Tag Archives: Civil Partnerships

Civil Partnerships: CSCS Submission to UK Government Consultation

Civil Partnership Review ( England & Wales): a consultation

INTRODUCTION – This submission is offered by the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, a unique UK-based ecumenical network specifically engaged in Christian communities’ need for a contemporary theology of sexuality and gender. CSCS provides opportunities for issues of sexuality and gender identity to be discussed honestly and openly, and aims to help others in the Churches to provide similar opportunities.

Same Sex Marriage
Same Sex Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q1 What are your views about abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry? Please choose one answer only.

We believe civil partnership should not be abolished because in as much as they exist for same-sex partners they offer a particularity of legal, social, and informal religious recognition as an alternative to existing civil or religious marriage. Civil partnerships were introduced to address the widely acknowledged problem that same sex couples in long-term, permanently intended relationships did not share the same legal protections enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, including next-of-kin, inheritance, and pension rights, as well as other benefits. Notwithstanding their reluctance to embrace same-sex marriage per se most main- stream Christian bodies in the UK now accept the importance of civil partnerships as contributing to the common good of the wider society. There are many people who do not, in conscience, wish to contract marital status, either for religiously theological reasons, or who on grounds of a firmly held secular belief reject the institution of marriage. Such objections are not based on an empty ideology. To abolish civil partnerships would be unfair to those couples who wish to retain this status, introducing an historic inequality that CPs are perceived as unequal and inferior to marriage. Abolition of CPs would make it compulsory either for existing civil partners to get married or to separate. Such an enforced change would result in those who refused such a transition to end up in a social and legal limbo. Given the inequalities which continue to exist, particularly for transgender people and lesbian women in certain areas of civil partnership legal and pension rights, it is imperative that the Government introduces secondary legislation to the Civil Partnerships Act.

Q2 Once marriage is available to same sex couples, do you think it should still be possible for couples to form a civil partnership as an alternative to marrying?

Yes – To remove this option, after 60,000 + couples have civilly-partnered, assumes on no evidence that all future same-sex couples would prefer marital status. For many, including people of faith, the language of marriage is loaded with unwelcome meaning. The vocabulary of ‘husband’, denoting possession of a partner as property, in the way that we use ‘husbanding our resources’, and ‘wife’ as indicating an outdated mode of dependency, although rejected by many contemporary married heterosexuals, maintains a marriage culture which is rejected by a significant number of people today. If CPs were abolished the impact on those remaining in such unions could be severe, as their relationships would be perceived as a socially abandoned form of relationship, with negative effects. The language of ‘upgrading’ from civil partnership to marriage, even if not in any proposed legislation, should be rejected vehemently in any official guidance or government statements. Many of us find this attitude highly offensive and would propose the use of ‘convert’ to describe such a legal transition.

Q3 What are your views about extending civil partnership to opposite sex couples? Please choose one answer only.

We believe civil partnership should be extended to opposite-sex couples because a commitment to equality, human rights, and social justice compels us to wish to see this extended to all couples. There has been dramatic social change in understanding the nature and diversity of human relationships. Extending CPs to all couples in a personal and sexual relationship would be consistent with broadening the definition of recognised relationship and familial choices within contemporary society. Opposite-sex couples should have had this option from the outset of CP’s, providing an alternative to those wishing to secure the material benefits of a recognised partnership without having to become part of the institution of marriage which for conscience, and not simply ideological reasons, they reject. Statistical evidence is lacking to establish how many adults, currently co-habitees, would opt for civil partnerships, if available to them. Anecdotally, a number of those who have felt constrained to undertake existing civil marriage state that they would have preferred a civil partnership option if it had been available to them. Making CPs available to opposite-sex couples would secure greater economic security, not least for those with responsibilities of care for children, vulnerable adults, or older dependent family members. This would also be consistent with policies to strengthen legally recognised relationships, by offering alternative choices. The restriction of CPs to same-sex couples has implied a ‘not-quite-equal’ status, and this has also informed, unhelpfully, some of the same-sex marriage debates. Providing opposite- sex CPs would remove the requirement on trans-people to end their civil partnership when transitioning in gender. Recognising opposite-sex relationships, not called marriage, might also be welcomed by some bisexual people.

