The Government is committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people and to ensuring freedom of religion and belief for people of all faiths. To further both of these aims, the Government is removing the legal barrier to civil partnerships being registered on the religious premises of those faith groups that choose to allow this to happen. The measure is entirely voluntary. It will be for each faith group to decide whether they wish to host civil partnership registrations; none can be forced to do so against their will. It will give same-sex couples, for the first time, the chance to register their civil partnership in a religious setting.
The changes to the rules governing where civil partnerships can be registered will come about by bringing into force section 202 of the Equality Act 2010. This removes the ban in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 on civil partnership registrations being held on religious premises. This will affect England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, marriage and civil partnerships are matters for the devolved administrations. There will also need to be changes to the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005, which set out the conditions for approval of premises by local authorities for civil partnership registrations.
This consultation document sets out our proposals for enabling civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises where the faith group concerned is happy for this to happen and the premises have been approved by the local authority for this purpose. Our proposals are designed to put in place a regime that enables faith groups to opt in, respects the different decision-making structures of different faith groups, protects those groups and individual ministers from the risk of successful legal challenge if they do not wish to host civil partnership registrations, and is straightforward for local authorities to operate.
The Good News for the LGBT community in the U.K. is that the Government there is opening up a nation-wide consultation on the prospective amendment of the present legal situation regarding the celebration of Civil Partnerships on religious premises. This will do doubt be met with relief by Quakers, Liberal Jews and other religious organistation that welcome such a response to their lobbying for such arrangements – that will allow their faith communities to honour the commitment of life-long fidelity among gay and lesbian couples in the context of the local worshipping community.
How the Church of England will response to this consultation, however, remains to be seen. Statements have already been made that the C.of E. would not welcome such arrangements being facilitated within Anglican Churches in England and Wales. No doubt the outcome of this new initiative on the part of the UK Government (which recognises the human rights of LGBT’s) will help to clarify the basic attitude of the C.of E. towards committed gay relationships. Watch this space!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch
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