The Church of England has attacked the Government's lack of consultation over its gay marriage plans, saying senior ecclesiastical figures learned of them only when Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced them to Parliament.
Mrs Miller told the House of Commons on Tuesday she was putting in place a "quadruple lock" of measures to guarantee religious organisations would not have to marry same-sex couples against their wishes.
The Guardian reported on Thursday night that the Right Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and the Church of England's lead spokesman in the Lords, told a private meeting of church and political figures there had been a lack of consultation, with the Government not consulting the church on the proposal. He also reportedly said the CoE had not sought the quadruple lock plan.
A church spokesman said on Thursday night that there had only been preliminary low-level discussions between it and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
"Bishop Tim's point was that there was a meeting due with the Secretary of State that did not take place and the first we heard of the fine detail was when she stood up and announced it," he said. "It would be fair to say the Secretary of State hadn't made contact directly with senior members of the church."
Ms Miller promised no church would be forced to conduct a gay wedding as she faced a furious backlash from traditionalist Tories over Government plans for same-sex weddings. Under the Government's plans, four legal locks will be included on the face of the legislation. No religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
It will be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation's governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so. The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
And the legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.
The DCMS said it would have been "inappropriate" to discuss the fine print of its plans before telling Parliament. "As part of our consultation process, and as we finalised our proposals, Government officials met with a number of stakeholders, including the CoE," a spokesman said.
"Clearly, it would have been inappropriate to discuss the fine detail of our proposals prior to them being announced in Parliament. But the church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages would continue."