Marriage law overhaul well overdue, says thinktank

LONDON, December 22, 2010: The Christian thinktank Ekklesia says that the new 'Equal Love Campaign', with legal challenges aimed at securing the right to same-sex marriage and heterosexual civil partnerships, highlight once more the ”long overdue” need to overhaul the system of marriage law in the UK.

Ekklesia has previously proposed that Parliament should change civil marriage law in response to the growing diversity of relationships and beliefs – clearly distinguishing state recognition of relationships from religiously-based ceremonies and commitments, as happens in Germany.

The new legal challenge from the Equal Love campaign involves four same-sex couples applying for marriage and four mixed-sex couples applying for civil partnerships. The eight couples have all been refused and they yesterday (21 December) announced that they were filing their legal challenge with the European Court of Human Rights. The couples include people of religious faith and those of no religion.

Ekklesia says there are other anomalies in UK marriage laws too, such as the different rights accorded to various religious groups to carry out marriage and partnership ceremonies.

The thinktank proposes that people should be free to choose what kind of ceremony they require, religious or otherwise. They should also be free to register their relationship in law, according to the commitment that they are entering into. The ideas were originally set out in Ekklesia's 2006 report, 'What Future for Marriage?', which predicted that the complexities would increase further.

Symon Hill, associate director of Ekklesia commented: "People of religious faith as well as those of no religious conviction are among those disadvantaged by the lack of civil legal recognition for same-sex marriage. An overhaul of the current law in this area is now needed to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society.

“People should be able 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. This would allow religious and other groups to carry out ceremonies in accordance with their own values and traditions, while peacefully promoting their own views about the nature of marriage, commitment and sexuality in a context of democracy and freedom of belief.

“Distinguishing the civil and religious components of the recognition of partnerships is vital to this process, as the interests of the two will not always coincide, and the shackling one to the other is not helpful.”

ENDS

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Notes to Editors

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. Further comment on this issue is available from Ekklesia associate director Symon Hill (symonDOThillATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk)

3. Ekklesia's 2006 report, 'What future for marriage?' can be read at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/article_abolishmarriage.shtml

4. The Equal Love campaign was launched on 26 October 2010. The first step was taken on 2 November, when Rev Sharon Ferguson was refused permission to marry her female partner at Greenwich Register Office. On 21 December, the four same-sex and four mixed-sex couples involved announced that they were taking the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

5. Legal recognition of same-sex marriage is supported by the leaders of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties and by the Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Religious groups supporting same-sex marriage include the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Liberal Judaism, the Metropolitan Community Church and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

6. Same-sex marriage is already recognised in seven European countries as well as Argentina, Canada and South Africa.

7. The Equality Act, passed in April 2010, allows religious elements in same-sex civil partnerships in England and Wales for the first time. The Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, has recently met with religious groups to discuss how this change will work in practice. It is expected to be implemented in 2011.