When the Civil Partnership Bill was debated in the House of Lords in the week beginning 26 April 2004, the two Bishops present supported the Bill.
The Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, acknowledged that civil partnerships for homosexual couples parallel that for marriage at every point, but said he believed that such relationships would strengthen rather than undermine marriage. “We know that, as a result of major social changes, the institution of marriage is under very great strain today,” he said. “Clearly, the Church has failed to communicate its sublime vision of faithful, loving human relationships as reflecting the divine love; or our conviction that that is what leads to human flourishing both for society and individuals. “If the prime responsibility of the Church today is to communicate something of that vision, the possibility of fully committed, faithful same-sex relationships, or covenanted partnerships, will, I believe, strengthen rather than undermine what is at the heart of the Christian faith, as it is reflected in the marriage covenant.”
The Bishop of Peterborough, Ian Cundy, also welcomed the Bill and said he was agnostic on the question of whether the bill undermined marriage or supported it.
There were few dissenting voices. Baroness O’Cathain said that the Bill actually created gay marriage. “The fact that marriage is so important is sufficient reason to oppose this Bill. The Bill sends out the message that marriage – as the fundamental foundation for raising children – can be equated to a homosexual relationship. Marriage is profoundly undermined by this Bill.”
The Evangelical Alliance issued a statement claiming that marriage was being hijacked by the Civil Partnership Bill. “Most Christians would accept that there are legitimate issues of basic human justice to be considered for same-sex couples. We continue to believe it would have been preferable to deal with any perceived human rights injustices by amending existing law, rather than introducing a nation-wide ideologically conceived Bill. We think marriage will certainly be further undermined by this Bill,” a spokesman said.