Tag Archives: marriage equality

Prominent English Religious Leaders “Rejoice” in Gay Marriage

As England and Wales geared up for the start of same – sex weddings as of midnight early today, the Cutting Edge Consortium and the LGBTI Anglican Coalition  held a press conference and issued a joint press release yesterday (Friday 28th), announcing that a range of religious leaders from diverse faith backgrounds had signed a letter of support for the dawn of marriage equality in England and Wales:

gay marriage, uk

We rejoice that from tomorrow same-sex couples will be able to marry in England and Wales.

As persons of faith, we welcome this further development in our marriage law, which has evolved over the centuries in response to changes in society and in scientific knowledge.

We acknowledge that some (though not all) of the faith organisations to which we belong do not share our joy, and continue to express opposition in principle to such marriages. We look forward to the time, sooner rather than later, when all people of faith will feel able to welcome this development.

Martin Pendergast, chair of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality, has released a statement in support, on behalf of CSCS:

The Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality(CSCS) welcomes the support for same-sex marriage expressed by a number of religious leaders from different faith communities in a statement issued today, 28 March 2014. CSCS would also like to highlight the growing acceptance of same-sex unions, including their religious celebration, by grass-roots believers, congregations, and organisations from a variety of faith traditions.

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Reply to the Scottish Consultation on proposed extension of marriage law to gay and lesbian couples

Hugh Bain

I write with 20 years’ experience of heterosexual marriage and 30 years subsequently in a gay relationship. Formerly a Church of Scotland minister, and since 1985 a Roman Catholic layman, I have wide ecumenical work experience and am well informed  concerning recent academic research into sexuality and the varieties of sexual and gender perception, and also patterns of social behaviour found among gay and lesbian couples.

I write to deplore the form of the current campaign by Catholic bishops on the meaning of marriage. The campaign lacks any consultation of the huge lay component with continuing experience and expression of committed sexual relationships and has allowed for no dialogue with the significant number of religiously practising homosexual and lesbian citizens.

While I personally favour full equality for all in terms of Civil Partnership legislation, I also support lesbian and gay encouragement for the category of marriage to be extended to all such persons as want to engage with it. There is no evidence that variation in sexual orientation diminishes in any way the possibility of commitment, love and where possible the good adult care and support of children and adolescents. It is a myth that the proposed extension of marriage constitutes a threat to heterosexuals and their children. I therefore strongly support willingness to respond to the increased tolerance of sexual variation widely shown in most of the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and urge that proposed legislation be enacted. Much good can come from society’s celebration of committed and loving sexual relationships being extended beyond the heterosexual model.

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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:


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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