Thinking Anglicans

Civil partnerships on religious premises: developments

Updated Thursday evening

See earlier report here.

The draft regulations were laid before Parliament on 8 November:

The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 or available here as a PDF.

And there is an explanatory memorandum (PDF only).

Last weekend, the Independent reported Tory peers to rebel on civil partnerships in churches.

Conservative peers in the House of Lords are attempting to scupper plans to allow same-sex couples to hold civil partnerships in churches.

Under regulations drawn up by ministers, religious denominations would be allowed to open their doors to same-sex couples in the new year. But the move is now being opposed by Tory peers, led by Baroness O’Cathain, pictured,who argue that the new law would not properly protect faith groups from being “compelled” to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.

Government whips are confident that the measure will pass but Downing Street will be embarrassed at the sight of Tory peers rebelling against government equality legislation…

Today, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee published a report (also available as a PDF) which deals with these regulations. The substance of what it says is below the fold.

Several related documents are also published by the committee:

Opinion by Mark Hill QC

Evangelical Alliance submission

Christian Institute submission

‘CARE’ submission.

Thursday evening update

Also today, in the House of Commons the following exchange took place:

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Civil Partnerships
1. Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What the authority is for the policy of the Church of England that services of blessing should not be conducted in church premises for those who register civil partnerships. [82259]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): In its pastoral statement of July 2005, the House of Bishops affirmed that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. The Church of England’s response to the Government’s consultation document on civil partnerships on religious premises, which was produced earlier this year, reflected that policy and was approved by the Archbishops Council and by the Standing Committee of the House of Bishops.

Mr Bradshaw: I am grateful for that reply. Given that when the law changes to allow civil partnerships to be conducted on religious premises many Church of England priests and parishes will want to conduct such ceremonies, would it not be better for the Church of England to do what it did when it first allowed the remarriage of divorcees in church, and allow individual priests and parishes to make the decision?

Tony Baldry: In fairness, I would contend that the Church of England, led by its bishops, has to be free to determine its own stance on matters of doctrine and ethics. The Government have said that the new option to register civil partnerships in places of worship must be entirely voluntary. That means that those who think that the Church of England should opt in need to win the argument within the Church.

What the House of Lords committee said:

This instrument is drawn to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.

1. The Equality Act 2010 (“the 2010 Act”) amended the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the prohibition on religious premises being approved for the registration of civil partnerships. The framework for the approval of premises for marriages and civil partnership registrations is set out in the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 (“the 2005 Regulations”). These Regulations amend the 2005 Regulations and establish the procedure for religious premises to be approved for civil partnership registrations (but not civil marriages).

2. The Explanatory Memorandum (“EM”) says that the provision in the 2010 Act is entirely permissive and religious organisations will not be obliged to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so (EM paragraph 7.2).

3. The Government ran a public consultation on the proposal which closed on 23 June 2011 and received 1,617 responses (EM paragraph 8.1). The EM says the majority of the responses were objecting to the introduction of this proposal on principle rather than focussing on the detail of the consultation which was the practical arrangements to put in place the changes to the approved premises scheme (EM paragraph 8.2).

4. The Committee has been made aware of an opinion prepared by Mark Hill QC on the Regulations and this has been made available on the Committee’s website. The Committee has also received submissions from the ‘Evangelical Alliance’, ‘The Christian Institute’ and ‘CARE’ which raise a number of concerns about the instrument, in particular whether it will achieve its intended purpose. These too are available on the website. The concerns raised by ‘Evangelical Alliance’ include:

  • Many independent churches operate in buildings they do not own, and officials for such a denomination may try to register all its premises, leaving evangelical ministers in a very difficult position; and
  • If a church itself is registered but the minister or congregation refuses to host a particular civil partnership, they are vulnerable to legal action by the couple concerned.

The concerns raised by ‘The Christian Institute’ include:

  • That the Regulations do not offer sufficient legal protection to churches that do not wish to host civil partnerships;
  • Combined with the public sector equality duty, the Regulations raise the prospect of churches being refused the right to register marriages at all, if they will not also register civil partnerships; and
  • The complexities of the different types of church structure are not properly accounted for in the Regulations.

5. ‘CARE’ argue that the Regulations do not achieve the stated purpose of advancing religious liberty by enabling places of worship that do wish to host civil partnerships to do so, whilst not obliging any place of worship that does not wish to host civil partnerships to do so.

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Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

Baroness O’Cathain

‘She is known for her socially conservative views, in particular her efforts to retain the ban on same-sex couples from adopting, and has taken on a leadership role in the movement after the death of Lady Young’. – Wikipedia

She is also chair of the Chichester Cathedral Council!

