Thinking Anglicans

Civil Partnerships: a look back at 2007

In his not-quite-so-recent letter to TEC, William Nye wrote:

… we [i.e. the Church of England] were nevertheless broadly able to accept, some dozen years ago, the Government’s proposals for Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples, which conferred all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage, but did not treat sexual activity as intrinsic to the relationship…

It may be instructive to look at the documents from the period 2003 to 2007 to see if that is really how it was at the time.

When Mr Nye’s previous letter addressed to Andy Lines of GAFCON was published in November 2016, Professor Iain McLean commented here (scroll down from link) to correct him then:

The legislative history is more complicated than Mr Nye makes it sound. I may need more than one post to explain.

First, 2004 and civil partnerships. I re-post something I wrote for the Guardian which has been posted here before:

“The main Lords debate on the civil partnership bill took place in June 2004. Richard Harries, then bishop of Oxford, did indeed signal Church of England support for civil partnerships. But his efforts were contradicted by the five conservative bishops who spoke on the other side. Going by the bishops’ contributions to debate, the score is 5/3 against. Going by the bishops’ votes, it is 6/1 against. Six bishops voted for a successful wrecking amendment in the name of Lady O’Cathain, which made the bill unworkable. Only the Commons’ insistence on rejecting the O’Cathain amendment made it possible to enact civil partnerships”

It is true, as posted in a later comment on that thread, that the bishops voted against the O’Cathain wrecking amendment when offered a second time. But if the Commons had not done what they did, there would have been no civil partnership act – not then anyhow.

The history of the CofE’s dealings with the government over civil partnerships is admirably summarised in a paper prepared on behalf of the House of Bishops for a General Synod debate in February 2007. As this document along with thousands of other archived items disappeared some months ago from the Church of England website, it is possible that Mr Nye wasn’t able to review it while preparing his letter. Fortunately I have found another source for it, and it is available here.

The occasion for its preparation was a synod private member’s motion, from a member who was clearly not supportive of Civil Partnerships- A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England that the bishops had issued in 2005. Here is a copy of the briefing paper he prepared (again from another archive).

The ensuing debate and its outcome was reported here at the time: GS: Civil Partnerships. The original wording of the PMM was roundly rejected but the bishops were unable to persuade the synod to vote to “recognise the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement as a balanced and sensitive attempt faithfully to apply the Church’s teaching to civil partnerships”.

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T PottRichard AshbyGrumpy High ChurchwomanMichael MulhernRobert Ellis Recent comment authors
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Kate
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Kate

If you want something from the old Church of England website, the Wayback Machine should have archived a copy.

Father Ron Smith
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This extract from your post, Simon, seems to still haunt the pastoral intentions of the Church of England’s Bishops – despite the praiseworthy efforts of the few bishops who have spoken openly about the aetiology of homosexuality and its implications for a proper theology of relationships to be promulgated by the Church: “- The House of Bishops’ statement of December 1991 – Issues in Human Sexuality – which states that ‘heterosexuality and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed order of Creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church engages with these in the light of her… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

The Church is tearing itself apart trying to find rules by which it can judge couples. Some people believe couple X-X should be judged suitable for marriage ; others will judge the couple unsuitable. Judgement. None of us are wise enough to do it. The tears in fabric of the Church are an inevitable consequence of the over-reach. We should stop trying to define marriage, stop acting as gatekeeper : none of us has sufficient wisdom to get it 100% right.

Robert Ellis
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Robert Ellis

Sometimes you just have to move on and leave people and statements behind…..I think that is what a lot of us are already doing….its usually the way that change comes anyway.

Michael Mulhern
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Michael Mulhern

What short memories we have! Tom Wright and John Sentamu in the House of Lords, doing their utmost to derail civil partnerships, and various evangelical bishops (Dow, Forster and Benn, to name but three) creating a ‘hostile environment’ worthy of the UK Home Office, with Carey carping from the sidelines. Then a ‘greater evil’ came along, in the form of same-sex marriage, and all the rhetoric and exegesis was quietly kicked into the long grass. It would be funny if it were not for the lasting damage all this has done to so many gifted people and those they love… Read more »

Grumpy High Churchwoman
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Grumpy High Churchwoman

I’ve spent some time on google using various search terms to try to find any statement by either of the two archbishops in the 2000s (speech, sermon, newspaper article etc) in support of civil partnerships prior to passage. I have failed. We cannot, of course, access the synod documents from the period, which used to be available on line. Perhaps one of them made a speech in Synod to indicate the broad support for civil partnerships, which Mr Nye’s letter refers to? Has anyone else had better luck?

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

Baroness Deta O’Cathain was chair of the Chichester Cathedral Council at the time. You may imagine how some of us on the Council felt!

T Pott
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T Pott

Kate, Could you please elaborate, for those of us less technologically brilliant than yourself, how to view the old website?