Comments: Church of England opposes end to civil partnerships

"There were 890 civil partnerships registered in 2016 in England and Wales, down from an average of 6305 from 2007 to 2013..."

Posted by crs at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 4:33pm BST

I know at least two heterosexual couples who would like a civil partnership but not marriage. This also should be an option.

Posted by Cathy at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 6:39pm BST

This is a devious attempt to avoid the gay marriage debate within the Church of England as it could affect their status as an established church.Its like the Salvation Army saying we oppose alcohol but will allow officers who drink shandy.

Posted by robert ian williams at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 7:55pm BST

You know those civil partnerships that this bishops put down wrecking amendments to prevent being created? Those ones? We're dead in favour of them now, so we are. Did you want consistency? Don't come looking for it here.

Posted by Interested Observer at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 8:14pm BST

Given the way this has been going I imagine the only two defensible options for the government will be to abolish civil partnerships altogether or to open them up to all couples regardless of gender. It won't be possible to sustain any other situation. It will be interesting to see what Church central says when it becomes clear that this is the dichotomy.

On the other hand, reading between the lines of the GEO's statement, my suspicion is that they expect the numbers to continue to fall, well below the 890 per annum figure. That seems likely, doesn't it, because more and more people are getting used to the idea of same-sex marriage. Instituting a two-tier marriage system for everybody would not be cost-free.

If they don't go down the "CP for all" route, it seems unlikely that they would force existing CPs into marriage by simply abolishing them but presumably they would be closed to new registrations. However if all existing CPs were automatically converted to marriages the bishops would have an interesting time depriving a number of clergy (including bishops) of their licences.

Posted by Bernard at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 10:29pm BST

Just to add: It would be good if Dr Brown did some of his own research to discern how many of the 890 CPs in 2016 were actually contacted because the couples in question wanted to adhere to the Church of England's "policy". My hunch is not very many but evidence would be interesting.

Posted by Bernard at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 10:45pm BST

I believe that the CofE allows clergy to be in a civil partnership, but does not allow same-sex marriage for clergy. If I'm correct, that would certainly be a reason for not wanting to scrap civil partnerships.

Certainly the drop in the number of civil partnerships is due to the legislation allowing for SSM.

Posted by Richard at Saturday, 19 May 2018 at 10:49pm BST

Oh, it's consistent all right--consistent in the desire to avoid equal marriage.
The culture, however, is leaving the Church behind.
Civil partnerships are now the bone that the Church wants to throw to LGBTQ people.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 2:54am BST

"I know at least two heterosexual couples who would like a civil partnership but not marriage"

So they can get married, and call it a civil partnership if they like. The whole point about civil partnerships was they are marriage in all but name, to pander to reactionaries. There is no point in creating a complex web of things so that a tiny handful of obsessives who think being "unmarried" makes them edgy can get married without their fee-fees being disrupted by the name. Civil Partnerships weren't, and aren't, like the French civil pacts, which are marriage-lite with a different set of legal implications; civil partnerships were/are full-fat marriage literally in all but name. Their only purpose was notational. The "debate" about civil partnerships is now at the level of people who become vegan to get a rise out of their parents, I'm afraid, which is why only a tiny number of people are availing themselves of it.

(From personal experience, one reason same-sex civil partnerships are attractive is for a couple who have strained relationships with their religious parents that they don't want to exacerbate; that's simply not a use-case for opposite-sex civil partnerships).

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 7:28am BST

The reason that CPs have been advocated for opposite-sex couples is to provide a legal framework for those who feel that getting married involves a big party, a lot of expense, etc. By going into a CP they get all the legal status and protections without all the razzmatazz.

IO's last point about couples with strained relationships with parents doesn't just apply to religious parents or to same-sex couples. Parents might disapprove of a relationship for all sorts of reasons and a CP provides a lower-key way of legally formalising the relationship.

