Thinking Anglicans

more on the threat to civil partnerships on religious premises

We reported on 24 November and again on 2 December on attempts to force a debate in the House of Lords on The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 which come into force tomorrow.

The Quaker website Nayler has published two articles concerning this development, containing a great deal of useful background information:

Baroness aiming to stop religious civil partnerships

Religious civil partnerships: almost law

And Ekklesia has published Quakers in Britain welcome civil partnerships opportunity.

Iain McLean has written an article at Our Kingdom Time to save religious freedom from the UK’s religious right.

…What faith groups want to conduct civil partnerships on their premises? At the moment, a handful: the Metropolitan Community Church, the Quakers, the Unitarians, and Liberal Judaism. The Act, the regulations and ministers in both Labour and Coalition Governments have all made it clear that s.202 is purely permissive. No faith community can be penalised for not requesting to hold civil partnerships. And yet a coalition of conservative Christian groups continues to insist that this measure exposes them to litigation from those seeking to force them to hold civil partnerships against their will. This is part of a victimhood narrative in which, it is said, people are being penalised “for being Christians” (read: for discriminating against gay clients) in various roles such as registrars, relationship counsellors, would-be adopters, and hotel proprietors. In each of these cases, the courts have ruled against the Christians. This is bad for the individual Christians, who have been encouraged to bring (or defend) hopeless cases; it is good for their lobby groups, who need to keep the victimhood narrative going…

And he concludes:

…Furthermore, in a legal opinion published only on 1 December (long after Lady O’Cathain had secured her debate), the Church of England Legal Office reveals that both it and the government’s own lawyers agree with us and disagree with Mark Hill. It is a mystery why the Legal Office did not pass this opinion on to the Lords committee, which could then have seen that the regulations pose no real threat: neither to the Church of England, nor, as the C of E’s lawyers proceed helpfully to add, to any other faith community, whether congregational or hierarchical.

Lady O’Cathain’s campaign is not about protecting faithful Christians from the threat of vexatious litigation. If it were, then Quakers and Jews, who have suffered more than their fair share of that over the centuries, would be on the same side. It is about restricting religious freedom, and thwarting the will of parliament. Section 202 was enacted under the Labour government. The disputed regulations were promulgated by the coalition. All three parties have therefore endorsed it. As a Quaker, I totally respect the right of other Christian denominations not to host civil partnerships, if that is where their conscience leads them. But we have consciences too. Please get your tanks off our lawn, Lady O’Cathain. I hope that Peers will turn out in force on December 15th to protect religious freedom by defeating the O’Cathain motion.

Recent press coverage has tended to focus more on the Church of England’s own position than on the threat to the regulations themselves:

Martin Beckford Telegraph Church of England insists it will not have to host civil partnerships

Jasmine Coleman Guardian Church of England pours cold water on hopes for civil partnership ceremonies

Steve Doughty Mail Church ‘may have to offer gay weddings’ if Cameron’s plans given go-ahead

AFP Church of England against ‘gay wedding’ use

BBC Church of England bans hosting civil partnership ceremonies

Press Association Tatchell asks clergy to defy ruling


  • Richard Ashby says:

    Since the Church of England’s own lawyers say that the current law and regulations contain all that is necessary to protect the Church’s current position (iniquitous as most of us think that it is) the only purpose of Lady O’Cathain’s motion and Professor Hill’s opinion is to wreck the progress and implementation of the regulations.

    The action of these two also serves to highlight the undemocratic nature of the House of Lords and provides yet more ammunition for those who wish to see its structure, membership and workings comprehensively reformed. And those of us who oppose this wrecking amendment have no redress at all. No one in the House of Lords represents me, there is no one I can write to to put my side of the argument, its members represent no one but themselves and sects or groupings with which they choose to ally themselves. Yet they presume to know what is best for everyone else and to act as if others were of no consequence.

    (Lady O’Cathain is Chair of the Chichester Cathedral Council and the Professor is chancellor of the diocese, No wonder we are in such a mess and why so many are in despair at the outlook for a new bishop).

  • John Bowles says:

    If Mr Ashby is unhappy with the British Constitution perhaps he should live abroad. The Netherlands would be an earthly paradise for him.

  • Fr Mark says:

    The C of E briefing note gives as the reasons for not being able to offer blessings to its gay members: “…for example, a gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes. A children’s book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults.”

    Who on earth at Church House just happened to find that the only examples which came to mind were women’s clothes and adult books?