Q4 Given the choice between forming a civil partnership or living together as an opposite sex couple, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.

Q5 Given the choice of forming a civil partnership or marrying your opposite sex partner, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.

Q6 Are there any costs and benefits which are not included in this document linked to:

Stopping new civil partnerships being formed reinforces a view that these are inferior to marriage. It also raises issues about how legal relationships from other jurisdictions can be fully recognised within the legal systems of England & Wales, and by extension to Scotland & Northern Ireland.

Q7 Are there any detailed implementation issues which are not included in this document linked to:

Would it be possible, in future, to convert a civil marriage into a civil partnership? In the interests of equality would it be possible for those opposite-sex couples who civilly-married because this was the only option open to them be able to convert such a status into a civil partnership on the grounds of their right to ‘freedom of conscience, thought, and belief’ ? More detail is required about the conversion of civil partnerships into marriage, and vice versa. It should be made more straightforward for couples where one member undertakes gender transition to translate their civil partnership into marriage, and vice versa. Continuity of such relationships should be emphasised.

Q8 Are there any proposals for changes to the legal terminology and processes for forming civil partnerships which are consistent with civil partnership being different from marriage?

There should be greater legal flexibility for those religious bodies who wish to register civil partnerships in their buildings, or those shared with other faith-groups. The distinctive nature of same-sex civil partnerships needs to be acknowledged in guidance to and training for civil registrars. This might then prevent such persons claiming spurious conscience grounds on ‘religious belief’ to refuse to register such unions.

Q9 Are there other options for civil partnership which have not been raised so far but which are within the scope of the review and consistent with its principles?

Should a civil partnership be allowed to be dissolved for the express purpose of a marriage taking place, or should it be that a marriage in itself dissolves a previous civil partnership between that same couple ? There will be some who do not wish to simply convert their civil partnership as a purely administrative or bureaucratic action, but wish to be married in a civil or religious wedding ceremony and so would have to find some technical reason for dissolving their civil partnership in order that a valid marriage could take place. It would be detrimental to remove the ability of religious buildings and organisations to host civil partnerships, and this should be extended to the realm of religious marriage for those who so wish.

Q10 Are there people who share a relevant protected characteristic other than those identified above who would be particularly affected by a decision to make, or notto make, one or more the potential changes to civil partnership highlighted in section 3.1 of this document?

The abolition of civil partnerships would promote historical and institutional discrimination against lesbian women and gay men who are, or were, in civil partnerships, as it would imply that such unions were second-rate and unequal to other legally recognised relationships. It is important in a plural democracy that formally recognised beliefs and not simply ‘personal opinions or interpretations’ conscientiously held by minorities should be respected by both the state and faith-communities themselves, where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. It is also necessary to protect those with a conscientiously-held religious belief which does not enable them to embrace same-sex marriage, including some same-sex, civilly-partnered couples who consider their unions to be already ‘sacramental’ – even if not formally recognised as such by their religious denominations. The retention and extension of civil partnerships will do nothing to undermine the validity of same-sex or opposite sex marriage, but will provide a structure whereby those who retain this conviction will not be excluded from the legal and public benefits of their union, but will be able to do so without doing violence to their right to ‘freedom of conscientious, thought, and belief.’

4.4 Additional research/information on same-sex unions

In the absence of much recent research there are a number of websites which contain useful resources and express the diversity of views within faith-communities on the topic of same and opposite sex civil unions and marriage:

  • www.christianityandsexuality.org;
  • www.queeringthechurch.com ;
  • www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk ;
  • www.cuttingedgeconsortium.co.uk ;
  • http://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com
  • www.ekklesia.co.uk
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Church of England: “Retain Civil Partnerships”

When the UK government legislated for same – sex marriage last year, some unresolved issues remained around civil partnerships: would they disappear, or be retained as an alternative to marriage for same – sex couples? What would be the status of existing civil partnerships, would they be automatically converted to marriage, or would those couples have to take part in a deliberate conversion process? Should civil partnerships become available for opposite – sex couples, as a mark of full equality?

