The Bishops of Winchester and Guildford have spoken in the House of Lords about proposals to change the civil registration system in order to allow members of homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples to have greater legal rights. These would include being able to register the deaths of their partners. This can at present be done only by a close relative, though partners can be identified as being present at the death.
Speaking at the Second Reading of the Civil Partnerships Bill in the Lords on Friday 25 January, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott Joynt, said that the Bill was “bound to have the effect of further undermining in the eyes of present and future generations the institution of marriage”. He said that the Civil Partnership Bill “seems to give official backing to the belief that life-long exclusive commitment is no longer really possible”. The Bishop said that much of the media coverage had assumed that the law and Government “should not discriminate in favour of married people”. He went on to propose that the Government consider a shorter Bill that did not equate same-sex and other non-married relationships with marriage.
The Civil Partnerships Bill is aimed at recognising different family units, and at meeting complaints that the present law causes hurt and distress when people mourning the death of a loved one with whom they may have lived for many years discover they have very few rights because they are not married. The overhaul of the civil registration system is also expected to involve the proposal of a national civil partnership register for both homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.
The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd John Gladwin, also expressed his concern about undermining the central place of marriage in society and family life. But he said that if there was a need for appropriate declarations about relationships other than married ones, then “these can and should be made.” The Bishop supported the Government’s undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the issues in the Bill, but said that, in meeting different needs, “We must take great care to preserve all those things that we have found to preserve the common good.”