Comments: Civil Partnership Review: response from Church of England

Happy to be told, but I don't quite see the rationale for opposing the extension of civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. I would have thought there were quite a number of people (regardless of sexual orientation) who are in faithful, committed, loving relationships but who (for whatever reason) are uncomfortable with what they might perceive to be the cultural (and perhaps religious) hinterland of marriage. And of course to the extent that the argument in favour of same-sex marriage relies on the equality argument, surely the converse should be true - if same-sex couples have two options, how is it not unequal to deny one of those options to opposite-sex couples?

Posted by Philip Hobday at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 12:55pm BST

Of course Philip is right. If the document was straight, so to speak, it would of course acknowledge that there are straight couples who don't want to get married. But to acknowledge that would be to imperil the c of E's position in the marriage market yet further. so the response is entirely about the private grief of the C of E caused by the huge Parliamentary majority for equal marriage(and, to be fair, of those gay couples who have theological objections to getting married). The private grief of the C of E is no reason to maintain an asymmetric relationship.

Posted by iain mclean at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 1:37pm BST

I wish there was more honesty in this document. The elephant in the room is that if civil partnerships are withdrawn as an option for gay couples, the Church's refusal to accept equal marriage (especially for gay clergy) will be (further) substantially weakened. This somehow fails to be mentioned at all. Instead the argument is that we need civil partnerships for those gay couples who don't believe in marriage (but definitely not for the heterosexual couples who don't believe in marriage).

Personally I wish the rule was marriage for believers and civil partnership for atheists. Of course the atheists could call their relationships marriage if they wanted, but we'd all know they really weren't, not really, because marriage is at its heart a reflection of God's love for the Church, and atheists wouldn't want to have anything to do with that, would they?

Okay, so that last paragraph might have been slightly tongue-in-cheek but I get so confused when the same arguments can be used in every direction.

Posted by Tess at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 3:15pm BST

I think the bishops are clearly wedded to the doctrine of "separate but equal". Hence their desire to retain the option of civil partnerships for gay couples but insistence that straights must be married.

It is strange that they believe that gay people who believe "for religious reasons" that they should not be married should be allowed civil partnerships, but those who believe "for religious reasons" that they should be married should be forbidden from marrying in the sight of God.

Posted by Iain Baxter at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 3:28pm BST

Bishops to Government: Please keep civil partnerships. Otherwise we won't have a back of the bus where we can put gay people.

Posted by Jeremy at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 6:01pm BST

The C of E continues its incoherency. Earlier they tried to say that it was nonsense to try to speak of "two kinds of marriage" but when that failed to stop things now they insist that is what must be maintained: civil and church marriage is two different things for same-sex couples. But they don't want to allow "two kinds civil partnership" even though the rationale they provide would be eminently suitable to commend such an allowance (for couples who don't believe in "marriage.")

Meanwhile, reality marches on...

Posted by Tobias Haller at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 6:06pm BST

Even as a conservative Catholic, I have to say, Jeremy is spot on. This document digs the Anglican bench further into their hole.

Either homosexual practice is sin or it is not.

Posted by Robert Ian Williams at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 10:08pm BST

civil partnerships for religious gays and marriages for non religious gays, seems a bit confused to me. And still the C of E continues to refuse blessings to same sex couples and refuses to register civil partnerships in a C of E premise. Do they really care two hoots about what gay people want. Honestly it all sounds like a pack of lies and double standards, one rule for gay people and another for straights.

Posted by vince at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 10:46pm BST

Interesting to see how many same sex couples opt for CPs in the next few months. I expect it may be minimal. I'm struggling with the idea of a Christian same sex couple who embrace & celebrate their sexual relationship but who don't believe in Marriage. Unless they happen to be vicars in fear of losing their job & bullied into denial.

Posted by Ben at Friday, 11 April 2014 at 10:56pm BST

Thank you, RIW.

Understanding that we look at this from opposite perspectives, I appreciate your agreement that the bishops' position is logically and theologically indefensible.

Posted by Jeremy at Saturday, 12 April 2014 at 1:01am BST

"with the advent of same sex marriage, the distinctive nature of civil partnership assumes greater significance for those who may not wish to avail themselves of marriage." - William Fittall -

Do I hear the sound of a cracked cymbal here?

When the prospect of Civil Partnerships was first mooted for same-sex couples, the Church was adamantly against it. (Now it wants it retained)

Once the measure passed through Parliament, there was no way the Church would add a 'Blessing'.

Now that Same-Sex Marriage is available in the public arena, the Church seems to pretend that C.P.s are OK. Or should we say, NOW preferable to Same-Sex Marriage (and to be retained).

