Bishops under pressure to abstain in gay marriage vote

By John Bingham, Telegraph

 

Bishops are facing intense pressure from inside the Church of England not to use their votes in the House of Lords to block gay marriage, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

 

Despite vocal opposition from the Church to the Government’s plans to allow same-sex couples to marry, it is understood that senior officials have personally urged bishops to stay away from this week’s vote.

 

They fear that a large bloc of clerics turning up to vote down the bill could rebound on the Church, reopening questions over the right of bishops to sit in the Lords and even raise the prospect of disestablishment.

 

They have also told bishops privately that they are convinced the bill, which includes legal “locks” to prevent clergy being forced to carry out same-sex weddings against their beliefs, is the “best” they could hope to achieve.

 

It comes amid warnings of a “dangerous” constitutional stand-off between the Commons and the Lords if peers vote to reject the bill, which has already received strong backing from MPs.

 

Peers will begin two days of debates on the bill today with a vote on Tuesday.

 

Writing in The Daily Telegraph Viscount Astor, the stepfather of David Cameron’s wife Samantha, argues that blocking the bill in the upper chamber could threaten the future position of the House of Lords itself.

 

Meanwhile an alliance of independent church leaders has issued a strongly worded call to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, not only to vote against the bill himself but to press other bishops to do so.

 

In a letter to be handed in to Lambeth Palace this morning, 30 leaders of independent churches, including a string of so-called “black majority” churches, warn that the church of England faces a “defining point” over the issue of same-sex marriage.

 

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