The Government Equalities Office has today published a consultation document seeking views on their proposals to enable faith groups to host civil partnership registrations on religious premises. This consultation begins today and ends on 23 June 2011.
Subject to the outcome of the consultation, religious premises could apply to be approved as a place where civil partnerships may be registered by the end of this year.
The intention is to allow a greater freedom of religious expression for LGB people and to allow religious freedom for faith groups that wish to recognise same-sex couples within their community.
Faith groups will first need to agree to permit civil partnership registrations on their premises in order to enable individual places of worship to apply and the premises must obtain approval from the local authority in whose area it is situated. Each application to the local authority must demonstrate that it is being made with the consent of the faith group concerned.
The prohibition on the use of a religious service while a civil partnership is being registered will remain in place. A religious service, clearly distinct from the civil partnership registration, would be able to take place as agreed between the registrar, couple and minister of the religious premises. The service following the registration could be led by the minister of religion and include readings from religious texts, the singing of hymns or other religious chants.
A civil partnerships registrar will be required to conduct civil partnership registration on religious premises. In principle, under existing legal provisions, it would be possible for a faith group to have their own registrars to conduct civil partnership registrations. This is a matter for individual local authorities as all civil partnership registrars are designated by the local authority and in practice tend to be employees of those authorities. Certain faith groups may wish to see their ministers designated as a civil partnership registrar. If a local authority supports such an approach, it may well expect the individual to administer civil partnership registrations in other premises as well.
A faith group seeking to register their religious premises to host civil partnership registrations would pay a fee set by each local authority. The average cost of obtaining a licence valid for a period of three years is estimated at £1,505.
The government recognises that there could be a negative impact on organisations who do not register to conduct civil partnership registrations as they face pressure to do so, possibly damaging relations with their wider community. Conflict could also be caused if the competent authority of a denomination decides not to opt in but an individual wishes to conduct these ceremonies.
The Act will insert a new provision in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 which states: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.’
A summary of the results of the consultation will be published on the Government Equalities Office website by 23 September.
Ministers said last month that a separate consultation will be held on marriage equality. Work with those who have an interest in equal civil marriage and partnerships on how the legislation can develop will start in July 2011.
Changing Attitude England trustees will meet on 9 April 2011 to discuss our response to the consultation and how we will involve our local groups and supporters in forming our response.