Keep civil partnerships, Bishops tell Government

11 April 2014

CREATIVE COMMONS

Ceremony: Islington Town Hall, a popular venue for civil partnerships 

Ceremony: Islington Town Hall, a popular venue for civil partnerships 

THE Government should not abolish civil partnerships because it would create an "invidious choice" for gay couples who may not wish, for religious reasons, to get married, a Church of England submission has said.

The submission to the Government's consultation on civil partnerships was sent on Wednesday of last week, but has only just been released. It is "based on the views of the Archbishops' Council and the House of Bishops", and argues that civil partnerships should be retained.

It reads: "Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for many Christians who accept the Churches' traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour.

"As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same-sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church's traditional teaching.

"If civil partnership was to be abolished, such couples would be faced with the unjust choice of either marrying (which might conflict with their religious beliefs about the nature of marriage) or losing all public and legal recognition of their relationship."

It concludes: "It is in the nature of a plural democracy that beliefs conscientiously held by minorities should be respected where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. The retention of civil partnership will do nothing to undermine the validity of same-sex marriage, but will serve to provide a structure whereby those who retain this conviction will not be excluded from the legal and public benefits of their union but will be able to do so without doing violence to their conscientiously held beliefs."

The Government is not proposing to abolish civil partnerships. In a foreward to the consultation, Helen Grant, the Equalities Minister, stresses that the measures in it are not Government policy proposals but "ideas for changing civil partnership which others have suggested". The consultation cautions: "We should avoid acting prematurely, before the impact of same-sex couples having access to marriage is known." It notes that there is no legal reason for changing the current provision.

The consultation lists three reasons why some people are in favour of abolishing civil partnership: that it is no longer needed; that it would "achieve fairness" for both opposite and same-sex couples; and that it would be simpler, legally and administratively.

It also lists three reasons why some are opposed to abolition: that it is not evident who would benefit from such a step; that it would be complicated; and that couples in civil partnerships would need to choose between ending their relationship and converting their relationship into a marriage.

The consultation notes that one option would be to stop new civil partnerships being registered but allow existing ones to remain.

Since civil partnership was introduced in December 2005, more than 60,000 have been registered. The Marriage (Same Sex Couplpes) Act, which came into effect last month, makes provision for those in civil partnership to convert their civil partnership into marriage.

A number of Church of England clerics are in civil partnerships. The House of Bishops' current guidance states that clergy may enter civil partnerships, on the assumption that they are celibate. "Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England" ( News, 14 February).

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