CofE Cleric Says Govt. Has No Right to Redefine Marriage

Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, has said that the British government has no right to redefine marriage. (Photo: BBC)

The second most prominent cleric in the Church of England has warned British Prime Minister David Cameron that redefining marriage in the country would be the act of a dictator.

"I don't think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can't just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are," Archbishop of York John Sentamu told the Daily Telegraph on Friday.

"We've seen dictators do it in different contexts, and I don't want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way," he added.

Dr. Sentamu's comments come prior to the government's scheduled consultation on gay marriage in March. Prime Minister Cameron is an avid supporter of gay rights and says that he wants the issue to be a "defining" part of his premiership, according to reports.

Sentamu and other CofE clergy have been careful to distinguish that they do not disparage civil partnerships between homosexuals, which offer nearly all the rights that a marriage does, but are against changing the definition of the word marriage, which they say is rooted in history and even the English language.

"If you genuinely would like the registration of civil partnerships to happen in a more general way, most people will say they can see the drift," Sentamu told the Telegraph. "But if you begin to call those marriage, you're trying to change the English language."

Meanwhile, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has accused Sentamu of being the authoritarian, and says his comments are against Christian values.

 "Archbishop Sentamu is a religious authoritarian who wants to impose his personal opposition to same-sex marriage on the rest of society," Tatchell, the coordinator of the Equal Love campaign, said.

"It is not a Christian value to demand legal discrimination against gay couples and to treat them as inferior, second-class citizens with fewer rights than everyone else."

According to Sentamu, however, his goal is not to "diminish, condemn, criticize, [or] patronize any same sex relationships" but has said that he is merely warning the government of a coming rebellion from those that hold to traditional values.

"The rebellion is going to come not only from the bishops, you're going to get it from across the benches and in the Commons," he said.

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