Monday, 22 February 2010

Civil Partnerships: a letter and a leader

The following letter will appear in The Times tomorrow. It is on the newspaper’s website now.

It’s discrimination to stop gay couples taking vows in church
It is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the CofE but also deny the spiritual independence of three small communities

Sir, The Civil Partnership Act 2004 prohibits civil partnerships from being registered in any religious premises in Great Britain. Three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, and the Unitarians — have considered this restriction prayerfully and decided in conscience that they wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. An amendment to the Equality Bill, to allow this, was debated in the House of Lords on January 25. It was opposed by the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester on the grounds that, if passed, it would put unacceptable pressure on the Church of England. The former said that “churches of all sorts really should not reduce or fudge, let alone deny, the distinction” between marriage and civil partnership.

In the same debate, the bishops were crucial in defeating government proposals to limit the space within which religious bodies are exempt from anti-discrimination law. They see that as a fundamental matter of conscience. But it is inconsistent to affirm the spiritual independence of the Church of England and simultaneously to deny the spiritual independence of the three small communities who seek this change for themselves (and not for anybody else).

The bishops’ “slippery slope” argument is invalid. Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice. To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory. In the US it would be unconstitutional under the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise . . . of religion.

The amendment will be re-presented by Lord Alli on March 2. We urge every peer who believes in spiritual independence, or in non-discrimination, to support it.

Iain McLean, Professor of Politics, Oxford
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, Oxford
The Right Rev David Stancliffe, Bishop of Salisbury
The Right Rev John Gladwin, Former Bishop of Chelmsford
Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Former Bishop of Oxford
The Right Rev Bill Ind, Former Bishop of Truro
The Right Rev Peter Selby, Former Bishop of Worcester
The Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson, Former Bishop of Portsmouth
The Very Rev Nick Bury, Dean of Gloucester
The Rev Jeremy Caddick, Dean, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans
The Very Rev Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark
Canon Dr Judith Maltby, Chaplain, Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church, Oxford
Canon Jane Shaw, Dean of Divinity, New College, Oxford
The Rev Sarah Coakley, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Cambridge
Sarah Foot, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History
Alec Ryrie, Professor of the History of Christianity, Durham
Stuart White, Director of the Public Policy Unit, Oxford
Jill Green, Quakers

There is also a leading article, Equal before God.

This Government has done much to bring the law into line with modern attitudes towards homosexuality. It scrapped Section 28 , equalised the age of consent and ended the ban on gays in the Armed Forces.

Now it must resolve the legal asymmetry that prevents homosexual civil partnerships from taking place on religious premises. In a letter to The Times today, a distinguished group of mostly Anglican clergy correctly point out that “straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice”. That clearly discriminates against homosexuals who are also believers, and three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians — now wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. A legal amendment permitting them to do so is expected to be debated in the House of Lords next month.

The Church of England has so far resisted change, arguing that if some religious groups are allowed to hold civil partnerships then the pressure on the C of E to follow suit will become intolerable. It is a feeble argument. No one is arguing that any church should be forced to conduct a civil partnership. But willing churches should not be precluded from doing so.

Benjamin Disraeli believed the Church of England to be “a part of our liberties, a part of our national character”. If it has any hope of continuing in that role, the Church — and the Government — must recognise that our liberties today should include the right of homosexuals to register the most important promise of their lives in a church.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 6:50pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

It's wonderful to see this at last. Particular praise is due to the Bishop of Salisbury, the only serving diocesan to sign. Perhaps the others weren't asked? I would have liked to see other serving bishops as signatories to this. epecially as I am sure that there are several who would agree. What stops them from saying so? Some will say that it is divisive to sign such a letter, and that the bishop must be a sign of unity. That argument has not stopped those bishops who oppose it from being prominent in saying so. Loud opposition is as much a cause for division as loud support.

Posted by: toby forward on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 7:08pm GMT

Wonderful. A lot of horsepower in those signatories.
Pour on the meat!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 7:27pm GMT

An excellent, timely and true letter.

