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Civil Partnerships and Marriage Law Reform

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.

News reports:

Guardian Alan Travis Gay marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships may soon be welcomed and Gay marriage v civil partnership: what’s the difference?

Telegraph Tim Ross Gay couples will be allowed to marry under Coalition plan

BBC Gay church ‘marriages’ plan to be announced

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.”

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Craig Nelson
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Craig Nelson

The announcement is as long awaited as it is welcome. As others have said progress is painfully slow. Nonetheless this is the first step on a journey that I hope will being Britain’s many churches with it. For now I think the main thing is the C of E making very negative comments. It has been clear for a long time that no church can be coerced or litigated against. To suggest otherwise is both dishonest and insecure. The key problem for the C of E to arrive at an internal policy and at the same time explain it to… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Mainstream in ‘Panic Button’ mode again,here protesting that the government is ‘legislating on morality’, when in fact all it is doing is clearing the way for committed same-sex relationships to be given the privilege of the blessing of the Church – of any religious institution that wants to be able to sanctify the relationship of two same-sex people who love one another, and are prepared to make a life-long commitment before God and in the presence of their local congregation. There is no mandatory requirement of any ‘Church’ to provide such arrangements – therefore no legal penalty will accrue to… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
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Laurence Roberts

You would think the national church would like to see more people in church, more pray n praise, more Bible reading — more happy couples in love and their delighted families and friends ….

No wonder church attendance is declining — we are told.

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

What? Nothing from Mr Stephen Green and ‘Christian’ Voice. Or perhaps the revelations of the joys of his family life, in the Daily Mail of all places, have rendered him silent on matters of such importance.

The following was posted on my Facebook by a friend. It is a fine refutation of the allegations of the damage done to children by same-sex parents.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSQQK2Vuf9Q

Laurence C.
Guest
Laurence C.

Just when you thought Sugden and Co. could sink no lower, they do! They now refer to Christians that don’t agree with Anglican Mainstream as “quasi-Christians”:

“the gay religious lobby is using the government and sympathetic quasi-Christian groups to do its bidding” [Anglican Mainstream press release]

I’m guessing that AM is more than a little miffed that the government involved representatives of groups such as, I believe, Changing Attitude in its discussions but AM weren’t asked.

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

There is a Chinese proverb: “What you cannot avoid, welcome.”

This has been the guiding principle under which church leaders have moved in my lifetime away from condemning “living in sin”, ostracising divorcees and stigmatising single mothers… odd (and damaging for their credibility) that they aren’t at least able to apply the same logic here, whatever they would like in their own perfect world.

evensongjunkie
Guest
evensongjunkie

And what is so sad and shortsighted is that they cannot bring themselves to see the damage they are doing to themselves in the eyes of all the young people who could care less about this issue.

As we say in the States, “they just don’t get it”.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Well if that is Mainstreamianity + I am Very happy to be a quasi-christian, and still committed to the message of the sage of Galilee. Especially on ahimsa + seeds growing secretly … Bet he’s glad he and his family were never Christian

even lill old gay seeds do that …

Colin Coward
Guest

Laurence Changing Attitude, LGCM, OutRage!, Stonewall and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation were all involved in the government consultation as were conservative Christian groups on another occasion, so Anglican Mainstream may well have been asked. Mainstream in ‘Panic Button’ mode indeed, Father Ron. I take it as a good sign. They believe that despite what the Church House spokesperson said, the Church of England may well allow civil partnerships to take place in church. Mainstream’s reaction is indeed a panic, setting up fantasy nightmare scenarios about what might happen, indicating that they lack confidence in their position and their arguments.… Read more »

Laurence C.
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Laurence C.

“Nothing from Mr Stephen Green and ‘Christian’ Voice” Richard Ashby.

Further to my moan at Anglican Mainstream for using the term ‘quasi-Christian’ to describe their opponents, for all his vile homophobic outpourings and alleged behaviour towards his family, Green surely has the right to refer to himself and his organisation as Christian (no quotation marks) if he considers himself to be one?

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

I would think that those who have to read documents such as the Anglican Mainstream press release, must be getting rather fed up with the constant repetition of the myths of damage to children, the obsession with sexual health and the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument that legalised polygamy and zoophilia will follow.

Laurence C.
Guest
Laurence C.

“…so Anglican Mainstream may well have been asked.” Colin Coward

Thank you for the correction, Colin.