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

You would have thought that recent events at St Paul’s would have been a wake-up call for the church. But no, we must still spend a huge amount of money and energy to make sure we can keep those gays out of our churches.

Makes me want to weep.

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

Thanks Richard and Erika. As you can imagine, Quakers (and I would expect Unitarians and Liberal Jews) are pretty outraged at Baroness O’Cathain’s attempt to restrict their (our) spiritual freedom. The Hill Opinion says at para. 21: “the number of religious organisations which have evinced an intention to avail themselves of this statutory amendment is miniscule” [basically the 3 denominations I have mentioned – IM]. And THAT is a reason to deny our spiritual freedom? I hope that TA readers who feel similarly outraged contact any Peers they know (try Theyworkforyou.com) to ask them to vote against the O’Cathain motion.

Alan T Perry
Guest

Mark Hill’s opinion is comprehensive and lucid, as one would expect from him. The problem he raises is not that some religious groups will be permitted to hold Civil Partnerships on their premises, but that the mechanism for creating this permission is drafted in such a way as to create an obligation for other faith groups to do so, even against their own doctrines or consciences. It seems reasonable to me, and evidently it seemed reasonable to the government given their assurances to that effect, to protect faith groups (and individual clergy) that do not wish to permit civil partnerships… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Whatever one’s position on the principle, nobody wants to force any church or minister into a situation that is plainly contrary to both the governments intent and the wishes of all people of good will. I find the opinion of Professor Hill sometimes convincing but occasionally framed in hot language not normally his style. The argument around trusteeship and tenants works both ways. One can envisage the owner/trustee withholding permission when a congregation long to exercise this pastoral ministry, there will be many Anglican communities in this position. But while this would completely thwart the willing aspirations of a willing… Read more »

Alan T Perry
Guest

The point is that if there is any doubt about whether religious officials or groups are protected from prosecution, it should be a simple enough matter to draft the necessary legislation in such a way as to remove that doubt. It might be that no litigation will succeed, but that doesn’t preclude the attempt, which would cost a significant amount of time, energy and money. The Canadian government faced the same doubts with respect to the Civil Marriage Act (2005), and resolved them by inserting section 3.1: 3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any… Read more »

Susannah
Guest
Susannah

What happens if you are a gay couple who happen to attend a local Anglican church, and you want to your relationship to be solemnized in the church where you worship? Should the views of a local vicar or PCC overrule the right you ought to have, to have your relationship thus solemnized in your own church building, even if other officials have to be drafted in to preside? Should the conscience of some be allowed to overrule the conscience of others, in a way which discriminates between gay couples and heterosexual couples? Why can’t an objecting priest just say… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I agree with Alan and Mark that the matter should be clear and beyond dispute.

But as far as a lawyer is concerned that (being beyond dispute) would be unique in the history of legislation.

Section 3.1 of the Canadian Civil Marriage Act LOOKS pretty catchall though!

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Guardian news report on this:
Lords debate threatens decision to allow gay weddings in churches
by Riazat Butt

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/24/lords-debate-gay-weddings

Alan T Perry
Guest

I’m sympathetic to your point, Susannah, but the fact is that same-sex couples are not permitted to have their relationships solemnized in the Church of England as it stands. (Yes, I know that there are any number of blessings every week, but they are still not permitted.) And the Covenant will guarantee that this remains the case.

With respect to the actual solemnization of a Civil Partnership, I don’t see how a C of E parish could be licensed to become a venue for such a ceremony. Not that that will necessarily stop people from trying!

Father Ron Smith
Guest

It would seem that, until (and unless) the British government brings in legislation enabling Same-Sex Marriage – as an institution with the same civil rights as Heterosexual Marriage – the Established Church of England will never be hospitable to any understanding of faithful, monogamous Same-Sex relationships for its many Gay members. Maybe, like the Ordination of women into its ministry, the Church of England will wait for other Faith Communities to make the first step towards the religious solemnisation of Same-sex partners in any ceremony hosted by the Church. this does seem a sad reflection on its so-called Christian ministry… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

What prevents the Abp of Canterbury from issuing a pastoral decree to every parish priest saying — if that’s what the CofE really wants — “Thou shalt not solemnize the legal civil partnership of two men or two women”, while other religions are free to exercise the option to solemnize or not to solemnize as their teaching and revelation dictates?
Why is Parliament in the position to tell non-CofE religions whose civil marriages or civil partnerships they may or may not solemnize?

