Church backs legal rights for unmarried parents

By staff writers
October 11, 2006

Church backs legal rights for unmarried parents

-11/10/06

In a move that has been welcomed by the thinktank Ekklesia as 'a step in the right direction', the Church of England yesterday backed proposals to give millions of unmarried couples similar legal rights to their married counterparts.

Risking accusations that it was undermining marriage, the Church said that cohabiting couples with children should be granted significant legal protection if they split up.

It also argued that those rights should be extended to unmarried couples without children if one of the ex-partners was at risk of suffering a substantial injustice when they separated.

Responding to recommendations from the Law Commission, the Church said it wanted to uphold the ideal of marriage but that there was a strong biblical precedent for protecting the vulnerable.

Its stance will dismay some Christians, who believe that any support for people living together outside the legal institution of marriage will 'erode' or 'undermine' it.

Others however, such as the thinktank Ekklesia have suggested fears that marriage will be undermined by providing protections for the vulnerable, are often based on a confusion of the Christian idea of marriage, with the legal institution.

In the Law Commission's consultation paper this year, it proposed a range of new rights for cohabiting couples in England and Wales who currently have a very limited entitlement to financial protection in the event of a split. Under its proposals, couples who have had a long-term relationship could be ordered to sell their home, pay lump sums to each other and share pensions if they go their separate ways.

The commission, which was asked by the Government to draw up the proposals, kept an open mind on whether cohabitants without children should be eligible. Final proposals and a draft Bill are expected next August.

Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, who heads the Church's mission and public affairs council, said the General Synod had decided two years ago that there could be new legal rights for those in unmarried relationships.

"We recognise that society has a duty to protect children, whatever family structures they find themselves in," he said.

The Church was therefore "sympathetic to reform that addresses the effect of relationship breakdown on children and those who make sacrifices to care for them".

However, the Bishop said the Church rejected the idea that couples should be able to "opt in" to a new legal status for cohabitants or become eligible for the new rights on the basis of the length of their relationship, both of which could undermine marriage.

As a result, he said, the Church had concluded that eligibility should be based only on either having a child or on the ability to demonstrate manifest injustice.

Jonathan Bartley, director of the thinktank Ekklesia which has recently produced a paper suggesting radical reform to marriage law said; "The move by the Church of England is certainly a step in the right direction, and one that will be met with opposition by those still wedded to Christendom ideas based on religiously-inspired social engineering.

"The recognition that justice should be the basis of reform to marriage and cohabitation law is most welcome. But there is still a long way to go for both church and state before they become bold enough to address the anomalies surrounding a three tier system of legal marriage, civil partnerships and cohabitation rights. And this cannot happen until the miguided belief in 'defending the institution of marriage' through the blunt instrument of the law is finally abandoned."

You can read Ekklesia's paper on marriage here

Church backs legal rights for unmarried parents

-11/10/06

In a move that has been welcomed by the thinktank Ekklesia as 'a step in the right direction', the Church of England yesterday backed proposals to give millions of unmarried couples similar legal rights to their married counterparts.

Risking accusations that it was undermining marriage, the Church said that cohabiting couples with children should be granted significant legal protection if they split up.

It also argued that those rights should be extended to unmarried couples without children if one of the ex-partners was at risk of suffering a substantial injustice when they separated.

Responding to recommendations from the Law Commission, the Church said it wanted to uphold the ideal of marriage but that there was a strong biblical precedent for protecting the vulnerable.

Its stance will dismay some Christians, who believe that any support for people living together outside the legal institution of marriage will 'erode' or 'undermine' it.

Others however, such as the thinktank Ekklesia have suggested fears that marriage will be undermined by providing protections for the vulnerable, are often based on a confusion of the Christian idea of marriage, with the legal institution.

In the Law Commission's consultation paper this year, it proposed a range of new rights for cohabiting couples in England and Wales who currently have a very limited entitlement to financial protection in the event of a split. Under its proposals, couples who have had a long-term relationship could be ordered to sell their home, pay lump sums to each other and share pensions if they go their separate ways.

The commission, which was asked by the Government to draw up the proposals, kept an open mind on whether cohabitants without children should be eligible. Final proposals and a draft Bill are expected next August.

Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, who heads the Church's mission and public affairs council, said the General Synod had decided two years ago that there could be new legal rights for those in unmarried relationships.

"We recognise that society has a duty to protect children, whatever family structures they find themselves in," he said.

The Church was therefore "sympathetic to reform that addresses the effect of relationship breakdown on children and those who make sacrifices to care for them".

However, the Bishop said the Church rejected the idea that couples should be able to "opt in" to a new legal status for cohabitants or become eligible for the new rights on the basis of the length of their relationship, both of which could undermine marriage.

As a result, he said, the Church had concluded that eligibility should be based only on either having a child or on the ability to demonstrate manifest injustice.

Jonathan Bartley, director of the thinktank Ekklesia which has recently produced a paper suggesting radical reform to marriage law said; "The move by the Church of England is certainly a step in the right direction, and one that will be met with opposition by those still wedded to Christendom ideas based on religiously-inspired social engineering.

"The recognition that justice should be the basis of reform to marriage and cohabitation law is most welcome. But there is still a long way to go for both church and state before they become bold enough to address the anomalies surrounding a three tier system of legal marriage, civil partnerships and cohabitation rights. And this cannot happen until the miguided belief in 'defending the institution of marriage' through the blunt instrument of the law is finally abandoned."

You can read Ekklesia's paper on marriage here

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