Equality in the Church of England (and the Anglican Communion)

On Monday and Tuesday I attended meetings in London and Melksham which addressed the Equality Act and the Government’s Consultation on Civil Partnerships in religious buildings.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has already stated that the Church of England will not give permission for Civil Partnerships in church buildings. Changing Attitude does not accept this and will be actively campaigning for permission to be given to allow those churches and congregations wishing to do so to welcome lesbian and gay couples to register their partnerships in church in the context of a service of blessing.

We will ask the authorities at Church House which person or body will be specified to decide whether or not in principle to permit civil partnerships to be registered in Church of England churches.

We will argue that the same model should be followed when the remarriage of a divorced individual or couple was considered and when the service of prayer and dedication in church following the civil marriage of a couple was introduced – Civil Partnerships in church buildings should be debated and decided by General Synod.

We have learnt that later this year, the Government will begin preparations to consult on proposals to grant full equality in marriage to same-sex couples. We will continue to campaign for marriage equality in civil ceremonies and in church for those lesbian and gay couples who wish to marry, and for churches wishing to conduct the service.

Tuesday’s meeting in Melksham organized by Equality South West looked at the legal effects of the Equality Act and the Big Society. One of the speakers reminded us that the Government expects churches to be a major source of volunteering for the Big Society project. Those organisations represented all have to conform to equality legislation, legislation from which the Church has been granted an opt out as it applies to aspects of LGBT employment and discrimination. This has reinforced in the minds of some Christian communities their claimed Biblical grounds for maintaining prejudice against LGBT people, prejudice which they will bring into their roles as volunteers. This will present organisations for whom they volunteer with a major challenge.

Conservative, ‘Bible-based’ Christian volunteers may be on the verge of discovering how out of step they are with our society and how their unexamined prejudices are legally unacceptable and viewed as intolerant and prejudiced by the majority.

In a conversation about Civil Partnerships in religious buildings, I was asked about the sources which are influencing Church of England policy on homosexuality, resulting in the opt-outs from equality legislation. Peter Tatchell provided part of the answer in an article published on Comment is Free to mark IDAHO day.

Peter writes that the Commonwealth is a bastion of global homophobia, often bucking the worldwide trend towards sexual orientation equality, with increased state-sanctioned threats and repression in Malawi, Uganda, The Gambia, Malaysia, Cameroon and Nigeria. Forty-six of the 54 Commonwealth countries still criminalise same-sex relations in all circumstances, with penalties including 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago and 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia. Several countries stipulate life imprisonment: Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh.

Peter notes that the Commonwealth’s anti-gay laws are the legacy of British colonialism, originally imposed by the British government in the nineteenth century during the period of colonial rule – and never repealed when the former colonies won their freedom.

British colonialism, of course, also exported Victorian theology and Christian teaching about sexuality through missionaries and mission agencies. The Anglican Church in many of these countries continues to be deeply committed to the colonial values which we have been challenged to question and re-examine in the post-war decades.

Now, as Peter Tatchell says, many Anglicans in Africa absurdly proclaim that the legal proscription of homosexuality is an authentic expression of indigenous national culture and tradition. Because the Commonwealth and the Churches are failing to challenge homophobia, millions of LGBT Commonwealth citizens are at risk of discrimination, harassment, arrest, torture, rape, imprisonment and mob attacks.


  1. vince llewelyn says

    CP on religious premises – consultation process

    Don’t know if anybody else has looked at this consultation process but it seems to me that it is totally geared up to religious organisations and councils rather than for individuals. I thought I would write a letter instead to the govt since most of the questions on the consultation didn’t seem appropriate for gay individuals.

    It seems the govt changed the equality act to allow CPs to be held on religious premises but there is an additional if clause in the change which says that only if the specfic denomination would allow it ie no individaul church of any denomination can act individually unless it gets the permission of the head of the denomination. There is the usual opt outs which apply to Chrisitian churches not to have anything to do with gays , which seems to be the norm nowadays. The funny thing is this additional requirement from the head of the denomination to give permission to allow any individual minister or church to perform a CP.

    1) I don’t like the idea of govt interferring with the church hierachy and enforcing the power of the heads onto their subordinates …performing gay CPs churches should be entirely free to the indiviual church ….this is unlikely to change though since this has now been enshrined in the Lord ALi change already

    There is also a peice left in the CP act 2004 which states “”no religious service is to be used while the civil partnership registrar is officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document”.

    This means that the CP will have to remain secular and have no religious service, but then again what is a religious service, surely a hymn or a reading from the bibile is not a religious service. The consultation process, however, reinforces the secular nature of the CP registration and doesn’t even question what the meaning of religious service is.