  • Surely Mr Ashby has a person in the House of Lords who is only too keen to be seen as representing all the people who live in his area. Namely the Bishop of Chichester. Refer to the threads about reforming the House of Lords, and the claims being made by the bishops as to why they should stay.

    I must say I am amazed to discover the identity of the Chairman of the Chichester Cathedral Council.

  • Lister Tonge says:

    Or perhaps, John Bowles, we should commend Mr Ashby for not emigrating and for remaining one of the vast majority – including all three main political parties – who want to change this particular aspect of our Constitution with which we are unhappy.

    I was sorry you chose not to address Richard Ashby’s point about the protection of religious freedom in this matter of civil partnerships on religious premises. Since ‘silence presumes consent’, I’ll assume you agree with him.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    Point taken, Simon!

  • Nat says:

    “If Mr Ashby is unhappy with the British Constitution perhaps he should live abroad. The Netherlands would be an earthly paradise for him.”

    Odd to see Mr. Bowles advocating infidelity: “If you’re not happy with your marriage, leave it” seems to be his argument. Adults stick around and try to change things for the better.

  • peterpi - Peter Gross says:

    Subterfuge and calumny in the name of the Prince of Peace. How noble.
    From what I have read, there are safeguards in place so that houses of worship that do not wish to have civil partnerships legally performed on their premises do not have to do so. In other countries that have civil partnerships or marriages for same-sex couples, no religious house of worship has been forced to recognize them against their will.
    So, why the fuss, why the continued roadblocks and delay?
    1) Maybe opponents are afraid that the “always shifting, easily manipulated” public will demand that a particular church change its views, and that church will bow to the public whim of the moment, and change its ages-old traditions and beliefs, handed down by the Almighty. To which I say, if that church’s gates can not prevail against the forces of alleged darkness, whose fault is that? Not GLBT people’s.
    2) I will say it again: This is about keeping GLBT people, and gay and lesbian couples, in their place. This about always and everywhere asserting moral superiority, and using the power of the State (through overly undue influence in the House of Lords) to inflict a particular religious viewpoint on everyone. If it is necessary to suppress the teachings and desires of other houses of worship to carry out that assertion of superiority, so be it.
    3) If the concern is that, because of Establishment, the Church of England is particularly vulnerable to public whim and political pressure, there’s a solution: Disestablishment.

  • Chris Smith says:

    This is also about ending hatred and homophobia, and thus I find it particularly strange that those conservatives want us to “tolerate bigotry” so everyone will be happy. Accommodation of differing views may be one thing but accommodating homophobia will not get us justice. It will simply “enshrine” homophobia. The Disestablishment cause is gaining momentum.

  • Ian Black says:

    Can anyone spell out for me exactly what the legal basis of it being illegal for a PCC to apply for their church to be registered for Civil Partnerships? The House of Bishops guidelines are guidelines and as far as I know don’t have a legal standing. I’d be interested to know exactly what the legal block in reality actually is.

    Please note I’m not asking about moral basis or moral position or even theological, but legal.

  • Perhaps Baroness O’Cathain, in trying to deny the Church of England the right to celebrate Same-sex Civil Partnerships ‘on Church premises’, might rather see them ‘allowed’ to celebrate a public right to ‘Gay Marriage’ instead? I do hope she would vote for this alternative.

    It seems, however, that the baroness might prefer to see no religious sanctions for committed, faithful and monogamous relationship for Gays. So sad.

  • vinny says:

    Why can’t we see who has signed her prayer in the same way as we can view the signatures on EDMs? I’d like to see who her supporters are , how many they are and why this is get debating and voted on. It makes a mockery of govt that this can happen when all three major parties have oked it, there’s been countless questions and answers on it from govt and a consultation process. If the prayer had been raised by any other member of the house of lords it might have had some merit but are we honestly meant to believe that the usual homophobic brigade of mps or lords have any other motive than to stifle any progress on any lgbt rights. We can all predict that this same bunch will come out with the same arguments and more when the next major issue is going to be discussed, equal civil marriage. Perhaps this is the real issue ..

  • JCF says:

    “Who on earth at Church House just happened to find that the only examples which came to mind were women’s clothes and adult books?”

    I (Ignorant Yank here) can’t tell you who, Fr Mark. But as to why—to ask is to answer. Contempt for LGBT people (and all religions that would affirm them).

  • Pluralist says:

    In general the Unitarian position is to welcome the ability to give religious meaning and ceremony to civip partnerships – but to go further and seek marriage equality.

    However, congregations are autonomous, and those that vote not to facilitate civil partnerships can’t and won’t be forced to change. Many would regard such an outcome, should it happen, with disappointment, but this is the situation.