The question for the state is whether to go to all the expense of introducing a two-tier system for everyone to account for the current cultural understandings of marriage. If you read you can see that there's a lot of support for that.

If the Church wants to keep CPs for some other reason, their best bet politically is to support CPs for all.

Posted by Bernard at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 10:27am BST

This sounds very much like a 'stable door' reaction. Sadly, it may have come too late for the C. of E. They opposed C.P.s before their coming into place. They now accept that - for their current polity - these are a more convenient way of dealing with a demand for S/S/M of members of the Church and would like them to be retained. People are not stupid. They can see through this.

The chickens are coming home to roost - for those in the C. of E. who originally opposed the introduction of CPs.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 11:54am BST

Bernard notes above that "if all existing CPs were automatically converted to marriages the bishops would have an interesting time depriving a number of clergy (including bishops) of their licences."

In 2007 Changing Attitude England undertook research to discover how many members of the Church of England, lay and ordained, had entered a civil partnership. The total number of clergy in a civil partnership was 76. The research was not comprehensive. Some of these clergy will have retired or resigned in the 11 years since then. Others will have contracted a civil partnership both prior to the introduction of equal marriage and since then (given that clergy can't marry but can enter a civil partnership on the understanding that they refrain from sex). No wonder Malcolm Brown is arguing for the retention of Civil Partnerships. Can you imagine the effect on the CofE were some 80 clergy to be forcibly evicted.

The Church Commissioners or the Pension Board will have records of the total number in Civil Partnerships. Would a member of Synod like to table a question at the July Synod asking how many clergy would be affected, losing house, income and vocation?

Malcolm Brown should be arguing in support of marriage for lesbian and gay clergy. The church can't for ever resist the truth that equal marriage is here to stay and that the majority, Christian and non-Christian alike, respect and value equal marriage. The Church of England's Brexit conundrum is being faced by the various groups meeting to resource the Teaching Document on Sexuality that the House of Bishops plan to publish in two year's time. Will they have overcome the resistance of those opposing equal marriage by then?

Posted by Colin Coward at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 1:35pm BST

The arguments for and against the continuation of civil partnerships (CPs) is more nuanced than this summary of the Government's consultation paper suggests. As well as considering whether CPs should be extended to allow opposite-sex partners to register a CP, the consultation should consider whether they should be available to those not in a 'gay' relationship, e.g. brothers and sisters who live together for mutual support.

However, and surprisingly, what no one who has responded to this post has commented on so far is the legitimacy of and authority for Dr Malcolm Brown's response to the consultation, if correctly reported in the Church Times. Dr Brown says, "We believe that Civil Partnerships still have a place... " But who are the 'we' who so believe? If this is the view of the House of Bishops, we should be told, and the report to General Synod in July of the business of the House of Bishops should inform synod of when the issue was discussed and, I suggest, have appended to it a report setting out the rival arguments. If this has not been discussed by the House of Bishops, on what authority was Dr Brown basing his statement?

This has some similarities to the controversy over the recently-revealed response by William Nye, albeit qualified, to the US Episcopal Church about their marriage service liturgy.

Due process in these matters, regardless of one's views on the underlying issues, is important. I doubt that the Government will be prepared to wait for the Church of England's new 'teaching document' sometime in 2020. General Synod at York this July should be given an opportunity to debate the issues: something for the Business Committee to consider later this week when it meets to plan the agenda.

Posted by David Lamming at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 2:03pm BST

The timing is bearable for the Church of England. If there was to be a change, it would be in the 2020 Queeen's Speech and will fall after Lambeth 2020 so the Teaching Document can be published.

However, it is obvious that CPs are moribund, at least for new registrations. If they don't go this time, then they will go during the next Parliament. The Church needs to be planning for that.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 6:33pm BST

David Lamming makes an interesting point about whether CPs should be an option for close relatives. (This was brought up during the original debates about CPs, but, I think, regarded as a "wrecking amendment" at the time.) It would allow an enormous loophole about inheritance tax. If a parent went into a civil partnership with their own child then they could pass their entire estate over free of inheritance tax.

