Thinking Anglicans

Civil partnerships on religious premises: A consultation

Updated

The Government Equalities Office has announced the opening of this consultation.

Press release: Civil partnerships on religious premises: a consultation

Opening date: 31 March 2011

Closing date: 23 June 2011

In February we announced our commitment to enabling civil partnerships to be registered on the religious premises of those faith groups who wished to host them. This will be done by implementing section 202 of the Equality Act 2010. This provision removes the legal prohibition on civil partnerships being registered on religious premises, enables regulations to be made setting out the arrangements for these premises to be approved by the local authority and clarifies that there is no obligation on faith groups to have civil partnership registrations on their premises.

Civil partnerships on religious premises: a consultation sets out detailed proposals for this voluntary measure which enhances the freedom of both faith groups and same-sex couples. The proposals are designed to enable faith groups to opt in, respect the different decision-making structures of different faith groups, minimise the risk of successful legal challenges and be straightforward for local authorities to operate. The law will make clear that faith groups are not obliged to host civil partnerships. It would also be unlawful for a civil partnership to be registered on a religious premises that had not been approved for the purpose by the local authority. That approval will be given only with the approval of the faith group concerned.

We propose a two stage process for enabling civil partnerships to be registered on particular religious premises. First the faith group concerned will have to consent to this and the consultation document sets out how this could happen. Then the local authority in whose area the premises is located will have to approve the premises and the consultation document sets out what conditions should apply to the approval. The registration of civil partnerships would remain secular, despite taking place on religious premises, but a religious service could be held to mark the registration.

This consultation will be of particular interest to:

  • faith groups including religions, denominations and individual independent religious congregations
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) organisations, LGB individuals and their families and friends
  • Local authorities, including registrars and other relevant local authority employees
  • owners and managers of buildings approved for civil marriages and civil partnerships

Comments from other interested parties are also welcome.

Download the consultation

The official CofE response to the second sentence of this paragraph (emphasis added) from the consultation document will be interesting:

1.8 Please tell us whether you are responding as an individual or whether you
are representing the views of an organisation. If you are responding on
behalf of an organisation please tell us whom the organisation represents
and, where possible, how the views of members have been sought.

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Fr MarkDavid ShepherdLaurence RobertsFather Ron SmithTerence Dear Recent comment authors
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JCF
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JCF

“It would also be unlawful for a civil partnership to be registered on a religious premises that had not been approved for the purpose by the local authority. That approval will be given only with the approval of the faith group concerned.”

“Then the local authority in whose area the premises is located will have to approve the premises”

Oy vey: how is “the local authority” to be determined in all the *different* religious groups?

“minimise the risk of successful legal challenges”: maybe it’s just the litigious Yank talking here, but good luck w/ that! ;-/

Simon Dawson
Guest
Simon Dawson

“The registration of civil partnerships would remain secular, despite taking place on religious premises,”

I wonder how you police that, and what restrictions will be in place to ensure that this is the case.

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

JCF In England the term “local authority” means the unit of civil government, e.g. St Albans District Council or the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, or Northumberland County Council or whatever.

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

Would a priest who has the freehold of a parish be able to seek the permission of the local authority? If, for example, they had the vestry or parish council approval, would they be able to indicate to the local authority that the faith group had consented? I sincerely hope so. What about a Royal Peculiar such as Westminster Abbey? It doesn’t belong to a diocese or a province. While it is nominally under the monarch, it has some independence. Or what about extra-diocesan churches such as Temple Church, London? Surely there will be a gay barrister or two who… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

So now we only have to bridge the Credibility Gap – between the Church of England allowing its clergy to embark on Same-Sex Unions – while not allowing them (or any other same-sex Anglican couples) to make their commitment in the sight of God on Church premises and with God’s Blessing!

How disconnected can we get?

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

Dennis
I think it is very likely that some grouping of CofE bigshots, House of Bishops, Archbishops’ Council, or whatever, will declare themselves the “authority” in this matter and will announce that they do not consent to any such thing happening in any parish church or diocesan cathedral in the land.
That does still leave a number of non-parochial locations, such as Royal or other Peculiars and many College chapels, to be dealt with separately.

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

It’s clear that the religious symbols, decorations and setting invest the registration with a sense of lawfulness in the sight of God and the church’s endorsement and blessing. What is unclear here is whether consent (general, or specific) to use premises is a blanket acceptance of its use for any civil partnership to be registered therein. Even though you believe that the church should endorse civil parnerships with a religious setting and ceremony, is that consent also a ‘carte-blanche’ abdication of any church discretion towards all such unions, even those that show a scant regard for former spouses and the… Read more »

Rosa Mystica
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Rosa Mystica

Fr Ron…’So now we only have to bridge the Credibility Gap – between the Church of England allowing its clergy to EMBARK on Same-Sex Unions. Fr you forgot to include after the words ‘same-sex unions’ ‘whilst NOT allowing them to enjoy the fullness of such a relationship’. Let’s not forget that in their ‘generosity’ allowing clergy to enter civil partnerships the Church was trying to avoid being taken to court (with all the associated expense and publicity) for breaching the human rights of gay clergy. And that in the Bishops’ Guidelines re Civil Partnerships their Bishop is supposed to make… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“The registration of civil partnerships would remain secular, despite taking place on religious premises,”

What does that actually mean?

