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Civil partnerships and defining marriage

29 February 2012


From the Chancellor and Vicar-General of the Diocese of London

Sir, — The Revd Gavin Foster (Letters, 17 February) accused Canon Giles Fraser of “trotting out” a view about possible services after a civil partnership.

Canon Fraser was not trotting out anything. He was explaining why he and other clergy had sub­scribed to a letter to the General Synod request­ing that they should be allowed to have civil partnerships registered in their churches; I express no view about that. But, in his article, Canon Fraser quoted my setting out of the law as it stood in 2008, and as it is.

Canon Fraser made it clear that it was the legal position that he was describing. When Mr Foster de­scribes it as “nonsense”, he is doing no more than expressing the view of the law exemplified by Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, when he declared that the law was “a ass — a idiot”, not­with­standing that Mr Foster de­scribes himself as “barrister at law”.

To explain away the clear words of Canon Fraser when quoting directly from the House of Bishops’ pastoral statement, Mr Foster refers to “what is meant by”; this is the logic of Humpty Dumpty (“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”).

The unequivocal position, as I set out in 2008, is that “Clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership” (House of Bishops’ Pastoral State­ment on Civil Partnerships, July 2005, para. 16).

But the statement also says: “Where clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circum­stances of each case” (para. 18).

There is no prohibition on pray­ers’ being said in church or there being a “service” unless, of course, it is a “service of blessing”, which is not defined. Canon B5 of the Church of England Canons provides:

“2. The minister having the cure of souls may on occasions for which no provision is made in The Book of Common Prayer or by the General Synod under Canon B2 or by the Convocations, archbishops, or Ordinary under Canon B4 use forms of service considered suitable by him for those occasions and may permit another minister to use the said forms of service.

“3. All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither con­trary to, nor indicative of any depart­ure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.”

Unless and until the House of Bishops expressly forbids any form of prayers or church service at all after a civil-partnership ceremony, anything conforming to the above is allowed. To suggest otherwise is the “nonsense” or the reasoning of Humpty Dumpty.

3 Paper Buildings, Temple
London EC4Y 7EU

From Mr J. Longstaff

Sir, — The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, shows obstinacy in her comments about the debate on marriage. She claims that the Gov­ern­ment has a right to change the defini­tion of marriage, which is not peculiar to the UK, but a global institution of society.

She insists that how marriage is defined is up to the people, that she wants to “work” with opponents, and urges people not to polarise this debate. She states, however, that the Government will not back down on the plans, and has a duty to push ahead with the changes. Where is the democratic discussion?

David Cameron’s hope that chang­ing the legal definition of marriage will be a central achieve­ment of his premiership should make one question the nature of the society that he wants to build. The Government is being misguided by a liberal minority pressure group, and not reflecting the view of the majority.

4A The Green
Woodford Green
Essex IG8 0NF

From Mr Clive de Salis

Sir, — The definition of marriage favoured by the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, clearly omits any reference to childbirth and children. Yet the current law clearly includes definitions of whom you can and cannot marry, based on childbirth. This deliberate omission creates a straw-dog definition of marriage.

Somehow, we need to get the debate to ask how partnership can have equal status, without destruct­ively forcing two different things to pretend to be the same.

If the Government’s redefinition of marriage is to exclude any men­tion of childbirth, what is going to happen to the laws on whom you can and cannot marry?

CLIVE de SALIS (Reader)
36 Roundhills Road
West Midlands B62 9SB

From Canon David R. Tilley

Sir, — I have friends who are gay or lesbian, and who are variously in committed partnerships or same-sex unions. I offer them unqualified sup­port and sympathy in their experi­ence of marginalisation and preju­dice, and I rejoice at their love for each other.

To call civil partnerships “mar­riage”, however, is a confusion of categories. Civil partnerships should treated as equal to marriage both in law and in social opinion and the Church. A service of God’s blessing for them is appropriate and to be encouraged.

But to be equally blessed by God is not the same as be­ing identical, no matter what pop­ular phrase may be employed at large.

17 Coventry Road
Coventry CV8 3AD

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