It would be really difficult to write a law which allowed civil partnerships between close relatives but somehow didn't make this possible. I can't see it being considered seriously.

I'm not as sure as Kate that CPs will go. I think it's actually more likely that they are brought in for everyone. Then one possible scenario is that the church will argue that an opposite-sex CP is "really" a marriage, while a same-sex marriage is not... while what it will do if one or both of the partners identifies as non-binary is anybody's guess.

Posted by Bernard at Sunday, 20 May 2018 at 9:51pm BST

There are certainly many new clergy in CPs now, including me, ordinands training with at least six theological colleges, several deans and one bishop, so it is a substantial issue.

But caution to all on this thread - there is no mechanism by which clergy entering SSMs can be removed from parish posts - Andrew Foreshew-Cain was not (though he subsequently retired for other reasons), and Jeremy Pemberton was not even stripped of his existing licence in Lincoln - because the disciplinary procedures will not support it. What is true is that S/S/M precludes ordination, or generally new appointments (although one married clergyman told me he would not be refused another post in the same diocese).

Part of the problem besides the patriarchal inheritance of 'marriage' is the relentless commercial wedding industry, feeding the idea that you are not married without a huge celebration event in a heritage venue which involves feeding hundreds of people, and which exhausts years' worth of savings.

Whereas conversion of CP to marriage now is not necessarily like that at all - some long-partnered(lay) friends of ours just went and did it as a bit of bureaucracy, and felt it was particularly unromantic that they had to take along a utility bill as proof of address!

Posted by Neil Patterson at Monday, 21 May 2018 at 8:24am BST

I see the Church of Scotland is contemplating marriage equality in church, at its annual Assembly

Posted by Laurie Roberts at Monday, 21 May 2018 at 3:14pm BST

A question from across the pond: are there other dynamics that will also affect this? Prior to the determination that marriage is a right of couples regardless of sexual orientation, there was no national civil partnership in the USA. However, many local municipalities and some states had legal registration of Domestic Partners, with certain rights entailed. One of the important connections there was to allow employer-based insurance to cover the partner. Once marriage was legal, many insurers announced they would no longer provide for Partners, and would expect all couples to be married, providing Spousal coverage.

I know the American and the English scenes are different; but, might there be other, outside factors that would affect continuing CP's vs S/S/M?

Posted by Marshall Scott at Monday, 21 May 2018 at 5:03pm BST

Neil Patterson, I'm not sure you're 100% right. Andrew FC stayed in post because he had Freehold. I don't think the position of any priest under Common Tenure is that secure.
And Jeremy was lucky that his bishop in Lincoln did not withdraw his licence or PTO. There is no legal test case as yet to prove that it would be beyond the remit of a more conservative bishop.

Posted by Erika Baker at Monday, 21 May 2018 at 5:49pm BST

In response to Erica.

True, there has been no test case, but I don't believe there ever will be, because the bishops are collectively persuaded that it is neither legally nor pastorally advisable to take one. I would not claim to be 100% right on anything, but will let others judge the quality of my book on the history of legal discipline in the CofE to be published later this year.

But on the specific points, I am confident: There is no difference between Freehold and Common Tenure as far as the CDM is concerned - the difference is with possible reorganisation and the obligation to have annual reviews. Equally a Licence cannot be withdrawn (NB not the same thing as not renewed) without due proceedings.

My personal opinion is that the legally correct response to clergy entering S/S/Ms is that they should be brought before the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved (which never meets) consisting of two High Court Judges and three bishops, and given a severe penalty for departing from the marriage doctrine of the Church of England. The only penalty available to the CECR for a first offence is monition - i.e. they should be solemnly told not to do it again!