The government has been engaged in a public consultation process on these issues, for which the closing date is Thursday, April 17th.  The Church of England has now published its submission, which urges that these be retained as an option for same – sex couples, but should not be extended to opposite – sex couples.

civil-partners

The bishops state emphatically that they are in favour of retaining civil partnerships, essentially on the grounds of religious freedom: some people in these relationships will see same – sex marriage as in conflict with their religious beliefs :

…..abolishing civil partnership would pose an invidious choice for those who may, on grounds of religious conviction or for other reasons, not wish to enter a same sex marriage.

Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for many Christians who accept the churches’ traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour. As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church’s traditional teaching. If civil partnership was to be abolished, such couples would be faced with the unjust choice of either marrying (which might conflict with their religious beliefs about the nature of marriage) or losing all public and legal recognition of their relationship.

On the other hand, the bishops do not wish to see any need to extend civil partnerships to opposite – sex couples.

We do not believe that a case has been made for extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. Our arguments for the retention of civil partnership are based on the need to maintain an option for those same sex couples who wish for proper recognition of their relationship but do not believe that their relationship is identical to “marriage”. It is much less clear what comparable disadvantage arises from the absence of opportunity for opposite sex couples to form civil partnerships.

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Equal Marriage, in Church: UK Government Proposal

The  British government has now released its formal response to the consultation on equal marriage, and the result is possibly more favorable to equality than we could have anticipated a few months ago. The original terms of reference for the consultation ruled out any consideration of marriage equality on religious premises, but the proposals now explicitly do include provision for same – sex weddings, in church, subject to some important qualifications (which the government refers to as a “quadruple lock” for guarantees of religious freedom). In simple terms, any church that does not want to conduct same- sex marriage, need not do so, but those that do want to – may. The detailed provisions of this are:

  • ensuring the legislation states explicitly that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises;
  • providing an ‘opt-in’ system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples;
  • amending the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose; and
  • ensuring that the legislation will not affect the Canon law of the Churches of England or the Church in Wales.

The one surprise in the proposals, is that as the established church, this provision will NOT apply to the Church of England, or of Wales, which will be explicitly prohibited. This is because same – sex marriage is at present prohibited by Canon Law, but as the established church, “by law no Canon can be made which is contrary to the royal prerogative, customs, laws or statutes of the realm”.

Ironically, as the Guardian explains, this adjustment was made to take account of the fears over religious freedom expressed by the opponents of equality: a wonderful example of the law of unintended consequences coming into play.

Timing will also be earlier than was at first expected. The original promise was to introduce equality before the end of the current parliament (that is, by 2015). It is now likely that legislation will be introduced early in the New Year. It’s too early to say when the process will be concluded, but some speculation is that the first gay weddings could take place by early 2014.

Some key features had been widely anticipated. For couples who have been already united in civil partnerships, there will be a “process” available for  conversion full marriage. For who do not engage in this process then, conversion will not be automatic. Those who do not want their relationships to be full marriage, can remain in civil partnerships.  For transgender people, the provision for same – sex marriage means that there will no longer be the  current requirement to have an existing marriage dissolved, for legal recognition of a new gender identity.

Gay wedding mural, St Johns Scottish Episcopal church, Edinburgh

For the full report, see the Home Office “Equal marriage: the Government Response”, which includes an executive summary – which I reproduce below.

I will have my own commentary, later.

Executive Summary

1.1 In March 2012 the Government launched a consultation which looked at how to enable same-sex couples to get married. The consultation ran for 13 weeks, closing on 14 June 2012. Just over 228,000 responses were sent to us, together with 19 petitions. This is the largest response ever received to a Government consultation, highlighting that this is an important issue to a great many people.

