Britain earlier this year, known as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, included a "quadruple lock" meant to protect the Church of England and other religious institutions from being forced to perform same-sex marriages against their faith. Under the current law, churches may "opt-in" to perform same-sex marriages, but they cannot be forced to conduct ceremonies.
Despite that highly-publicized safeguard being included in the legislation, many critics believed that gay activists would ignore that exclusion and continue to push for churches to be forced to participate in gay marriage ceremonies against their will. Now just weeks after the legislation was passed, it appears those fears were well-founded; Drewitt-Barlow and his partner argue that they wish to "test" this protection in court. The couple have claimed that they are practicing Christians and they want their children to see them wed in a church ceremony.
"We are happy for gay marriage to be recognised – in that sense it is a big step. But it is actually a small step because it is something we still cannot actually do," Drewitt-Barlow told the Essex Chronicle in a recent interview, adding he and his partner "need to convince the church that it is the right thing for our community for them to recognise as practicing Christians."
"It upsets me because I want it so much – a big lavish ceremony, the whole works, I just don't think it is going to happen straight away," Drewitt-Barlow continued, adding "as much as people are saying this is a good thing I am still not getting what I want."
The couple told Gay Star News that they have been speaking to the legal counsel at Cannon Law experience, which believes the couple may in fact have a case.
Additionally, the couple contends that some of the "biggest critics" of their decision to sue the Church of England have been members of the gay community, who have reportedly told the couple that they "should be grateful for what we have and telling us we should not feel we are representing the gay community as a whole." The couple argues, however, that this is a personal decision and they are not doing it on behalf of the same-sex community.
When introducing the "quadruple lock" plan for same-sex marriage in December, England's culture secretary Maria Miller assured the Church of England, the Catholic Church, and other religious groups that the new law would protect them from being forced to perform same-sex ceremonies. The law bans the Church of England and Church in Wales from performing same-sex marriages, and requires other religious organizations to "opt-in" in order to perform gay wedding ceremonies.
However, Justice Minister Crispin Blunt admitted in June 2012 that the Same-Sex Couples Act's protection of churches could possibly be challenged in court.
"We're seeking to protect, indeed, proscribe religious organizations from offering gay marriage," Blunt, who is openly gay, said in June 2012.
"That may be problematic legally, but the proposal the Government are putting forward is that marriage should be equal in the eyes of the state whether it's between a same-sex couple or between a man and a woman. We'll have to see what happens with that," Blunt added.
The Church of England and the Catholic Church both spoke out at the time, arguing that they were suspicious over whether the promised safeguards granted to religious groups would hold up in courts, and they feared that churches may eventually be forced to perform same-sex marriage unions to avoid discrimination lawsuits. Others argued such a development would force churches to stop performing all marriages as they would not be permitted by church rules to perform same-sex ceremonies.
Colin Hart, director for the Coalition for Marriage, a pro-biblical marriage advocacy group, told the Daily Mail that the Church of England's previous concerns regarding their protection are warranted.
"The ink's not even dry on the Bill and churches are already facing litigation. We warned Mr. Cameron this would happen, we told him he was making promises that he couldn't possibly keep," Hart said. "He didn't listen. He didn't care. He's the one who has created this mess."
"Mr. Cameron's chickens are coming home to roost and it will be ordinary people with a religious belief who yet again fall victim to the totalitarian forces of political correctness," Hart continued.
"We now face the real prospect of churches having to choose between stopping conducting weddings, or vicars, and priests defying the law and finding themselves languishing in the dock," Hart added.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 cleared parliament earlier in July and was officially signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II on July 17. The first same-sex weddings are expected to commence in summer 2014.