- Barrie Drewitt-Barlow said that he wants to marry partner Tony in a church
- Said that the only way forward is to challenge the church in court
- It is a test for Cameron’s promise to the CofE and Roman Catholic bishops
- Said that no church would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings
- Barrie and Tony now have five children through surrogate mothers
The first legal challenge to the Church of England’s ban on same-sex marriage was launched today – months before the first gay wedding can take place.
Gay father Barrie Drewitt-Barlow declared: ‘I want to go into my church and marry my husband.’ He added: ‘The only way forward for us now is to make a challenge in the courts against the Church.’
The legal move means an early test for David Cameron’s promise to the CofE and Roman Catholic bishops that no church would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings against the will of its leaders and its faithful.
Ministers set down a ‘quadruple lock’ in the new same sex marriage law – which received Royal Assent last month – which is supposed to protect those churches which oppose gay marriage.
However the guarantees will have to be tested in the courts and gay rights groups have been expecting to bring an early challenge.
Mr Drewitt-Barlow and his civil partner Tony have been a celebrated couple since 1999, when they became the first gay couple to be named on the birth certificate of a child. They now have five children through surrogate mothers.
He said : ‘We need to convince the church that it is the right thing for our community for them to recognise us as practising Christians.
‘I am a Christian – a practising Christian. My children have all been brought up as Christians and are part of the local parish church.’ Mr Drewitt-Barlow, 42, who owns a surrogacy company based near the family home in Essex and is opening another in Los Angeles, added: ‘If I was a Sikh I could get married at the Gurdwara. Liberal Jews can marry in the Synagogue – just not the Christians.
‘It upsets me because I want it so much – a big lavish ceremony, the whole works.
He said it was a shame that he and his partner were being forced to take Christians to court to get them to recognise them, but he said the new law did not give them what they have been campaigning for.
Mr Drewitt-Barlow, who took out a civil partnership in 2006, added: ‘It is like someone giving me a sweetie with the wrapper on and telling me to suck it.’ Under the Government’s same-sex marriage law, which is expected to lead the first gay wedding next summer, churches must legally opt in before they can conduct same-sex ceremonies.
Those that hold objections to gay marriage have been told the quadruple lock will prevent the courts from forcing them to stage gay weddings against the conscience of priests and most congregations.
The lock says that no religious organisation could be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
It would be unlawful for ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has opted into provisions for doing so. The Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
The new law also states that it no religious organisation could be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises. It would be unlawful for ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation’s governing body has opted into provisions for doing so. The Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
The law also states that it is illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples.
The CofE is also protected by its own internal canon laws, which are part of the law of land, which say marriages must be between a man and a woman.
However a succession of past court cases have resulted in defeats for Christians who were in disputes over equality laws, and in particular courts have always found in favour of gays who have challenged Christians.
In recent years notable cases have ended in the sacking of a town hall registrar who refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, the sack for a Relate counsellor who said he would not give sex advice to gay couples, and defeat for a couple who declined to let a room in their hotel to a gay couple on the grounds that they were unmarried.
Colin Hart, of the Coalition for Marriage said: ‘The ink’s not even dry on the Bill and churches are already facing litigation. We warned Mr Cameron this would happen, we told him he was making promises that he couldn’t possibly keep.
‘He didn’t listen. He didn’t care. He’s the one who has created this mess. Mr Cameron’s chickens are coming home to roost and it will be ordinary people with a religious belief who yet again fall victim to the totalitarian forces of political correctness.’
Mr Hart added: ‘We now face the real prospect of churches having to choose between stopping conducting weddings, or vicars, and priests defying the law and finding themselves languishing in the dock.’