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

David Shepherd: the Quakers, one of the three faith groups behind the Equality Act amendment, would say absolutely no to your first question. Conditions for a Quaker marriage have been laid down over 350 years and that does not change when we encompass same-sex weddings. Like other faith communities, we see marriage as a serious life long commitment needing prayerful preparation. Our pamphlet “We are but witnesses” explains: http://www.quaker.org.uk/we-are-but-witnesses

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

A civil partnership is not a marriage,…yet. There is a specific form of declaration by which this is solemnized in church as lawful. The provisions and entitlement to undertake a civil partnership remain completely under state authority. The registration is currently conducted by a civil partnership registrar, although ministers of religion may apply for this designation. At first sight, the proposal is for the church to consider granting consent to the use of certified places of worship for civil partnership, for those places to ‘retain their religious symbols, decorations and objects in situ’ for registration, but to have no say… Read more »

Terence Dear
Guest
Terence Dear

After the concept of Christian marriage was first introduced in the 11th C. there were several hundred years of confusion, contradiction and loopholes as the Church tried to seize control of marriage and convert it from a civil contract into a religious one. Ironic now that the same confusion, etc is developing as (some parts of) the Church try to distance themselves from civil partnerships. The only type of pair-bonding recognised by the State should be “civil union”. Remove from ministers of Faith the role of civil registrar acting for the State. Couples would be free to go on subsequently… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Thankyou, Rosa Mystica, for the reminder that the Church of England, while allowing clergy to undertake a Civil Partnership (though not allowing them the benefit of a Church Blessing); yet demands an undertaking of ‘no sex’ within such a partnership.

Then why not, for goodness’ sake, allow them to have a Church Blessing? After all, there is no transgression (at least, formally) of the demand for a ‘celibate’ lifestyle. Sounds hypocritical!

Or is it really that – despite the para-legal demand for sex-abstention, the Church is afraid that the couple might do something in their bedrooms that could frighten the horses?

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

David Shepherd I have little doubt that most people seeking civil partnerships in church will be as virginal and blameless* as everyone else that seeks the Blessing of God on their life and love.

* Why introduce notions of blame into such beautiful proceedings ?

Been listening to too much Archers by any chance?

Btw Gay people tend not to leave trails of abandoned or disconsolate children – by and large.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

The Church of England leadership need not have dragged their feet so shamefully. It could all have been so different — it could yet.

Meanwhile the parish churches continue as gay as ever (slightly down perhaps, due to folks catching Coeti-bus to Rome / roam).

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

Laurence. Registrars already spoil the ‘beautiful proceedings’ by conducting pre-ceremony interviews for civil marriages and partnerships. It is already mandatory for civil marriage/partnership venues to make a room available for pre-marriage questioning. Surprisingly, this current practice of vigilance hardly attracts the accusations of trying to introduce notions of blame. As intimated by a proponent of gay marriage on this comment thread, the church should be able to apply its principles regarding holy matrimony to ALL who seek the ‘Blessing of God on their life and love’, instead of just providing ‘carte-blanche’ use of its premises for anyone wanting a religious… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

David, I said we tend not to leave trails of abandoned children. Fact.

Pre-ceremony interviews are not inquisitions, but address taking, form filling and the like. I know about it having had one, myself.

You have already made abundantly clear your cynicism, and that you care nothing for the quality of relationships, but have your own antique ‘rules’.

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

Fact: in spite of surrogacy and advances in reproductive science, reduced fecundity affects every statistic relating to offspring, even the number abandoned. Hardly proof of virtue. I guess, for now, we’ll have to get by on those antique ‘rules’ we call canon law, because, at least, you can and do demand that they be applied to everyone equally. And here was I, thinking that you were demanding no more than for LGBT couples to participate equally in the sacrament of holy matrimony (replete with those pesky antique ‘rules’ regarding the quality of relationships that also apply to heterosexual couples). How… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

David Shepherd: Am I right in assuming, from your use of language, and that particularly harsh tone towards perceived “liberals,” that you are American? If so, why would it be right for you to be so vexed and combative about British law and society?

David Shepherd
Guest
David Shepherd

Hi Fr.Mark,

Although prone to use the American adjectives like ‘pesky’ and to even refer, at times, to certain debating opponents as ‘them there varmints’, I am born, bred and resident in the UK.

Equality is the remedy for past wrongs, not the relinquishment of church authority to the State on church premises. Even if you feel that the current proposals are perfectly adequate, I can’t see how you can equate my dissatisfaction with a specific part of these proposals to a more general vexation and combative attitude towards British law and society,

Please explain.

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

David: sorry for my misattribution. Wording questions such as that above “How much else would you want the church to jettison?” put me in mind of the comments one reads on US right-wing sites, where there often seems to be a much harsher rhetoric of perceived programmatic destruction of all that conservatives hold dear by those “pesky” liberals. I generally find that amongst British people, there is less “culture wars” rhetoric – that was all I was thinking of.