Continuing questions about civil partnerships

LONDON & EDINBURGH, 13 February 2011: The Christian thinktank Ekklesia has welcomed the news that the government is to push ahead with implementing a change in the law to allow religious premises and religious language to be used in same-sex civil partnership ceremonies in England and Wales.

Looking to the decision's impact on policy, the religion and society thinktank pointed out that legal change would need to go much further to respond to the social diversity of relationships and recognise the range of religious convictions around ideas of marriage.

Religious elements have been prohibited in civil partnerships since they were introduced in 2005. This was changed by the Equality Act, passed in April 2010, but this aspect of the Act has not been implemented. It was reported today (13 February) that the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone now plans to implement it.

While welcoming the decision, Ekklesia pointed out that anomalies remain. Same-sex partnerships still cannot be described in law as 'marriage'. Different groups have different freedoms to perform marriage and 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.

Under their proposals, people would be free to choose what kind of ceremony they required. They would also then be free to register that relationship in law, according to the commitment that they were making.

The ideas were originally set out in Ekklesia's 2006 report, 'What Future for Marriage?', which anticipated that the complexities would increase further.

Symon Hill, co-director of Ekklesia said: "Religious same-sex couples have received good news in time for Valentine's Day. Parliament voted last year to allow religious elements in civil partnerships. The government must now implement this legislation.

"This is important for the religious liberty of the faith communities concerned. It is wholly inaccurate to suggest that any church or other faith group will be forced to carry out same-sex ceremonies against their will.

"An overhaul of marriage law is now 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."

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. For interviews and comment, please contact Ekklesia Associate Director Symon Hill (symonDOThillATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk)

2. An amendment to the Equality Bill, allowing the use of religious elements in civil partnerships, was carried in the House of Lords on 2 March 2010 by 95 votes to 21. It was proposed by Waheed Alli, who is a Labour peer and a gay Muslim. The Equality Act was passed in April 2010, with this ammendment intact. It was reported in the Sunday Telegraph on 13 February 2011 that the government will now push ahead with changing the rules governing civil partnerships in line with this legislation. The change in the law will apply only to England and Wales as the matter is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. While the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 was UK-wide, the Equality Act 2010 covered only England and Wales.

3. Faith groups which are campaigning for permission to carry out legally recognised same-sex partnership ceremonies include Liberal Judaism, 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 Metropolitan Community Church, the Green Party and the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. On 23 February 2010 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

4. Ekklesia's 2006 report, What future for marriage? can be read at www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/papers/abolishmarriage