Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight into the work of the Upper House and while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faiths. The House of Lords also contains a number of other senior faith representatives.
I signed this petition to the Westminster Government:
Remove Church of England Bishops from the House of Lords
With the publication of the Church of England’s intention to sanction the US Episcopal Church over the latter’s sympathetic stance towards equal marriage, the C of E is quite out of step with UK Law and indeed common humanity. Thus we feel strongly these bishops have no place in our government.
Since the petition attracted some 13,000 signatures, more than the 10,000 signature threshold, the Government had to respond:
The Government has no plans to remove the Church of England Bishops from the House of Lords.
The Government considers that the relationship between the Church and the State in England is an important part of the constitutional framework that has evolved over centuries. As senior members of the established Church of England, 26 bishops are appointed to the House of Lords. Bishops provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight into the work of the Upper House and while they make no claims to direct representation, they seek to be a voice for all people of faiths. The House of Lords also contains a number of other senior faith representatives.
People have a right to conduct their lives in accordance with their faith insofar as this does not unlawfully interfere with the rights of others and it is important to strike a fair balance between religious freedom of expression and the rights of, for example, lesbian, gay and bisexual people not to be discriminated against. Therefore, the law protects the rights of both these groups. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013, extends marriage to same sex couples in England and Wales, while protecting and promoting religious freedom.
So there we have it. While the 26 Lords Spiritual are from the Church of England, other faiths are also represented in the Lords, so there isn’t really a problem. The faithless, of course, do not need representation. And while nine bishops voted to block same-sex marriage, with five others abstaining, they lost out on that occasion, so what are we complaining about?
You will find the Church of England’s discussion of the Lords debate here. We will shortly be meeting arguments similar to those used by the Westminster Cabinet Office in a different context.
Image of the Lords from BBC News