Quakers in Britain have welcomed the government’s announcement, today, (17 February), that the celebration of civil partnerships will be allowed on some religious premises, if a faith group wishes. This was introduced as part of the Equality Act 2010, section 202.
Michael Hutchinson, Acting Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said: “We are delighted that the government has heard us and others. We ourselves see no distinction between heterosexual or homosexual in terms of commitment and wish to move further to allow legal marriage for same sex couples, but this is a welcome step along the way to full equality.
“We are also heartened by proposals to address calls for full equality of civil marriages and civil partnerships, as our religious experience leads us to seek a change in the law so that same sex marriages can be celebrated, witnessed and reported to the state in the same way as heterosexual marriages.”
The Civil Partnership Act of December 2005 legislated for same sex partnerships to be registered as civil partnerships in England and Wales and Scotland. However, it did not provide for the registrations to be carried out as part of an act of religious worship.
Civil partnership is not recognised as marriage, although registered civil partners have almost the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples. The Equality Act 2010, section 202, removed the ban on civil partnership registrations being held on religious premises in England and Wales.
At their Yearly Meeting Gathering in York 2009, Quakers reached an agreement on same sex marriage. Consequently, they have sought a change in the law to allow same sex marriages to be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages are celebrated in Quaker meetings.
In March 2010, the Labour peer Waheed Alli tabled an amendment to the Equality Bill which lifted the ban on religious buildings being used in civil partnerships in England and Wales which had been introduced by the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. The amendment provided for the registering of religious premises for the conduct of civil partnerships. It also made clear that nothing in the amendment could compel religious organisations to conduct civil partnerships against their conscience.
Quakers believe that they should be able to follow the insights of their membership in celebrating life-long committed relationships between same sex couples in exactly the same way as they currently recognise the marriage of opposite sex couples.