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Civil partnerships look like marriage to me, says Holtam

by
09 February 2012

by Madeleine Davies

THE Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, has spoken out in favour of allowing homo­sexual people to marry, adding his support to the Government’s plans to change the law.

The Bishop told The Times last Friday that he was “no longer convinced” that only heterosexual people could marry. He knew of couples in civil partnerships, he said, whose relationship he now thought of as marriage.

In an interview on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, Bishop Holtam said that the current position of the Church of England did not meet “the pastoral needs of people in our care”. “The real problem with civil partnerships is that they are a contract: there is no religious content to them whatso­ever. And Christians who have con­tracted civil partnerships are saying that they want a covenantal relation­ship in which they promise them­selves to one another lovingly for life.”

Mark Hill QC, a barrister specialising in religion and law, said on Monday that a change to the Marriage Act of 1949 would “inevitably” have an effect on churches. “It would be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 for churches to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in solemnising matrimony once the concept of marriage is expanded to include same-sex relations.”

Should the Government succeed in legalising gay marriage, it would be possible to include an opt-out for churches; and concern has been expressed that, without this protec­tion, churches that decide not to hold such ceremonies could be taken to court.

The debate on the Church’s posi­tion on same-sex marriages was reignited after comments made by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, (News, Media, 3 Febru­ary). Since then, the diocese of York has reported that Dr Sentamu has received racist emails.

A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police confirmed that “a complaint has been received from the office of Archbishop John Sentamu, following the receipt of emails containing racially offensive statements. The emails are being investigated as a hate crime.”

The former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, has supported Dr Sentamu’s views. He said that it was important “to respect the similar, yet different, ways in which men and women reflect the image of God in them”.

The Government’s consultation on gay marriage is due to open next month. This week, Tim Mont­gomerie, a founding member of Con­serva­tive Christian Fellowship, declared his support for the move. “This is not about equal rights. It is about extending an incredibly im­port­ant social institution,” he said.

The debate surrounding gay mar­riage is taking place against the backdrop of Marriage Week, a campaign led by Christian charities that seeks to promote the institu­tion. One of its biggest events — a talk about why the Church is best placed to support marriage, hosted by Steve Clifford, the general director of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) — sold out.

The EA also released a report, How’s the Family?, which explores trends in Christian relationships. Based on the findings of a survey com­pleted by 1129 people, it sug­gests that Evangelicals are less likely to live in single-parent fam­ilies, and less likely to be divorced.

A poll on a dating website, Chris­tian Connection, found that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of its un­married respondents said that they would prefer to stay single for the rest of their lives rather than marry a non-Christian.

In the wake of the letter signed by 120 clerics from the diocese of London last week, urging that regis­tration of civil-partnership cere­monies be allowed in churches (Web news, 3 February), more than 1000 people have now signed a petition organised by Changing Attitude, echoing the request.

The debate surrounding gay mar­riage is taking place against the backdrop of Marriage Week, a campaign led by Christian charities that seeks to promote the institu­tion. One of its biggest events — a talk about why the Church is best placed to support marriage, hosted by Steve Clifford, the general director of the Evangelical Alliance (EA) — sold out.

The EA also released a report, How’s the Family?, which explores trends in Christian relationships. Based on the findings of a survey com­pleted by 1129 people, it sug­gests that Evangelicals are less likely to live in single-parent fam­ilies, and less likely to be divorced.

A poll on a dating website, Chris­tian Connection, found that almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of its un­married respondents said that they would prefer to stay single for the rest of their lives rather than marry a non-Christian.

In the wake of the letter signed by 120 clerics from the diocese of London last week, urging that regis­tration of civil-partnership cere­monies be allowed in churches (Web news, 3 February), more than 1000 people have now signed a petition organised by Changing Attitude, echoing the request.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, responding to the letter, said: “Their request to General Synod is based on very proper pastoral concern, and it is right that this matter continues to be discussed openly. . . However, the unity of the Church and our core mission, particularly in these sober­ing and challenging economic times, must remain paramount.”

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, responding to the letter, said: “Their request to General Synod is based on very proper pastoral concern, and it is right that this matter continues to be discussed openly. . . However, the unity of the Church and our core mission, particularly in these sober­ing and challenging economic times, must remain paramount.”

In a submission to the House of Bishops’ review, published last week, the LGBT Anglican Coalition urged the C of E to allow churches to register civil partnerships, authorise services of thanksgiving and dedica­tion, and allow those in civil part­nerships to become bishops.

In a submission to the House of Bishops’ review, published last week, the LGBT Anglican Coalition urged the C of E to allow churches to register civil partnerships, authorise services of thanksgiving and dedica­tion, and allow those in civil part­nerships to become bishops.

“As social attitudes towards those in same-sex relationships have be­come increasingly open and accept­ing, the Church of England is be­coming isolated,” it said. “This is in turn damaging both our mission and our ability to provide pastoral care.”

“As social attitudes towards those in same-sex relationships have be­come increasingly open and accept­ing, the Church of England is be­coming isolated,” it said. “This is in turn damaging both our mission and our ability to provide pastoral care.”

The Coalition said that it had identified 95 churches that wanted to register civil partnerships. The House of Bishops has invited mem­bers of the Coalition to meet its review group.

The Coalition said that it had identified 95 churches that wanted to register civil partnerships. The House of Bishops has invited mem­bers of the Coalition to meet its review group.

On Thursday, the Coalition was scheduled to hold an act of witness at the General Synod to highlight “the many hundreds of LGBT clergy who minister in the Church of England despite the discrimination and suspicions which they often suffer.”

On Thursday, the Coalition was scheduled to hold an act of witness at the General Synod to highlight “the many hundreds of LGBT clergy who minister in the Church of England despite the discrimination and suspicions which they often suffer.”

The human-rights activist Peter Tatchell called on clerics who wished to register civil partnerships in church to “defy” the Church. “The ban is homophobic and autocratic,” he said.

The human-rights activist Peter Tatchell called on clerics who wished to register civil partnerships in church to “defy” the Church. “The ban is homophobic and autocratic,” he said.

Giles Fraser

Giles Fraser

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