Number of gay marriages in churches remains very small

The majority of places of worship that permit same-sex marriage only carry out a small number of ceremonies, with roughly half having actually married a gay couple, a new study shows.

A report by the University of Leeds and the University of York highlights the disadvantage faced by same-sex couples seeking a religious marriage ceremony.

Same-sex couples are prohibited from marrying in approximately 40,000 places of worship that permit different-sex couples to marry, and there are only 182 places of worship registered for same-sex marriage.

The researchers found that registering a place of worship for same-sex marriage can sometimes create tensions between it and the broader religious group of which it is a part, and can attract opposition and antagonism from other religious groups in their local areas.

Registering a place of worship can also produce conflict within a congregation and some members of a church may decide to leave.

During debates over the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, considerable attention was given to the need for protections for individuals who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings — as ministers, or choristers, for example.

However, the report shows that very few people refuse to participate and therefore require these legal protections.

Study co-author, Robert Vanderbeck, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Leeds said: “Although many claims have been made about how the introduction of same-sex marriage would affect religious groups that offer it, this study provides the first systematic glimpse of what is actually happening on the ground in churches and other places of worship.

“For instance, despite worries to the contrary, in ninety percent of places of worship no person has refused to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony”.

The report also found that many places of worship say that registering for same-sex marriage has produced positive benefits within a congregation. These include strengthening the solidarity of existing members, supporting existing LGBT members, and attracting new members.

The research report shows that among places of worship that have performed a same-sex marriage, three-quarters have provided a religious marriage ceremony to a same-sex couple that has not previously worshiped there, indicating that they welcome couples who are excluded from marrying in their own place of worship.

Study co-author, Professor Paul Johnson, Head of the University of York’s Department of Sociology, said: “Some places of worship regard their commitment to same-sex marriage as a positive way of advertising and marketing their faith and practice.”

However, despite many positive findings, the report emphasis that many same-sex couples still face obstacles in seeking religious marriage ceremonies.

Study co-author, Dr Silvia Falcetta, from the University of York’s Department of Sociology, said: “This report shows that same-sex couples are at a significant disadvantage to different-sex couples, because same-sex couples are more likely to live in an area where there is no scope to be married in a place of worship according to a desired religious ceremony.” 

Notes to editors

The research presented in the report focuses on those religious organizations in England and Wales that are legally required, if they wish to solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples, to register a certified place of worship for this purpose, and have chosen to do so. 

To carry out the research, the researchers designed an online survey for distribution to places of worship that had opted in to solemnizing same-sex marriage between 2014 and 2016.  These places of worship are affiliated to a number of religious groups, including Baptists, Buddhists, Christian Spiritualists, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Protestant Dissenters, Reformed Church of the Netherlands, Spiritualists, Unitarians, the United Reformed Church, and other designated religions.

Of the 139 places of worship registered for the solemnization of same-sex marriage at the time of the research, the researchers were able to establish contact with and distribute the survey to 113 of these in early September 2017. By early November they had received responses from 71 places of worship, representing a response rate of 63%.

Additional information

The report Religious marriage of same-sex couples is available: 

For additional information and to request interviews please contact Anna Harrison, Press Officer at the University of Leeds, on +44 (0)113 34 34196 or a.harrison(at) 

University of Leeds 

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 33,000 students from more than 150 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. 

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