1.2 Our commitment, outlined in the consultation, was to consider how to enable same-sex couples to get married. While we recognise that there were many views opposing this proposal, the majority of responses to the consultation (not including petitions) supported opening up marriage to same-sex
couples. We remain committed to changing the law to make civil marriage ceremonies available for same-sex couples.

Legal position

1.3 The consultation made clear that no religious organisation or its ministers would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. This position is already guaranteed under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and in Strasbourg case law. This response sets out a ‘quadruple lock’ of additional measures which the Government will take to put this position utterly beyond doubt.

These are:

  • ensuring the legislation states explicitly that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises;
  • providing an ‘opt-in’ system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples;
  • amending the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose; and
  • ensuring that the legislation will not affect the Canon law of the Churches of England or the Church in Wales.

1.4 We fully recognise the unique position of the Church of England as the Established Church. Concerns have understandably been raised that, if the law in England were to change to allow the marriage of people of the same sex, this would fundamentally conflict with the Canon law. The Church of England pointed out in its response that by law no Canon can be made which is contrary to the royal prerogative, customs, laws or statutes of the realm.

1.5 We do not dispute the Church’s authority here; however it is equally true that Parliament is sovereign and can enact to take account of potential onflicts with the Canon law. In the case of marriage, the legislature has, in the past, sought to avoid conflict with the Canon law position by the use of exemption and conscience clauses so that the Church might take a position in conscience that is consistent with its teaching on the nature of marriage. So, for example, although legislation allows that people who are divorced to marry again, the Church and individual ministers have been relieved of the
obligation to marry such people.

1.6 We want to continue the constructive conversations we have had with religious organisation and continue to work with religious organisations on these protections as we prepare to introduce the legislation into Parliament.

Religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples

1.7 The consultation proposed that religious organisations would be banned from conducting marriages for same-sex couples. The majority of respondents on this point believed that religious organisations should be able to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples if they so wish.

1.8 The Government intends to allow those religious organisations that want to conduct marriages for same-sex couples to ‘opt-in’ while making clear they are under no obligation to do so. Through this system it will remain unlawful for an individual church or place of worship belonging to that faith to marry same-sex couples without the agreement of its governing body.

Civil partnerships

1.9 The majority of those who responded to these questions and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender representative organisations we met separately supported the continuation of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The majority of those who responded to these consultation questions also suggested that civil partnerships should be available to opposite sex couples, though some argued that marriage should be the only option available. We remain unconvinced that extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples is a necessary change. We will therefore be retaining civil partnerships for same-sex couples only.

Conversion of civil partnerships

1.10 We know that some of the 50,000 couples who have entered into civil partnerships would have chosen to get married instead, had this been possible. Most respondents who answered this consultation question supported the introduction of a route by which civil partnerships could be converted into civil marriages. This message was reiterated during separate meetings with LGB&T organisations. The Government will be making a conversion process available. This process will not be time limited.

Gender recognition

1.11 Currently individuals who wish legally to change their gender must end their marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued. This can cause great distress and practical problems for couples. Most respondents who answered these questions agreed with our plan to change the law so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married.

Wider issues

1.12 Historic policy developments, in particular in relation to benefits derived from state pension, have meant that married men and married women have different pension rights. When civil partnerships were introduced civil partners were given the same pension rights as are available for married men. We propose that same-sex couples will be treated in the same way as civil partners and married men. Over time all pension rights will converge.

Next steps

1.13 The Government is committed to introducing this legislation within the lifetime of this Parliament and we are working towards this happening within this Parliamentary Session. Over the next weeks, we will continue to work closely with all organisations that have an interest in these proposals.

