Civil-partnership registrations in church and the gay-marriage debate

15 February 2012


From the Revd Gavin Foster

Sir, — I am exasperated to find Canon Giles Fraser once again trotting out the argument that “services of prayer and dedication” do not breach the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Civil Partner­ships because they are not “services of blessing” (Comment, 10 Febru­ary). It is the same argument put forward by the Revd Brian Lewis on the Inclusive Church website. But it is nonsense.

It is an argument that relies on being willing to look exclusively at the title of a service to decide if it is a “service of blessing”. What we are doing is not a “service of blessing” (the argument goes) because it is a “service of prayer and dedication”.

Yet the phrase “a service of blessing” is clearly not meant to be a technical title for a particular service, but a general description of a service including a blessing, as is made amply clear by paragraph 16 of the Pastoral Statement: “some who register civil partnerships will seek some recognition of their new situation and pastoral support by asking members of the clergy to provide a blessing for them in the context of an act of worship.”

So what the bishops have in view is any act of worship which includes words of blessing. The “service of prayer and dedication” offered after a civil wedding includes words of bless­ing spoken over the couple, and I dare say the sort of “service of prayer and dedication” Canon Fraser would like to see offered to civil partners would, too.

Put it another way: if the Bishops did not intend to advise against ser­vices of blessing in the broad sense of any service including words of blessing, what did they intend to advise against? There is no service entitled “a service of blessing” in the published liturgies.

I hope that we can put this argu­ment to bed once and for all now. I agree with the Bishop of London: it is right that these matters are dis­cussed openly, and I am open-minded about the outcome of that discussion. But it is not right that the House of Bishops’ guidance is manipulated and sidelined in this self-justifying way in order to short-circuit that discussion.

130b Belgrave
Dorset DT4 9SN

From the Revd Sulaiman Shahzad

Sir, — I am dismayed by the Bishop of Salisbury’s stance on civil part­nerships (News, 10 February). If a bishop cannot perceive the obvious difference between a heterosexual and homosexual relationship, then God help us all. No matter how brutally one dis­torts the scriptures, same-sex rela­tion­ships are not ordained by God and are against the law of nature. They should never be considered for solemnisation as a marriage in a church.

If clergy are forced to solemnise same-sex marriages against their faith, then it will have a devastating effect on the Church of England. It is true that Britain is a free country, and the Bishop of Salisbury is entitled to his views, but it does not necessarily mean that he is right or represents the wider Church.

St Andrew’s Vicarage
276 Brampton Road
Bexleyheath, Kent DA7 5SF

From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, — Your leader comment (3 Feb­ru­ary) says that the Church must go along with whatever definition of marriage emerges in society. True, we must understand how language changes if we are to communicate effectively. But has not Jesus taught us that God’s way for human flourishing is the establishment of a lifelong, com­mitted partnership between a man and woman, which he speaks of as marriage (Matthew 19)?

11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill-on-Sea TN39 4TY

From Mrs Sheila Lloyd

Sir, — In your leader comment, you suggested that civil partnerships had the characteristics of marriage, and quoted Libby Purves: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck . . . it probably is a duck.” I assume that you have not seen the stage version of War Horse, and that nor has Libby Purves. Had you done so, you would know that if it walks like a goose and squawks like a goose . . . it probably is a very clever piece of puppetry.

St Andrew’s Vicarage
Ipswich IP4 5HF

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