AND STILL, the Church withholds a Blessing from Same-Sex Couples - whether Civilly-Partnered or actually Married.

What the hell is going on, here? And how does this appear to the general public - on hypocrisy in the Church in its attitude towards Gay people?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 12 April 2014 at 4:01am BST

I'm struggling to understand the Bishops' theology. Are they saying that God sees not the nature of each same-sex relationship (or indeed opposite-sex relationships) but merely at the name under which it is registered?

Surely the question each gay Christian couple must ask themselves is whether their sexual orientation is God-given & part of his plan for them (in which case marriage would seem to be the appropriate term). Calling a marriage a civil partnership in the hope that God won't notice what's going on seems a bit optimistic.

Posted by Ben at Saturday, 12 April 2014 at 10:43am BST

My feeling is that the House of Bishops are under the delusion that a civil partnership is a profound friendship or a form of companionship on a par to elderly sisters living together, sharing the bills and household chores. However, that to me would be a sham civil partnership. There is a complete denial or pretence still, I believe, in the C of E that civil partnerships are sexual and are the same as marriages in all but name. Simply retaining civil partnerships does not not mean that there is an alternative form of relationship where no sex is involved.

Posted by vince at Saturday, 12 April 2014 at 10:52am BST

According to the ABC, any reoognition of same-sex couples leads to massacres in Africa (an echo of how in the past same-sex sex was supposed to cause earthquakes), so why should they care about civil partnerships? I would have thought they would be recommending the closet. Civil partnerships offer them deniability about same-sex sex, so they think.

Because Parliament failed to open civil partnerships to sex-discordant couples, which might have provided a different level of commitment from marriage as the pacte civil de solidarité does in France, it would make sense to convert civil partnerships automatically to civil marriage as soon as possible. Civil partnerships were a consolation prize for same-sex couples until Parliament allowed marriage equality. The C of E offers crumbs to same-sex couples.

With full marriage equality, there is no justification for civil partnerships from the perspective of the law. They are less likely to be reoognized in other jurisdictions and it is not clear they can provide the identical rights and protections of marriage.

The C of E should stay out of secular law. Rights offered by the state should be the same.

A theology of apartheid won't last or people will simply move on to other religions or no religion.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by Gary paul Gilbert at Saturday, 12 April 2014 at 12:57pm BST

The full record of the contributions and voting by the Lords Spiritual on the matter of Civil Partnerships was reported earlier on Thinking Anglicans:

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 12 April 2014 at 4:07pm BST

I imagine there would be people who wish in some way to mark a recognition of marriage being a lifelong union of one man and one woman and therefore might, after a divorce, wish to enter into a Civil Partnership rather than be coerced into marriage.

Where it is said that the case for the extension of Civil Partnership to opposite sex couples has not been made that is a palpable falsehood. It was made very clearly and forcibly in the debate in the House of Commons where the Bill was amended to allow for it to happen. Indeed at one point there was the view that Justin Welby would support that option. Of course the CofE was being particularly mendacious during the passage of the Bill and taking up all sorts of positions and making all sorts of statements in order simply to scupper the Bill.

Very many people are living together and already have the option of marriage - civil and religious - but are not marrying. I do not pretend to think that all or even a majority would enter a CP but undoubtedly some would and would find a very important way to both affirm their relationship and gain important protections and benefits thereby.

To the extent that religious gays might not see their relationship as a marriage (more likely they are clergy and their bishop is the one with these views) the same is going to be true of a number of heterosexuals.

The lack of any blessings for Civil Partnership shows the hollowness of the whole CofE view - in truth they are allergic to gay people irrespective of what their relationships are called.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Sunday, 13 April 2014 at 11:53am BST

Philip Hobday,
marriages are portable, civil partnerships are not.
By all means, if a couple wants to have the legal security that comes with being married but does not want to be married, they should be allowed to get civil partnered.

But I fail to see why any couple should want to enter into a secure relationship that deprives them of the same security when they're abroad where they will simply be treated as not married in terms of tax law, legal disputes involving custody of children, medical treatment decisions for partners etc.

Why would anyone do that voluntarily?

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 14 April 2014 at 12:13pm BST

Perhaps, now that a clergy-person (even though his Stipend is not paid by the Church of England but by the NHS) has taken advantage of his civil right to marry his monogamous same-sex partner; the Church of England will be forced to come out into the open - on its willingness - or not - to shed its homophobic history. Bets, anyone?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 16 April 2014 at 1:18am BST
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