- Home Office

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Thought for the Day, 15 February 2011 The Rt Rev. Tom Butler

People are getting very exercised about the rumours that the regulations concerning civil partnerships are to be changed to allow religious readings to be included in the ceremonies, and indeed to allow the ceremonies to take place in churches. The reason, of course, why religious input was excluded in the present legislation was because the then government was insisting that civil partnership ceremonies must not look like weddings because they are different. In fact in the popular media and more generally they are now usually referred to as gay weddings, and so it’s not very surprising that it’s now being proposed to lift the restrictions. Some denominations are welcoming this, The Church of England at the moment is not amongst them.

The issue raises an important question as to the nature of the Church of England as the Established Church of the land. For many centuries now, it seems to me, the Church of England has acted as a bridge between the contemporary beliefs and attitudes of the people of England, and the traditional beliefs and values of the Christian Church. At times, such as over the question of the abolition of slavery, this has meant that the Church, or at least parts of it, has been ahead of public opinion, at other times, such as over the question of the remarriage of divorced people in church, the Church, or most of it, has been behind public opinion. The role of bridge has been important, however, because it has helped Church and nation to eventually come to a, more or less, common mind, and then move on. To do that effectively, particularly over divisive issues, a church bridge must be both flexible and firm.

Over a decade ago I gave the sermon at the service in St Paul’s Cathedral marking the opening of the new Millennium Bridge, a wonderful construction bridging the river Thames and drawing the more traditional City of London to its exciting, dangerous and entertaining shadow, the South bank of the river. Given the civil engineering conditions it had to be a flexible bridge, but it proved to be a little too flexible, because as the first people began to cross, it began to sway rather alarmingly, and a week later it had to be closed. The designers got to work damping down some of the flexibility and the bridge reopened, bringing pleasure to millions, and over the years through their passage, changing the nature of both North and South of the river.

An inflexible Millennium Bridge would have fractured; a too flexible bridge would have shaken itself to pieces. I believe that the same is true for our national bridge church. The Church of England has learned to accommodate those who wish to remarry divorced people in church and those who don’t. In this it has bridged the gap between public opinion and traditional belief and practice, given time I believe it will do the same with civil partnerships.

Copyright 2011 BBC

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CSCS Submission to the Government Equalities Office Consultation on the Registration of Civil Partnerships in Religious Buildings, June 2011.

The following submission responds to a series of pro-forma questions in the Government’s Consultation documents. These may be seen at:

http://sta.geo.useconnect.co.uk/equality_act_2010/civil_partnership_consultation.aspx

The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality (CSCS) is a national and international membership organisation, interdenominational in character, and unique in providing opportunities for all Christians, and others in sympathy with its objective, to consider the wide range of theological and pastoral issues in human sexuality. A registered charity, its formal objective is: To advance the Christian religion by promoting objective debate within the Christian churches on matters concerning human sexuality, with a view to developing the spiritual teaching and doctrines of such Christian churches.

CSCS pursues this through promoting academic activity by means of the journal, Theology & Sexuality, and by means of more popular and informal means – newsletters, seminars, conferences, and specific projects such as its Theological Educators’ Project which is exploring how human sexuality issues are dealt with both in the recruitment, ordination or appointment of clergy and lay pastoral workers, including ongoing support, as well as in curriculum development within theological colleges, seminaries and other ministerial training schemes. CSCS works in partnership with a range of other religious and secular groups sharing similar concerns.

In all its responses to this consultation CSCS seeks to identify, if not formally or officially reflect, the various issues which arise in different faith-settings regarding the proposal to allow civil partnerships to take place in religious buildings. We affirm our fundamental support for the amendment to the Equality Act 2010 which allows for such a development. We also wholeheartedly support the permissive nature of this legislation and the right of those who control any particular church premises to decide not to allow their premises to be so used.

CSCS is concerned, that while necessarily focused on religious organisations and institutions owning or exercising authority over the premises for which they are responsible, this consultation insufficiently takes regard of the rights of LGB people of faith and of other beliefs, religious or not, to be able to register their civil partnerships in their places ofworship or meeting. There may be an unforeseen bias in the structure of this document which allows faith-based organisations, particularly, to find ways of avoiding provision for such registrations, without specifically articulating their right not to allow their premises to be used for such purposes.

