Britain's Archbishops Respond to Gay Marriage Legalization

Britain's top Roman Catholic archbishops have spoken out against the new law that officially legalized same-sex marriage, saying that it undermines the traditional family unit.

"The new Act breaks the existing legal links between the institution of marriage and sexual complementarity. With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central. That is why we were opposed to this legislation on principle," Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, president and vice president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, respectively, said in a joint statement.

Queen Elizabeth II gave the royal stamp of approval to the new law on Wednesday. The law will go into effect next summer.

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British Prime Minister David Cameron officially endorsed the bill, which was passed by the House of Commons 390 votes to 148, upsetting many conservatives within his own party.

Both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion in the U.K. have been firmly opposed to changing the definition of marriage.

"Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated – being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it – neither fitting well," the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, had previously said of the bill.

Gay marriage supporters, on the other hand, have been very pleased with the outcome, with Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, calling it a "historic step" that will bring great joy "to tens of thousands of gay people and their families and friends."

Culture Secretary Maria Miller added that "marriage is the bedrock of our society and now irrespective of sexuality everyone in British society can make that commitment."

"It is a wonderful achievement and whilst this legislation may be about marriage, its impact is so much wider. Making marriage available to all couples demonstrates our society's respect for all individuals regardless of their sexuality."

Archbishops Nichols and Smith complained about the speed by which the bill was pushed and passed by Parliament. They also expressed concerns about legal protections for churches that refuse to conduct gay and lesbian weddings and that preach against homosexual behavior.

"A particular concern for us has also been the lack of effective protection for churches which decide not to opt-in to conducting same-sex marriages. Amendments made in the House of Lords though have significantly strengthened the legal protections in the Act for the Churches," they noted.

They also appreciated the government's amendment to the Public Order Act, which ensures that criticism of same-sex marriage will not be considered hate speech, and protects individuals who share their views on the matter.

But Parliament failed to accept other important amendments, particularly with regard to sex education in religious schools, they lamented.

"Given the potential risk that future guidance given by a Secretary of State for education regarding sex and relationships education could now conflict with Church teaching on marriage, we were disappointed that an amendment to provide this clarity was not accepted," the archbishops stated.

And although they were disappointed that amendments were not passed with regard to free speech and conscientious objection, "ministerial assurances" were made "that no one can suffer detriment or unfavorable treatment in employment because she or he holds the belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman," they noted.

"The legal and political traditions of this country are founded on a firm conviction concerning the rights of people to hold and express their beliefs and views, at the same time as respecting those who differ from them," they underlined. "It is important, at this moment in which deeply held and irreconcilable views of marriage have been contested, to affirm and strengthen this tradition."

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