David Shepherd
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David Shepherd

‘(4) For the purposes of paragraphs (1) and (3), the fact that one of the persons (whether or not B) is a civil partner while the other is married shall not be treated as a material difference in the relevant circumstances.’ So if the Anglican Church finally allows civil partnership ceremonies to be conducted in church, they’ll have to allow the full marriage format to be applied. Anything less would fall foul of the recent case law on equality legislation. Holding a blessing service would be like offering a paltry single room when you’ve booked the much-coveted double bed. Could… Read more »

karen macqueen+
Guest

From the Reform Joint Statement: “The thousands of churches that our organizations represent hold firmly to the clear teaching of the Bible that marriage is the lifelong, exclusive union of one man and one woman. This is the definition that has long been recognized in English law and, indeed, by almost all cultures for all of human history.” Why do conservative religous leaders continue to publish blatantly false statements as their “contribution” to a civil and religious debate? The idea that there is a “clear teaching” in the Bible about marriage is obviously false. That this “teaching” is “that marriage… Read more »

David Shepherd
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David Shepherd

I’d like to propose a one-day moratorium on the use of quotation marks in comments where they don’t quote anything, but only highlight the author’s doubts regarding their opponent’s right to describe themselves by a particular title.

Instead of the above practice, ‘so-called’ is an acceptable prefix.

This should apply to everyone. Not just ‘christians’!

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David
“Holding a blessing service would be like offering a paltry single room when you’ve booked the much-coveted double bed. Could religious services really escape the long arm of the law?”

The law will also say that religious institutions are not required to perform same sex ceremonies.

Of course, one would hope that when they finally see sense they will have the decency to offer full marriages to same sex couples.

drdanfee
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drdanfee

How very, very, very odd that Reform/AngMain care most about strictly defining straight marriage, just when GL neighbors are doing it and often succeeding at it? How clever of Trad Folks to consistently omit the widespread facts about, and tested knowledge of, all those pledged gay/lesbian partners as parents, raising healthy children in so many democratic nations nowadays? – sometimes without any assist from their respective local laws, public policies, and institutional regulations? The cure for all this Trad Theology-Ethics mean-spiritedness? Hard to say, being mean is obviously so much fun for both Reform and for AngMain, too. They do… Read more »

David Shepherd
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David Shepherd

I appreciate that contributors to this thread don’t consult each other before posting. However, one poster has rightly criticized Anglican Mainstream for scaremongering: a ”thin end of the wedge’ argument that legalised polygamy…will follow’. It must be gratifying to Anglican Mainstream that, in a later post, Karen McQueen cited instances of Old and New Testament polygamy suggesting that the Christian ethos (as gleaned from scripture) is equivocal about monogamous marriage. Her post didn’t attract criticism, in spite of this approach lending support to the ‘slippery slope’ argument.  So can we all, at least, challenge this as supporters of permanent monogamy?… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Her post didn’t attract criticism, in spite of this approach lending support to the ‘slippery slope’ argument. “ Because she really pointed out that what we claim to be the clear meaning of scripture as regards Christian marriage is no such thing. And we actually agree with that. It has nothing to do with slippery slopes but everything to do with the belief that our idea of a monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is scriptural. But if we don’t base our idea of marriage in Scripture, why should we insist that the few anti same sex verses… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

At last, a clear view of your position. One that unhinges the church from its scriptural roots on the basis that certain anti same-sex verses were only addressed to a more primitive society, rather than our own. The mention of polygamy as a historical practice of those times isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Of course, when it suits, we can trot out the story of David and Jonathan to tenuously shore up a particular position as biblical. How selective! Strangely, Paul even looked on the primitive experiences of the Exodus as relevant to his relatively enlightened era:  ‘These… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

David, We all pick and mix. There isn’t a single person on this planet who lives an absolute biblical Christianity. We just decide what it is we’re “scriptural” about. All the non Catholic churches are managing quite well to be unscriptural about divorce and all churches including the Catholic churches are successfully unscriptural about usury. It just happens that all feel passionately moved to be scriptural about same sex relationships – maybe because it’s easy to be supposedly moral and upright about something that doesn’t affect them? But what I said is something else. There IS no one scriptural ideal.… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David, As for “primitive” – absolutely not! These societies were different, not primitive. And in a society in which single women would be destitute it is precisely the right and moral thing to do for a brother to marry the widow of his brother. It would be shocking if no mechanism for protecting women had existed. That’s not to say it still applies to 21st century England. A woman living in modern day London would not be protected by a forced marriage to her husband’s brother but she would be exploited by it. So of course it is no longer… Read more »

Pat O'Neill
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Pat O'Neill

Nowhere in either the Gospels or Paul’s letters is marriage referred to as being between only one man and one woman. In Jesus’ time, polygamy was still an accepted practice in Judaism (although little practiced outside the wealthy, because supporting one wife and family was difficult enough). Paul has much to say about marriage, but never once does he say anything about having more than one wife.

So, yes, the scriptural basis for restricting marriage to one man and one wife is weak. There is no scriptural model for marriage per se, other than Jesus’ proscription against divorce.

