The Quakers sanctioned gay marriages yesterday and called on the Government to give same-sex couples who marry in their ceremonies the same standing as heterosexual people.
Other Christian churches and religious denominations have approved blessings for same-sex civil partnerships but the Quakers are Britain’s first mainstream religious group to approve marriages for homosexuals…
Some background to this decision may be found in one of the papers from The Interfaith Legal Advisers Network meeting in June 2008:
At the second meeting, Network Members shared their experiences on how their own religious traditions interact with the law on marriage, including divorce, re-marriage, interfaith marriages and civil partnerships.
The papers are available as PDF files:
The concluding paragraphs of Mark Hill’s paper make interesting reading:
Thus we find ourselves in the curious position whereby Church of England clergy (i) are under a legally enforceable duty to solemnise the matrimony of atheists, non-believers and adherents of other faiths; (ii) have a statutory discretion to refuse to marry divorcées, transgendered and certain others exercisable in accordance with their conscience irrespective of the religious beliefs and affiliations of the couple; and (iii) are canonically prohibited from conducting a service of blessing following the registration of a civil partnership. Ironically, devout Christians in the latter category are denied the ministrations of the Church by way of a blessing whereas Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews and non-believer couples can compel the use Church of England rites and liturgy and the ministrations of its clergy. The pastoral damage which might result from this mixed message cannot be adequately explained away as an anomaly of the historic accident of establishment in a plural society.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is one of a number of pieces of legislation that have had an impact upon religious communities and individuals. The Act creates a newly recognised legal relationship which cannot be entered into on religious premises, at which no religious service can be used, and the blessing of which is expressly forbidden by the Church of England. Moreover despite political and judicial rhetoric that civil partnerships are different and distinct from marriage, the exact differences have yet to be fully explored and clearly articulated by the domestic judiciary or by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Although the Act defines the relationship a being for two individuals of the same gender, physical intimacy, still less sexual fidelity, do not feature in the provisions of the Act. This means that the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement is wholly consistent with the letter of the legislation; whether it accords with popular perceptions of the legislation is another matter. Future judicial interpretation of the Act may pose challenges for the clergy of the Established Church. The implications for Church of England clergy who are commonly understood to be under a legal duty to solemnise the marriage of parishioners creates what can at best be styled a pastoral anomaly. Whether promoted by accident or design, the effects of the Civil Partnership Act on the nature of Establishment in times of changing social mores are far from insignificant and not yet fully understood.
(See PDF for omitted footnotes.)