  • JeremyP says:

    Thank you, Ian – I think this is a very important question. It is not clear to me how it is possible for the Church of England to make a definitive ruling on the permissibility of having a civil partnership in a C of E church. Parishes are not, in many respects, branches of a diocese – though that is how dioceses would like to see them. The relationship is much more nuanced than head office/branches.

    So might it be that a parish could, within the law of the land, apply to register to be a place for the celebration of civil partnerships – even if General Synod and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all say that it shall not happen in C of E churches? After all, divorced people were being (re)married in church for years before the Church of England worked out that it might be something it could get its head around. The clergy who did it got some pressure and disapprobation from their bishop – but if their PCC was behind them and they held the freehold there was nothing much that could be done about it. And when taxed about their oath of obedience to the bishop they could respond that that obtained in “all things lawful and honest” and that marrying people who had been divorced was lawful and they thought it was honest.

    So would celebrating civil partnerships in church (and gay marriage when it comes along) be a similar thing? I do hope someone tries it out if the law is unclear…

    By the by – I think the HOB appointing a review group for clergy in civil partnerships is a bit behind the curve – how about getting a group together to think how they will react when some clergy contract gay marriages?

  • JeremyP says:

    A propos my last comment – I see this splendid paragraph from Bishop John Packer in his 28th November Advent address to the diocese:

    “The Church of England is a parochial church. Whatever some ecclesiologists may say the heart of the Church of England, both legally and I believe effectively, lies in its parishes. The law is based far more on Churchwardens and PCCs than on diocesan boards or indeed bishops. Incumbents have very specific legal rights meant to ensure their independence of bishops, patrons and PCCs. This rightly preserves the duty of the incumbent to follow his or her conscience within the parameters of Canon Law and the Measures which spring from that. I know that Common Tenure is sometimes seen as challenging that, and most of us want to be paid, so there is a necessary relationship with the Diocesan Board of Finance, but both parish and incumbent retain their own rights and duties which are not subject to episcopal, diocesan or even archidiaconal behest.”

    My point is that even were the celebration of civil partnerships in church to fall outside Canon Law (as it very well might if General Synod rules against), the fact of something being legal in the law of the land has usually been a sufficient defence for clergy wishing to follow their consciences – provided they are tough enough to take a bit of being shouted at by an exasperated archdeacon.

  • Ian Black says:

    I have the answer to my own question. The legal block comes in para 3 of the Legal Notes and looks like it was written into the legislation that any application to permit Civil Partnerships in Churches will for the Church of England require General Synod approval.

  • evensongjunkie says:

    If John Bowles is unhappy at the progress made by the LGBT community in the UK, perhaps he should think about emigrating to a country that has a powerful religious minority that is currently holding the government hostage for it’s current leader’s progressive views, namely mine, the United States.

  • Nigel LLoyd says:

    It is confusing to equate officiating at civil partnerships with the remarriage of divorcees. When they invented divorce (in Victorian times – as opposed to divorce by personal Act of Parliament) there was always the possibility of remarriage in the Church of England. CofE clergy had the option of personally refusing to do this if they wished. The Act of Synod saying we should not officiate at such weddings did not come in until 1957, at least in the Canterbury Province. This Act of Synod did not remove from us the legal right to officiate at such weddings. In the case of civil partnerships, it remains the case that even if I did officiate at such a ceremony in church, it would not be a legally recognised civil partnership. I can’t see that the current legislation will allow me, as an incumbent, to apply for such permission. The request would need to come from the Church of England as a whole. So General Synod would need to make this decision. When I raised a question from the floor of General Synod about these issues, I was met with the brick wall of the House of Bishops, who firmly say that there is no connection between marriage and civil partnerships. This is not a point of view that can be sustained, but I don’t think that today’s change in the law is the moment that it collapses. I tried explaining all this to my local branch of the Mothers’ Union and they got really angry at the way in which we are treating gay and lesbian people.

  • Savi Hensman says:

    If Anglican parishes were seen as more-or-less autonomous, this would have quite wide-ranging implications, for instance opening the door to anti-inclusion extremists to pursue their agenda more effectively. I would rather see General Synod consult on and discuss the matter, and be persuaded to leave it to dioceses and parishes to decide.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    I’m sorry, but I’m I the only one who finds Bowles’ whistling past the Reality to be abusive?

    Why are his meandering tirades, masquerading as thought, allowed to beat the rest of us around the head and neck? We need some clarification, here: is it just okay to say this kind of garbage about gays and lesbians if you’re addressing it as a group? Is that really okay?

