The Government has issued a Consultation document on allowing Civil Partnerships to be held in religious buildings.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and an anonymous CofE spokesperson have both previously said it isn’t going to be allowed.
Changing Attitude will respond positively to the government’s Consultation and will also begin to campaign actively for the Church of England to consent for civil partnerships to be registered in Anglican churches.
We will consult our supporters and Welcoming and Open congregations to gather their views and reactions. The government’s Consultation document raises a number of questions.
Who in the Church of England has the authority to grant or refuse permission – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops, General Synod, an officer at Church House? We need to know who we have to persuade.
We know a significant number of bishops (who already passively allow blessings in church) are already persuaded, as are many members of General Synod and of congregations in England.
Allowing permission for civil partnerships in church would mean accepting the appropriateness of Christian lesbian and gay relationships and acknowledge that God approves and grants them blessing.
There are practical matters which have to be considered. Who would be entitled to contract a civil partnership in church? Would the Church of England apply, or be able to apply, the same rules of entitlement as apply to heterosexual marriage?
The government wants to know whether the church should be open to the public while a civil partnership is registered. Why not? What do we or the Church of England have to hide or protect?
The proposal assumes that the church should be subject to the same conditions that apply to secular approved premises about the layout of the building and the use of the room in which the civil partnership is registered. I’m not sure whoever drafted the consultation thought this through sufficiently. Surely Anglicans would want the registration to take place in the body of the church, to be followed by a service of blessing in the same configuration?
The civil partnership registration would remain a secular event with no religious content allowed, and we need to think about the relationship with a service of blessing which follows – it will not be the same as signing registers during a marriage.
The same fees would apply to the couple as if they were registering in a registry office or secular location. However, a cost would apply to the church which would have to pay a licence fee to the local authority. The estimated average fee at present is £1,505 for a three year licence. A church would have to pay this irrespective of the number of civil partnerships contracted each year. The fee would either act as a disincentive to register or as an incentive to maximize the number of civil partnerships registered each year.
If a clergy person wanted to become a registrar to contract civil partnerships in their own church they would be able to do so, but then might be expected to be available generally in their local authority area.
A following question asks for evidence of the number of individuals in England and Wales who might wish to register their civil partnership on religious premises each year. How are we going to estimate the numbers of lesbian and gay couples who might want to register in church, especially given the amount of negative publicity the CofE creates around LGBT issues.
The survey asks whether or not specific congregations will seek to make use of the provision for civil partnerships. We will have to ask the Welcoming and Open congregations and try and project forward a possible figure.
The current proposals do not deal adequately with our expectations. I would want churches and clergy authorized to contract civil partnerships in the same way as they conduct marriages at present – but then, the next step on the government’s consultation process is to look at marriage equality.