Thursday, 14 June 2012

CofE Bishops and Civil Partnership Legislation

There has been considerable discussion lately about whether or not the Lords Spiritual supported the Civil Partnership legislation.

Richard Chapman, Secretary for Parliamentary Affairs for the Church of England has compiled a memorandum, which can be found in its original form here, and which we have transcribed as a web page.

His introduction:

The Lords Spiritual and Civil Partnerships Legislation

The following is a timeline that summarises the speeches and votes of bishops in the House of Lords on civil partnership legislation from 2002 - when a Private Member’s Bill was first brought before the House by Lord Lester of Herne Hill - to the passing of the Government’s Civil Partnership Act in November 2004.

The bishops, consistent with their place as independent and non-whipped members neither spoke nor voted as a bloc on these issues when they were before the House. The Government’s 2004 legislation that resulted in the introduction of civil partnerships was welcomed at Second Reading by the Bishop of Oxford and with more qualification, by the Bishop of Peterborough. More critical speeches followed from the Bishops’ Bench during the Bill’s subsequent stages. Six bishops voted in favour of (and one against) what was widely considered to be a ‘wrecking amendment’ to the Bill at Report stage; however when the Commons removed the amendment and returned the Bill to the Lords in November 2004, eight bishops voted in support of the decision taken by the Commons (two voted against). Extracts from speeches by the Lords Spiritual and links to the parliamentary record of the speeches and votes are below.

Our transcription is here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 14 June 2012 at 2:13pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

This document confirms what had earlier been pointed out by both Richard Harries and myself: viz., that in the main Lords debate on what is now the Civil Partnership Act 2004 “Six bishops voted in favour of (and one against) what was widely considered to be a ‘wrecking amendment’ to the Bill at Report stage”; indeed, the then bishop of Winchester co-sponsored this wrecking amendment.

The Commons rejected the amendment in the names of Lady O’Cathain and the Bishop of Winchester. When the Lords briefly considered whether to accept the Commons' rejection of their amendment, Lady O’Cathain offered a similar amendment again. On this occasion, “eight bishops voted in support of the decision taken by the Commons (two voted against).”

When the Church of England response to the Government consultation claims at paragraph 15 that “the introduction of civil partnerships ... was supported by the majority of our bishops who voted on the legislation in 2004 when it was before the House of Lords”, it can only be referring to this final vote. The response ignores the fact that in the principal Lords debates on the Bill (in Grand Committee and Report), the initially successful wrecking amendment was co-sponsored by one bishop and supported by five others.

Paragraph 15 is therefore seriously misleading. The Church of England should be invited to withdraw it. If it declines to, the Government Equalities Office should take note of the fact that it is not supported by the evidence supplied by the Church’s own Secretary for Parliamentary Affairs.

Also, the bishops' document is TOTALLY misleading about the ECtHR case "Schalk and Kopf v. Austria." The holding of that case is the EXACT OPPOSITE of that implied in the bishops' document.

I am trying to keep quakerly calm about this, but it is tough. Will the bishops be held to account at General Synod? Just as MPs should not lie to Parliament, and Select Committee witnesses should not mislead Select Committees, it seems to me that bishops should not bear false witness.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Thursday, 14 June 2012 at 2:38pm BST

Good letter in the Times today from Canon Bob Reiss of Westminster Abbey highlighting the defensiveness of the C of E statement...and this is just more of it?

I remember 40 yrs ago when doing doctoral work spending time amidst the theological conflicts that beset the C of E in the mid/late 19c and thinking"Good grief good /sincere Christian folk get so worked up about things that within even 50 yrs were absorbed or even affirmed in normal christian circles...what an extraordinary waste of energy in "doomed causes" that were the wrong side of history so to speak..."

I just feel a weary resignation now as the "official" C of E..which impinges on parishes hardly at all continually seems to misjudge things or lose the plot....and comfort myself ( if sadly) with that middle-eastern proverb: "The dogs bark...but the caravan moves on"

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 14 June 2012 at 3:18pm BST

It was breathtaking to hear the bishop of Oxford not only supporting the Bill in the Lords but supporting the brief prepared by Ian Buist and saying that the Bill was hugely deficient in not allowing civil partnerships to take place in religious buildings and in having no words of commitment.

Bishop Harries was the "lead bishop" in the House that day.

It is interesting to see how the spin works in this case.


But as he and Iain and all of us remember so well the wrecking amendment in the name of the bishop of Winchester and Barononess O’Cathain was a well laid plan to undo the whole project.

The significant vote was on that amendment and the record clearly shows that on the day the bishops in the House were mainly against us.
The facts are that several leading bishops nearly brought the Bill down, that is how history should remember it.
Let's see what they do with gay marriage!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Thursday, 14 June 2012 at 5:13pm BST

They won't be able to hide behind unsigned legal documents in the Lords. The legislation will sail through the Commons, proving to be a populist cause as shown by recent opinion polls, so we'll see whether all twenty-six bishops turn out to attempt to wreck it.

If Members of the Lower House are taking responsibilty for the moral, social and spiritual welfare of gay people, then what need have we for the legalistic nit-picking of the Lords Spiritual?

Posted by: Andrew on Thursday, 14 June 2012 at 11:40pm BST

Speaking of 'Wrecking Amendments' to the Same-Sex Civil Partnerships Bill, and the damage that this did to members of the Church who would have liked a 'Same Sex Blessing' by the Church - in addition to their legal Civil status; this no doubt has led to the need for consideration of Gay Marriage!

Is this not in some way analagous to the current situation of 'Wrecking Amendments' provided by the House of Bishops to the Draft Measure for the Ordination of Women as Bishops in the C.of E.?
One wonders, again, what might be the outcome for credibility of the Church of England's Bishops.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 15 June 2012 at 1:49am BST

I wonder if the hierarchy of the Church of England are now wishing they had been more accommodating of those Gays in the Church who were only asking them to Bless their Civil Partnerships.

Meanness can sometimes lead to the need for enforced largesse.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Monday, 18 June 2012 at 12:18pm BST
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