The UK government is expected to publish plans that will enable same-sex couples to hold civil partnerships in church and other religious buildings, the Telegraph has reported. Marriage between people of the same gender is not legal in the UK, but civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to give couples the same legal protection as if they were married. Currently these civil partnership ceremonies are entirely secular.
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is proposing to lift the ban on ceremonies taking place in religious settings in England and Wales. The move follows an amendment to the Equality Act by Labour peer Lord Alli.
It is not clear what form such ceremonies would take.
The proposed legislation would not compel religious organisations to hold civil partnership ceremonies.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the news saying: "Permitting faith organisations to make their own decision on whether to conduct same-sex civil partnerships is the democratic and decent thing to do. The current law prevents them from doing so, even if they want to. No religious institution will be forced to perform civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so."
In February last year several senior Church of England clergymen including the Bishop of Salisbury, the Dean of Southwark and five former bishops, wrote to The Times calling for the law to be changed.
But the Church of England has already said it would not allow its churches to be used. A Church of England spokesman said: "Given the Church's view on the nature of marriage, the House of Bishops has consistently been clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships."
He added the worry was that any changes could "lead to inconsistencies with civil marriage, have unexplored impacts, and lead to confusion, with a number of difficult and unintended consequences for churches and faiths".
"Any change could therefore only be brought after proper and careful consideration of all the issues involved, to ensure that the intended freedom for all denominations over these matters is genuinely secured," he said.
There has been no comment yet from the Catholic Church, but it would not be able to hold religious services of this kind, as they would be completely at odds with Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. The Orthodox Jewish and Muslim faiths also could not hold the services.
In a statement on Sunday night, Quakers in Britain welcomed the news. Michael Hutchinson, Acting Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said: “We look forward to examining the proposals to give effect to the provision of the Equality Act.
“To us this is about including all of our religious community in being able to publicly express their deep commitment. Commitment is mutual – it is the couple to each other and the couple to the community and the community to the couple. Being able to demonstrate this where we are all present in worship strengthens us all and validates them and us. We ourselves see no distinction between heterosexual or homosexual in terms of commitment and wish to move further to allow legal marriage for same sex couples, but this is a welcome step along the way to full equality.”
Source: BBC/Telegraph, Quakers