CSCS questions the legal power of any national religious body, e.g. the General Synod of the Church of England or Archbishop’s Council, the Church in Wales, or the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, to make a decision at national level to withhold consent to the registration of civil partnerships in buildings belonging to those denominations. The decision should, we believe, remain the prerogative of each individual incumbent, and/or owner of the church building, the parish council or similar congregational body, or body of responsible Trustees.

As an ecumenical organisation, CSCS is not aware of any consultation on this matter having taken place within the wider membership of those churches who form Churches Together in Britain & Ireland, Churches Together in England, or Churches Together in Wales. There is an immense variety of belief and pastoral practice, official and unofficial, operating across Christian churches in England and Wales on the matter of same-sex unions, and official denominational responses to this consultation may not sufficiently register such diversity.

CSCS believes that any central or regional (i.e. Archbishops’ Council, Bishops’ Conference, diocesan, or district) church body that seeks to impose a restrictive policy on individual churches within its territory should be required to demonstrate that it has the legal authority to impose that policy. Moreover, it should be required to demonstrate that it has undertaken appropriate consultation with its membership, including with recognised associations of LGB people of faith.

Current civil partnerships legislation makes it very clear that such registrations are not the same as civil marriage, let alone marriage, religiously understood. In some denominations, the Bishop may have a canonical right and duty to oversee the conduct of the church’s liturgy and sacramental practice. However, since civil partnerships do not fall into this category, and are not therefore recognised as marriage, whether sacramental or not, it is questionable what role religious leadership might legally exercise in this regard.

For example, in the Roman Catholic context, if a religious community of men and women, canonically exempt from the jurisdiction of the local Bishop except in matters pertaining to the conduct of formal liturgy and sacramental practice, decided to offer their premises for the registration of civil partnerships, it must be questioned whether the local Bishop, or Bishops’ Conference could exercise any veto over such a development.

CSCS understands that some faith communities have the practice of celebrating such events in private homes, e.g. some Jewish and Quaker communities. There is also an issue regarding those parts of the wider Christian community who describe themselves as ‘house-churches’ or who meet for regular worship outside the conventional institutional denominational structures.

CSCS believes it would be easier for local authorities to have a standard procedure to follow across all Christian denominations and other faith groups, although we recognise that not all groups, particularly those of non-religious belief, will have relevant structures of decision-making.

The principle of subsidiarity should be employed so that the decision should be made at the local level, i.e. diocesan, district, or congregational level. It should also be recognised that some religious premises such as university or college chapels may fall under other ownership/patronage structures, and so relevant personnel in those contexts would need to be identified.

The consultation document (paras. 3.7,3.8) is unclear whether a faith group, at whatever level, may at any time reverse a previous decision in either direction. An initial decision not to register premises may later be revoked in favour of allowing them, either by a general decision, or by a local change of preference, or vice versa. CSCS assumes that the intention is to allow such changes to occur at any time following the initial decision.

The wording of paragraph 3.15 is unclear as to whether this includes all customary places of worship. There are many premises which are not parish churches, or main congregational buildings, such as university and college chapels, Royal Peculiars, hospital and school chapels, and those belonging to monastic or religious communities. Many of these may not be currently certified by the Registrar General as places of meeting, or for religious worship. Some of these may well wish to register them for civil partnership purposes. Many of the venues used by the Metropolitan Community Church are not in their own ownership, but hired, and some may not necessarily be designated as religious buildings, being community halls, etc.

There are also premises shared by various denominations, where the governance may be under a group of local Trustees, rather than clearly identified denominational structures. An issue could arise if one or some denominations sharing such premises wished to register civil partnerships, and others were not so inclined. Any decision, should not be allowed to constrain the freedom, either way, of other churches sharing the use of the particular building.

