Thinking Anglicans

Civil Partnerships in the Church of Ireland

Updated again Tuesday

The Church of Ireland has published Statement by the Archbishop of Armagh on Civil Partnerships and Serving Clergy.

Following media reports on the issue of civil partnerships and serving clergy, the following statement from the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, The Most Revd Alan Harper, was provided to the BBC NI ‘Talkback’ programme and the Belfast Newsletter today, 7 September 2011:

’The recent civil partnership of a serving ordained Church of Ireland clergyman presents a new situation within the Church of Ireland. It is true to say that within the Church there is a range of views on same–sex relationships and there will also be a range of views and reactions to civil partnerships concerning clergy. I acknowledge that this issue has caused strong feelings and concern. While there are acknowledged differences of opinion within the Church, suggestions that it might split are, I hope, premature. In 2003 the Bishops of the Church of Ireland issued a pastoral letter on human sexuality which reflected the varied spectrum of views within the Church. The General Synod of the Church of Ireland has not made any statement or decision in addition to that. The Bishops will be addressing the matter again shortly. I trust that the Church and its bishops will continue to address this subject with mutual respect. The state has provided a right in law for same gender persons to have their partnerships recognized and specific rights conferred through civil partnership, This is not recognized as marriage by the Church of Ireland or by the civil authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Marriage is understood by the Church to comprise a lifelong and exclusive commitment by one man and one woman to each other. The Church has no provision or proposals for any liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships and there are no authorized public rites of blessing for same–gender relationships.’

Some of the press reports:

Belfast Newsletter Cleric confirms gay partnership and ‘Dismay at CoI gay union’ and Gay row ‘may split church’

BBC Minister Rev Tom Gordon civil partnership ‘welcomed’

Irish Times Senior cleric in same-sex ceremony

Christian Today ‘Sorrow’ after senior Church of Ireland cleric confirms civil partnership

Friday morning updates

Changing Attitude Ireland has welcomed the news: CA Ireland congratulates Dean Tom Gordon and his civil partnership.

And this is the (later, fuller version of) the statement, jointly issued by the committees of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine (Ireland) and Reform Ireland: Further joint statement by Evangelical groups in C of I.

In addition to that, Reform Ireland has published Civil partnership shame of the Church of Ireland.

Friday afternoon update

Belfast Telegraph Church of Ireland split fear over Irish cleric’s civil partnership

This story misquotes Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, as saying that the Dean had not informed his bishop beforehand, but according to the Gazette’s own report (available online only to subscribers):

The Dean said that he had told his Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, before proceeding with the civil partnership, and confirmed that no assurances were required of him regarding a celibate lifestyle, as is required in the Church of England. However, he also said that he did not regard civil partnership as equivalent to marriage.

update Tuesday

The Belfast Telegraph has, in effect, corrected this error, see Bishop under fire over cleric’s gay marriage.

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Robert Ian Williams
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Robert Ian Williams

Sad fact is that the Church of Ireland conservatives never batted an eyelid when divorce and re-marriage was approved in the Church of Ireland. All these conservatives accept contraception as well. They’ve accepted women’s ordination, equally disapproved of by St Paul and the Church of Ireland did this logically by voting for women bishops and priests at the same time.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

So; an end to gender and sexuality hypocrisy, then, in the Church of Ireland? This should encourage a similar openness in the Church of England – that might put the cat among the pigeons. Bring it on!

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

My sorrow is that Tom Gordon is defining his partnership as ‘not a marriage’. I can see prudential reasons for this – but …

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Rosemary Hannah wrote “My sorrow is that Tom Gordon is defining his partnership as ‘not a marriage’. I can see prudential reasons for this – but …” Can I respectfully disagree Rosemary. When David and I asked to have our gay relationship blessed in our church ten years ago the archdeacon gave permission, but said that in the liturgy we create we “must not be seen to ape the marriage service”. Looking back I think that was a real gift to us. Rather than adopting a given set of meanings and liturgical traditions from the marriage service we had to… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Simon, now I’m the one who will respectfully disagree with you. Yes, we were not bound by traditional marriage liturgy and that was very freeing. But we consider ourselves to be definitely married. There is absolutely not a single difference between our first (straight) marriages and this one, apart from the fact that the children we’re raising come from my previous marriage and our grandchildren from my wife’s previous marriage. But that’s standard for a lot of second marriages and not unique to us. I would love to hear what you think makes your partnership different from a straight marriage.… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