    Is it okay, then, if I say, for example, “Conservative homophobes are inhuman and unworthy to exercise self-and-other-governance, evidence by their inability to learn, grow and adapt in a human environment?” Is that okay, because it’s about a *group*? Is it okay because I *really do* believe it? I mean, I’m not mentioning names, here. I’m not violating the namby-pamby “let’s-play-nice” meme of “moderate” bloggers. I’m not actively advocating violence. So, if I abuse conservative homophobes *as a group*, that’s okay?

    What’s the criteria, here?

  • american piskie says:

    Savi Hensman: we’re not talking about “Anglican parishes”, not even about Church of England parishes, but about the use of English parish churches. These do not belong to the General Synod, nor do they belong to the bishop of the diocese, nor to the Parochial Church Council, but are vested in the incumbent in trust for the parishioners. The legislation requiring the consent of the General Synod runs counter to the whole constitutional position.

    Why the episcopal control freakery? Well, parishioners have an absolute right to use the building for certain purposes — eg, getting married acc to the rites of the C of E. Their lordships can recognise the thin end of the wedge!

  • John Bowles says:

    It is reassuring to read in Nigel Lloyd’s comment that the House of Bishops ‘firmly say that there is no connection between marriage and civil partnerships’. This is ojectively obvious because no vows are involved in civil partnerships and their primary aim is to protect property. It amazes me that the emotional blackmail exercised by a minority of homosexual opinion is proving so manipulative. I am sure that there will be heated debates on this subject in the General Synod but I hope the House of Bishops stays firm.

  • Counterlight says:

    I second Mark Brunson’s comment above. “Niceness is the enemy of fairness.”

  • Nat says:

    It is disheartening, if predictable, to read Mr. Bowles dismissing comments that “no vows are involved in civil partnerships and their primary aim is to protect property,” which utterly dismisses the integrity and commitment of same-sex couples. Only about property? How patronizing, small-spirited and simplistic! If there are no vows, it is because there are, so far, none allowed; but Mr. Bowles chooses to ignore how many gay people seize on civil partnerships because they are a public affirmation of commitment and love, because they are a (small) step toward the dignity of recognition, and because they represent civil equality.

    Bowles goes on simply to dismiss any emotional appeal for equality as “blackmail” and “manipulative”. Of course many appeals are emotional- these are fundamentally important issues, they matter to people. (And no conservative cause was ever emotional of manipulative!) But Mr. Bowles sides with those who dismiss progress towards dignity, equality and inclusion as superficial, material and trivial. What a silly, limited and fundamentally un-Christian view. How manipulative and fearful he is!

  • Laurence Roberts says:

    The legal block comes in para 3 of the Legal Notes and looks like it was written into the legislation that any application to permit Civil Partnerships in Churches will for the Church of England require General Synod approval.

    Posted by: Ian Black on Monday, 5 December 2011

    Yes, but who decided it, upon what authority ?

    It has no spiritual or moral authority. Is not its legal authority at best dubious ?

    We already have a Canterbury Curia do we ?

  • Nigel LLoyd says:

    The history of the introduction of divorce, from the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 onwards, is interesting in that Parliament normally referred to the Church of England for advice before such legislation was passed. That act allowed a man to divorce his wife on the grounds of her adultery. The CofE OKed this on the basis of the Matthean exeption. Scholarly opinion from the church counted for something then. It seems to me that in our present time we are in a very different position. Society as a whole has moved on and many are content to leave the CofE to its own devices, if it means that in real life committed relationships between two adults can be celebrated and recognised in law. Society does not need to wait for agreement from the CofE. It can simply give us exemptions and leave us as a rather quaint institution, whose serial opting out from the reality of people’s lives just makes us seem all the more irrelevant.

    By the way, as few people (other than myself) will ever have read the 1957 Act of Convocation about the remarriage of divorcees, you might like to take note of para 2B: which reads:

    ‘No Public Service shall be held for those who have contracted a civil marriage after divorce. It is not within the competence of the Convocations to lay down what private prayers the curate in the exercise of his pastoral duties may say with the persons concerned, or to issue regulations as to where or when those prayers shall be said.’

  • Prior Aelred says:

    There was a comment in a novel (about the old Austro-Hungarian Duel Monarchy where the Roman Catholic Church was very powerful — even though many subjects were Calvinists, Jews & Muslims, divorce was illegal) which really struck me, “When divorce is not possible, people develop a different attitude about adultery, because life has to be liveable.” It seems to be about honesty & integrity & “life has to be liveable.”

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