Civil partnerships and blessings

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Blessing following a civil partnership

Changing Attitude is campaigning for marriage equality – the freedom to marry and contract civil partnerships in church and for those who wish to have their relationships blessed following a secular civil partnership or marriage. Our supporters hold a range of opinions about gay marriage and civil partnerships in church.

Civil Partnerships for lesbian and gay couples were introduced in December 2005. The majority of people soon began to refer to CPs as marriage because to most people the pattern of life lesbian and gay couples create together looks like a marriage. But the Church disagrees. Same sex relationships are not marriages, says the Church.

Marriage equality now exists in Canada, Argentina and South Africa, as well as seven European countries: Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Iceland.

Other faith communities including the Quakers, Metropolitan Community Church and Unitarians want the freedom to celebrate gay marriage in church.

A significant issue for Changing Attitude, affecting people for whom the trustees have a particular concern, is the cruelty of forcing married transgender men and women to divorce their partners in order to be legally recognised in their new gender.

Gay marriage in church

It was lobbying by the Church of England in particular, in association with other denominations, that made the previous government avoid legislating for full marriage equality. Lesbian and gay Christians are now one of the key constituencies seeking equality for both marriage and civil partnerships precisely because of our faith.

Civil Partnerships are contracted by signing a register in a civil setting where no religious content is allowed. Vows are not exchanged and each partner can sign the register independently. In other respects the legal provisions of civil partnerships equates broadly with marriage. Changing Attitude argues for full equality because many partnered lesbian and gay Christians would like to enter into a covenant relationship, exchanging vows of fidelity to each other in the presence of witnesses, their family and friends and congregation, in the presence of God and in the parish church where they regularly worship. They would like to receive the blessing of God and of the gathered community.

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Blessing following a civil partnership

The marriage service as a model for gay marriage

Changing Attitude believes that the Common Worship Preface to the Marriage Service expresses the holy relationships which lesbian and gay Christian couples wish to honour and celebrate in church.

“Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which partners may know the grace of God. It is given that as a couple grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind, as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.

“The gift of marriage brings partners together in the delight and tenderness of sexual union and joyful commitment to the end of their lives. It is given as the foundation of family life in which children are [born and] nurtured and in which each member of the family, in good times and in bad, may find strength, companionship and comfort, and grow to maturity in love.”

Bishop Richard Harries supports gay marriage

Bishop Richard, a patron of Changing Attitude, commented that “if we accept the argument that we need to retain both the term marriage and the term civil partnership, and that they are not identical, it seems to me clear from a Christian point of view that a ceremony in which two people commit themselves to a faithful, lifelong relationship before witnesses, partakes of the nature of a marriage. As such, from a Christian point of view, it can also express the biblical truth that such a relationship reflects the undeviating faithfulness of God towards us and which, according to St Paul, has its prototype in the relationship of Christ to his church.

“Far from undermining the institution of marriage, civil partnerships witness to its abiding importance. What is undermining marriage in our society is promiscuity, about which people seem even ready to boast. Those who wish to commit themselves to a faithful, lifelong relationship, whether in marriage or a civil partnership, need every help they can get, not hindrance.”

Civil partnership reception

Reception following a civil partnership

Lord Alli’s equality bill amendment

Lord Alli’s amendment to the equality bill would allow faith communities the freedom to set the legal ceremony itself in a religious context, something the Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians want. His amendment is now being revised into a form which should return to parliament in 2011.

Ministers have begun consultations with LGBT groups. Colin Coward represented Changing Attitude at a consultation in the House of Commons in August 2010 with Lib Dem equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone. LGCM, Stonewall, OutRage! and the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Foundation also participated..

Episcopal Church preparing same-sex blessing resources

Work needs to be done in thinking through the implications, theologically, biblically and ethically, of what lesbian and gay Christian couples are asking the church to do. The Episcopal Church in the USA is already engaged in this process. The 2009 General Convention passed Resolution C056 directing the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for blessing same-sex relationships and offer and invite theological reflection. Three task groups were set up to focus on particular areas: liturgical resources, pastoral/teaching resources and theological resources. The task forces are charged to do their work in “consultation with the House of Bishops” and to “devise an open process” bringing together dioceses, congregations and individuals engaged in that work.

House of Bishops Statement on Civil Partnerships

For a significant number of Anglicans, heterosexual as well as LGBT people, the House of Bishops Statement is inappropriate.

The statement reaffirms the Church’s teaching on both marriage and sexual intercourse. The statement says ‘Sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively’ and ‘the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.’

The statement reiterates the double standard applied to lay and ordained people while maintaining that the same standards apply to all.

For clergy, it says: ‘The House of Bishops does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.

The policy outlined for lay people says those ‘…who have registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion.’ ‘Lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who are unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence is required of them and choose to enter into a faithful, committed relationship are not to be excluded from the fellowship of the Church.’

The Statement appears negative and ungenerous towards Anglicans who register a Civil Partnership, although the pastoral stance adopted by many bishops ranges from the pragmatic to the generously supportive. This discrepancy between the bishops’ teaching and their actions causes much emotional and spiritual pain to LGBT Anglicans.

See also: Useful Secular Documents for an overview of how the law stands as of early 2012

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