The proposal in para. 3.18, that ‘faith groups should have discretion about who may seek to register civil partnerships on their premises’ is unclear. Will this discretion be exercised only at the local level or reserved to central authorities? Some faith groups might wish to limit such a service to members of their own faith. Such discretion also runs the risk of abuse by introducing additional conditions on the couples concerned that would otherwise be illegal under existing equality, or other legislation.

Any discretional policies that a faith group seeks to impose should be required to be a matter of public record, so that they are known in advance by any couples who might consider applying.

As with marriage the essence of making a lifelong commitment is that it is made in public so that all can support the couple in their decision, and their relationship is publicly acknowledged and celebrated. They should have the same access requirements as any approved secular premises where a civil partnership is registered. If the partnership is to be registered on religious premises, the same conditions should apply as in the marriage of opposite sex partners in registered religious premises.

It is unrealistic to propose the removal of all religious symbols, particularly when these are permanent fixtures within the architecture or created environment of the space to be used. Nevertheless, it should be recognised that while some will wish to keep the religious ceremony completely distinct, separate, and following the actual registration of the civil partnership, others may well wish for this to be incorporated into an act of formal worship. The legal act of a civil partnership is the signing of the register and its being witnessed, not the verbal exchange of vows or any other action. Could not either option be recognised without compromising the CIVIL nature of the partnership?

There is no reference to the arrangements for marriages in churches where the religious celebrant is not an ‘authorised person’ and the registrar attends, registering the marriage legally in a procedure held typically in a vestry, rather than the body of the church. This could provide one possible model for civil partnership registrations in religious premises.

CSCS suggests that some areas of legislation from which religious premises are normally exempt, e.g. certain Health & Safety requirements, may be required for civil partnership registration purposes. Registering authorities should be allowed some discretion to allow exemptions in line with this.

There is concern at the level of fees that might be charged. Access to rights under the Equality Act should not be obstructed by imposing high levels of fee-costs on providers of these services who will inevitably have to pass on such costs to service users. There is likely to be a relatively small number of registrations taking place in any one location. Those controlling religious premises aim to provide a pastoral opportunity for couples wishing to register their partnerships, rather than primarily acting from financial motives. Guidance to local authorities should make it clear that this legal change and associated charges are not intended to provide them with a new revenue stream.

Many LGB couples are sensitive about openly approaching a particular denomination or church with a request to register their partnerships in this way, if they think they will be refused. If there is a record of approved religious premises this may well add to the speed of social and religious change on this matter.

Religious bodies should be consulted on any guidance to be provided for registrars (para. 3.32). There should equally be guidance offered to faith communities. Sensitivity to the particular needs of LGB couples and an understanding and acceptance of their sexuality should be an essential part of any training. While training should recognise that the civil partnership registration itself remains CIVIL in character, registrars should be encouraged to reflect the culture and traditions of the couple concerned in formulating the type of ceremony to take place, whether in secular or religious premises. It is unclear if there will be guidance to local authorities as employers of civil registrars. Some registrars may not wish to conduct registrations in religious premises as a matter of conscience, a position which CSCS would not necessarily support.

The consultation focuses predominantly on the needs of faith groups rather than registrars or service users. The Government Equality Office should undertake further work on the wider issues that the implementation of the legislation will raise, so as to avoid conflicts similar to those which have already arisen in the cases of some civil registrars who are people of faith resisting, without real foundation, their duty to register such partnerships.

Para. 3.34 recognises that some individual ministers of religion may wish to become designated civil partnership registrars. It would be helpful if clear guidance was given to local authorities to ensure that a consistent approach to this issue is taken across the whole of England & Wales. There is a risk that. if such designated registrars operated beyond their religious structures, inadvertent religious styles/actions might creep into the conduct of essentially civil ceremonies, thus failing to respect the diversity of beliefs, including non-religious beliefs which exist in a pluralist society.

It is important to recognise that the permissive nature of this legislation protects both faith groups and individual ministers of religion from any risk of litigation as a result of a refusal to allow a civil partnership registration to take place on premises for which they are responsible.

