The C. of E. Responds to Questions of C.P.s versus Marriage

Civil Partnership Review (England and Wales): Consultation- A
response from the Church of England

Q1 What are your views about abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry?

This response to the Consultation is sent on behalf of the Church of England. The content of the submission is based on the views of the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops.

We believe that civil partnership should not be abolished. When civil partnership was introduced, it addressed the widely acknowledged problem that same sex couples, many of whom were in long term, faithful relationships intended to be permanent, did not share the same kind of legal position enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, such as the rights of next-of-kin, inheritance and pension rights and so on. The Church of England
recognises that same sex relationships often embody fidelity and mutuality. Civil partnerships enable these Christian virtues to be recognised socially and legally in a proper framework. The introduction of same sex marriage now offers an alternative way for same sex couples to secure those advantages. It is, however, too soon to know what proportion of people currently in civil partnerships will wish to convert them into marriage and how many people may in future decide to enter a civil partnership rather than marry. And whatever the numbers turn out to be, 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.

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. For the reasons outlined above, we believe strongly that the option of civil partnership should remain open for same sex couples who do not believe that marriage is right for them. This is more than a matter of personal preference. In the debate leading up to the legislation on same
sex marriage, many of those who opposed the legislation did so on the grounds that, whilst same sex couples should have every legal entitlement that was available to heterosexual couples, the single word “marriage” was being used to denote two different kinds of relationship. That view did not prevail in Parliament, but it continues to be held by a significant number of people in the country and not just by Christians.

The retention of civil partnership will mean that Christian and other same sex couples who hold the traditional understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman, will still have a social and legal framework in which their relationship can be honoured and recognised. We believe that this constituency for civil partnership extends beyond those who chose civil
partnership over marriage on religious grounds.

Q3 What are your views about extending 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.

Q4 n/a
Q5 n/a

Q6 Are there any costs and benefits which are not included in this document linked to: a) Abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership and converting existing civil partnerships into marriages.

The abolition of civil partnership would in effect constitute coercion on the minority of same sex couples who have a right to the provisions afforded by civil partnership but do not believe that the concept of marriage should be extended beyond opposite sex couples.

b) Stopping new civil partnerships being registered, but retaining existing ones.

Retention of existing civil partnerships would imply that the state of being in a civil partnership has some intrinsic distinctiveness which is not captured in marriage. If this is so, then the distinctive nature of civil partnership remains into the future since it is a matter of conceptual definition rather than simply of demand. The potential cost of this option will be that the law surrounding relationships will be incoherent since a distinctive status available to a group of people in one year will be denied to those coming after them.

c) Opening up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.

Paragraph 3.15 notes that there would be significant financial costs associated with this option. We question whether additional claims should be made on public finances when there would be no clear conceptual, moral or practical advantage (or avoidance of disadvantage) associated with the proposed changes.

Q7 Are there any detailed implementation issues which are not included in this document linked to: a) Abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership and converting existing civil partnerships into marriages. 

Paragraph 3.19 notes the question of couples in a civil partnership where one member undertakes gender reassignment. They would currently have to dissolve their civil partnership and then marry. We agree that it should be made as straightforward as possible for such couples to translate their civil partnership into a marriage, just as same sex couples currently in civil partnerships will be able to make the transition into marriage once the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act is implemented. Such a couple would have made the transition from being, in law, a same sex couple to being an
opposite sex couple, and we see no reason why the category of civil partnership should be  kept open for them, for the same reasons that we believe civil partnership should not be extended to opposite sex couples who currently have the option of marriage.

However, we believe that, because the relationship remains one between the same two individuals, and where their bonds of affection and commitment are untouched by the gender reassignment of one party, the transition to marriage should be made in such a way as to emphasise the continuity of the relationship.

b) Stopping new civil partnerships being registered, but retaining existing ones.

See response to Q6.

c) Opening up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.

See response to (a) above.

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?