Posted by Neil Patterson at Monday, 21 May 2018 at 7:40pm BST

Here in Quebec, civil unions were established to give same-sex couples an option, prior to marriage equality. Now, civil unions exist for all couples alongside marriage (with the exception that persons under 18 are excluded; persons age 16 or 17 can marry with judicial approval). The rights are the same as for a married couple, so there is no substantive difference. The small percentage of couples who choose civil unions seem to be those who don't want the baggage that the word "marriage" carries.

(and under law, a clergyperson can under the law officiate a civil union, although I am not aware of any denomination that permits its clergy to do so)

Posted by James Pratt at Wednesday, 23 May 2018 at 3:02pm BST

Neil is right, the Bishop of Lincoln told me before I married that he had no intention of taking action against me under the CDM, and he hoped that he would not have to deal with a complaint. He didn't, as I understand it, have any complaints against my marriage to deal with.

The issue is that married clergy, at the moment, are not likely to be licenced or given PTO if they move from an established post they already hold. I don't think any bishop, not even the most hardline anti-gay, wants to create any more "martyrs" - so those married in post are more or less left alone.

But a recent communication from a bishop to me put the situation in an interesting form: he told me that "As I understand it there has been no change in the guidance issued by the House of Bishops in 2014. The effect of that guidance has been that it is not possible to issue new licenses to those who have entered into marriage with a person of the same sex."

This makes it seem like there is some legal force to the Guidance that would make it impossible for a bishop, even one who wanted to, to licence a SSM clergyperson. Is this really true? Were I to be able to find a bishop willing to licence me would any licence so issued be made invalid by my marriage to Laurence?

It is certainly convenient for bishops to appear to be passively incapable of doing something because it is beyond their control, rather than actively deciding that they will not do something and then having to justify their decision.

If the bishop's words are to be taken at face value, then it means that until the church changes its polity, not just its opinion, and enshrines that polity in new legislation (or at the very least withdraws the 2014 Guidance), then any clergy who conscientiously marry their same-sex partners rather than enter civil partnerships (I accept that some may prefer the one to the other, though I find it hard to understand why Christians wouldn't want a formally covenanted union) face a long period in the wilderness.

At a time when clergy are becoming a scarce resource (no matter how many are being pushed through ordination training), this seems like folly in terms of the waste of talent. It is also cruel in the way it has elevated being married into the unforgiveable sin, rather as it did with divorced and remarried clergy years ago.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Wednesday, 23 May 2018 at 4:40pm BST

Many thanks to James Pratt for drawing attention to the situation in Quebec. The statistics for the numbers of marriages and civil unions are available at

The interesting feature of these data is that the percentage of opposite sex couples opting for civil unions is very stable over time, in the range 0.8% to 1.0% since 2006. On the other hand the percentage of same-sex couples choosing a civil union rather than a marriage is trending downwards. It was around 10% in the period 2004 to 2012, but since then has dropped consistently to a level of about 4% in 2016. It's now the case that nearly 90% of civil unions are between opposite-sex couples.

Others may comment on the cultural differences and similarities between Quebec and England/Wales, but the obvious religious difference is that the vast majority of Quebecois who have a religious affiliation are Roman Catholics. My hunch is that, if anything, this would increase the predisposition of a same-sex couple to opt for a civil union rather than a marriage. (It may also predispose some opposite-sex couples to civil unions, for example if they have not been able to obtain a Catholic annulment of a previous marriage.) If all this is so, it suggests that quite soon the percentage of same-sex couples opting for civil partnerships in England and Wales will be very low. It also suggests that if civil partnerships were opened up to opposite sex couples, the take up would really be rather small; I can't see the Government going to all the trouble if only 1% would take it up.

Page 5 of is also instructive. It shows that the proportion of opposite sex marriages presided over by ministers of religion has gone down from 70% to 40% over 15 years. Interestingly, the proportion of same-sex marriages similarly presided over has also gone down by a similar proportion, from 25% to about 12%.

Posted by Bernard at Thursday, 24 May 2018 at 11:14pm BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.