The government has recently opened consultation on enabling civil partnerships to be hosted on religious premises of those faith groups that wish to host them. Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010 outlines the amendment to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to allow civil partnership ceremonies to be conducted in the same way as heterosexual marriages. The government plans to finalise and implement the legislation after the consultation which closes on the 23rd of June, 2011.
Read the arguments in favour of and against the legislation and tell us what you think!
Background to the legislation
Under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – the legal framework for civil partnerships – use of religious premises for registration of civil partnerships is prohibited. Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010 seeks to amend this. However, the enforcement of this legislation will be entirely voluntary –
“For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.” – Section 202(4)
The amendment to the Equality Bill was tabled by the openly gay Labour peer Waheed Alli. It was passed by both Houses of Parliament with overwhelming support.
This legislation attempts to close the differences between ‘marriage’ and ‘civil partnerships’. While same-sex couples enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples, lesbian, gay and bisexual civil partnership is still not recognised in the same way as marriage, especially when it comes to religious ceremonies and sanctions. Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010 is a recognition of the fact that some faith groups may be open to registering civil partnerships on their religious premises.
The case for
Lord Alli, when proposing the legislation, said:
“Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants. This amendment does not place an obligation on any religious organisation to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.”
Religious groups such as the Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians have expressed support for the implementation of the legislation.
The case against
Some religious organisations and institutions hold a moral objection to homosexuality and allowing civil partnerships to be conducted and sanctioned through religious principles is considered to be a violation of the religious sanctity and value of marriage.
The Church of England has refused to extend support for the legislation. The response from Archbishop Smith reads –
“The Government statement on 17th February makes it clear that they are now considering a fundamental change to the status of marriage. It [marriage] is a lifelong commitment of a man and a woman to each other…No authority – civil or religious – has the power to modify the fundamental nature of marriage. We will be opposing such a change in the strongest terms…We do not believe it is either necessary or desirable to allow the registration of civil partnerships on religious premises. These will not take place in Catholic churches.”
What do you think?
The legislation brings together three competing rights – right to sexual equality, right to religious freedom and property rights. There are some who are of the view that equality comes before everything and religion should not stand in the way of it while others opine that LGB equality should not violate the religious sanctity and social value of marriage – union of a man and a woman – by blurring the boundaries between marriage and civil partnerships.
Besides these two arguments, the legislation has also been criticised for being too weak as it does not intend to force any religious group or organisation to permit civil partnerships on its premises.
Where do you stand in this conflict of interests and rights? Have your say by commenting on this post or send us a submission for publication on the blog or responding to the government consultation.