David Cameron told Britain’s Christians he doesn’t want to fall out with them over plans to allow gay marriage, as he hailed a “Christian fightback” against attempts to ban crucifixes and public prayer.
“I think there’s something of a fightback going on, and we should welcome that,” the prime minister told guests including church ministers and Christian politicians at an Easter reception in his official Downing Street residence in London today. “The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values that we need.”
Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said Feb. 11 that Christians face “gradual marginalization” in the U.K. He was referring to a case in which a local council in southwest England was banned by a court from opening its meetings with prayers. Cameron cited the case in his speech and pointed out that the government had responded by changing the law.
The prime minister faces a battle with some Christians over his plans to introduce same-sex marriages. The U.K. currently has civil partnerships, which offer most of the legal benefits of marriage. The government is asking for the views of the public on allowing gay couples to be married in civil ceremonies, though not in church.
Cameron offered what he described as a “plea” to the assembled churchmen. “I hope we won’t fall out too much over gay marriage,” he said. “There’ll be some strong arguments and some strong words.”
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, told BBC television last month that the proposals represented an “unjustified change” to the law and required the consent of the Church of England. Sentamu is a leading candidate to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican church.
Guests at today’s reception told the prime minister after his speech he was wrong to be looking at the issue, arguing that the legal definition of marriage should remain a union between a man and a woman. Cameron had sought to reassure his audience that his proposals would “change what happens in a register office, not what happens in a church.”
Cameron opened his speech with a reference to his recent political difficulties, which have seen his poll ratings slump after a budget that included a cut in the top rate of income tax and panic-buying of gasoline as ministers urged motorists to stock up in preparation for a possible strike.
“In the past week I’ve felt like I needed someone to pray for me,” he said, looking at the assembled church representatives. “They might have overdone it.”