Sunday, 29 May 2005

Civil partnerships and the clergy

Update Tuesday
Here is a good critique of this newspaper report: Get a Clue

According to Christopher Morgan of the Sunday Times the Church of England will respond to the issue of clergy who wish to enter into a Civil Partnership in the following manner:

Church to let gay clergy ‘marry’ but they must stay celibate

HOMOSEXUAL priests in the Church of England will be allowed to “marry” their boyfriends under a proposal drawn up by senior bishops, led by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The decision ensures that gay and lesbian clergy who wish to register relationships under the new “civil partnerships” law — giving them many of the tax and inheritance advantages of married couples — will not lose their licences to be priests.

They will, however, have to give an assurance to their diocesan bishop that they will abstain from sex. The bishops are trying to uphold the church doctrine of forbidding clergy from sex except in a full marriage. They accept, however, that the new law leaves them little choice but to accept the right of gay clergy to have civil partners.

The decision is likely to reopen the row over homosexuality that has split the worldwide Anglican communion. It may also overshadow an international meeting of senior bishops next month designed to heal rifts between liberals and conservatives over the issue.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement estimates that within five years 1,500 homosexual Anglican clergy will have registered under the new law, which comes into force on December 5.

The Church of England proposal is contained in a draft Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships, drawn up by Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich. It was discussed at length and provisionally agreed at a meeting last week at a hotel in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire.

A final draft with some amendments will be produced for approval by the House of Bishops, the upper house of the church’s General Synod.

Under the proposal, a priest intending to register a civil partnership would inform his or her bishop in a face-to-face meeting. The priest would then give an undertaking to uphold the teaching of the Church of England, outlined in the 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality. This paper prohibits sex for gay clergy.

Although no sanctions are included in the new proposal, it is expected that a breach of the rules may lead to disciplinary action or the possible suspension of clergy.

Some bishops, however, are uncomfortable about subjecting their priests to the proposed interviews.

One said this weekend: “We all have clergy in gay partnerships in our dioceses and there is a genuine reluctance on the part of a number of us to make their lives more difficult.”

…The bishops have also agreed to a government request to change ecclesiastical law to favour civil partners. A change to the Pluralities Act of 1838, for example, will enable gay partners to occupy vicarages for up to two months after the death of a priest.

This matter was the subject of questions at the General Synod in February, and the answers were published exclusively on TA here. The Civil Partnership Act can be read in full here.

The government is also proposing to amend the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Clause 3 (defines the meaning of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation) and Clause 25 (benefits dependent on marital status) are the sections affected. The purpose of the first of these amendments, which would add a new sub-clause 3.3, is explained thus:

Purpose and effect

1. The purpose of this new provision is to make it clear that, for the purposes of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, the status of a civil partner is comparable to the status of a spouse. The effect is to enable a civil partner who is treated less favourably than a married person in similar circumstances to bring a claim for sexual orientation discrimination under the Sexual Orientation Regulations. New paragraph 3(3) prevents the discriminator from being able to say, by way of defence, that being married is a material difference to being a civil partner. The discriminator would have to show that the married person and the civil partner were not in a comparable position for some other reason, for example, that they were doing different jobs.

2. An employer etc would not be able to justify less favourable treatment of a civil partner as compared to a spouse in similar circumstances unless he could show that being heterosexual was a genuine occupational requirement (GOR) of the job within the meaning of reg 7(2). The additional GOR exception in reg 7(3) for employment for purposes of an organised religion permits an employer to apply a requirement “related to sexual orientation” (rather than to be a particular sexual orientation). It may therefore permit a narrow range of employers, such as religious organisations, to require that an employee be married (rather than a civil partner) but only where such a requirement is necessary to comply with the doctrines of the religion, or because of the nature and context of the job, to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers. It is likely that these defences will only be available in a very limited number of circumstances.

The proposed wording of the clause is as follows (the consultation is now closed and this might change when the proposal is formally published for parliamentary approval):

New regulation 3(3)

3. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation

“(3) For the purposes of paragraph (2), in a comparison of B’s case with that of another person 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 between their respective circumstances.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 29 May 2005 at 12:52pm BST
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

Interesting - clause 3:3:2 would seem to imply that the C of E doesn't have to give same-sex partner rights to civil partnerships if it could show that it's doctrine was against such partnerships. I guess the current situation is that the HoB's "Issues" report says that two people can be in a non-sexual relationship, so not allowing clergy in those situations to have a civil partneship would be, implictly, changing that stance.

It does of course raise two issues:

i) The report seems to imply that some diocesans may now be a bit stricter in their judgement, and response to, some clergy's living arrangements.

ii) If the CofE were ever to move to a more conservative position then "Issues" (which may yet happen in the next decade), where would that leave those clergy who have entered into civil partnership?

Posted by: Peter O on Sunday, 29 May 2005 at 2:00pm BST

What about simply letting the clergy in question marry? Or is the Church of England no longer in favor of marriage?

Posted by: Thomas Bushnell, BSG on Sunday, 29 May 2005 at 4:22pm BST

Thomas, to permit "marriage" would change the official line of the C of E. This arrangement holds the official status quo (clergy *can't* be in a sexual relationship outside of hetero marriage).

