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Church of England advises retaining civil partnerships

17 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 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 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."

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 partnerships.

"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 introduced".

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).

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