The Government's consultation on its plans to allow civil partnerships to be registered in places of worship closed on 23 June 2011. It has been publicised by various publications that various religious & belief groups have contributed their opinion. Here is a selection: -
The Christian Institute conclude:
"Until now the state has not sanctioned any legal recognition of homosexual relationships in a church. If Section 202 is implemented as proposed it is likely there will be legal action against churches who disagree.
By creating this situation the Government will effectively have taken sides on a highly controversial issue. The consultation paper also seems to imply the plans are the "first step” towards redefining marriage, a move which would be deeply unpopular with the public.
It is not necessary to implement the plans outlined by the consultation document. Homosexual couples can obtain a civil partnership at any register office in the UK and of course liberal religious groups can hold ‘services of blessing' if they choose. The consultation paper says "the number of civil partnerships in a religious setting is likely to be small.
The plans are not workable and fail to provide adequate safeguards. Is it possible to justify risking the religious freedom of many thousands of people by introducing a scheme for which there is so little demand?"
The Christian Institute has warned that the proposals are "not workable” and present a risk to the religious liberty of thousands of people.
Currently homosexual civil partnerships can only be held in register offices and secular venues such as hotels and stately homes.
But the Coalition is proposing an ‘opt-in' system which would allow religious bodies or individual places of worship to choose to register the controversial ceremonies.
The Government's own consultation document admits that the proposals could lead to litigation against churches that do not opt-in.
In response The Christian Institute's submission has warned that implementing such a system is likely to result in "legal action against churches who disagree”.
"By creating this situation the Government will effectively have taken sides on a highly controversial issue.”
"The consultation paper also seems to imply the plans are the ‘first step' towards redefining marriage, a move which would be deeply unpopular with the public.”
The Institute adds: "The plans are not workable and fail to provide adequate safeguards. The Government is risking the religious freedom of many thousands of people by introducing a scheme for which there is so little demand.”
Earlier this year a number of evangelical Christian organisations, including The Christian Institute, released a joint statement reiterating their "long-held” opposition to the controversial proposal.
The groups warned that changing the law to allow civil partnerships in churches would breach previous assurances made to Parliament about the nature of the same-sex partnerships.
The statement said: "It is a breach of undertakings made by Government ministers during debates on the Civil Partnership Bill.
Parliament was persuaded to pass that Bill, in part, because it was made clear that civil partnership was a civil rather than a religious institution and would not take place in religious premises.”
The statement added: "When it comes to equality legislation, permission often turns rapidly into coercion.”
British Humanist Association Response
British Humanist Association responds to consultation on Civil Partnerships on religious premises, insisting that the real inequalities have not been addressed
The British Humanist Association has responded to a government consultation on implementing a change in the law which permits civil partnership ceremonies to take place on religious premises, in some circumstances. The BHA response argues that, although the BHA has every sympathy with those religious lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) who wish to have the option of a civil partnership in a place of worship to be able to do so, the consultation itself is instead framed to bend to the needs of religious organisations. Moreover, the response also states that the proposals actually create a new inequality for humanist LGB people who have no such equivalent ceremony. The BHA also restates its position that it would prefer an equal marriage law, which would encompass civil, humanist and religious marriages, equally for gay and straight couples.
The BHA response argues that the consultation has been framed inadequately, claiming ‘Rather than focusing on the needs of religious LGB people who are unable to get married because of the opposition of religious institutions and religious leaders to permitting a truly equal marriage law, the language of this consultation is all about the needs of religious organisations. The focus is on whether the measures are acceptable to them as opposed to what would be in the best interests of those seeking CPs on religious premises.'
The government consultation proposes allowing civil partnerships to take place in religious premises, if the premise owners allow it. The ceremony itself would remain secular, but would allow LGB people to have legally binding ceremony in a place which has meaning and significance to them. The BHA is concerned that these proposals do not address the underlying inequality for LGB humanist couples, who have no such alternative and would continue to have their civil partnerships conducted in a registry office, then have a separate non-legally humanist ceremony elsewhere.
The BHA response continues ‘Rather than tinker with the provisions around civil partnerships, our preferred move would be to see the marriage law reformed to encompass heterosexual and same-sex marriage – either civil or according to a religion or belief, the latter including both religious and humanist options.'
For further comment or information, please contact Naomi Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07540 257101.
See our Marriage Law campaigns page
See here for more information on humanist celebrants
Read the full BHA consultation response
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state
Quakers Welcome Consultation On Civil Partnership
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain has responded to the Government Consultation on civil partnerships on religious premises.
Quakers recognise same sex unions as equal to opposite sex ones and have welcomed the opportunity to register premises for civil partnerships. But they say proposed bureaucratic hurdles and costs may make it impractical to do so.
The Consultation followed the Equality Act 2010 which opened the door to civil partnerships being held on religious premises in England and Wales, if a faith group wishes. The Act made clear that faith bodies could not be compelled to conduct civil partnerships against their conscience. The Government promised to consult faith groups on how this would work.
In a written Response to questions posed by the Government Equalities Office Consultation, Quakers say they would only wish to register civil partnerships in Meeting Houses for those who are Quakers or closely associated with Quakers. Meeting Houses would not be hired out for non-Quaker civil partnerships.
"We wish to see equality for marriage and civil partnerships,” writes Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain. In 1753 Quakers were given the right to conduct marriages in England and Wales.
"We welcome and cherish this privilege,” he continues. "Our argument of principle is that, not only for religious reasons but also in the interests of creating equality and removing discrimination, we want as far as possible to apply to civil partnerships in Quaker Meeting Houses the same arrangements as the Marriage Act provides for opposite sex marriages in Quaker Meeting Houses.”
Quakers say they would be deterred by the cost of registering premises and bureaucratic hurdles such as procedures for layout and holding the ceremony and using an external registrar.
"If religious premises are registered as places of worship, it seems over-elaborate, time consuming and expensive to duplicate this registration,” says their Response.
They suggest using their own existing registering officers who ensure that marriages are prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and legally valid. Quaker meetings do not have clergy.
The Consultation raises questions about consent, registration, process and premises.
In 2009 at their Yearly Meeting (the annual assembly with supreme decision-making authority for Quakers in Britain) Quakers recognised unions of same sex couples as marriages.
"However,” explains Paul Parker, "we specify that such couples must have a civil partnership as we recognise such marriages are not recognised by the state as lawful at the present time. Thus we have encouraged and welcomed this ability to register civil partnerships on our own premises.”
We will have to wait to see what conclusions the Coalition Government draw from this consultation in the coming months.