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Well, Peterpi, this is not how the Church of England works. Unlike the Pope (for Roman Catholics), The ABC has no canonical authority to demand any new disciplinary measure of any parish or clergy-person. Quite rightly, in my opinion! Such measures have to be approved by General Synod – a more democratic way of doing things.

There is no Magisterium (yet) in the Anglican Communion. But hold on to your hat, it may just be coming in with the Covenant Process.

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

Ron – this is an English matter, not a British one. Marriage in Scotland is covered by Scots law, and the legal processes are different here. In England, a parish priest is legally bound to marry previously unmarried couple who can legally be married. In Scotland no minister of religion of any denomination is bound to marry anybody. Scotland is currently consulting on a raft of matters relating to equal marriage and to civil partnerships. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/09/05153328/0

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

So now bishops bless road salt as well as battleships. Pathetic.

http://www.louthleader.co.uk/news/environment/lincolnshire_gritting_depots_to_be_blessed_1_3247392

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

Praise God for the Conservative peers in the House of Lords! The state has no right to pass coercive legislation that binds the national Church, or any other Christian denominaotion, to perform ceremonies that are inimical to Christian teaching. Civil partnerships are not marriages but exist to protect property and the financial security of partners when one party dies. As a matter of interest, does anybody know how many relicts of civil partnerships are being supported by the Church of England Pensions Board?

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

Alan and others

the Equality Act 2010 can be found on http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents and the Explanatory Notes on http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/notes/contents. From reading Section 202, Schedule 23 and the Explanatory Notes on both, Parliament’s intention to allow the C of E and other faith-based organisations to opt out of providing space for civil partnerships without any penalties seems clear.

Do you think there is any ambiguity in the law as it now stands, in which case it could be amended to make it even clearer? Or might those opposed to allowing civil partnerships in religious premises be exaggerating the risks?

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

John Bowles misrepresenting the facts again. The state is doing no such thing. It is the Conservatives who, as usual, are doing their damnedest to coerce others.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Those powerful organisations and peers, who hate lgbt people most, lie vocally and misrepresent us – often.

And yet the truth of the wonderful gay lives does out in the end.

Shame on them ! Shame on the powers that be in the Church of England, which would soon collapse without its lgbt parisheners, pcc members, church-wardens, ministers and bishops !

Those of us who see this, find the lack of integrity of the bishops and archbishops’ council shameful.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts
Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

John Bowles: the Act absolutely does not bind any church. See the text of it posted by Savi. It was passed at the request of Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Judaism, who all came to a discernment that it was God’s will that we should celebrate civil partnerships in our meeting houses etc. The Quaker theology underlying this is in “We are but witnesses” available on British Quakers’ website. Quakers took most of a week to come to this discernment at our Yearly Meeting in 2009. The fears expressed by Mark Hill QC on behalf of Christian Concern etc are imaginary.… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

John Bowles: “The state has no right to pass coercive legislation that binds the national Church, or any other Christian denomination, to perform ceremonies that are inimical to Christian teaching. Civil partnerships are not marriages but exist to protect property and the financial security of partners when one party dies.” Well, if you look at the thread above, this is precisely what is happening at the moment in Denmark – where there is a real Protestant State Church. If a civil partnership can in fact be a marriage perfectly well in the kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Spain,… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“The state has no right to pass coercive legislation that binds the national Church, or any other Christian denominaotion, to perform ceremonies that are inimical to Christian teaching” – John Bowles – Perhaps Commentators on “Thinking Anglicans” – in order to present their case clearly – ought to be subject to a test in English comprehension. Then Mr.Bowles would not be tempted to post such a derisory comment as that above. A simple reading of the proposed legislation does not ‘require’ any religious organisation to conduct Same-Sex partnership ceremonies. It merely allows such a ceremony to take place in the… Read more »

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

It is good that informed commentators have clarifield the powers defined by this proposed legislation. But what right has the Government to impose such options,rather than demands, on Christian bodies and the national Church? Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Jews represent a small minority in this country and it is immaterial what they think. They should have no influence, however indirect, on the policies of the Church of England. But let’s go further. If militant homosexuals can pick on innocent, law-abiding, Christian bed-and-breakfast proprietors and effectively ruin them because they were denied accomodation, the outlook for the national Church (whatever the… Read more »

