Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Draft regulations for civil partnerships on religious premises

Amended Monday morning

The Government Equalities Office has published its response to the consultation held on this subject. The written ministerial statement is recorded here.

The document includes a copy of the draft regulations which will be laid before parliament shortly.

Download the full document via this link (PDF 776k)

Note The document published at the above link on 2 November was replaced by a revised version on 4 November. The GEO press office has confirmed that this was to correct a minor error.

From the Introduction:

1.1 Following a listening exercise held last year by Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities, with a range of faith and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) groups, the Government announced on 17 February 2011 its intention to remove the legal barrier to civil partnerships being registered on religious premises by implementing section 202 of the Equality Act 2010.

1.2 Making this change will allow those religious organisations that wish to do so to host civil partnership registrations on their religious premises. This voluntary provision is a positive step forward for both LGB rights and religious freedom.

1.3 The Government published a consultation document on 31 March 2011, seeking views on the practical arrangements necessary to implement this change. The consultation ran until June 23 2011. This document provides a summary of the responses received during the consultation.

1.4 1,617 responses to the consultation were received. Of these, 343 responses were on the official pro forma which addressed each question in turn and 1,274 were responses by email or letter. Of those submitting the official pro forma, 145 were from organisations and 198 from individuals.

1.5 All responses were gratefully received and individually considered by the Government Equalities Office.

1.6 A copy of the draft regulations to implement the proposals consulted on is included as part of this document and reflects the many useful and constructive responses received during the consultation period. These regulations will be laid before Parliament shortly so that they are able to come into force by the end of 2011, subject to the will of Parliament…

The official Church of England response to the consultation was reported previously, see Registration of Civil Partnerships in Religious Premises from June.

At that time, the official press release said:

“That means that there needs to be an ‘opting in’ mechanism of the kind that the Government has proposed. In the case of the Church of England that would mean that its churches would not be able to become approved premises for the registration of civil partnerships until and unless the General Synod had first decided as a matter of policy that that should be possible.”

Yesterday the following official Church of England response was issued:

We will study the draft regulations as a matter of urgency to check that they deliver the firm assurances that have been given to us and others that the new arrangements will operate by way of denominational opt-in. If Ministers have delivered what they said they would in terms of genuine religious freedom, we would have no reason to oppose the regulations. The House of Bishops’ statement of July 2005 made it clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships and that remains the position. The Church of England has no intention of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in its churches.

The Church of England website has this page: Civil Partnerships.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 2 November 2011 at 11:27pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

A very short list of those committed to availing themselves of solemnising CPs once the prohibition is set aside.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 12:53am GMT

"The official Church of England response to the consultation was reported previously,"

The official Church of England response is a bit like the recent St Paul's response. Shut the church to these difficult people. Don't let them in

Simon

Posted by: Simon Dawson on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 9:15am GMT

Right. So... business as usual, then?

Posted by: rjb on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 9:20am GMT

'The Church of England has no intention of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in its churches'.

What a mean sprited, ungracious, response.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 2:36pm GMT

"The House of Bishops’ statement of July 2005 made it clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships..."

That seems incredibly mean-spirited.

Surely we should wish blessings on all people, and seek blessings on their relationships, and if a couple in a civil partnership came to me in a church and said, "Please could you bless our partnership" I would do it with tenderness and joy.

And I'm not even a priest.

This is all so controlling, and it seems madness to me.

Let people choose their relationships and commitments. Let individual priests and churches judge whether to offer God's blessing formally or informally. Or just ignore the bishops and do it discreetly anyway. Because aligning with their position may be shameful, and may shame and marginalise other people.

Posted by: Susannah on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 2:45pm GMT


In case anyone's wondering, the "very short list" referred to by Martin is in paragraph 2.77 of the consultation response linked above.

The rapid refusal of the large churches to solemnize civil partnerships is a tragedy, not just for the present and future civil partners who don't get their blessing, but also for the Church, which thus denies itself access to a substantial audience for its witness.

... but a more technical issue piqued my interest. As I understand it, the original 2005 position statement of the House of Bishops, announcing the policy of not blessing civil partnerships, is not applicable in royal peculiars, nor in archepiscopal peculiars - so that at present, blessings can take place in these two kinds of jurisdictions. Does the identification of Synod as "consenting person" in schedule A1 to the draft regulations change this?

Posted by: Feria on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 4:48pm GMT

How quickly one can move from "What's all this then?" to "Move along; nothing to see."

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 5:31pm GMT

"The rapid refusal of the large churches to solemnize civil partnerships is a tragedy, not just for the present and future civil partners who don't get their blessing, but also for the Church, which thus denies itself access to a substantial audience for its witness." Feria

The "rapid refusal" is, itself, witness. And what ugly witness it is.

Posted by: Laurence C. on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 7:09pm GMT

So, let me get this straight: The CoE will bless buildings, pets, fraternal organizations, meetings of all kinds, but not the loving relationship of two men or two women?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 3 November 2011 at 7:48pm GMT

'Check that they deliver the firm assurances that have been given to us and others that the new arrangements will operate by way of denominational opt-in'.