Simon Dawson, My wife (TEC & Roman Catholic background) and I (Jewish background with attendance at a TEC church) were recently civilly married. Although we both believe in God, and attend religious services, neither one of us felt that we needed religious authorities (which ones?) to validate our marriage. That is, we feel our marriage is perfectly legally valid. Spiritually valid, as well. If God is omnipotent and is everywhere, then God was surely present in Courtroom 424 of Denver, Colorado’s City & County Building when a civil court judge married us in a truly moving ceremony, created by the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Thank you, Simon (Dawson) for your explanation of your own same sex covenant relationship with your partner. I, too, have not been totally at ease with an outright equivalence of same-sex covenanted relationships with the sacrament of marriage – Not that I feel it is less ‘ holy’ – just different. You have helped me to understand the difference. Having said that, I do believe that the Church must encourage same-sex relationships to become more than just a loose federation of two people who love one another. It needs a sacramental acknowledgement of faithful commitment – before God and one’s… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

Simon, while that may be what you find true of your relationship, what my son wrote of his union with his husband was this: I have to say, before I/we got married I did feel a little aggrieved that I could not officially call it marriage and that the State did not recognise it as such. But having now been through the whole process it I don’t feel that what I have experienced is any different to what my 3 sisters went through. Certainly the planning and organising of the event felt no different, neither did the ceremony compared to… Read more »

Hugh James
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Hugh James

The Lambeth 1.10 resolution from 1998 is often quoted, but its 2nd part is mostly forgotten. It called on the churches of the Anglican Communion to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian christians: something we have not done very well, and, in many places, not done at all. This discussion is one area where I think we need to hear more of the experience and understanding of those who have entered into civil partnerships and same sex marriages, and those who have chosen not to but still regard their relationship as permanent, committed and holy before God. Such… Read more »

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

I would seriously like to hear from gay couples why, apart from the fact that gay couples cannot have their own biological children, a fate they share with a large number of straight couples, gay relationships are different to straight ones. Straight couples take no more note of the historical meaning of marriage than gay couples, maybe apart from a nod to tradition when a father gives away a bride during the ceremony. And my former husband and my father negotiated a bride price in the pub and we all had a good laugh when Dad couldn’t even wriggle one… Read more »

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

Though I have never been through either marriage or a civil partnership, it didn’t seem to me to matter very much that what the state/church offered us was not marriage. Now I do think it matters, precisely because it is not marriage and the state/church especially emphasises that it won’t offer marriage to same sex couples. The outcome is that civil partnerships can be seen and characterised as inferior and not equal to marriage. This is outworking in the USA where the Defence of Marriage Act is being used by states which do not recognise them to deny partnership rights… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
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Rosemary Hannah

I that that in Scotland we are very lucky to have the marriage liturgy we do – http://www.scotland.anglican.org/index.php/liturgy/liturgy/marriage_liturgy_2007/
which allows versions of the liturgy which fit modern straight couples much better – and certainly one of my daughters chose to enter with her partner rather than with her father. I think the idea that straight couples are entering the same unspoken contract they did 50 or 100 years ago is mistaken.

David Shepherd
Guest

Erika, ‘Straight couples take no more note of the historical meaning of marriage than gay couples’ Perhaps, you’re referring to the broader, secular meaning of marriage and in that I’d tend to agree with you. However, in the church, every sacrament is a sacred act that fulfils its promise as an occasion of grace by recalling its divine institution. To do so, the sacrament must remain consistent with that institution in matter and form. I particularly distinguish Christian grace from the divine providence that is the experience of all humanity in their relationships: ‘He causes his sun to rise on… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Erika asked me “I would love to hear what you think makes your partnership different from a straight marriage.” And Richard wrote “Marriage indeed comes freighted with centuries of history, tradition and liturgy, much of it no longer wanted by mixed sex couples either”. Richard makes my main point for me. When I was creating my own partnership liturgy I had many conversations with a female friend who was planning her own heterosexual marriage. She was very envious of us as we had the freedom to create a liturgy that had real meaning for us, whereas she had no option… Read more »

William
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William

@Hugh James. What you say resonates with me. For what it’s worth, I was at first hesitant to enter a union, because it was unpopular with the electorate and – more importantly – unthinkable in the Church. But I saw that I was oppressing myself, and my (atheist) partner was quite eager to go ahead, after 24 years of living together as a faithful couple. Still a little unsure of myself, however, I insisted that, for legal purposes, we call our union a “civil union.” (In my country you can choose to call your union either a marriage or a… Read more »