As we have outlined above, we believe that civil partnership offers a distinctive form of publicly acknowledged relationship which same sex couples should be able to continue to choose because they do not regard marriage as appropriate to their case. In other words, it is precisely the
distinctive nature of civil partnership which makes it important that civil partnership is not abolished. When civil partnership was the only option available to same sex couples, the desire to make it as alike to marriage as possible was understandable and recognised, but with the advent of same sex marriage, the distinctive nature of civil partnership assumes greater
significance for those who may not wish to avail themselves of marriage.

It is therefore important that the definition of civil partnership, and the ceremony whereby it is entered into, remains clearly distinct from the provisions of marriage.

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?


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 not to make, one or more of the potential changes to civil partnership highlighted in section 3.1 of this document?

As outlined above, we believe that there will continue to be those, including some same sex couples, who believe on religious grounds that marriage is an institution which is defined as being between a man and a woman. This belief does not negate the fact that Parliament has decided, by large majorities, to extend the definition of marriage to embrace same sex unions.

But it is in the nature of a plural democracy that beliefs conscientiously held by minorities should be respected where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. The retention of civil partnership will do nothing to undermine the validity of same sex marriage but will serve to 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 conscientiously held beliefs.

William Fittall
Secretary General
Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops
2 April 2014


In this statement of response to Questions asked of the Church of England by The Civil Partnership Review (England and Wales): Consultation, at least two parts of the response would seem to spell out the oddity of the situation in which the Church of England Commissioners and the General Secretary of the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops, William Fittal, have gotten themselves into in regard to their attitude towards Civil Partnerships vis-a-vis Equal Marriage for Same-Sex Partners:

1. After fiercely opposing the legislation which accorded Same-Sex Couples the right to enter into legal Civil Partnerships; and then consistently refusing to countenance any official Church Blessing of the same; it would appear that now – in the situation where Same-Sex Couples may actually Marry – the Commission seems, also, to find that situation intolerable – BUT, by reason of the fact that they now see Civil Partnerships as a good and proper way to celebrate Same-Sex, faithful and committed relationships!

A pragmatic turn-around on the part of the Church? But still without Blessings!

2. Having once rejected Civil Partnerships for Same-Sex Couples – on the ground of their reckoned incompatibility with the Scriptures – and now going back on that opinion; the Church now admits that, for those couples who may not want to enter into the married state: 

but with the advent of same sex marriage, the distinctive nature of civil partnership assumes greater significance for those who may not wish to avail themselves of marriage.”

Does this mean that  the Church accepts that any couple – gay or straight – who ‘may not wish to avail themselves of Marriage, ought to settle for Civil Partnership as an acceptable alternative to Marriage? What’s going on here, I wonder?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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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2 Responses to The C. of E. Responds to Questions of C.P.s versus Marriage

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    What a shamozzle is developing!!!!
    There is one very simple way to clarify all of this.It, of course would entail a further Act of suggested idea is currently the law in many countries.
    All marriages whether opposite sex or same sex to be conducted by the offices of The State.
    Those wishing for a Church Wedding, may do so, but only after the civil contract has been fulfilled.This would mean Churches etc.would be taken out of the granting of licences.
    Currently and for the foreseeable future, the CofE and the Roman Church,this ought to suit these two churches, but with much moaning about losing their right to grant Licence of marriage on back of a Church Solemnisation of Matrimony.
    The same sex couples who object to a Ceremony of Marriage on religious grounds seems a bit of a red herring in the Cof E’s responses,as a civil ceremony would have no specific religious content, and further the reality of same sex couples objecting on religious grounds has yet to be seen.
    Transition costs from current Civil Partnerships to marriage ought to be made free.Any costs involved would not break the State.
    I have heard my suggestion mooted by others in the Anglican Communion far worthier than I to make the case.
    No doubt our dear CofE would moan about this one as well.
    This simplification could actually lead to a better state from which to continue the campaign for the CofE to extend equality to LGBT persons. We must never lose sight of the fact that in this whole Marriage viz a viz Same Sex couples, the real aim is to have the CofE get educated and lose their institutionalised homophobia.

    Jesu mercy!!! Mary pray!!!

  2. kiwianglo says:

    Holy Week Greetings. Murray! Certainly the transition from Civil Partnerships to Marriage could well be free. There’s not much hope of the Church being involved in those so they probably will not be directly affected anyway. Blessings, Fr. Ron

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