- Wednesday, 02 November 2011
- Written by phinea
The Daily Telegraph has reported that Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, will announce that the ban on the civil partnerships on religious premises in England and Wales will be lifted on Dec 5. The scheme will be entirely voluntary with no church compelled to offer same-sex services. It is estimated that about 1,500 civil partnerships a year would take place in religious settings once the ban is lifted. There are currently about 5,500 civil partnerships taking place every year.
Liberal Jewish groups, Quakers and other Christian organisations have lobbied for the right to host civil partnerships with religious readings and hymns. However, the Church of England has warned that it would not bless same-sex couples, even though some clergy support the move; neither would the Roman Catholic church.
When it was first proposed that the ceremonies could take place on religious premises, the Rt Rev David James, then the Bishop of Bradford, raised fears in the House of Lords that what was first portrayed as an option would over time become an expectation and then a duty.
So the Church’s official response was that the system had to operate on an “opt-in” basis and that individual clergy could not ask councils to host civil partnerships in their parish churches without the “prior consent” of the whole denomination. The fear is that ‘rogue’ vicars will either try to host the ceremonies without permission, or to embarrass the Church authorities by bringing grievances over their inability to bless same-sex unions. In the case of the Church of England, the ‘whole denomination’ means the General Synod, which has spent years tied up in the bureaucratic process of allowing women to become bishops.
The Church also fears that gay couples could also use the Equality Act or the Human Rights Act to claim discrimination if they were not allowed to form a civil partnership in church.
Today’s move comes ahead of plans in both Scotland and England & Wales to give same-sex couples the right to marry. Scotland has already published a consultation document and if the measures come into law, then same-sex couples could choose to marry in a church which allowed such unions.
Our view, having read the Scottish consultation paper, is that no government will force churches bless same-sex unions. It’s simply too difficult politically. The Scottish government goes out of its way in the document to say it’s all down to the individual churches to make a decision. However, when certain groovy churches like the Unitarians, Liberal Jews and Quakers start to perform same-sex ceremonies, the churches which refuse to do so will look bad. The Anglican church has already been made to look old-fashioned and out of step with public opinion by the anti-capitalism camp on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Guys, if you fear looking bad for refusing to allow all couples to have their union performed in church, then that just might be because your refusal is bad. Think about it.