David Oxley
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David Oxley

I think it’s quite interesting how civil partnership both is and isn’t the same as marriage. The registration process is clearly comparable in both cases, and in the public perception the two are equivalent. But for the present it matters to the Irish state and the Irish church to make a distinction. In particular, the covenantal nature of the partnership, a promise to live together and support each other, with no reference to emotions or sexual expression, allows a degree of room to manoeuvre. Whatever about the USA, this is very uncharted territory in what was until the 1990s still… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David S I don’t think I fully understand what you are saying, I’m sorry. In the past, giving a woman to a man to be married meant her becoming his property, later a legal minor he was responsible for, now it means a couple of two equal adults coming together before God making their promises. I don’t actually know what “The Church” throughout the ages has understood by the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and whether that understanding has changed. But I do know that it means to me precisely what it means to my religious straight friends. If you question… Read more »

Geoff
Guest

“Does ‘matter’ matter? I think so.”

Indeed, but we’re on very shaky ground theologically if we try to distinguish men and women as different “matter,” rather than one human nature, assumed and redeemed by Christ.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Marriage is not a sacrament as the Church of England has but the two sacraments, as is widely known and clear in the BCP (1662). Glad to have cleared that one up, and saved David and Ron from further worry on that score. I find same sex couples and their families amazing – contending with so much, yet creative , vibrant and serving their communities. I’m proud all lgbt people and of the gay organisations and communities, which have risen above oppression, to be hugely creative and supporting human flourishing in so many ways. I am even pleased with the… Read more »

John Moles
Guest
John Moles

I know Alan Harper: slightly (he buried both my parents). He is a decent person. He will NEVER submit his gay clergy to the truly disgusting inquisition perpetrated by Tom Wright here in Durham.

William
Guest
William

The definitive Anglican ruling on the Sacraments is contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, but – as in all things Anglican – the ruling is (ahem) open to interpretation. The bit you’re after is: “Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

If some same-sex couples choose to NOT see their cp/civil marriage as religious “marriage”, that’s fine (certainly, some opposite sex couples don’t!). AS LONG AS those same-sex couples who DO see their cp/civil marriage as ***identical to opposite-sex marriage in every significant way*** are given the freedom to celebrate their union in the same *religious* way as opposite-sex couples do, too. Heavens to murgatroyd, we ALL know opposite-sex couples who design their own marriage vows! Same-sex couples will, too. But for the same-sex couples who want “a BCP wedding” (w/ their respective BCPs), that absolutely should be an *option*. [And… Read more »

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

And that, JCF, is it in a nutshell! Well said!

Lister Tonge
Guest
Lister Tonge

What a good thread this has proven to be. Some really enlightening insights and experience shared by people. Many thanks.

One thing struck me for further clarification:

‘I particularly distinguish Christian grace from the divine providence that is the experience of all humanity…’

Does this mean that there are two kinds of grace?

I could distinguish grace as covenanted (i.e. sacramental) or not and that’s maybe what DS meant; but I don’t think there is ‘Christian grace’ and ‘non-Christian grace’. Or have I been missing something all these years?

David Shepherd
Guest

Lister, No, not two kinds of grace. Peter, for instance, states that, ‘the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah’ (1 Peter 3:21) while the ark was being built. Paul declared God’s universal display of goodness to the unconverted people of Lystra: ‘Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.’ (Acts 14:17) No doubt the broader institution of marriage and all it can achieve for society is another aspect of… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

I too have enjoyed and been enlightened by this thread. I think the views I have expressed are in the minority, but nothing wrong with that. I have just one point to add. I was struck by this comment. “Do we fail to do justice to a same sex union by applying the traditions of marriage to it? The traditions and the vocabulary of heterosexual marriage have developed over centuries. Same sex unions have existed openly and legally for a few years at most.” I would argue that the “traditions and vocabulary” of same-sex unions have existed for centuries too.… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Simon Dawson
Please – I really did mean my question, it was not rhetorical. What, precisely, do you think is different between gay and straight marriages? A number of people on this thread have asserted a difference but I have yet to get any idea of what that difference means for you and what it consists of.

Lister Tonge
Guest
Lister Tonge

David S:

Thanks for the response but it fails to convince me of the existence of Christian grace. Your clarification seems to be about a Christian response.

This would mean that instead of

‘Christian grace always achieves a redemptive outcome in the believer’,

we might more precisely say,

God’s grace always achieves a redemptive outcome in the Christian believer’. God has only one brand of grace to bestow, surely? The difference lies in the response to it.