This has to be the way forward.

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 7:40pm GMT

My jaw dropped when I read that these bishops of the C of E want to prohibit three other religous bodies from resistering civil partnerships on their own premises because it would put pressure on the C of E to do the same and no church shoudl blur the distinctions between marriage and civil unions. Good grief!

Who asked them? What colossal nerve! I bet these same gentlemen have suggestions for the Quakers on using praise bands, and how to prepare pork chops for the Jews ,and how to diss religions other than C of E brand for the Unitarians...

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 8:17pm GMT

Notice the number of former bishops..all were replaced by " safe hands", Don't you get the feeling that the ultra liberals have passed their zenith.

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 8:59pm GMT

Suppose that a gay or lesbian couple obtains a civil partnership license from the State. Does the practice that the petition signers object to mean that a local religious entity (church, synagogue, ashram, etc.) can't recognize the CP without the State's permission? ... Or does it mean that heterosexual couples can get married through a religious entity, and that marriage will be recognized by the State, but CPs won't be?
If the former, it's no business of their Lordships to tell religious entities what relationships they will or will not recognize. I assume, for example, that the Roman Catholic Church will not recognize civil marriages between heterosexual Roman Catholic couples where one or both spouses were previously married but obtained a civil divorce rather than a religious annulment. That's the RCC's right, and their Lordships would intervene at their peril. If Unitarians or Quakers or Liberal Jews want to recognize CPs, that's also their business.
If it's the latter, there's a simple solution that I wish would be adopted by the USA: All civil marriages (or civil partnerships) must be performed by civil authorities, period. If the couple then wants to be married or partnered by a religious entity, it would be a totally separate ceremony.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 9:02pm GMT

Oops, sorry to double post, but I left out that I also thank and praise the petition signerrs for their very public stance. I hope the petition garners more support.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 9:03pm GMT

I note the number of "former" bishops who signed. Does this indicate that current diocesans tend to be more conservative than their predecessors? Shades of the Roman Church after Paul VI?

Posted by: Old Father William on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 9:19pm GMT

This is really great, but will it have any effect? I doubt it, the forces of conservatism are so strong, but perhaps not as strong as they would like us to believe.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 10:05pm GMT

What a wonderful list of signatories!

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 10:08pm GMT

"The bishops’ “slippery slope” argument is invalid. Straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice. To deny people of faith the opportunity of registering the most important promise of their lives in their willing church or synagogue, according to its liturgy, is plainly discriminatory"
- Letter re Civil Partnerships -

The distinguished signatories to this letter are pointing out to the Government of the U.K. that the Church of England's represntatives in the House of Lords, while asserting the independence of the C.ofE. to discriminate against the LGBT community in matters of employment; are seeking to curtail the rights of other religious bodies, whose theology is more inclusive of LGBTs, to
give a spiritual blessing to members of their own congregations who happen to be partners in a Civil Union.

The puritanism of these Lords Spiritual should not be allowed to compromise other religious communities that wish to offer blessings in their own places of worship. After all, we are speaking of a spiritual action which the Church of England seems not to want to give to its own adherents who happen to be gay.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 10:14pm GMT

"Notice the number of former bishops..all were replaced by " safe hands", Don't you get the feeling that the ultra liberals have passed their zenith." - Robert I. Williams -

Robert. What exactly are you trying to say here?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 10:17pm GMT

Well, I suggest it's not supported by facts, viz.
Chelmsford: not yet announced, and certainly none of the other replacements (Thornton, Pritchard, Inge and Foster) are at all conservative in outlook.


Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 10:39pm GMT

Thank you, Simon. Good to hear.

Posted by: Old Father William on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 11:08pm GMT

It's absolutely OUTRAGEOUS that CofE bishops, w/ automatic HofL privileges, should get to legislate for *non-Anglican* faiths! "Do unto others as you would have them..." much?