Mainstream Christian denominations in the UK do not keep records of requests for same-sex unions to take place on religious premises, nevertheless there is anecdotal evidence in most denominations of such ceremonies taking place, and these may give an indication of the small number of civil partnership requests on religious premises likely to occur.

Certain churches and other places of worship or meetings for those of shared belief may well develop a reputation for being LGB-friendly, so the number of requests in those places will be more significant. Particular denominations such as Liberal Judaism, the Quakers, General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and the Metropolitan Community Church will also be more popular having already identified their willingness to be involved.

Various denominations/particular churches and religious locations have established fee charges when conducting marriage which presumably would be the same for the conduct of civil partnership ceremonies.

Although primarily a Christian-based organisation we also recognise that other belief systems operate in our society. The consultation document barely recognises this factor. If civil partnerships are, just as marriage, to be seen as important social developments contributing to the common good, then it is important that religious views of marriage and civil partnership are not pitted, even inadvertently, against the views of our humanist and secular fellow-citizens.

There is a risk, as stated previously in our responses, that this document is more tightly geared to the needs and concerns of religious organisations than to those of LGB people who wish to exercise their rights, let aloneother belief organisations who do not operate within these recognised structures, e.g. humanist and secularist groups and individuals, as well as pagans and those of similar beliefs.

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Jim Cotter, The Service of my Love (Book review)

Anthony Woollard

Jim Cotter, The Service of my Love, Cairns Publications 2009. ISBN 978 1 870652 45 2 Hardback, 114pp. £10.00.

This book arrived just as this edition of the Newsletter was about to go to press. In the time available, I am not sure that I can do it justice. But three facts speak for themselves. First, that it comes from Jim Cotter. Second, that it is about the celebration and blessing of civil partnerships – described as “a pastoral and liturgical handbook” and including a number of relevant liturgical forms as well as much wise pastoral thinking. And, third, that it has had to be privately sponsored and in effect privately published.

The saga of private sponsorship is itself worthy of mention. Jim approached a number of people and organizations looking for help. Even amongst organizations which were broadly supportive, not all felt able to sign up. Most of the signatories are individuals and a number of couples, both straight and gay. They include our own Martin Pendergast and his partner as well as myself and some other members of CSCS. Most of those who read the list are likely to recognise some names – and to be profoundly encouraged by their number and variety. If I may be permitted a very personal observation, I saw one name there of a woman in whom I was once rather interested; the fact that she now has a same-sex partner makes me realize that there may well have been nothing personal in her
negative response to my advances, and after 25 years that in itself is something of a revelation.

The liturgical material itself is what we have come to expect from this author: a rich and imaginative use of words – though perhaps at times a few too many of them. It is always good to follow Jim Cotter’s thought patterns, whether in prose or in poetry/liturgy, because they lead one constantly back to a re-evaluation of the body and sexuality, and of friendship and love. But to undergo one of his very rich liturgies without due pause for reflection would be rather like bolting a whole Christmas pudding. That aside, there are resources here which could be used, not just for the blessing of same-sex partnerships at different stages in their life-cycles, but also for use in worship and prayer more generally amongst those (no doubt including most of my readers) who share Jim’s underlying values.

The tragedy, of course, as the prose commentary points out, is that the likelihood of any tailor-made liturgies to bless same-sex relationships being authorized any time soon is remote. The theology behind this is teased out a little (perhaps just teased might be a better word!) and the inconsistencies made clear. As one good priest once said to me,“I’ll bless anyone or anything if it stands still long enough”, and it must seem exceedingly odd to outsiders that the Church has in the past (albeit maybe less readily nowadays) blessed nuclear submarines, manifestations of human fear, yet is unable to bless manifestations of human love. More work needs to be done on what “blessing” really means; Jim only starts this.

Finally, a marketing criticism! The book claims to be available via the Cairns website (www.cottercairns.co.uk). But when I checked the site it was not yet listed as an available publication! I hope it is by now, because there could, and should, be a heavy demand for it.

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