Parliament to debate recognition of religious same-sex partnerships

By staff writers
January 19, 2010

The House of Lords is preparing to debate a proposal to allow the use of religious language and religious premises in civil partnerships between same-sex couples.

No religious element has been allowed in civil partnerships since they were introduced in 2005, meaning that same-sex commitment ceremonies carried out in churches have no legal status.

The proposal takes the form of an amendment to the current Equality Bill. It will be debated either this evening (Tuesday 19 January) or, if there is not enough time, on Monday 25 January.

“It must be a matter for churches and religious organisations to decide for themselves but, having decided, the law should not stand in their way” said Waheed Alli, a gay Muslim member of the House of Lords, who is proposing the amendment.

If the proposal becomes law, it would allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition for commitment ceremonies based on their own faith, a possibility currently denied to them.

While some religious groups are opposed to same-sex partnerships, others have welcomed the proposal and said that they would carry out civil partnerships in their own premises if allowed. They include the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Liberal Judaism and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

The Society of Friends said that the legislation would be a “timely and significant step” and cited their commitment to integrity and equality as reasons for their support.

Rabbi Danny Rich, of Liberal Judaism, said that the group wanted same-sex couples to have “means of affirming their long-term love”, adding that “the proposed amendment to the bill would correct the one remaining anomaly in this area of legislation”.

A number of those who are supporting the proposal hope that the law will eventually go further, and allow the use of the word 'marriage' for the partnerships of same-sex, as well as mixed-sex, couples.

The amendment has attracted cross-party support in the Lords. In addition to Labour’s Waheed Alli, it has been tabled by Tory Sheila Noakes, cross-bencher Jane Campbell and Rabbi Julia Neuberger, a Liberal Democrat.

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