[The only good thing about this: fuel for the Disestablishment fire! >;-/]

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 22 February 2010 at 11:10pm GMT

Father Ron: I exchanged a message with you a few months ago. I am a cradle Episcopalian that truly appreciates your views, knowledge and understanding of the Anglican Communion. At this
point I can recognize something that you have written before I see the sender signature. You have a knowledge and understanding of most of the
"Provinces" of the Communion. Keep writing, there
are so many of us that apprecitate your views
and questions of some of our less tolerent brothers and sisters. You would be a super TEC
Bishop. New Zealand is very much like the USA.

I offer prayers for the mission of you and our Presiding Bishop.

Posted by: Carl on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 12:21am GMT

It is part of the oral tradition in our family that my some number of greats grandmother was legally a bastard because her parents, though married, had been married in a chapel and not in the state Church of Ireland.

The Fools Spiritual need to be called on the fact that they have explicitly curtailed the freedom of religion for Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews in the United Kingdom. Ebor and his homophobic cronies have nothing but contempt for the free exercise of religion.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 1:24am GMT

It is not for the Church of England to tell the Unitarians what to do. Or the others.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 2:43am GMT

I agree with "Carl" who asked Fr. Ron Smith to keep writing his enlightening and energizing news of the many issues facing the Anglican Communion. I am a Vatican II Catholic who sees many parallel issues that Roman Catholics are facing with Anglicans. The main three issues being:
Ordination of and equal treatment of women in the Church, a need to understand and examine the contemporary findings of human sexuality and to reform past teachings to reflect Christ's inclusive love of all people, which would include glbt people in all of the Church's ministries and last but most dangerous of all, a determination by many right wing reactionary elements within both Roman and Anglican Communions to seize total control of the conversation (Fundamentalism), about what it means to be a "true" Christian. No matter how you argue it, the parallels exist be it in Rome or the leading centers of Anglican communities. I see great hope for the future because of people like Father Ron Smith and I would add that I have never met him nor are we related, but his comments are inspirational to both Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 4:44am GMT

look at the episcopal appointments since the John debacle... they are all married, pro-women 's ordination and all safe on the gay issue.

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 7:40am GMT

Not so, Robert Ian Williams: I can think of at least one single, gay man who has been consecrated bishop since the JJ affair. And there are others who are supportive of LGBT people, even clergy.

What there is not are any bishops who will take a lead in standing up for a re-evaluation of the HOB stance (which is dependant on Issues - which is now 18 years out of date!!). Liberal bishops keep to the party line, conservative ones shoot their mouths off with impunity, so the impression of a more conservative and hostile bench is created.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 12:00pm GMT

RIW is, as usual, wrong when he comments upon the Church of England. In just the last two years there have been three episcopal appointments that were of single men - Whitby, St Albans, Stockport.

If, RIW, from the standpoint of a Roman Catholic you must comment on Anglican affairs, please check the facts first. That way, you might, eventually, write something both illuminating and worth reading.

Posted by: RPNewark on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 12:23pm GMT

Well, some good news at last. I feel quite proud that I know the Bishop of Salisbury and the Dean of Southwark from my time in Rome and also met Judith Maltby and Jeffrey John there. I did consider them all 'right good' types and am very pleased they have spoken out for equality of choice - would that there were more .......

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 12:39pm GMT

Winchester et al really should have abstained having made their position clear.

A fascinating observation from Fr Ron. & yes, I've noticed over the years that English serving diocesan bishops are those who are most likely to act and vote in part against their own consciences. I was worried by this at first, but don't, now, think that this is self-serving or fearfulness; a measure rather that the role of bishop encompasses more than the advancement of their own views. I've always felt that this was the key quality of ++Katherine and +Charles Jenkins, who always struck me as very good examples of this principle at work in TEC.

I remember the original women priest debate in 1992 in England kicked off with a line that went something like 'the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth'.

The Bishops who seem most one-dimensional, oddly, are those like Wright and Spong who are consistently advancing a totally consistent message and who give the impression of being somewhat unable to accommodate those who approach from a different viewpoint.

