Dr Rowan Williams is getting out in the nick of time.
Let’s be clear about this: the Churches will lose their fight against gay marriage becoming part of the law of the land – and it’ll be a messy business.
This week various bishops have pointed out, quite correctly, that giving heterosexual and same-sex marriages the same legal status means redefining a concept that lies at the heart of religious life. Admittedly, there’s a clause in the Coalition’s “consultation” that bans gay church weddings, but that doesn’t represent any sort of solution.
Take the case of the Church of England. Lots of trendy clergy will ask to solemnise gay weddings.
Happy couple, beaming vicar, chirpy guests, organist belting out show tunes – who’s going to call the police?
Not the bishop, who’ll be terrified of being grilled by the right-on BBC.
For Roman Catholics the prospect is a very bleak one. Even if a liberal priest wanted to do the honours, he’d incur automatic excommunication and be out of a job.
The “wedding” would be a parody of the sacrament. So a legal ban would save a lot of awkwardness.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Are we sure there’s going to be a ban against gay church weddings?
Human rights judges will wipe it off the statute book at the first opportunity – which is why it may well be smothered during the consultation process.
And in the absence of an exemption, what are Catholic dioceses going to do?
Padlock the church door?
It could come to that.
Newsnight on Thursday told me all I needed to know.
First we had a filmed report on gay marriage that gave opponents of the measure the sort of “fair hearing” reserved for members of Ukip.
In the studio discussion afterwards, Tory minister Nick Herbert and dreary comedian Rhona Cameron found themselves on the same side of the argument. Cameron was her usual humourless Spartist self, but far more striking was Herbert’s blank-eyed inflexibility.
The critics of gay marriage ranged against them were wasting their breath.
The ruling class has chattered, and the verdict is in.
The passing of this legislation will mark a significant moment in Britain’s history: its emergence as a post-Christian society along the lines of Scandinavia or France.
The traditional definition of marriage is a cornerstone of Church teaching.
The fact that the Rev Giles Fraser (inevitably) wants to remove it is evidence of secularisation from within.
But the secularisation that really matters comes from the majority of young British citizens who are atheists or agnostics.
David Cameron isn’t in favour of gay marriage because he’s a Conservative: that’s just cute sophistry. He’s in favour of it because he represents, and earnestly desires the votes of, Britain’s fast-growing post-Christian electorate.
As for the Anglican and Catholic hierarchies, part of me is looking forward to watching them lose this battle.
For decades, bishops have made damn sure they’re on the liberal side of every controversy: against nuclear weapons, against government cuts, hysterical proponents of the global warming scare, etc.
Now they’re being forced to take a reactionary line against politically correct members of the Tory party.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has really drawn the short straw here.
He was also on Newsnight, in a pre-recorded interview with Jeremy Paxman.
Although he argued his corner with skill, his expression said: get me out of here.
But, thanks to a “conservative” prime minister, that’s no longer an option.