Move toward religious ceremonies for same-sex couples highlights need to overhaul marriage law

Move toward religious ceremonies for same-sex couples highlights need to overhaul marriage law

London, UK - FEB 25, 2010The thinktank Ekklesia has welcomed moves to give legal recognition to same-sex partnerships carried out by religious groups and institutions, but suggested that the growing diversity of arrangements highlights the need for wide-ranging reform of marriage law.

Legal change needs to go much further to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society, the thinktank says. it is also necessary to satisfy the diversity of religious convictions around ideas of marriage.

Ekklesia has welcomed an amendment to the Equality Bill, to be debated by the House of Lords on 2 March, which would end the prohibition on the use of religious language and religious premises in civil partnership ceremonies.

But the amendment highlights ongoing anomalies and inequalities in marriage law. Same-sex partnerships still cannot be described in law as marriage. Different groups have different freedoms to perform marriage and civil partnership ceremonies.

The thinktank is suggesting that the best way to deal with the growing complexity is a clearer distinction between the legal elements on the one hand, and religious and communal elements on the other.

The ideas were originally set out in a 2006 report What Future for Marriage, which predicted that the complexities would increase further. Under the thinktank's proposals, couples would be free to choose what kind of ceremony they required, in accordance with their religious, or other beliefs. They would also then be free to register that relationship in law, according to the commitment that they were making.

Symon Hill, co-director of Ekklesia said: An overhaul of marriage law is urgently required to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society. It is time for a legal change that allows people to enter into marriages or partnerships as a public, communal, and if important to them, a religious commitment, with legal registration being a separate process.

"Not only is this a pragmatic necessity, but it is the best way forward in finding common ground between religious people who take differing positions on issues of sexuality and marriage. Marriage and civil partnerships will always be public acts. But religions do not require them to be recognised in a certain way in law for them to have validity. Within the Christian tradition for example, marriage is based on the idea of covenant, not contract."

Chris Campbell, an elder at Maidenhead United Reformed Church, who is in a same-sex relationship with a Roman Catholic man, said: As a committed Christian couple, the idea of a civil partnership - in which no mention of God can be made - feels just like another legal formality. I want God to be at the heart of our marriage, just as he's been at the heart of our relationship. With the prospect of change to the law, Carl and I are one step closer to being married in a way that is very meaningful for us.

ENDS

Notes to Editors
1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia was listed by The Independent newspaper in 2005 as among 20 influential UK thinktanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religious and political current affairs websites in Britain.

2. An amendment to the Equality Bill, allowing the use of religious elements in civil partnerships, will be debated by the House of Lords on Tuesday 2 March, when the Bill reaches its Report Stage. It has been proposed by Waheed Alli, who is a Labour peer and a gay Muslim.

3. On 25 January, the government said that they would consider changing the law to recognise same- sex partnerships which involved a religious ceremony. This was a reversal of their previous position.

4. On 23 February a group of senior Church of England clerics, including six bishops and former bishops, wrote to the Times to support a change in the law. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article7036547.ece

5. Faith groups which are campaigning for permission to carry out legally recognised same-sex partnership ceremonies include Liberal Judaism, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. A change is also supported by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Green Party and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

6. Ekklesias 2006 report, What future for marriage? can be read at: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/papers/abolishmarriage