I don't think that we're seeing 'neutered' bishops being appointed in England but many, like Fr Ron, think that something has happened to the appointments process in recent years; the complaint has always been that it's getting far to managerially focussed. And now that the dioceses have more say in the appointments, I suspect we'll have fewer appointments that are risky in the classic David Jenkins or the Michael Ramsey vein.

Whoever they get in Rochester will be a key indication of whether the extended consultations and increased opportunity for individuals to insist on a particular candidate can result in a unifying and visionary appointment or whether it will be the usual vested interests playing for territory.

OV

Posted by: ordinary vicar on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 5:24pm GMT

I stand by my words... in the new Anglicanism of Rowan Williams there will be no Bishop Slees. They've had their day. Isn't there anyone out there who sees what I am getting at?

There has been a shift..come on... will Martin Reynolds endorse my thesis ? Martin is usually bang on.

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 6:06pm GMT

"The Church of England has so far resisted change, arguing that if some religious groups are allowed to hold civil partnerships then the pressure on the C of E to follow suit will become intolerable. It is a feeble argument."

I laugh. Ooooh, the poor babies! The pressure will be intolerable! The leadership of the CofE need protection from the state against PRESSURE. Feeble argument, indeed! I'd be ashamed to make such an argument.

Posted by: Grandmère Mimi on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 9:51pm GMT

Thank you, Carl and Chris, for your kind remarks on my postings. I must say that I am motivated by my perception of the need for inclusivity in the Churches of the Anglican Communion. Having been baptised, confirmed and nurtured in the Church of England; later drawn into the Anglican Franciscan tradition in the Pacfic Province - from which I received my calling to priesthood in New Zealand -my experience in the catholic tradition has been the anvil on which my theological stance on what I feel the Anglican Tradition has to offer the world has been forged.

I long for world-wide Anglicanism to be much more inclusive in it's attitude towards women and gays in the congregations and in ministry, and have consciously encouraged those it has been my privilege to lead, to see the Christ in all people. Whatever I can manage in the way of encouragement in this mission, I have determined to do. Thanks for your kind encouragement to continue blogging on these important issues. Peace and All Joy, Fr. Ron

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 10:14pm GMT

Jeremy --
In 2006, I was told that by someone on the ABC's staff that he had ordained 9 closeted gays to the episcopate & recently I was told by an American bishop who had asked the ABC why TEC was in such hot water that he replied that it was because we were being honest.
Of course I can't name my sources since I still respect their "don't ask, don't tell" positions (which is why we have gotten into this mess).

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 12:33pm GMT

I would have signed the letter had I been asked and imagine many others, including Diocesan and former Diocesans would also have done so. But it is a good and representative list of those who have helped shape opinion in the church more widely and we should see it as encouraging.

Posted by: Canon Andrew Godsall on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 at 9:23pm GMT

It appears that certain leadership of the Church of England want, not only to retain the right to discriminate, but also to force others to continue in (or resume) discrimination.

Even if Civil Partnerships are permitted to be registered in religious establishments, there is still the fundamental problem of the distinction in law between a civil partnership and a marriage, which remains discriminatory. Her Majesty, in her capacity as Queen of Canada, has already made provision for the end of such discrimination elsewhere. I refer you to the Civil Marriage Act 2005, SC c. 33.

http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/sc-2005-c-33/latest/sc-2005-c-33.html

Posted by: Nom de Plume on Thursday, 25 February 2010 at 2:14pm GMT

Tim Stevens was not very convincing today on the Sunday program radio4 7 am. Rather mealy-mouthed and inconsistent.

The Quaker rep I found articulate and consistent in discussion with Tim.

I have been rather surprised by Tim's illiberal approach this week- has he been nobbled ...

Posted by: Rev L Roberts on Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 9:12pm GMT

My heart-felt prayers tonight in N.Z. (Mon 1 March) are for the passage, tomorrow, of Lord Alli's Amendment - as asked for by the authors of The Letter to The Times.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 1 March 2010 at 9:58am GMT
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