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Church fears European court ruling

The Church of England fears it could be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if a new law which exempts it from holding the controversial ceremonies is overruled by the European Court of Human Rights, the Tory MP who represents the church in the Commons said.

Sir Tony Baldry, the Second Estates Church Commissioner, said he was happy with concessions the Government made introducing a "quadruple lock", which exempts the Church of England from holding same-sex marriages.

But he said ministers needed to make it harder for any possible legal challenges to the legislation on the grounds that it breached the human rights of same-sex couples.

Sir Tony added he would be voting against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as he was concerned it could be successfully challenged at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, forcing churches to hold the ceremonies.

Telling MPs to vote "according to their consciences" in the Commons tonight, Sir Tony said he opposed the Bill but recognised the Government had made a number of important changes, including the decision to exempt the Church of England from holding the ceremonies, which was "sensible and necessary".

He said he and senior clergy appreciated the improvements, but the church needed to be "shielded as far as possible from the risk of litigation".

Sir Tony said: "As many other commentators have made clear, there is an inevitable degree of risk in all of this given it would be ultimately for the courts, and in particular the Strasbourg court, to decide whether the provisions in the legislation are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"There is absolutely no doubt that once marriage is redefined in this very fundamental way, a whole lot of new legal questions will arise and no one can be sure what the eventual outcome will be.

"The Government believe this is a risk worth taking. The Church of England does not and as I understand it, the Roman Catholic church does not, and a number of other faiths, including the Muslim faith, does not."

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