Church of England press release:
The Church of England has today submitted its response to the Government’s consultation on Civil Partnerships in Religious Premises.
A Church of England spokesman said: “Given the decision that Parliament has already taken to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in the Equality Act 2010, the response focuses on the need to assure that the forthcoming regulations continue to provide unfettered freedom for each religious tradition to resolve these matters in accordance with its own convictions and its own internal procedures of governance.
“That means that there needs to be an ‘opting in’ mechanism of the kind that the Government has proposed. In the case of the Church of England that would mean that its churches would not be able to become approved premises for the registration of civil partnerships until and unless the General Synod had first decided as a matter of policy that that should be possible.”
The full text of the submission that addresses the specific questions raised by the consultation is set out below.
Some key passages relating to whether the Church of England will allow its premises to be so used are copied below the fold (emphasis added).
Q2 and Q3: who will be required to give consent?
5. We agree that because governance structures in faith groups are complex and varied, the Regulations should reflect that diversity.
6. In the case of the Church of England the relevant national decision-making body is the General Synod. The two Archbishops are its presidents, and it comprises a House of Bishops whose membership includes all the diocesan and some suffragan bishops, and Houses of Clergy and Laity whose elected members represent, respectively, the clergy and laity of each diocese. The statutory functions of the General Synod include legislating in respect of matters concerning the Church of England (under legislative powers devolved by Parliament) and considering and expressing its opinion on other matters of religious or public interest.
7. The specified body for the Church of England should, therefore, be the General Synod and it should be named for that purpose in the Regulations.
Q 21: Other issues
The faculty jurisdiction
35. In English law, all parish churches of the Church of England and a number of other ecclesiastical buildings are subject to the jurisdiction of the consistory court of the diocese. This aspect of the court’s jurisdiction is called “the faculty jurisdiction”. It extends to controlling not only the making of physical alterations to a church building and to the introduction or removal of articles to or from the building, but also the uses to which a church building may lawfully be put with the consent of the bishop through his chancellor.
36. Any non-sacred use of a church building which is subject to the jurisdiction of the consistory court (other than a use which is expressly authorised by legislation) requires the authority of a formal permission – called a ‘faculty’ – from the consistory court in order for that use to be lawful.
37. The registration of civil partnerships in a church building would, as a matter of law, amount to a non-sacred use of that building. It would, accordingly, require the authority of a faculty. The regulations need therefore to be drafted in a way that leave no doubt that that they are without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the consistory court of the diocese.