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

John Bowles, May I toss it back your way? What “right” does the Church of England have, to tell Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Jews that they have “no right” to officially recognize legal civil partnerships in their churches and synagogues as their revelation and discernment see fit? Why can’t the General Synod — or whatever the appropriate body of the CofE would be — say “We won’t officially recognize such unions”, while other churches and houses of worship can decide to do otherwise? If a liberal Jewish synagogue gives sanction to same-sex legal civil partnerships, how on Earth or in… Read more »

evensongjunkie
Guest
evensongjunkie

“But let’s go further. If militant homosexuals can pick on innocent, law-abiding, Christian bed-and-breakfast proprietors and effectively ruin them because they were denied accomodation, the outlook for the national Church (whatever the legislation allows) is bleak. I can foresee cynical test cases ad nauseum organised by the Gaystarpo which will act as if incumbents are obligatorily required to conduct these farcical ceremonies.” I thought you all didn’t get Fox News over there… Don’t you just love “hate-fear” mongering? I mean, why do a pathetic minority get all frothed up at two-people that wish to cherish each other until death do… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

One can only suppose that Mr Bowles has read his ‘Alice’.

…he only does it to annoy
because he knows it teases.

JCF
Guest
JCF

[To paraphrase Rachel Maddow, re GOP candidate Herman Cain]

John Bowles is an art project.

[Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if “John Bowles” is one of those bog-standard Guardian atheists, TRYING to make religious people look like rank bigots. Again, I’m afraid Poe’s Law raises it’s ugly head http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe's_law%5D

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

Peter Gross In an earlier comment you made the excellent point that the Archbishop of Canterbury might issue a pastoral direction prohibiting the solemnization of same-sex ‘marriages’ while recognising the freedom of other denominations to undertake them. Fine. I raised the decisions of the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews because their decisions were cited as precedent for other denominations, including the Catholic Church as well as the Church of England. Not only are these insignificant bodies but their doctrinal convictions are unorthodox, whereas Catholic and Anglican doctrine is not, however much individuals may dissent from it. Quakers repudiate sacraments, Unitarians… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

a group whose members could easily have found accomodation elsewhere’ Expecting this in a nativity play near you any time soon ? Homophibs are in fact victims. Queers (like me) are apparently Gaystapo – not the long suffering patient types we thought we were -appart from the odd Stonewall riot ! … Yet the anti-gay people with power do things like trying to scupper civil partnerships in the first place by trying to get our sibs and pets included — and now this unpleasant and deceitful yes deceitful tactic : http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/11/25/house-of-lords-argument-against-religious-civil-partnerships-rules-outlined/ Do they ever read the Bible much or inwardly… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

Since Mr Bowles has raised again the issue of the B&B couple again he should remember that they were running a business and were registered and taxed as such and no doubt subject to the same sort of regulations regarding fire, hygiene etc. They are bound by the same laws as all other businesses. If they didn’t like the implications they should have shut up shop. And why shouldn’t they be tested as to whether they comply with the law. Do they seek exemption from fire regulations because they believe the Lord looks after his own? Those running businesses are… Read more »

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

For the record (1), in the bed-and-breakfast case that John Bowles cites (Hall and Preddy v. Bull), the judge stated: “There was a suggestion in the course of the case, and indeed in some newspaper reports prior to the case, that the defendants [the b&b owners] were “set up” by the claimants with the assistance of an organisation such as Stonewall. If this were true then while it would not of itself defeat a discrimination claim it would very materially affect the issue of damages. I can see why the defendants might have thought that this was so but I… Read more »

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

The bed and breakfast proprietors have not been ‘martyred’ because they have not given their lives for their convictions. But they have been victimised and deprived of their livelihood by cynical activists. If anything, they fall into the category of confessors, those who defend the Christian faith. It is perfectly dreadful seeing elderly people penalised in this way, one of whom is seriously ill. I hope they win their appeal. The harshness of your legalism is sickening, Richard Ashby. As for the middle-aged queans who brought the prosecution, they couldn’t care tuppence. I doubt if they have a conscience.

Tobias Haller
Guest

The legislation permitting houses of worship to provide religious services for civil partnerships will no more require the Church of England to do so than the General Synod measure permitting women bishops (when it is adopted and effective) will require the Roman Catholic Church in England to do the same. Permission is not requirement. This is no doubt made messier by the Establishment, and the right of all parishioners to be married in their parish church — whether they are believers or not. But it is also clear under the terms of the measure that there is no such right… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

The harshness of your ‘gaytapo’ jibe is ‘sickening’ Mr Bowles. And it isn’t my ‘legalism’ it’s the law of the land. I am not aware that being either elderely or ill is an excuse for law breaking. And for good measure you might withdraw your accusation as regards a ‘homosexual organisation cynically making a test case’ which as shown above is refuted by the judge in the case.

