Tuesday, 8 September 2009

perspectives on civil partnerships

Recently the Quakers made news on this topic. See for example, this report in The Times by Ruth Gledhill Quakers back gay marriage and call for reform:

The Quakers sanctioned gay marriages yesterday and called on the Government to give same-sex couples who marry in their ceremonies the same standing as heterosexual people.

Other Christian churches and religious denominations have approved blessings for same-sex civil partnerships but the Quakers are Britain’s first mainstream religious group to approve marriages for homosexuals…

Some background to this decision may be found in one of the papers from The Interfaith Legal Advisers Network meeting in June 2008:

At the second meeting, Network Members shared their experiences on how their own religious traditions interact with the law on marriage, including divorce, re-marriage, interfaith marriages and civil partnerships.

The papers are available as PDF files:

The concluding paragraphs of Mark Hill’s paper make interesting reading:

Thus we find ourselves in the curious position whereby Church of England clergy (i) are under a legally enforceable duty to solemnise the matrimony of atheists, non-believers and adherents of other faiths; (ii) have a statutory discretion to refuse to marry divorcées, transgendered and certain others exercisable in accordance with their conscience irrespective of the religious beliefs and affiliations of the couple; and (iii) are canonically prohibited from conducting a service of blessing following the registration of a civil partnership. Ironically, devout Christians in the latter category are denied the ministrations of the Church by way of a blessing whereas Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews and non-believer couples can compel the use Church of England rites and liturgy and the ministrations of its clergy. The pastoral damage which might result from this mixed message cannot be adequately explained away as an anomaly of the historic accident of establishment in a plural society.

CONCLUSION
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is one of a number of pieces of legislation that have had an impact upon religious communities and individuals. The Act creates a newly recognised legal relationship which cannot be entered into on religious premises, at which no religious service can be used, and the blessing of which is expressly forbidden by the Church of England. Moreover despite political and judicial rhetoric that civil partnerships are different and distinct from marriage, the exact differences have yet to be fully explored and clearly articulated by the domestic judiciary or by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Although the Act defines the relationship a being for two individuals of the same gender, physical intimacy, still less sexual fidelity, do not feature in the provisions of the Act. This means that the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement is wholly consistent with the letter of the legislation; whether it accords with popular perceptions of the legislation is another matter. Future judicial interpretation of the Act may pose challenges for the clergy of the Established Church. The implications for Church of England clergy who are commonly understood to be under a legal duty to solemnise the marriage of parishioners creates what can at best be styled a pastoral anomaly. Whether promoted by accident or design, the effects of the Civil Partnership Act on the nature of Establishment in times of changing social mores are far from insignificant and not yet fully understood.

(See PDF for omitted footnotes.)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 8:45am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

I am only too delighted to Bless couples after their civil partnership ceremony at the town hall. And along with my colleagues in the C of E such blessings and acts of worship 'are Church of England' without doubt. - officaldom will, doubtless, catch up later....

the spirit bloweth where it listeth

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 9:21am BST

Curiouser and curiouser. The joys of establishment.

Posted by: Brian on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 11:15am BST

"Sacramental marriages in religious ceremonies had – and continue to have – direct legal
effect in English secular law."

Is this true?
Isn't it the signing of the register that makes the marriage legal, not the religious ceremony around it?
Just because the priest has two functions at a wedding, that of priest and that of registrar, does not mean the two are not legally separate.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 12:02pm BST

No Erica.
If one of the parties should fall dead after the vows but before the signing of the register the marriage would be deemed perfectly valid in law.

Registration for civil purposes was forced upon the Church - but marriages that are unregistered and performed by a duly authorised person in a duly authorised building and are witnessed are (I believe) valid in Canon Law although they are irregular and the minister has committed in offence in not telling the State. I think the civil courts would also recognise the marriage.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 1:24pm BST

Hallelujah for good news :)

Posted by: Tim on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 1:29pm BST

"Moreover despite political and judicial rhetoric that civil partnerships are different and distinct from marriage ..... "

I think I'm right that the British High Court of Justice (Family Division) ruled very early on that "a Civil Partnership is marriage in all but name".

Posted by: Terence Dear on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 4:37pm BST

The historically important point seem to be the fact that it's Public and Witnessed.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 9:22pm BST

This discussion makes very clear what convoluted thinking we use, an up/down status arrangement has to be legally (and also, theologically/ethically?) founded and refined.

Lest?

Lest we just conclude that our committed queer folks as neighbors have anywhere near as much to offer their children, their family members, their friends, and the general community - as those high and abundant gifts or blessings said to be innate for all straight couples.

One lingering dominant impression that just will not quite go away is an impression of fragility - of straight marriage, parenting, and gasp, being straight in the first place. For queer folks, we rest content in the legacy beliefs that low living and sleaze will forcefully win out; and cannot see otherwise. For straight folks, the gold and rainbows of idealized marriage is a very hard, very long climb, with many called but few, few chosen?

This whole business which declares straight genitals as holy and doing God's blessed work in nature; and queer folks' genitals as some lesser, vexed-malformed phenomena with which we cope - only in service of a labored thing we wish to tag, our extra, our generosity? - it is all a dodgy business. We claim to be lifting straight married folks up, yet our major legal and theological work is to make it look higher than it is, by keeping lower tiers for the lower queer people.

An equality frame would tell us to line everybody up on the starting marks, and let everyone chance to do their best with thanksgiving. Some will go much farther than others; and that is human nature built into creation, not all this entangled brainiac stuff about whose sexuality is closer to God?

I'm not even going to dignify the mean-spiritedness presumptively demonstrated by the transgender stuff with much comment. It's third grader age 9-11 years old thinking, at best.

Yet again, Canterbury is mistaken: Anglicans do believe unintelligent things, especially about people and sex and the human heart's pairbonding love, including what it does or does not mean for we who are the heart's communities. Perhaps Anglicanism has to dumb down considerably before it can go back to working through these gnarly convolutions?

Churchly dudgeon against gay marriage is spite and fear, lest some queer couple somewhere might be perceived as fine example. Hence this vexed story line that always pits straights against queer folks, win/lose.

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 9:57pm BST

"devout Christians in the latter category [being in same-sex civil partnerships] are denied the ministrations of the Church by way of a blessing whereas Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews and non-believer couples can compel the use Church of England rites and liturgy and the ministrations of its clergy. The pastoral damage which might result from this mixed message..."

MIGHT result??? >:-0

Oy vey: lie down w/ dogs (hypocrisy), wake up w/ fleas ("pastoral damage", not to mention the loss of the CofE's integrity). No offense to dogs OR fleas! ;-/

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 9 September 2009 at 2:46am BST

@Martin Reynolds, I believe the phrase is "irregular but not invalid".

Posted by: Sam Norton on Wednesday, 9 September 2009 at 6:13pm BST

"If one of the parties should fall dead after the vows but before the signing of the register the marriage would be deemed perfectly valid in law."

I was unaware that any prayer book, traditional or modern, had a Rite for the Consummation of a Marriage. I would have thought it to be rather.....unseemly for Anglicans. Is it so that no monarch will cause the stink Henry did by claiming his first wife actually HAD been married to his brother after having claimed she hadn't been for all those years? Or do we even care about such things any more?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 10 September 2009 at 1:22am BST
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