Posted by: Peter O on Sunday, 29 May 2005 at 5:15pm BST

Peter wrote: "This arrangement holds the official status quo (clergy *can't* be in a sexual relationship outside of hetero marriage)."

Civil Partnerships were partly argued for on the basis of justice for people in partnerships who could not marry. But the New Labour government, though never quite abandoning the arguement, narrowed it further to only homosexual partnerships (excluding for instance cohabiting siblings or other blood relatives). The government are now making it in every sense, other than certain words in the ceremony, equivalent to marriage.

I fully support close, loving, supportive, dedicated relationships between people of both sexes. We all need more of them!

However, entering into a Civil Partnership would give the "appearance of sin" which St Paul said that we should all avoid !

So much more the clergy...

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 29 May 2005 at 7:00pm BST

Would it be overly blunt to suggest this policy is simply nuts? (And, shockingly, might we not *all* agree on this point? Laodicea anyone?)

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 8:30am BST

J.C. I agree. But we live in a world that is "nuts". And the Anglican bit of it may be nuttier than others. We are in a major state of tension/disagreement/falling out over same-sex relationships (and their physical expression, whatever that means). In the C of E moves towards proper protection of tenure (the "Common Tenure" proposals going through synodical process) could well have a bearing on clergy rights in this area. How else could the House of Bishops try to hold it together on this one?

Posted by: Paul on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 10:11am BST

J. C. Fisher. Must be a significant moment, agreeing with you!
I don't think there's any chance, now, of the Church of England not splitting. That may be what the Holy Spirit is moving us towards.

Posted by: Ian on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 10:21am BST

Simon, thanks for providing so many helpful links and context for this. It is head-spinningly confusing to have this raised right now in the lead up to Nottingham.

I was going to comment about the "avoid the appearance of evil" command but Dave beat me to it. (1Thes 5: 21-22, KJV, 21Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22Abstain from all appearance of evil. (More revent versions, however, generally translate this as abstain from every form of evil, but I think the principle of avoiding the appearance of evil, especially among leaders, holds based on passages re: the importance of one's reputation, like 1 Tim 3:7)

So, anyway, I'll go back to pondering and praying instead of commenting.

Posted by: Karen B. on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 3:29pm BST

Thomas Bushnell's comment is an interesting piece of doublethink: opposing gay marriage = opposing marriage. Hmm.

Let's think up some others. Church of England refuses to ordain practising Muslims = Church of England opposes ordination. Church of England opposes third-world debt = Church of England opposes debt, including people taking out mortgages to buy a house. Church of England declines to baptise outspoken atheist = Church of England opposes baptism.

For some reason this calls to mind the movie, Spinal Tap, and the protestations of the band when told that their album cover is sexist: "Sexy? What's the matter with being sexy?"

Posted by: John H on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 4:24pm BST

Karen, re the use of "form" vs. "appearance" in 1 Thess. Ch. 5, I think "appearance" is the more accurate translation of the original Greek. I say this not as one who knows Greek (I don't!) but from hearing teaching from those who do know Greek and have translated from the original. If I remember right, the Greek word is "schema", which means the physical, visible form or shape of something. This would more accurately, then, translate into English as "appearance". Translating it into English as "form" would probably give to most people the idea of "kind" or "type", making the passage mean "avoid every kind of sin". That is also good advice! But the intent of the passage seems to be that we should avoid anything that even looks like sin, similar to Paul's advice in Romans not to eat meat sacrificed to idols if it will harm a pagan convert's faith, even though the idol itself is no god, only an object, and the meat sacrificed to it is just like any other meat if not eaten in an idol worship ceremony.

Posted by: Milton on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 4:34pm BST

When push comes to shove, our primary instrument of "unity" is an employee of a radically secular government.
What are we thinking?

Posted by: Marion R. on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 5:52pm BST

It just looks to me like the way all things British are steeped in history. The Church is the remnant of a long gone theocracy but still halfway plays the game and has found itself between a rock and a hard place, solving the problem in typical fashion. Rather innovative, yet impossible. :)

Posted by: Annie on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 7:45pm BST

May I strongly suggest that, before anyone comments anymore on this proposal by the bishops of the C of E, they go to
and read the comments from #49 to the end? Maybe folks will stop hypeventilating . . .

Posted by: I'd rather not say on Monday, 30 May 2005 at 7:47pm BST

I made sure the bottle of antacid tablets was handy and visited TitusOneNine where I discovered that "I'd rather not say" has made a great suggestion here. Esp. his/her comments numbered 61 and 62 on that article.

Well worth everyone's time here, and surely our "orthodox" friends wouldn't object to visiting +Harmon's blog ;)

Posted by: David Huff on Tuesday, 31 May 2005 at 2:51pm BST

The law is the law. No-one can be prevented from entering into a civil partnership, and short of CCTV in the bedroom, noone can prove whether a relationship is sexual or not.

I hope that those involved lie, because that gives the position of the Church the respect and credibility it deserves.

In the meantime, the rest of us will get on with the introduction of civil partnerships, which are, of course, same sex civil marriage contracts. That is how everyone will refer to them and how they will eventually be referred to in law. Watch this space! And watch the church continue to writhe and wriggle, impaled on that fence, becoming ever more irrelevant.

Pathetic, isn't it?

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 31 May 2005 at 10:15pm BST
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