Susannah
Guest
Susannah

I do not think hoteliers should be allowed to put signs in their windows saying “No Blacks” or “No Irish”. Nor do I think they should be allowed to put “No Gays”. Talking about majorities and minorities in this thread, the majority view in this country is that people should not be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation. If you own a private house, it’s really up to you which friends you invite to stay. If you run a business offering services to the public (eg accommodation) then the law is quite clear that, just as it would be… Read more »

Susannah
Guest
Susannah

If you can’t accept the majority view in this country that being gay is alright, and if this would cause you to turn away gay couples, then it is clear that you should consider other employment because in this country we don’t believe that people should be told: “You’re gay, go away.” It’s the law of the land, and quite rightly. Running a B&B is the wrong business for someone who rejects (and breaks) the law of the land. They are entitled to their views. They are not entitled to break the law or place ordinary, decent people in positions… Read more »

Susannah
Guest
Susannah

(contd…) Hoteliers need to obey the law about services to the public. They can’t claim exemptions from the bans on discrimination if they are providing services to the public… because if you are on the receiving end, it hurts, dismays, and humiliates; and for those on the receiving end, discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. A person can *choose* whether to run a B&B. A person can’t choose whether to be Black or Gay or a Muslim etc. And anyway… they are just people. The B&B Christians may be sincere and lovely people, but they cannot be above the law, and… Read more »

Richard Ashby
Guest
Richard Ashby

I suggest that Mr Bowles has a look inside a dictionary. Amongst other things mine defines a martyr as ‘a person who suffers, or pretends to suffer, greatly from any cause…’. The Christian Institute and other such bodies have been looking for and promoting martyrs in order to roll back the human rights and the equalities legislation for GLTB people. Having comprehensively failed so far, the ‘Christians in Parliament’ group has instituted an enquiry into ‘discrimination’ against ‘Christian’. And look at who they are getting evidence from: why it’s the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian Institue! And while we… Read more »

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

Two points, Susannah. The homosexual pair who asked to stay at this guest house need not have done so. They could have chosen to stay elsewhere. Apparently, there are others in the vicinity. The Christian proprietors also refused to allow unwed heterosexual couples to stay in their guest house. Nobody appears to have made a fuss about that, yet an enormous fuss has been made about these middle-aged homosexuals who deliberately forced a test case irrespective of the decency of the now ruined proprietors. This is nothing more than bullying. There is no need to pity homosexuals, they can look… Read more »

Laurence C.
Guest
Laurence C.

Nothing anybody says will change Bowles’ mind. I suggest we all stop feeding the troll.

Susannah
Guest
Susannah

John: “The homosexual pair who asked to stay at this guest house need not have done so. They could have chosen to stay elsewhere. Apparently, there are others in the vicinity.” So would you legitimise “No Blacks” signs on the same basis. Just tell “them” they can go away and find somewhere else, and if there’s somewhere else, that makes “No Blacks” alright? Why is it wrong to discriminate (ever) on grounds of race, but ok to discriminate against two people who love each other (whether gay or unmarried heterosexual)? The law says, if you provide a service to the… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Roland Allen protested about the “sham marriage” tradition in English parishes — that is, unchurched people using the church as decorative backdrop for their nuptials’ (Tobias Haller). I cannot let this pass without comment. I find it appalling. They are not sham marriages. The loving couples who bring their deepest hopes and love and aspiration, are not ‘using the church as a decorative backdrop’. Are the ministers shams too on this reckoning ? Have I been wasting countless Saturdays; and indeed other evenings in meeting and seeking to prepare them and me ? Please don’t slip (or sleep ?) into… Read more »

Tobias Haller
Guest

Laurence, I was referring to Roland Allen’s position, not mine or yours. (Frankly, I think he was being too purist in his attitude.) But he felt that the requirement to baptise any child and marry any couple who applied for the same — whether they were believers in the rites in which they were about to participate or not, was intolerable, and resigned his cure on that account. I assume that many if not most people who apply for these rites today are far more “churched” than those about whom Roland Allen was troubled in 1907. But I have to… Read more »

Ian Buist
Guest
Ian Buist

I am not an Anglican but a dissenter. My Church the URC, is a mainstream amalgam of Presbyterian, Congregational and Churches of Christ. To judge by the growing number of our congregations which have already decided to conduct blessing services, there will be a significant demand to take up the facility offered by the Regulations. I object to other branches of the Church seeking to impose their “orthodoxy” on mine, comtrary to my perception of the Spirit’s working and guidance. With time so short can we now concentrate on backing the LG Foundation and lobbying those peers we believe to… Read more »