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

The fact that churches are scripturally selective in other areas should also be challenged, rather than simply identified as doing it too. Let me be clear, I naturally wrestle with the ‘hard sayings’ of the Bible. I naturally find it difficult to respond to a God who expects recognition of His full creative rights over my entire existence. Look what He put Abraham and His own Son through. I’d faint if He said, ‘Go sell all of your possessions…’ (which He probably is). If the Holy Spirit is supernatural, then Christianity is unnatural. I can say of Christianity and its… Read more »

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

Actually, polygamy is still practiced by some Jews:

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/judaism/FAQ/04-Observance/section-55.html

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“So can we all, at least, challenge this as supporters of permanent monogamy?” It depends on what you mean by that. The Anglican Communion tackled polygamy at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, when the bishops advised that African churches be allowed to discontinue the practice of requiring polygamists to divorce all but one wife upon baptism. I note as an aside that the Twelve Tribes of Israel were, according to the Bible, descended from the children one man had with two wives and two servants taken on as concubines. There’s no hint in the story itself or in subsequent development that… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David, yes, you can find examples for anything. That’s exactly what I’ve been saying. What I am still missing in your comments is any acknowledgement that our social situations and our understanding has changed from that of Israel of 2000 years ago. That my relationship does not reflect the situation of Sodom and Gomorrah, or temple prostitution etc. That there is absolutely no biblical precedence for the plastic figures of 2 men on top of a wedding cake, for 2 real men promising to love each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,… Read more »

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“The early Christians could have easily tried to strike a balance by encouraging a chaste version of the same-sex relationships that they saw within Greek culture, but they didn’t.” The “same-sex relationships” in question, however, simply weren’t the sort of relationship we’re talking about these days. They were all extra-marital (most people engaged in same-sex sex in biblical culture seem to have been married to members of the opposite sex), temporary, and based on an inequality of power (mentors and younger students, slave owners and slaves) or idolatry (temple prostitution). There was – and is – no such thing as… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

Bill and Erika, I believed that your thinking was that homosexual fidelity and commitment is as natural as heterosexual monogamy. Or do you think that this has only evolved in more recent centuries? If it is natural, there must always have been a level of homosexual commitment that was, at least, equivalent to what you declare that you enjoy in your respective relationships today. Back then, what it may have lacked was any long-term endorsement by society, given their understandable fears over the perpetuity of their civilisation. Despite this, Christianity has always opposed those fears that lead men to worship… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David “The fact that churches are scripturally selective in other areas should also be challenged, rather than simply identified as doing it too.” Or one might ask whether being “selective” isn’t a recognition of the fact that it is the underlying values of Scripture that matter more than the social set-up of 2000 years ago. After all, there are very good reasons for not forcing people to stay in unbearable marriages that damage the children. Churches haven’t suddenly said “oh, what the heck, we can’t be bothered with this any longer, let’s allow divorce”. And all societies have discovered that… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David Look around you for a minute. There are countries in which the ideal marriage is based on 2 people loving each other. There are countries in which arranged marriages are the norm and it is hoped that the partners will at least get to like each other. There are countries where men can have more than one wife. All perfectly acceptable and moral within its own respective framework. And all it tells us is that human beings can thrive in a huge variety of cultures. Unlike the culture in biblical times, the culture in the country I live in… Read more »

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“I believed that your thinking was that homosexual fidelity and commitment is as natural as heterosexual monogamy.” Honestly, I’m not sure if I believe that either gay or straight monogamy is natural, or that it matters if they are. Surely if straight monogamy were natural, there wouldn’t be the need for societal and legal rules to enforce it, would there? Those rules – and the high divorce rates in spite of them – seem to suggest that “natural” isn’t the adjective we’re looking for here. Do we normally look to nature for moral guidance? “If it is natural, there must… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

My phrase ‘As natural as’ doesn’t specify the level of prevalence, only that it is equally prevalent for heterosexual and homosexual orientations.

And yes, we partly look to nature and survival for moral guidance.

In preference to a line-by-line defence of each word that I wrote, as Erika said, I think we have to leave the conversation there.

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“And yes, we partly look to nature and survival for moral guidance.”

I’m unaware of this. Every instance of inculcating moral behavior in the young that I can think of revolves around the suppression of natural behavior. Moral behavior is difficult precisely because it is unnatural.

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

By nature, I was referring to the goodness revealed through natural universe, rather than human nature. As in Psalm 19: ‘the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork’

Paul refers to this in Romans 1:19 – 20: ‘Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:’

Let’s move on.

Bill Dilworth
Guest
Bill Dilworth

“Let’s move on.”

I’m sorry you find explaining yourself tiresome. It is the price one pays for speaking (or writing) in public.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Let’s move on.”

We are moving on, David. Thankfully, in this country we are indeed moving on.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Exeunt Omnes. Goddnight David.