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Small numbers of churches embrace same-sex marriage

Posted on 27 November 2017

Researchers at the Universities of York and Leeds have found that the majority of places of worship that permit same-sex marriage carry out small numbers of ceremonies, with just over half having actually married a couple.

Same-sex couples are prohibited from marrying in approximately 40,000 places of worship that permit different-sex couples to marry, and there are only 182 places of worship registered for same-sex marriage.

The research, which is based on a survey of 71 places of worship, shows that of those that have performed a same-sex marriage, three-quarters provided a religious marriage ceremony to a same-sex couple that had not previously worshiped there, indicating that they welcome couples who are excluded from marrying in their own place of worship.

Dr Silvia Falcetta, from the University of York’s Department of Sociology, said: “This report shows that same-sex couples are at a significant disadvantage to different-sex couples, because same-sex couples are more likely to live in an area where there is no scope to be married in a place of worship according to a desired religious ceremony.”

Opposition and antagonism

The research team also found that registering a place of worship for same-sex marriage can sometimes create tensions between it and the broader religious group of which it is a part, and can attract opposition and antagonism from other religious groups in their local areas.

Registering a place of worship can also produce conflict within a congregation and some members of a church may decide to leave.

Many places of worship, however, report that registering for same-sex marriage has produced positive benefits within a congregation. These include strengthening the solidarity of existing members, supporting existing LGBT members, and attracting new members.

Commitment to same-sex marriage

Professor Paul Johnson, Head of the University of York’s Department of Sociology, said: “Some places of worship regard their commitment to same-sex marriage as a positive way of advertising and marketing their faith and practice.”

During debates over the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, considerable attention was given to the need for protections for individuals who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings - as ministers, or choristers, for example. The research shows, however, that very few people refuse to participate and therefore need these legal protections.

Professor Robert Vanderbeck of the University of Leeds said, “Although many claims have been made about how the introduction of same-sex marriage would affect religious groups that offer it, these data provide the first systematic glimpse of what is actually happening on the ground in churches and other places of worship.

“Despite worries to the contrary, in 90% of places of worship no person has refused to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony.”

Further information:

  • The research presented in the report focuses on those religious organisations in England and Wales that are legally required, if they wish to solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples, to register a certified place of worship for this purpose, and have chosen to do so. 
  • To carry out the research, the researchers designed an online survey for distribution to places of worship that had opted in to solemnizing same-sex marriage between 2014 and 2016.  These places of worship are affiliated to a number of religious groups, including Baptists, Buddhists, Christian Spiritualists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Protestant Dissenters, Reformed Church of the Netherlands, Spiritualists, Unitarians, the United Reformed Church, and other designated religions.
  • Of the 139 places of worship registered for the solemnization of same-sex marriage at the time of the research, the researchers were able to establish contact with and distribute the survey to 113 of these in early September 2017. By early November they had received responses from 71 places of worship, representing a response rate of 63%. 

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