The Church of England objected on Tuesday to government proposals to legalise gay marriage, saying it could harm centuries-old links between it and the British state.
The church — whose supreme governor is Queen Elizabeth II — warned that it could be forced out of its traditional role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state.
In its submission to a government consultation on plans to allow civil gay marriage, the church said it was doubtful that limiting same-sex couples to non-religious ceremonies would withstand a challenge under European law.
“The Church of England’s unique place in the current marriage law of England means that the proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on our ability to serve the people of the nation as we have always done,” it added.
It said the plan “fails to take account of the fact that consummation has always been an integral part of the common understanding of marriage between church and state, with annulment possible where consummation does not occur.”
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in Britain in December 2005, giving them similar rights to married heterosexual couples, but the partnerships cannot legally be referred to as marriages.
The Church of England said in December it would not permit civil partnership ceremonies on its premises without the express permission of its general assembly.
Its submission on Tuesday said the government’s plans wrongly imply there are two categories of marriage, civil and religious, adding: “This is to mistake the wedding ceremony for the institution of marriage.”
Under British law, if a couple is married by Church of England clergy then they do not have to have a separate civil ceremony as they would in many other countries.
British monarchs automatically hold the title of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The church split from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and King Henry VIII became its supreme head.
About a quarter of weddings in England take place in Church of England churches, rising by four per cent in 2010 to 54,700 compared to 52,730 in 2009, the church said.
The senior clergyman in the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is also the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans.
Williams is to step down at the end of the year after a decade of turmoil within the Anglican communion, including over the issue of openly gay bishops in the United States.