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

By ‘Christian’, I meant ‘as understood within Christian doctrine and experience’. Your sentence is a lengthier, but perhaps more precise expression of what I meant to say. I may have a more Calvinistic view of sanctifying grace than you. A full debate on that might stray from the main topic. The sentence that I used was a preface to my later remarks and was intended to pre-empt the implication that God’s goodness in marriage can only be experienced by a Christian couple who partake of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Nevertheless, the sacrament has a distinctively redemptive outcome for believers,… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Erika,

One further thing to follow on – can I mention an argument of Harry Hays which I think is very interesting.

When it comes to marriage, we should not be saying to the straight world, “this is new to us can we copy and learn from you?”.

We should be saying “this is our own history of thousands of years of working with same-sex relationships, loving relationships between equals. As you work to rid the straight world of outdated patriarchal assumptions do you want to copy and learn from what we have to offer?”

With best wishes

Simon

David Shepherd
Guest

Erika, We can either invent liturgical forms that use a covenantal language that claims to transcend (read, dismiss) the obvious paradigms derived from scripture in order to appear more inclusive, or we can recall Christ’s own references to the Genesis narrative. It’s one thing to say that early church expressed its view of love within a patriarchal culture. It’s quite another to claim that the view expressed in scripture failed to transcend that culture. It’s also selective to only target the sacrament of holy matrimony for this sort of scrutiny. How many of us have readily tampered with the matter… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Simon, But WHAT is it that we have to offer that modern marriage doesn’t? I don’t know a single straight couple these days that has an unequal marriage, at least no more unequal that some gay relationships. Most are as equal as most gay relationships. Yes, in the past straight marriages were unequal, and in the past stable, lifelong, faithful and public gay relationships didn’t exist at all. I don’t see how it is helpful to point to past failings in marriage ignoring the reality of marriage now and yet somehow thinking that gay relationships have anything to offer that’s… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Erika, a posting of mine seems to have gone missing. I posted the text below before the text above starting “One further thing” ______________________ Erika, You asked for clarification of my views on the difference between gay and straight marriages. I think most of my reasons have been given in comments above, but I am very happy to try to bring the arguments together here. Firstly, I believe that the Christian marriage liturgy and the social traditions around it contain many disparate elements. Some of this content is entirely appropriate for a modern understanding of marriage as a covenanted union… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Simon, thank you for this. I respect what you say, although, if I’m honest, I still do not truly understand it. But I would not want to force anyone to define themselves in ways they are not comfortable with! David, thank you too. But, please, I am finding conversations with you increasingly difficult because you do not appear to have engaged at all with all the theological writing that answers the points you make. I am not good at engaging at that level, but others are and have been. Please, if you have read Reasonable and Holy, the only recent… Read more »

Gerry Lynch
Guest

@David Shepherd. I’m pretty sure there are churches in Central and East Africa where, as a matter of sheer practicality, mielies has been used in place of bread in the Eucharist. Mielies being a lot cheaper than bread in places where people live on next to nothing.

In extreme circumstances (e.g. Prisoner of War camps) all sorts of things have been used for the elements in the Eucharist.

I wouldn’t want to second guess any of those people as they struggle with circumstances I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Geoff
Guest

“We can either invent liturgical forms that use a covenantal language that claims to transcend (read, dismiss) the obvious paradigms derived from scripture in order to appear more inclusive, or we can recall Christ’s own references to the Genesis narrative.” But that’s just it – the language of covenant is already found in contemporary Anglican marriage liturgies that have been adopted by provinces of the communion as consonant with the “faith once delivered.” It’s the minor nature of the changes in language necessary to encompass same-gender couples (mostly a matter of tweaking pronouns) that belies the reasserter’s wish to paint… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

Thanks, Erika, for the reference to my book. I’m not sure if David S. would find it helpful, but it does address all of his questions posed here at some length. Most particularly how same-sex marriages can fulfill those biblical “paradigms.” Simon D., I am with you on this. Another aspect of my book was to suggest that same-sex marriage can in fact teach heterosexuals something about their own marriages — not because it is the same, but because it is a different way of fulfilling (for Christians) a Gospel mandate. The principal point being that marriage need not be… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Tobias,
that gays and straights can benefit from a broadening of meaning of marriage is not in doubt.

But are those American gay couples who are fortunate to be allowed to marry campaigning for a different kind of church wedding than a straight couple would have?

Is equal but different really what people want?
For all of us to change is one thing. To have two separate systems running side by side another.

