The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned the Government has no “mandate” to introduce same-sex marriage.
Launching his strongest attack yet on the Coalition’s plans to allow homosexual couples to marry, Dr Rowan Williams questioned the right of ministers to make the change when it had not been included in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat election manifestos.
His intervention follows the publication last month of the Church of England’s response to the Government’s consultation on same-sex marriage.
The document warned the move would threaten the established status of the Church, labelling the plans “divisive” and “essentially ideological”.
This weekend Dr Williams faced a series of questions on the proposals in a meeting of the General Synod, the Church’s governing body, in York.
Asked about discussions between Church leaders and ministers on the plans, Dr Williams said: “Following the Prime Minister’s announcement last autumn there have already been several formal and informal discussions with a number of Government ministers, including the Home Secretary.
“There have also been discussions between Home Office and Church House officials.”
He added: “The basis of the mandate for changing the state’s understanding of marriage given the lack of any commitment in the election manifestos of the main parties has been one of the many issues raised in those discussions.”
Asked by Gerald O’Brien, a lay Synod member from Sevenoaks, Kent, if it would be correct to infer that Dr Williams “does not accept that the Government has a mandate to make these changes ”, the archbishop replied: “I think that would be a reasonable inference”.
But Dr Williams also appeared to accept that the Church was fighting a losing battle against the proposals, continuing: “It is only right to note, however, that same sex-marriage now has the official support of all three main parties.”
The Church’s official response to the proposals to introduce same-sex marriage has fuelled a growing internal row over homosexuality which surfaced on Friday night as the leadership was also trying to avoid a second split, over the appointment of women bishops.
While some Synod members welcomed the document as a restatement of traditional values, others challenged its theological basis, as well as the right of the Church’s authorities to draw up such a definitive response on their behalf without consultation.
Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, also faced demands to realise the initial findings of a panel of bishops reviewing the Church’s position on civil partnerships, but he said the report was “confidential”.
Father Ian Stubbs, an Anglican priest from Glossop, Derbyshire, delivered a petition to Dr Williams and Dr Sentamu, signed by almost 4,000 people who object to the church’s refusal to endorse homosexual marriage.
The Government’s proposals — which ministers intend to make law by 2015 — have also been strongly opposed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Chief Rabbi, and the Muslim Council of Britain.
But other religious groups, including the Jewish Reform and Liberal movements, have backed the plans.