Civil partnerships: bluster in bad faith

The blanket ban on religious institutions hosting partnership ceremonies is an infringement of liberty and must be swept away.

  • Editorial
  • The Guardian, Monday 28 February 2011
  • The heart sinks at the prospect of another battle between faith and the state, in which the churches wring their hands and find themselves sustaining discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. But such a dispute has begun with the government’s confirmation that it plans to lift the total ban on holding civil partnership ceremonies in religious buildings. First, the Church of England warned of “unexplored impacts”, “confusion” and “difficult and unintended consequences for churches”. In sum, because the church can’t make up its mind, everyone else ought to hold back. Now the Catholic church has joined the fray, railing against the proposal in even more strident terms.

    Many religious institutions have a moral objection to homosexuality. This newspaper would argue that they are wrong about this and would hope they will change their minds in time. But the beliefs are there and sincerely held – they can not be legislated away. We have strongly supported all the laws which have established equality in public life, even in places such as the armed forces where it had once seemed so difficult. We have also argued against exemptions for religious bodies providing services that are not inherently religious, such as Catholic adoption agencies. A law that forced churches to alter their doctrinal activities, however, would be different and indeed problematic. By requiring clergymen to bless ceremonies they believed to be wrong, it would enforce hypocrisy.

    But no such law is being proposed. Under the plans no church, chapel, synagogue or mosque will be compelled to host any ceremony. Nor would changing the law – and so implementing an amendment to the Equalities Act, which the Lords passed with all-party support last year – create any new “right” for gay couples, as some have wrongly reported. The plan is merely to allow religious bodies which support partnership ceremonies – such as the Quakers and some liberal synagogues – to hold them.

    This is a proposal which the Church of England – whose own bishops split on the issue in the Lords last year – should find unexceptional. Equality, one bishop claimed in that debate, is not the same as making the laws for everyone the same. But nor should the principles of some faiths be imposed on others. The blanket ban on religious institutions hosting partnership ceremonies is a lawful infringement of their liberty. It must be swept away. Doing that will not eradicate every ancient prejudice or protect everybody from them, it will merely give progressive believers the right to do things in new ways. As such, it will strengthen and not compromise freedom of conscience. Claims to the contrary are illogical bluster.


    ” The plan is merely to allow religious bodies which support partnership ceremonies – such as the Quakers and some liberal synagogues – to hold them.” – Guardian Article –

    This important point seems to have been missed by those religious institutions – among them the Church of England – that are protesting loudly about their moral precepts being undermined by the proposed Government action which will ‘allow’ civil partnerships to be celebrated on religious premises.

    There is obviously to be no legal sanction taken against those religious authorities who choose not to allow their premises to be used for such a purpose. This begs the question why, when other  main-line religious organisations (such as Quakers and Liberal Jewish communities, who have fought for such a provision) are welcoming the provision, the Church of England should be seen to stick it’s neck out on a matter that has wide-spread support in the community.

    Despite assurances, from no less than the Archbishops of Canterbury and York that homosexual people should be ‘welcomed by the Church’, there seems to be a reluctance to allow committed, faithful and monogamous same-sex couples to receive a Blessing from the Church – in places where such relationships may be welcomed and encouraged by the majority of the congregation.

    It seems pointless for the Church to be asked to ’embrace’ homosexuals within the community, and then to resist offering the blessing of the God who created them – like everyone else – in the divine Image and Likeness. This ‘double-mindedness’ can surely only do lasting damage to the integrity of the Church’s mission to ALL people.

    About kiwianglo

    Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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