David Shepherd
Guest

Tobias, Scholarship is always helpful. I particularly agree with you on the distinction that you hold between marriage and Holy Matrimony. Nevertheless, surely, the mystery of Christ and the Church is the defining paradigm. Whether as a sacrament, or divine ordinance, this is the self-sacrificing ideal that all couples should emulate. This model preceded medieval traditions and is the antidote for the insinuation of feudal ownership and power into marriage. The mystery vastly surpasses all of the rites that we may discover, or invent. Your book may demonstrate that the rites explored by Boswell & Carpenter: 1. Did not involve… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

Erika, I wonder if we are at cross-purposes because we are talking about different things, both labelled “marriage”. It seems to me that in your comments you are using the word marriage to signify the state of a relationship between two people. And I agree with you that in todays world, many couples, both gay and straight, see their marriage relationship as a union of equals. With this meaning there can be near (but, I think, not total) overlap between gay and straight concepts of marriage. I think, however, that in the discussion above, Tobias and I are using the… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David
“Respectfully, I’d be surprised if it does, but I’ll admit that life is full of surprises.”

Easy enough to find out – read it?
Seriously, what is this reluctance to engage with the theology you are always asking us for and yet refuse to look at when it’s presented to you?

I genuinely do not understand this because I have come to respect you as someone who genuinely wants to engage and who does not just lob argument bombs into the ring.

Should I be wrong? Are your questions merely rhetorical after all?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Simon, I think part of my difficulty is that I find the history of church marriage completely irrelevant. It means what it means now, to couples getting married now. It means what they mean by their vows before God, it means what they understand by the liturgy. The only part of that liturgy, to my mind, that is still a nod to previous eras is that fathers give the bride away to the new husband, but these days, that’s really more a bride’s way of involving her father in the day and lovingly giving him a role, thanking him for… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Guest

Erika, you said “I find the history of church marriage completely irrelevant”.

I think we have found the root cause of the difference between us.

With best wishes

Simon

Tobias Haller
Guest

Erika, I think that some people do want a “different” model. Simon is one of them. For those interested in a Christian rite, I think that is a minority view — that is, there is a growing impulse towards creating a single rite suitable for same- and mixed-sex couples. But some to want to maintain a separation or distinctiveness. I can’t argue their case, as I’m not so sure I understand it… but I know that POV exists. Interestingly, the team working on liturgies under GC Resolution C056 is adamant that they are following the mandate to provide resources and… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

Erika, You can’t really resort to a policy of ‘asked and answered’ by theological proxy: ‘I am not good at engaging at that level, but others are and have been’ and then question my ‘reluctance to engage with the theology you are always asking us for and yet refuse to look at when it’s presented to you?’. It’s double standards. Tobias Haller and I have discussed the scriptural position on homosexuality in other threads, so I think that your claim of reluctance really doesn’t bear scrutiny. Your reply to Simon really demonstrates why civil marriage/partnership ceremonies should never be convened… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Tobias,
yes, I know that many gay people are not happy with traditional marriage rites. And I accept that! And I also know that many straight people aren’t happy with them either. And I accept that too.

My problem is that I do genuinely not understand why they are not happy, which bits they are not happy with.
I’d like to understand it.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David, I don’t know where your idea that the church is merely a romantic backdrop for me comes from? And far less how I could possibly have proven that gay marriages should never be solemnised in church. What I’m saying – for the last time now because it’s getting boring – is that marriage has changed over the centuries and the church’s view of marriage has changed too. I do not know any church that requires of its heterosexual marriage couples to study in depth the meaning of church marriage and liturgy through the centuries and to assent to all… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Your reply to Simon really demonstrates why civil marriage/partnership ceremonies should never be convened in a church” This is actually almost funny. Even if you were right in your assessment of me, what is happening here on this thread is that I am debating with 3 other gay people who all support your view of the sacrament of marriage. (I myself might support it if people didn’t just assert their view but explained it). So one person might have the wrong end of the stick and that proves conclusively that no-one gay may ever marry in church, even though the… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

David Shepherd might recall that in England and Wales those who live in the parish have an absolute legal right to be married in the parish church, if the building is consecrated for the purpose, or if they hold the appropriate licence. People of any religion and none can use this facility having fulfilled the lawful requirements and paid the money. All marriages in our buildings are civil. We are required by law to make a record in books provided by the State and to make returns quarterly or if there is no authorised person a civil registrar will attend… Read more »

David Shepherd
Guest

1. ‘So one person might have the wrong end of the stick and that proves conclusively that no-one gay may ever marry in church, even though the majority of gay people participating in this conversation are on your side?’ I referred to civil marriages/partnerships. Nowhere did I single out gay relationships for exclusion from solemnisation in church. 2. ‘I do not know any church that requires of its heterosexual marriage couples to study in depth the meaning of church marriage and liturgy through the centuries and to assent to all of it’ Again, I referred to ‘civil marriages/ partnerships’, so… Read more »