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 2 April, but released last Friday. It is
"based on the views of the Archbishops' Council and the House of
Bishops", and argues that civil partnerships should be
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
On Friday, the Assistant Curate of St Mary's, Rotherhithe, the
Revd Richard Norman, welcomed the submission: "As someone committed
to the Church's traditional teaching on human sexuality and
marriage, and to the dignity of all people regardless of sexual
orientation, it seems to me pastorally correct and theologically
coherent to argue strongly for the retentionof civil
"Many Christians in same-sex relationships will want to secure
for themselves and their partners the same legal privileges which
married couples enjoy, without opting for a form of relationship
contrary to the Church's traditional teaching. Certainly, to deny
them the possibility of civil partnerships in future would
constitute a serious injustice."
But the Vicar of St Mary with All Souls', Kilburn, and St
James's, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Cain, pointed to a "very
noticeable anomaly that they [the authors of the submission] now
fulsomely support what they bitterly opposed when they were being
During the passage of the Bill that became the Civil Partnership
Act through the House of Lords, in 2004, six bishops voted in
favour of what was widely considered to be a wrecking amendment. It
extended the benefits of the Bill to family members who had lived
together long-term. Eventually, eight bishops voted with the
Government - which had removed the amendment in the House of
Commons - while two voted against. An aggregate of the Bishops'
votes throughout the passage of the Bill puts them in favour,
narrowly, by nine to eight.
The Government is not proposing to abolish civil partnerships.
In a foreword to the consultation, the Equalities Minister, Helen
Grant, emphasises 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.
Since civil partnership was introduced in 2005, more than 60,000
have been registered. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, which
came into effect last month, makes provision for those in a civil
partnership to convert their civil partnership into marriage.
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 . . . be at
variance with the teaching of the Church of England" (
News, 14 February).