Friday, 2 December 2011

Religious premises for Civil Partnerships: conflicting opinions

The Church Times has a report today, by Ed Beavan which is only available to paid subscribers until next week, headlined Lawyers dispute civil partnership opt-ins for sacred venues. (£)

A SUBMISSION by a leading ecclesiastical lawyer, Professor Mark Hill QC — which says that the planned changes to the regulations on civil partnerships in religious premises could lead to “costly litiga­tion” for faith groups who object in conscience — has been challenged by an Oxford academic…

Here is the full text of the memorandum (PDF) by Scot Peterson to which the report refers. This criticises the opinion of Professor Mark Hill QC which was published previously. He concludes:

…From a more general point of view, the Objectors‘ position becomes clearer. Rather than objecting to the Proposed Regulations, which offer all the protection available to faith groups, denominations, individual ministers and congregations, which is available under the existing regime for licensing religious premises for conducting marriages, Objectors wish section 202 had never been passed in the first place. They want a second chance to defeat the principle of the Alli amendment. In order to accomplish this, they have used every effort to identify problems with the regulatory regime that cannot be solved without a complete overhaul of English marriage law, as well as the Equality Act itself. Rather than offering constructive suggestions for modifying the Proposed Regulations, which the GEO could incorporate into its regime, they have put the perfect (in their view) in the way of the possible.

Neither the GEO nor the legislature should cave in to these efforts. The regulatory scheme proposed and submitted to the legislature offers every protection to the Objectors which is available under English law and applicable human rights and equality laws. They should be permitted to go into force as planned.

Yesterday, after the Church Times had gone to press, the Church of England’s Legal Office published its opinion, which also disagrees with Mark Hill.

…5. The question has been raised in Parliament and elsewhere of whether a religious denomination, or a local church, which declined to seek to have its premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships could be held to be discriminating in a way which is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. The clear view of the Legal Office is that it could not. This is also the declared view of the Government’s lawyers.

6. A key relevant provision is section 29 of the Equality Act which makes it unlawful for “a person (a “service-provider”) concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public” to discriminate on various grounds, including sexual orientation, “against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service”. A Church which provides couples with the opportunity to marry (but not to register civil partnerships) is “concerned with” the provision of marriage only; it is simply not “concerned with” the provision of facilities to register civil partnerships.

7. That would be a different “service”, marriage and civil partnership being legally distinct concepts. If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory. But that is a separate issue which would have to be addressed in the course of that new legislation.

8. The non-discrimination requirement imposed by the Equality Act on service-providers does not include a requirement to undertake the provision of other services that a service-provider is not already concerned with providing just because the services that it currently offers are of such a nature that they tend to benefit only persons of a particular age, sex, sexual orientation etc. Thus, for, example, a gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes. A children’s book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults. And a Church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships…

Meanwhile, over in the House of Commons, Edward Leigh MP has tabled an Early Day Motion to annul the new regulations. See this report in the Catholic Herald MP takes on Government over same-sex regulations.

And this report in the Telegraph by Martin Beckford Tory MPs try to stop civil partnerships in places of worship.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 2 December 2011 at 11:25am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

I get really tired of people who not only want to follow a particular faith point of view when it comes to gay people or same-sex couples, but expect everyone else to have to follow it also.
Rather than simply relying on their priests or other religious ministers to have the intestinal fortitude, and the certitude of their belief, to stand up and say "no", and asking courts to throw out frivolous lawsuits, they insist that everyone must follow their rules.
They want to go through life with the assurance that wherever they go, they will not be troubled by the prospect of seeing religiously-sanctioned gay or lesbian couples, knowing their beliefs are backed by the strong arm of government.
It's not enough that the houses of worship they go to don't have to sanction such couples. No, all churches and houses of worship must obey their worldview, so that they can sleep peacefully at night knowing that somewhere, gay and lesbian couples are miserable and inferior.
And, despite their outer armor of moral superiority, I have to wonder whether deep down, they have an enormous inferiority complex that their faith and their ministers cannot withstand secular society. So they use government to bolster and buttress that certitude. After all, if they have indeed received “The Truth”, shouldn’t that truth reassure them that they and their children are on the right track, regardless of what other faiths, or civil society, do? Shouldn’t that truth prevail against all? Isn’t that what they were assured in their scriptures? The fact that their truth isn’t enough, that they must marshal Parliament and other instruments of government to provide supports and buttressing is very telling.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Friday, 2 December 2011 at 6:05pm GMT

I was once very diffident about calling a Same-Sex partnership 'Marriage'. But now, considering all the step-dancing that is going on by the anti-gay faction in the Church, I can hardly wait for the U.K. government to bring in the legislation for Same-Sex Marriage - as this, seemingly, is the only way a spiritually-motivated Same-sex relationship will ever be recognised by the Church of England.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 3 December 2011 at 7:38am GMT

Further to my last posting here, I have just heard on T.V. that the current meeting of the Autralian Labour Party has voted for Same-Sex Marriage. One wonders how that might affect the Diocese of Sydney

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 3 December 2011 at 7:45am GMT

Peterpi

The majority of opponents to gay 'marriage' do not regard homosexual and lesbian couples as 'miserable and inferior'. Their opposition is based on the groundlessness of marriage in this setting. It has no foundation because gay sexual activity is incapable of being open to the creation of life. To regard such couples as married people is frivolous. Same-sex companionship is of a different order.

At one time few self-respecting homosexuals would want to embrace a parody of heterosexual life. In the 1970s there was a campaign run by Dennis Lemon, editor of Gay News, resisting what he regarded as socially enforced heterosexual stereotyping. This, I gather, resulted in cat-fighting between different opinions and much distaste among the militant for claustrophobic homosexual domesticity. It was felt that the latter was sought by the middle-aged and elderly. As for the rest, the fun of the chase was more exciting.

