Essex County Council was forced to issue an apology to churches, after it sent a letter that incorrectly demanded churches be licensed to perform same-sex marriages.
The council wrote to all churches in the county registered as wedding venues telling them, with underlined and bold lettering, that they must, with ‘immediate effect’, become licensed to conduct ‘SAME’ sex marriages.
Simon Calvert, spokesman for lobby group The Christian Institute, said the council’s letter demonstrated how important it was for churches to know and understand their legal rights. He said, ‘There is no legal reason whatsoever for churches to stop holding marriages in the ways they always have. They are free to do so’.
To help, the Christian Institute has produced a free legal guide, available through its website, which gives reassurance that churches are well within their rights to say no to same-sex marriages.
Mr Calvert added: ‘The behaviour of Essex County Council goes to show why churches need to know their legal rights, because bureaucrats who want to push for gay marriage will try and go beyond the law.
‘We want to be clear that Christians still have the right to express their belief that marriage is between a man and woman. Christians have every reason to be confident and bold in upholding the truth about marriage’.
Colin Hart, campaign director of the Coalition for Marriage, said, ‘If this has already happened in Essex, there is a real danger that this kind of pressure will be applied by unelected officials across the country.
‘The letter lifts the lid on the Orwellian future that this ill-thought-through law creates’. He called on the government to urgently issue advice to all local authorities in light of the new law.
Mr Hart added that Essex Council should conduct an urgent investigation as to ‘why this threatening letter was sent out to churches that are supposed to be exempt from the effect of the legislation’.
In a statement, Essex County Council said, ‘Our guidance on registering a building certified as a Place of Religious Worship for same-sex marriages applies only to those institutions which want to conduct such ceremonies.
‘A letter sent to churches in April may have created a different impression and we issued a clarification within a week explaining the correct procedure’.