London, UK - MARCH 3, 2010 Ekklesia has given a warm welcome to a House of Lords vote in favour of allowing religious premises and religious language to be used in same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.
Looking to the decision's impact on policy, the religion and society think-tank pointed out that legal change would need to go much further to respond to the social diversity of relationships and recognise the diversity of religious convictions around ideas of marriage.
The Lords passed the proposal last night (2 March) as an amendment to the Equality Bill. Religious elements have been prohibited in civil partnerships since they were introduced in 2005.
While welcoming the vote, 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: "Tonight's vote is good news for many devout people who wish to celebrate their love in the context of their faith. It is also important for the religious liberty of the faith communities concerned.
"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."
Chris Campbell, an elder at Maidenhead United Reformed Church who is in a same-sex relationship with a Roman Catholic man, said: "Today, we are one step closer to being married in a very meaningful way for us. It's something of which all Christians should be proud."
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, was carried in the House of Lords at 11.09pm on 2 March by 95 votes to 21. It was proposed by Waheed Alli, who is a Labour peer and a gay Muslim. Although the government did not support the amendment, they have said that they will work with Waheed Alli to redraft the law and ensure that the principle is in the finalised Bill.
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 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 http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/papers/abolishmarriage