Posted by: John Bowles on Saturday, 3 December 2011 at 4:33pm GMT

Peter Gross states "I get really tired of people who not only want to follow a particular faith point of view when it comes to gay people or same-sex couples, but expect everyone else to have to follow it also... they insist that everyone must follow their rules... knowing their beliefs are backed by the strong arm of government."

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, called the move an "infringement of religious freedom" and criticised the government for failing to force religious groups to host the ceremonies. (Today's Guardian)

Presumably Peter Gross get really tired of Peter Tatchell as well.

Posted by: Peter on Saturday, 3 December 2011 at 7:48pm GMT

Once again Mr. Bowles demonstrates an almost complete (willful?) misunderstanding not only of gay issues, but of ecclesiology. “… marriage in this setting… has no foundation because gay sexual activity is incapable of being open to the creation of life” shows that he has not read the Book of Common Prayer, which gives three reasons for marriage (avoidance of promiscuity, the “comfort that the one ought to have of the other”, and children). Were it otherwise, Mr. Bowles would apparently be content to bar couples from marrying who do not plan to have, or cannot have children, and perhaps even dissolve the marriages of the barren - all of whom are, by his trivializing definition, frivolous. Not very Christian, that.

Moreover, the reasons why many homosexuals did, and do, not want to embrace marriage is one many modern heterosexual couples of conscience share: the conviction that a patriarchic social norm where a woman was virtually owned and regarded largely as breeding stock (a view espoused by Mr. Bowles) is not one worth aping.

As to “the chase” – the majority of my gay friends are settled in loving, monogamous relationships far more faithful than the goings-on of many heterosexuals I have heard of.

Come, Mr. Bowles – grow up!

Posted by: Nat on Sunday, 4 December 2011 at 5:56am GMT

It would take many words to disentangle the sophistry of Nat's inaccurate rhetoric in his response to my comment. Marriage does not come into the sphere or ecclesiology but moral theology; the first is confined to Church order. All of the conditions defined by the Prayer Book lead to the ultimate aim of creating new life, of increaing and multiplying, of stabilising society. Homosexuality does not enter the questions. Barrenness has never been a ground for nullity; failure to consummate a marriage has. But I believe that fertile couples who want to marry without the intention of having children should question their reasons. In the Catholic Church this provides grounds for annulment.

Patriarchy does not enter homosexual relationships unless they are trying to perpetrate a parody of the norm. For illumination on the woman as chattel myth, read Ephesians which defines marriage as a state founded on equality and complementarity. What radical homosexuals of the past resented was the imposition of a social norm on a condition that was inimical to the applied model. Why, they asked, should we be pressured into adopting a heterosexual lifestyle when we are not heterosexuals? Marriage was seen, rightly I believe, as the heart of the heterosexual norm.

I am sorry that Nat has only heard of heterosexual life, rather than actually knowing it. The watershed for heterosexual physical relations was the availability of the contraceptive pill which for the first time put women on an equal basis for promiscuity as men.
This led to the present sexual turmoil. The pill does not affect homosexuals because they are incapable of creating life. But look at the results of excessive promiscuity in the 1970s, the era when the concept of gay 'marriage' was derided by many homosexuals. That lay in AIDS which has been responsible for millions of deaths on a universal scale and has spread into heterosexual life with devastating consequences. I support a charity set up to help children infected by AIDS in the womb and I have seen personally the devastation it has caused. Nat may, or may not, know that AIDS was once known as the gay plague, not least among homosexuals themselves.

Posted by: John Bowles on Sunday, 4 December 2011 at 10:25am GMT

The 72 day Kardashian marriage is blessed by God and the Established Conventions. The serial marriages (and multiple affairs) of so many of our self-appointed guardians of conventional marriage are like wise blessed.

My 8 year long partnership through sickness and health, poverty and prosperity, is somehow sick and perverse.

Go figure.

"Oh what a world! What a world!" --The Wicked Witch of the West

By the way, if we are really serious about returning to a "Biblical" model for marriage, then the Mormon fundamentalists are right.

Posted by: Counterlight on Sunday, 4 December 2011 at 2:35pm GMT

"The pill does not affect homosexuals because they are incapable of creating life"

Really?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 4 December 2011 at 2:56pm GMT

"But I believe that fertile couples who want to marry without the intention of having children should question their reasons. In the Catholic Church this provides grounds for annulment."

That's very nice for Roman Catholics, but there's a reason we're Anglicans and this kind of nonsense is precisely one of those reasons.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 4 December 2011 at 3:03pm GMT

"All of the conditions defined by the Prayer Book lead to the ultimate aim of creating new life"

All loving, faithful partnered relationships DO "create new life" for the two spouses---or do you merely mean pro-creating? [Exit that way to the Fertility Cult. Bring your own May-Pole/Herm/Lingam! ;-X]

"there's a reason we're Anglicans and this kind of nonsense is precisely one of those reasons"

Indeed, Erika. Indeed.

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 5 December 2011 at 5:28am GMT

"If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory. But that is a separate issue which would have to be addressed in the course of that new legislation." Is this a hint that, if the PM's suggested legislation were to pass, churches and their priests might be prosecuted for refusing to perform marriages of same-sex couples? Would this be a good or bad thing?

Posted by: Douglas Lewis on Monday, 5 December 2011 at 4:07pm GMT

There are some who believe that, if the British Government were to legislate for Same-Sex Marriage, the Churches would find some way of escaping the discrimination clause - just like Roman Catholics do not have to agree to the Ordination of Women.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 7 December 2011 at 8:53am GMT
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