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.
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.
- Church of England says civil partnerships should not be abolished following gay marriage legalisation (christiantoday.com)
- UK: Same-Sex Marriage Dawns, Equality Fight Continues (abravefaith.wordpress.com)
- First Gay Marriages Take Place in England and Wales (nytimes.com)
- Lesbian couple make history with first same-sex church wedding (telegraph.co.uk)
- Gay marriage opponents like supporters of apartheid, says senior bishop (telegraph.co.uk)