Religious conservatives in the United States have been complaining that developments in the political arena – the Obamcare contraceptive mandate, the progress of same-sex civil marriage – threaten religious freedom. They’re crying wolf, but similar alarums in the Mother Country make a bit more sense.
Because England has an established church, some of whose bishops sit in Parliament, the political question of same-sex marriage has religious reverberations that don’t sound here. Meanwhile, the Church of England’s surprise decision not to approve the ordination of women as bishops has caused a stir at Westminster, with Prime Minister David Cameron urging the church to “get on with it, as it were, and get with the program” and some parliamentarians suggesting that the church should lose its exemption from laws against sex discrimination.
It isn’t clear that approval of same-sex marriage by Parliament would require priests of the established church to officiate at gay weddings in church, as some British conservatives fear. But the absence of a wall of separation between church and state in England has led to situations in which members of Parliament, including non-Anglicans, have made essentially religious decisions.
The most famous example came in the 1920s when the House of Commons rejected a new Book of Common Prayer that restored some elements of Catholic worship to the Anglican liturgy. (Some so-called Anglo-Catholics also opposed the book because they feared it would make it harder for them to import other “Romish” ceremonies. That odd alliance of Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics was mirrored in the debate in the church’s General Synod over female bishops.)