Civil Partnerships — Anglicans do it!

Supporters of Changing Attitude and LGCM, lesbian and gay, lay and ordained, have been among the first couples announcing their intention to register their partnerships.

We extend our congratulations to Sigrid and Sylvia Rutishauser-James who were the first to make history in Macclesfield Register Office at 9.30am on 21 December 2005 when they registered their partnership and celebrated with 60 guests afterwards. Sylvia is a past trustee of CA, and they have both been key participants in evangelical lesbian and gay circles for many years.

Sylvia and Sigrid first met while working in Uganda 40 years ago and have lived together for 25 years. Sylvia said: “Nothing has changed but everything has changed! You could say the law has caught up with us because we made our vows to each other decades ago – now we get to do the legal bit. I have always had to fill in forms and tick a box but my box has not been there. I can now fill in a form and it gives me a validated place in society.” Sylvia added: “In the therapy world, in which I work, a sense of belonging is held to be absolutely fundamental to an individual’s well-being and their ability to be creative. The paradox is that belonging actually sets you free and for me that sense of belonging has far too often been elusive.”

Christopher Wardale and Malcolm Macourt, both founder-members of LGCM, were also among the first to register their civil union in Newcastle on December 21, and followed the civil registration with a church service of blessing at which the former bishop of Durham, David Jenkins spoke. Chris is vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Darlington, Co Durham and he and Malcolm have known David Jenkins for over 10 years, so praying and celebrating with them was very personal for Bishop Jenkins. He said beforehand: “I will of course be condoning anyone who gives a blessing.” He is an Honorary Assistant Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

David Page, Vicar of St Barnabas, Clapham Common and chair of CA Trustees, has  registered his partnership with his partner of 30 years, a retired teacher and priest. In a Church Times interview, David said: “Of course, we asked ourselves the questions: do we want a big public ceremony, and would a political act be helpful? In the end, we decided it would not help a great deal. We also decided that we could not ask from the Church something it could not give — as officially it cannot bless same-sex relationships. We will have the ceremony, and then let everyone know, including the Bishop, that it has happened.”

Apart from the practicalities David said that it also involved the public perception: “There will be an enormous difference to how people generally perceive gay couples.” The Bishop of Southwark, Dr Tom Butler, and the Bishop of Kingston, are both aware of David’s registration.

Canon Jeremy Davies, the Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral and his partner of 18 years, Simon McEnery, have also registered their partnership in a ceremony watched by 120 friends and family. The celebration included a sequence of music and readings performed and read by close friends and colleagues. The celebration was attended by the Very Reverend June Osbourne, the Dean of Salisbury and the Bishop, the Right Reverend David Stancliffe. Bishop David and June Osborne did not attend the partnership service itself, which was conducted by the civil partnership registrar for Wiltshire, but joined the festivities afterwards.

In a statement released through the Salisbury diocese, the couple said they were looking forward to the additional security the union would give them, and were “proud” to be among the first same-sex couples taking the step. A spokesman for the diocese of Salisbury said “This was a civil partnership ceremony and there was no religious involvement. It followed exactly the legal requirements and the guidelines of the Church of England.”

Paul Collier, CA supporter, Anglican chaplain at Goldsmiths College and member of General Synod, has set a date for his civil-partnership ceremony. He and his partner plan a quiet ceremony at the register office, probably followed by a private event at home with some kind of blessing. He said: “It means a huge amount to have that kind of official acknowledgement of a relationship.”

Stephen Coles, CA member and Vicar of St Thomas’s, Finsbury Park, and also a member of General Synod urged priests like himself, who might be considering entering a civil partnership, to proceed in a thoughtful way. “We need to try and hold together what we have in England and the Communion.” Stephen said that he is on record as stating that if a bishop asked him about whether he was celibate, he would go straight to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Revd Giles Goddard, Team Rector of St Peter’s, Walworth, and secretary of Inclusive Church, told Church Times that he might consider entering a civil partnership in the future. He saw the legislation as a milestone: “I woke up and thought: ‘We are there now.’ Giles foresaw problems, particularly for priests openly in civil partnerships who wanted to move dioceses. He hoped that the Bishops’ statement was a work in progress, that the celibacy requirement would be dropped, “and the Church could stop obsessing about sex”.

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