There is a distinct tone of distrust betrayed by this statement. However, it may well be justified, considering the effect of the amendment to the Equality Act on the original scope of Civil Partnership legislation and the continuing exclusion of life-long platonic relationships (and others) from its provisions. Why criticize the current marriage exclusions when civil partnership rights can't be more charitably applied?

I can't see why the church hierarchy would entrust its clergy with 'service of blessing' discretion, when it amounts to an equivocal abdication on this issue. A clear marriage resolution is vastly more preferable than what amounts to a subtle, but effective conclusion to further meaningful debate.

Given past political experiences, firm assurances mean nothing.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 12:12am GMT

I should clarify that I meant 'platonic family relations'.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 12:32am GMT

"The Church of England has no intention of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in its churches". - C.of E. Response to legislation?

On the face of it, that figures - for Civil Partnerships between opposite-gender couples, who wouldn't want a Church Blessing anyway, or they would probably have married in Church.

What the Church of England has not said (N,B.) is that it would never perform a Marriage Service for Same-Sex Partners! Maybe that is something for Gay Couples to keep in mind.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 7:04am GMT

Changing Attitude has been concerned for some time that an anonymous Church of England spokesperson announces the policy of the church on an issue.

On whose authority does this person speak? I've blogged about the latest announcement. http://changingattitude.org.uk/archives/4636

Both the Church of England web site and Schedule 1 of the Regulations (p32 of the report) say the person who must consent to an application for approval in the case of churches or chapels of the Church of England is General Synod.

Who in Church House is abusing power and taking to themselves the authority to determine and announce church policy?

We will be campaigning for General Synod vote positively for civil partnerships in church and for whoever the spokesperson is at Church House to stop abusing his or her authority.

Posted by: Colin Coward on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 8:54am GMT

Yes, I would be interested to hear from Colin if he gets any answer to his question.

To quote Feria above this "technical issue piqued my interest" too, in that having a liturgy for and then the use of that liturgy to bless a civil partnership is a long way from allowing the buildings of the CofE to be used to register a civil partnership.

Firstly there is the issue of buildings that are not churches, but owned by the parish but yet might be right for a CP.
Secondly (and very significantly) this says nothing about Anglican clergy being nominated as a civil partnership registrars - yet alone going on to register civil partnerships in the church hall or anywhere else.
Finally without a liturgy of blessing there is nothing stopping General Synod approving of CP's being registered in Church.
As the law stands the signing of the civil partnership schedule requires no vows indeed no words whatsoever, I can see no harm to Anglican polity as presently drafted if the Church should allow the signatures to be written in the sacred space of the sanctuary.
We would have chosen that as an option if it had been available to us.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 1:27pm GMT

As a minor matter of interest I have already written to my local Superintendent Registrar asking to be appointed a civil partnership registrar. As I read the draft regulations this is quite possible without a church building.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 1:46pm GMT

Martin: that's more than a minor matter of interest. It is a path that I hope others will go down. And I hope that those in your position will be able to use Quaker meeting houses, URC churches etc.

It's been a long and winding road since the former Bishop of Winchester used his position in the House of Lords to attempt to block the spiritual freedom of Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews in this matter. I can't speak for Quakers but personally I'm delighted with & for the Anglicans who are joining us on this spiritual road.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 4:08pm GMT

@Pat O'Neill: excellent comment, though you missed "nuclear submarines" off your list

Posted by: Ex Revd on Friday, 4 November 2011 at 9:52pm GMT

>> We will study the draft regulations as a matter of urgency to check that they deliver the firm assurances that have been given to us and others that the new arrangements will operate by way of denominational opt-in.

It's nice to see an evolution in attitude from the 1700s, when they wanted people fined for trying to opt OUT of the Church of England. When it comes down to THEM having a choice, it's a different story LOL.

Human nature is the funniest thing LOL, always makes me laff lol :}

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Saturday, 5 November 2011 at 4:02am GMT

Thank God for Quakers,Unitarians and Liberal Jews. They have often led the way in the past and I hope and pray that the Church of England will soon follow their example.

Posted by: Jean Mary Mayland on Saturday, 5 November 2011 at 11:19am GMT


Thanks Martin. Yes, I think what I was missing was the distinction between registering a civil partnership, and blessing a civil partnership that's already registered.

So, previously, no religious premises - peculiar or otherwise - could register civil partnerships, no matter what. Under the new draft regulations, CofE religious premises - peculiar or otherwise - will be able to register civil partnerships, but only with the permission of General Synod. I leave it to others to comment on whether giving General Synod this degree of jurisdiction over the peculiars is a significant change in the internal constitution of the Church.

On the other hand, previously, royal peculiars and archepiscopal peculiars, being beyond the reach of the House of Bishops, could (and I think did) bless civil partnerships that were already registered. This will not be changed by the new draft regulations.

Sorry for the noise.

Posted by: Feria on Saturday, 5 November 2011 at 5:24pm GMT
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