    On to top of this remaining piece of restrictive legislation there is the regulations for the approved premises where CPs can be registered ie marriage and CP (approved regs) 2005 – sched 2 – reg 11. This will obviously have to be changed but the govt gives no detail how it will change. It goes further than the equlaity act and CP act and imposes pretty strict rules on what proceedings can take place on approved premises for CPs …basically nothing relgious at all or anything that mimics marriages.

    1) Since the change will be to register a CP at the church and ,although the CP will be secular ,the proceeding before and after will be religious in nature, thus the regs have to change to allow this but now, and this is the important part, the churches in this consultation, whether they are going to do CPs or not, are going to have to define exactly what will be in these religious proceedings.

    This seems unfair, why should they do this. It seems that this is more restrictive than having a CP registered in the council and then going to a church to have a cermony since this falls outside these regs since the CP reistration has taken place elsewhere. The regs should allow proceeding to be compleltely religious, in that way CPs registered in churchs are not worst off than those registered outside the church with a cermony taking place afterwards in a church.

    Other issues I have are

    1) The only church that will have their heads agree to this are the likes of the Quakers, liberal Jews etc. Small churches, the amount of people that will benefit from this is around 10 or less a year (if that) yet the burden of possibly training a minister to do the registration or the cost for applying to be a venue for CP registration would not be worth if for such a small number.

    2) I ultimetely think that this is a watered down verioun of what was initially hyped up by the govt and newspapers. We expected religious CPs, a copy of religious marriage since gays are still refused the word marriage, yet we have a secualr CP with restirctive religious proceedings attached to the registration as a seperate thing. This isn’t what relgious gays want and this change will benefit very few. It’s a waste of time and I hope that LGBT orgs don’t get involved in something that is not wanted. I also hope that people realise that this is an insult and that the govt should NOT be congratulated on this change.

  2. Ben says

    I have been working through the Equalities Office consultation document and am moved to write to express my extreme disappointment and disillusionment with what it contains. The change seems to be being watered down and reduced to an absurd minimum.

    To explain :
    • Despite theoretically being allowed to take place on religious premises, the complete ban on any religious element during the registration will remain. Obviously this is nonsense as anyone who wishes to celebrate their union in a religious venue will wish to have a religious element to the act.
    • The central authority of each denomination will have a pre-emptive veto on any individual congregation wishing to host CPs
    • The application processes, for both venue and registrar, and the costs involved, seem designed to discourage
    Given the small numbers of CP’s, and the small proportion of these who will wish to have a non-religious registration in a religious building, it hardly seems likely that many will be able to justify the costs and the work involved.
    What has become of the promise to consider “whether civil partnerships should be allowed to include religious readings, music and symbols”*?
    The present regulations (2005) are much more restrictive on freedom than is necessarily required by the Civil Partnerships Act (which only prohibits a “religious service”) and surely there is scope for a more liberal approach; however the consultation document does not offer this. It seems to be attempting to forestall any comments outside “these specific measures” and I suppose will reject any attempt to raise this question.

    The document says “the ban on using religious service during registration will remain in place as it was not the intention of s202 of the Equality Act 2010 to remove it” – Well, there has been nothing to stop the Government proposing this further change – it has had over a year to do so. The Government talks vaguely about future consideration of the “next steps for CP’s” but time passes and all we have is this extremely complicated consultation, which hardly seems justified for a very restricted change.

    Why is the Government getting involved in the private internal administration of religious denominations by enshrining in the civil law a power for the central church authorities to stop individual congregations doing what they want – whose “religious freedom” are the government trying to protect? Many churches do not pretend to be democratic and in several the central authority comes from, or is strongly influenced from, abroad. The Church of England, and each local parish church, is the common inheritance of all the people, not the private property of the current central office holders; it is diverse in attitudes and beliefs. And yet, through the authority of the civil law the Government will enforce conformity with the head and there will be no opportunity for any parish to choose whether or not to host CPs.

    What LGBT people want is EQUALITY – it’s really very simple.
    • That means equal and un-discriminated access to all civil institutions.
    • That means marriage equality, including the option to have a religious marriage if we want it and our faith group is willing to host it.
    • While we are waiting for that, and so long as CP’s are all we have, we need to have the option to solemnize our registration in a religious way
    • We do not accept being told by civil government that, at the moment we register our CP, we must not say a prayer or mention God (I assume the Government would make it illegal even to have a religious thought if it knew how to enforce it)

    I fully agree that everyone should have religious freedom and that it is not the business of the government to restrict it, save in so far as it involves harm to others. I support the right of those who do not wish to do so not to have to host CP’s. But I do not accept the right of some to claim ownership and copyright on God, marriage and religion and to deny it to others through the law of the land.

    It is not the job of the Equalities Office to “side with the mighty against the weak”, or to put it more directly, to side with Lambeth Palace and the Vatican against individuals and congregations.

    I don’t know why, in the year 2011, the Government is pretending to stand between individuals and God.

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