Last weekend there was a flurry of speculative news reports about a forthcoming government announcement in this area. These reports prompted several religious organisations to issue statements, even though there was as yet no actual government announcement. For example, the Communications Office at Church House, Westminster, issued this on behalf of the Church of England:
“We have yet to see the proposals, so cannot comment in detail. Given the Church’s view on the nature of marriage, the House of Bishops has consistently been clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships. The proposal as reported could also lead to inconsistencies with civil marriage, have unexplored impacts, and lead to confusion, with a number of difficult and unintended consequences for churches and faiths. Any change could therefore only be brought after proper and careful consideration of all the issues involved, to ensure that the intended freedom for all denominations over these matters is genuinely secured.”
Today, the Government Equalities Office has issued a press release which is headed New push for LGB and T equality will allow civil partnerships in religious buildings.
The full text of this is reproduced below the fold. This has provoked a further series of news stories and of statements.
Telegraph Tim Ross Gay couples will be allowed to marry under Coalition plan
The Church of England has not issued any further statement. But two conservative evangelical groups have done so.
Reform and several other organisations have made a joint statement: Homosexual marriage and the registration of civil partnerships in churches:
Anglican Mainstream sent out a “press release” which has been reproduced over here.
Earlier this had been published: Statement from Anglican Mainstream on proposals for civil partnerships to be contracted in churches.
GEO press release 17 February 2011
NEW PUSH FOR LGB AND T EQUALITY WILL ALLOW CIVIL PARTNERSHIPS IN RELIGIOUS BUILDINGS
As part of its commitment to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB and T) people, the government will today announce that religious buildings will be allowed to host civil partnership registrations.
The change, which will be entirely voluntary and will not force any religious group to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so, is being introduced as part of the Equality Act. It will give same-sex couples, who are currently prevented from registering their civil partnership in a religious setting, the chance to do so.
The government’s LGB and T action plan, which was published last year, included a commitment to look at next steps for civil partnerships, and giving religious organisations the right to host registrations is the first stage in that process.
Ministers have also identified a desire to move towards equal civil marriage and partnerships, and will be consulting further how legislation can develop, working with all those who have an interest in the area.
Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May said:
“This government is committed to both advancing equality for LGB and T people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths, which is why we will be allowing religious organisations to host civil partnership registrations if they choose to do so.
“No religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward.”
Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone said:
“Over the past few months I’ve spoken to a lot of LGB and T people and campaign groups, and it quickly became clear that there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships.
“I’m delighted to announce that we are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”
Michael Hutchinson, for Quakers in Britain, said:
“Quakers warmly welcome the move to allow the celebration of civil partnerships on religious premises. We are also heartened by proposals to address calls for full equality of civil marriages and civil partnerships, as our religious experience leads us to seek a change in the law so that same sex marriages can be celebrated, witnessed and reported to the state in the same way as heterosexual marriages.”
The changes to the rules governing civil partnerships will come about by enacting section 202 of the Equality Act 2010. This removes the ban on civil partnership registrations being held on religious premises.
However, the rule is entirely permissive, meaning no religious organisation could be forced to host civil partnership registrations if it did not want to.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The removal of the ban on civil partnership registrations in religious premises will affect England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland it is a matter for the devolved administrations.
2. Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010 lifts the explicit ban on holding civil partnership registrations in religious premises, which is included in the Approved Premises (Marriage and Civil Partnership) Regulations 2005. Although it was passed by both Houses of Parliament on a free vote, making the necessary changes to the Approved Premises Regulations will require further legislation. The Government Equalities Office will launch a formal consultation on this later in the Spring.
3. Section 202 makes clear the voluntary nature of the provision, stating: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so.”