Would gay marriage violate Queen Elizabeth’s vows to the Church of England?

Queen Elizabeth II wears the bejeweled Imperial State Crown and carries the Sovereign’s Orb, in left hand, and the Sovereign’s … Continued

Queen Elizabeth II wears the bejeweled Imperial State Crown and carries the Sovereign’s Orb, in left hand, and the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross as she leaves Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, after her coronation ceremony. When Elizabeth II assumed the British throne in 1952, royal privacy was sacrosanct. (Associated Press)

In the United States, we think of church and state as two separate entities, sometimes controversially intertwined. But in Great Britain, a different framework unites church with state in the person of Queen Elizabeth.

This week, Elizabeth and the royal family observe the 60th anniversary of her coronation, commemorating her vows to serve as both head of state and “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”

It’s her role as head of the Church of England that is putting her under the church and state microscope now.

Great Britain’s Parliament is currently debating proposed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, and one British cleric is challenging the queen to not violate what he sees as her duty to God by supporting the proposal.

As it stands now, according to the BBC, the bill before parliament actually explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England to perform same-sex marriages, respecting the church canon that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

According to British media, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who formerly led the diocese of Rochester, said at a service commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation that:

According to Nazir-Ali, any redefinition of marriage that is not in line with Church of England teaching would violate Elizabeth’s vows.

But what does the queen have to do with gay marriage legislation?

In the British constitutional monarchy, the queen gives “Royal Assent” to legislation before it officially becomes law. This is largely a rote procedure, as according to the British government, it has been granted by the monarchy for all laws since 1707. But the queen’s potential endorsement, Nazir-Ali posits, would cause her to violate her co-duties to church and state.

All of which makes America’s church and state clashes seem uncomplicated by comparison.

You can read the religious duties spelled out in the monarchy’s Coronation Oath below:

(Archbishop): Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

Queen: All this I promise to do.

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Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
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