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Op-ed: England Needs a Separation of Church and State

Op-ed: England Needs a Separation of Church and State


The Church of England has used its position as a state-endorsed institution of religion to promote an agenda of prejudice. So why do the U.K.'s residents stand for it?

A YouGov poll released in October found that about four in 10 Church of England clergy now support same-sex marriage, leaving around five in 10 opposing marriage equality, with around one in 10 still undecided on the issue.

The poll's findings are being regarded by some as an indication that support for marriage equality is steadily increasing within the ranks of the xhurch. The head of the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, himself appeared to have changed his position on the matter when he stated earlier this year that it is "right and proper" that same-sex marriage has been enshrined in law, adding: "And that's great." Though it was later affirmed by Lambeth Palace that the Most Rev. Justin Welby was simply speaking about the right of Parliament to amend laws when he used the word "great."

Indeed, we must never forget that the church continues to officially oppose same-sex marriage. In fact, in an attempt to appease the church during the debates in Parliament last year, legislation was passed that "explicitly states that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples." Even if these institutions wish to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would "require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law."

Yes, this recent YouGov poll has certainly highlighted that there still remains divisions within the ranks of the church concerning this issue. But honestly, why should we care if the church is failing to maintain a consensus of opinion among its members? Should it even concern us if support for same-sex marriage is growing within the Church of England?

As advocates for LGBTI rights, we should be calling for the complete separation of church and state. For too long the Church of England has used its position as a state endorsed institution of religion to promote an agenda of prejudice against LGBTI people, particularly lesbian and gay people. Welby himself acknowledged this fact during the same-sex marriage debate in the House of Lords last year when he stated that the "church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should," later conveying his "sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. In an attempt to really hammer home his position, he continued to express his complete "rejection of homophobic language," regarding it as "wrong" and "sickening."

While it may well be the case that his sadness and sorrow is sincere, I do wonder if the archbishop even realizes that the church he serves continues to play a very significant role in perpetuating homophobia, both nationally and internationally. Indeed, the very position of church concerning marriage equality is only fuelling a "them and us" divide within society, which in turn drives mistrust of sexual minorities, allowing homophobia to flourish.

In the meanwhile, the church continues to enjoy a charitable status, which means that it is not regarded as a business and is exempt from paying tax under the Charities Act, 2006. Furthermore, as is the case with all registered charities, it is able to claim back 25 percent from the state in Gift Aid from any donations it receives.

According to the Financial Overview from the Church of England itself, the church receives over PS200 million each year through Gift Aid and a further PS60 million is regained from the Inland Revenue in tax.

This can no longer continue. It's unfair and undemocratic. Why should we, as taxpayers, continue to subsidise an institution that promotes prejudice and openly discriminates against couples who simply wish to be treated equally to heterosexual couples?

Members of the Church of England are completely entitled to believe in what they like -- as is the case with any person of faith; they are of course entitled to preach what they believe too (excluding statements that will incite acts of violence) -- religious freedom and freedom of expression is indeed a human right. However, it is completely unreasonable to expect the British taxpayer, especially advocates for LGBTI rights, to help prop up an institution that rejects the idea of equal treatment.

Its time for LGBTI rights advocates to unite and collectively push for the complete separation of church and state. We've put up with mistreatment and discrimination from the Church of England for too long.

CALLUM HUNTER is a freelance writer and human rights activist living in Manchester, England. He focuses primarily on bringing attention to LGBTI rights violations across the world. Follow Callum on Twitter at @HalfWrite.

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